FROM DOUBT TO DISCOVERY
Topic: Sunday Morning Messages Passage: John 20:19–20:31
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Doubt can inhibit a person and, at times, bring serious consequences. How many important opportunities have you forfeited because you doubted your own ability or someone else’s word? On occasion, our doubts loom so largely that we lose all perspective and become frozen in our tracks. In his famous poem, Prometheus, John Boyle O’Reilly wrote that “Doubt is brother devil to despair.” Surely there have been times in your life when you found that to be true. Perhaps now is one of those times.
And while doubt can be a debilitating and even a depressing thing, it can also be a doorway to discovery. More often than not, what makes the critical difference is the honesty with which one approaches the nature and the facts of a given situation.
But even “honesty” can be a subjective form of appraisal. That is because we all bring pre-conditioned biases into our decision-making processes. If, for example, we have come to think of the Bible as just another religious book, then we will probably consider its teachings in a skeptical way. But suppose—just suppose—that the evidence that is presented there is clear and irrefutable but one continues to deny it. Would not that slide doubt toward the level of dishonesty? God bears witness to the truth of His Word, and He provides evidence in support of that claim. And from every one of us He demands a verdict.
At some point, every one of us will be brought face-to-face with such eternally relevant matters as the existence of God, the nature of man, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Whether or not to believe the evidence becomes the deciding factor in how and for what purpose we chooses to live our lives.
There is no more classic example of this than what we find in the verses we read a moment ago. Late Friday afternoon the dead body of Jesus was taken down from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. At sunrise on Sunday morning the tomb was empty. Some said that the body had been stolen, but there were certain others claiming to be eyewitnesses who said that they had seen him alive and that He had even spoken with them.
It was now evening. As yet none of His disciples—those who had known Him best—had seen Him. There were only the rumors. Out of fear—and, perhaps, out of shame because they had abandoned Him in His hour of need—they have reconvened in an undesignated location to discuss what they were now to do. Jesus was gone...and so were their magnificent hopes and plans that were founded upon Him. One can only imagine the depressed atmosphere of a dimly lit room when all of a sudden an unexpected guest joined them. The darkness gave way to “Light”” (cf. John 8:12), and everything was about to change.
Let me ask before we proceed with the story, what is it that you believe about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you are among those who doubt. If so, are you an “honest” or “dishonest” doubter? Are you willing to examine the evidence that God sets before you, give an honest appraisal, and render an honest verdict as to who He is?
Or maybe you are among those who consider yourself to be a believer. If that is the case, are you merely a “professing believer” or do you truly “possess” Him in the sense of daily living each day as His disciple? Do doubts persist that Jesus Christ is truly alive today and that He lives in you?
Verses 19 through 31 of John 20 encapsulate the entire Gospel of John. Here we see Jesus alive and visibly appearing to those whom He has chosen to be His disciples. He is presenting them with incontrovertible evidence that He has arisen from the dead. The objective is to eliminate their doubts, to evoke their faith, and to empower them to carry out the assignment He is about to give them.
It goes without saying that Jesus Christ goes to great lengths to bring His people to Himself. He came from heaven to earth to live a life of sinless servitude, one that qualified Him to bear the wrath of God in our place as the payment for our sins. And, now having risen from the grave, He comes to His own in order to console them, commission them, confirm them, and to receive their confession of Him for who He truly is.
That progression begins in verses 19 and 20, where...
Jesus consoles His disciples by giving His peace (20:19-20).
Probably no more than twelve hours had passed since word had reached the disciples that the tomb had been found empty. Scattered in various directions when Jesus was arrested, they have now reconvened in an undisclosed location behind closed doors. All of their hopes and plans have been founded upon Jesus, and now He was gone. What did the future hold for those who had given up all in order to follow Him?
Others claimed to have seen Him...alive! It was the same Jesus, they insisted, but He was somehow different...changed, as if transformed. None of the Twelve had seen Him, however, and here they were hiding out in fear of their lives. Speaking in hushed tones, they wondered what would be their fate. Would they be hunted down as Jesus had been? Where would they go? What would they do?
Just then, Jesus presence’ filled the room...not in an ethereal, spiritual way, but in bodily form. He “stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Then he showed them his hands and his side.
The closest Synoptic parallel that we find of this incident is recorded in Luke 24(:36-40) when we read, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Luke proceeds to tell us that Jesus even broke bread and ate with them. As the evening wore on He reminded them how the ancient Scriptures had foretold His death in the place of sinners and His resurrection from the grave. He had drained the full cup of God’s wrath so that those who repented of sin and entrusted themselves to Him might be shown forgiveness and granted eternal life.
