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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Doubting to Certainty

Luke 24:36-43; John 20:24-31
“Not unbelief but indifference, not atheism but taking God for granted, is the ultimate sin.” - Will Herberg.
“But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:16) “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans10:17)

Back in the early 1700s, the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were both priests in the Church of England. They knew a lot of theology, but they were unsettled until they found more than that. At one point, John sailed to America to do some mission work for the church. There in the Georgia colony, he had a conversation with a man who belonged to the Moravian church.

The man, paraphrasing a verse from Romans, asked John, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” John was surprised at the question, but disturbed that he couldn’t say “yes.” He said he knew Jesus was the Savior of the world, but, when the man asked, “Do you know he has saved you?” the best John could muster was, “I hope so.”

John returned to England, his mission work a miserable failure. But then, in 1738, he had what he later described as a heart–warming experience, where he felt overwhelmed by the presence of God, and was able to declare, in much the same way Harlan Sanders did two centuries later, that he was convinced that God had accepted him.

A few days later, Charles had a similar experience, and he went on to write many great hymns that testified to the presence of God in his life. - Parish Publications

Last week, we learned from John 20:1-18 how Mary Magdalene and her friends found Jesus' Tomb empty. Some said his body was stolen and others refused to believe that he was resurrected. We can understand why it was so difficult for them to believe in the resurrection of Jesus when they were told. It was strange news. It was impossible. The dictionary’s definition of impossible is "unattainable or impractical to accomplish, not believable, unacceptable."

The disciples lost hope and hid behind closed doors. They feared for their lives. Is that understandable? Dean Martin said, "Show me a man who doesn't know the meaning of fear and I will show you a dummy that gets beat up a lot." The good news is Jesus appeared to his fearful disciples. Jesus' presence drove out His disciples’ fear, and faith and courage rushed in.

After the encounter with Jesus, his disciples went into the world and spread the good news about their resurrected Lord and his saving grace. After empowerment by the Holy Spirit, Peter's first sermon (Acts 2:24-40) resulted in 3000 people converting. Acts 8 tells us the church scattered to the far reaches of the earth, as Jesus commanded in Acts 1:8.

Jesus appeared to His fearful disciples, even though the doors were locked (John 20:19-22). His first words were "Peace be with you," not a rebuke. He came to restore them to faith by confronting their fears. Jesus showed them the wounds in His body. In Luke 24:38-43, He asked, "Why are you frightened?” And, “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.”

As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. Still they stood there in disbelief, but filled with joy and wonder. Then He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.” The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. The Bible teaches we all can experience joy in God's presence.

David said, “You have made known to me the path of life, You fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasure at Your right hand" (Psalm 16:11).

There is no joy like being in and feeling the presence of the Lord. Jesus repeated his greeting of peace again to assure them that everything was going to be okay, he had overcome death and evil. "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." Jesus, by giving them an assignment, restored their faith and confidence.

He empowered them with the power of the Holy Spirit when He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone of his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." The NIV Study Bible commentary says, "God doesn't forgive people's sins because we do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do. Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers accept or reject Jesus Christ."

The disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4). "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."

Jesus overcame Thomas's doubt and led him to faith (John 20:24-29). Thomas did not believe the witness of his fellow disciples, when they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” He refused the eyewitness accounts of his friends. Why was he so stubborn? Was he implying that all the other disciples were delusional?

Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." Someone said, "Hard-headed skeptics can scarcely go further than this." Jesus spoke directly to Thomas's unbelief when he said, "Thomas, put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Look at Jesus' loving approach. He simply helped Thomas to overcome his doubt by presenting him with a proof he could not deny.

To Jesus, love was more powerful than argument. His objective was to restore Thomas. Thomas’s doubt lifted from his mind and heart like the appearance of the sun removing the clouds. Thomas, now certain that the resurrected Jesus stood before him, with shaking knees and quivering lips, uttered the most glorious words ever spoken to Jesus until that moment, "My Lord and my God."

Thomas surrendered his heart and his life to faithful service to his Lord. Jesus said to Thomas in effect, “You don't have to see in order to believe.” Once something is proven by sight, it doesn't require faith. Jesus said to Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

For Christians, the Word of God is our authority to which we appeal when we are confronted with doubt or uncertainty. That's what John said, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia adds, “We believe the things that are revealed to be true, not because of an intrinsic truth which reason perceives, but because of the authority of God is the Author of Revelation, and who can neither deceive nor be deceived." We put our faith and trust in God the giver of sight and who sees us in our darkness even when we're deathly afraid of the outcome.

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling, “Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters." - Donner Atwood

What does this mean to us? Thomas G. Long said, “John's gospel gives us a snapshot of a church with nothing; no plan, no promise, no program, no perky youth ministry, no powerful preaching, no parking lot, nothing. In fact, when all is said and done, this terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room with a chair braced against the door has only one thing going for it: the risen Christ. And that seems to be the main point of this story.

In the final analysis, his is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door of a church with nothing, how the risen Christ enters the fearful chambers of every church and fills the place with his own life.” Doubt your doubt and open your heart to the Risen Christ's—then you will experience His presence and joy daily.

As the book of Hebrews 11:1, 6 puts it, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Jesus said, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” What does it mean to believe? To surrender your life to Him and to follow Him as your risen Savior and Lord!

Shim Habte, Willows United Methodist Church,
544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988; Phone (530) 934-3190
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