One of the duties of a pastor, as I see it, is to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:12). This message is designed to do just that by showing how Christ handled the problem of a crisis of faith and by giving some Biblical principles that should prove helpful in similar situations.
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 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 genname [emphasis mine] (John 20:24-31).
One of the first conversations I remember having after becoming a pastor was to help a person who had doubts about his faith by reassuring him that there is nothing wrong with doubt. As a matter of fact, I said, to doubt is the sign of a healthy mind. In addition, I would not want to live in a world that had no doubt--at least, the kind of world I know.
It is actually comforting to know that I can doubt whether I can fly or not, particularly when I am looking over the ledge of a tall building and I suddenly get the urge to soar like an eagle. To be without doubt in such a situation just might get me into serious trouble.
One of our family's funny stories, something that my grandmother used to enjoy telling, involved my father in that kind of situation. When he was a young boy, he decided to make a pair of wings out of a bed sheet and some bailing wire and test them out by jumping off the barn into the cow pen below. Needless to say, the wings did not work, and Dad ended up in a mud puddle, with farm animals scattering every which way. He could have used a little honest doubt in that case.
The Scriptures actually encourage a measure of honest doubt.
Paul told believers to test everything that people claim is from God and to hold on to what is good (1 Thess. 5: 21). In addition, we are told that we should also be prepared to give an answer to those who have honest questions about our faith. The Bible commands that in our hearts we "set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15).
Let's examine these two verses in the context of this story about "Doubting Thomas," as he has so unfairly been labeled.
First, the men and women who are ready to give an answer of the hope that is within them must sanctify the Lord in their hearts.
That is, Christ has a sacred place in their hearts--the seat of their emotions. Anger and argument for the sake of argument have no place in the defense of the faith. It has been my observation that the first one to get angry in an argument is usually the one in the wrong.
Second, Christians are to be prepared, "ready," to give an answer to every man--Hindu, Muslim, Jehovah's Witness, Mormon--every man.
Third, they must give a reasonable answer.
And fourth, their answer is to be given with gentleness and respect, "meekness and fear" in the King James language.
You and I as apologists (not people who "apologize" for Christianity but ones who prove it logically) must have a right attitude--a Christlike spirit, with our emotions clearly in check. We must "set apart Christ as Lord" in our hearts. How can we expect to talk about the Prince of Peace unless He reigns supremely in our souls? Christ did not scold Thomas or brush his doubts aside. Rather, He said, in essence, "Look and see, even touch, if you wish. This is not a figment of your imagination. No, I am alive."
God should be front and center. We must have pure hearts. Don't you like the attitude of Christ? Immediately, His first concern was for His disciples. He did not want to frighten them. He said, "Peace be with you!" We must be ready. A slothful and careless approach is not good enough. We must be prepared! Being prepared, however, is not enough. We must be ready, that is willing, even anxious to give an answer.
Our answer must be reasonable. The moon is not made of green cheese. Neither is our faith an unreasonable concept. God gave each of us a brain and expects us to use it. Jesus was reasonable in His reply. He said, in a word, you need empirical evidence, something you can experience, something that is convincing and logical. "Well, take a look, touch, and feel. I am alive!"
Gentleness and meekness are the hallmarks of true Christian apologists.
After all, a changed life is the best proof of the power of Christ to change human behavior. When you stop and think about it, Jesus won all of His disciples by just being Jesus. In light of Romans 8:28--which tells us that we not only should be like Him, but also that it is our destiny--it is helpful to take a closer look at Jesus' methods of persuasion.
He never condemned. "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). He demonstrated that same quality in dealing with the woman caught in adultery. "Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' ‘No one, sir,' she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin'" (John 8:10-11).
He never enticed people through flattery. After the feeding of the multitude, "Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'" (John: 6:26). Neither did He make discipleship easy. To the rich young ruler, He said, "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Luke 18:22). Beware of those that promise you the moon, the stars, and a brand-new Mercedes Benz when you accept their brand of Christianity.
Jesus never coerced those He spoke to. Once, when He and His disciples were journeying through Samaria, the native inhabitants refused to show them hospitality. Although James and John were eager to call fire down from heaven on the offenders, Jesus refused. He told them that He had come to save men, not destroy them (Luke 9:52-56). Bombs and rockets may make converts, but not good ones--that's for sure.
Honest doubt is not the enemy that most Christians have thought it to be. Jesus commended faith in individuals, but He built up those who had sincere, reasonable doubts, as Thomas did. Jesus was never averse to giving credible evidence of His power and authority to back up His words, and doing it in a gentle manner. When we deal with people who have doubts about the Savior or His ways, we must follow His loving and moderate example if we expect to reap the bountiful results that He did.