His first words upon being reunited with His disciples were “Peace be with you.” “Peace” or “Shalom” remains a common greeting among the Jews. It means “wholeness,” “harmony,” and “well being.” Obviously, when Jesus promises “peace,” it means that and so much more. Just a few days earlier, He had told these same disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Some years later, in an effort to encourage the prayer lives of early Christians, Paul wrote, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The “peace” of Jesus protects the “hearts and... minds” of the believer.
Any “peace” the world offers is temporary at best and is a poor substitute for the eternal assurance granted by the risen Christ to those who are His. His “peace” is one that is secured by His blood and affirmed by His resurrection. This is the outcome of the Gospel, and it is to be shared with others.
The work of Christ in procuring salvation for those who believe was “finished” (cf. John 19:30) at the cross, but the work of the disciples was just beginning. Others needed to know how to experience God’s “peace.” So, just as He consoles His followers with His resurrection presence...
Jesus commissions His disciples by equipping and sending them (20:21-23).
Reiterating His pledge of “peace,” the Lord now charges them in verses 21 through 23. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” From the earliest days of His public ministry, Jesus claimed to having been sent by the Father (cf. John 6:57). His origin was a heavenly one and His mission had been ordained by heaven’s highest court. We recall that in His prayer of intercession for His disciples in chapter 17(:18), Jesus had said to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
His charge to them would be but an extension of His own commission. It would involve “mak(ing) disciples of all nations” (cf. Matthew 28:19)—a worldwide plan that included “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (cf. Revelation 5:9). It is a movement that would extend beyond a generation or two. It is, in fact, a campaign that has now raged for two thousand years. It is a mission that will not be complete until the Lord Himself says, “No more!”
The task is a daunting one, and yet it is the very purpose for which every follower of Jesus Christ has been called. Jesus was not just commissioning these few men, but all who know Him by faith. You and I are included...and in this we are not alone. We have one another...but even more than that, Jesus provides a greater resource. Verses 22 says, that “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Linking verses 21 and 22 we observe that the entire Trinity stands behind us in carrying out the our Lord’s Commission to reach the world with the Gospel. Follow the logic: God the Father sends Jesus the Son, who sends the Holy Spirit to equip believers to fulfill the mission.
This is not a provision meant solely for this first handful of disciples. Nor is it meant to be applied to a select few in every generation. The very purpose for being a Christian is to make Christ known. We do that by being “salt” and “light” (cf. Matthew 5:13-16)...not merely as individuals, but collectively...or, perhaps better said, corporately. In other words, we do that as the Church. Jesus not only commissions us to make disciples, but to plant churches where disciples can live and grow with one another.
That would be the only way that verse 23 makes sense. When Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Both the pronouns and the verbs in these statements are plural, and the perfect tense in Greek suggests completed action with the results actively remaining. An awkward, and yet accurate, reading would be “If you forgive the sins of any, they have already been forgiven; and if you withhold forgiveness, it has already been withheld.”
Matthew 16:18 and 19 provides us a related example. That is where Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The point is that whatever action the church takes, God has already decreed it to be so on the basis of His Word. And therein is the key. Are we as the church being the Church—faithfully carrying out God’s instructions as His Word directs? It is a question we must continually be asking ourselves because our authority extends only as far as Scripture grants.
Therefore, the Church’s authority has nothing to do with “absolution” or the granting of “penance.” But it has everything to do with carrying out the will of God, according to the Word of God, within the Church of God. Nothing is permitted apart from Scriptural authority. The idea is not that a local church has the inherent authority on its own to forgive or not forgive people, but rather that by proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ alone, it can either confirm or refute one’s profession of faith on the basis of biblical criteria.
No local church is infallible in making such determinations, but every local assembly is charged by the Lord to faithfully guard its membership. Christ’s death and resurrection demand that we maintain a pure and holy church for His glory. Today we are His hands and feet in the world, and it is His reputation and character that are at stake in us. The world sees Christ through the lens that we project Him. To be succinct, we represent Him...and that is no small assignment.
Jesus has consoled His disciples by offering His “peace,” and He has commissioned them by granting His authority. Now in verses 24 through 27,
Jesus confirms His disciples by providing evidence of His resurrection (20:24-27).
We are suddenly made aware in verse 24 that one of the group had been missing when Jesus appeared on that first evening. We are not told where Thomas may have been and why he was not with them. When the others inform him that they “have seen the Lord,” he becomes skeptical and boasts rather defiantly, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will never believe.” That last phrase is emphatic: “I will not ever believe!” And for that remark this disciple has had to wear the label, “Doubting Thomas,” for two thousand years. But perhaps we should not be so hasty in that assessment of him.
How many of us at one time or another have expressed a similar sentiment...if not openly, then perhaps in our hearts and minds? We lay out fleeces for God and say, “If you’re really there, Lord, show me proof. Give me a sign.”
John has said a great deal about “signs” in this book, hasn’t. As we have noted, “signs” are for the purpose of generating a response. We don’t look at a “stop sign” in order to admire its shape, color, or reflective quality, but in order to respond and react to what the “sign” was put there to tell us. John has recorded seven miraculous “signs’ in this Gospel to demonstrate Jesus’ authority over time and distance, nature, illness, and death. For the one who persists in doubt, no amount of “signs”—no matter how spectacular—will produce faith enough to believe in Jesus. “Faith” comes as a gift from God to those willing to honestly evaluate the evidence.
A week would pass. The disciples had come together again, apparently at the same location. It was déjà vu except for the fact that Thomas—was with them on this occasion. Following His greeting of “peace,” Jesus spots Thomas right away, as if to say, “I heard you, Thomas.” Looking the doubter in the eye, He extends His hand and tells him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands;” and exposing His side, He adds, “Put out your hand, and place it in my side.”
It is interesting to compare the demands of Thomas with the commands of Jesus in this passage:
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails”
“See my hands”
“And place my finger into the mark of the nails”
“Place your finger
“And place my hand into his side”
“Put out your hand, and place it in my side”
“I will never believe”
“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
“I hear your every word and thought, Thomas. Here is the evidence you asked for.” “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” That last phrase is haunting. Wasn’t Thomas already a “believer”? After all, he had been a loyal member of the band of the band of disciples. In John 11:16, he expressed a willingness to die with Jesus. And in John 14:5, he had asked Jesus where He planned to go so that he could go with Him. But despite his loyalty, it appears that Thomas may not yet have been a “believer.”
Local church roles often contain the names of members who have sung in choirs, taught classes, given generously, and performed countless acts of service for many years, but who do not truly believe in the risen Christ. When Jesus presses upon a person’s life, He brings undeniable and incontrovertible proofs as to His identity, and His evidence always demands a verdict. “Dishonest doubters” will see it and claim it isn’t enough. And in doing so, they will demonstrate that they were never His disciples. It is the “honest doubter” who is willing to humble himself, believe and turn to Christ, and be welcomed into the family of faith.
So, how did Thomas respond? With the clearest statement of faith found anywhere in the Gospels. And...
Jesus corroborates His disciple’s confession of Him (20:28-29).
We are never told whether Thomas accepted Jesus’ offer to touch His still-visible wounds. My instinct suggests that he did not. It wasn’t necessary. Seeing was sufficient. And in response to seeing the evidence, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!” This is not merely an exclamation of astonishment, as some have flippantly suggested. Rather, verse 28 is an expression of the epitome of faith. It is the equivalent of confessing Jesus to be none other than “God-in-flesh.”
Think back with me to John’s prologue, where we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (cf. John 1:1 and 14). Thomas saw the wounds of the crucified Jesus and knew right away that He was in the presence of incarnate Deity. With an outpouring of reverent emotion, He cried out, “My Lord and my God!” What a sacred moment that must have been.
But no more sacred than when any individual comes to the realization of who Jesus Christ truly is. Every turning to Christ is a miracle drawn by the Divine hand. Was it with a wide-eyed stare of wonderment or with his head humbly bowed that Thomas uttered those words: “My Lord and my God”?
With eyes of love and a smile of grace, “Jesus said to him (in verse 29), “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This word of blessing—this beatitude—is for you and me...those of us who have never visibly seen the face or audibly heard the voice of Jesus as the other disciples had. And yet we believe.
Commenting on this, Charles Spurgeon wrote,
Perhaps we have said to ourselves, “Oh that God would in some way reveal himself to me so that my senses might assist my faith. Oh that I might be hidden away in some cleft of the rock and might see the hem of Jehovah’s robe. If I might hear some divine whisper that I am his, then I would, indeed, rejoice and never doubt again. Or if I might see some miracle, something I was sure was the finger of God so that I would never doubt again, what a grand thing it would be!” We should not ask for anything like that. We should not wish to have it even if we could, for “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We would be waiting for something that is practically the same as sight. We would show that we do not feel content to swim in the pure sea of faith. After all, it is only vanity that we are waiting for, so he will deny it to us and will say, “My children, instead of wanting to see, believe, trust, follow me in the dark, for it is better for you not to see. Even if you did see and believe, you would have obtained only an inferior gift; for the higher blessing, the cream of blessing, belongs to those have not seen and yet have believed.
You and I should take comfort in that, my friends. The first generation of believers, like Thomas, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection...and what a marvelous experience that must have been. But you and I have joined the trail of many generations “who have not seen and yet have believed.” We believe in Jesus because of the testimony of men like those who saw Him and heard Him. It was this very thing for which Christ prayed in John 17(:20). And now we stand in their place, and the cycle goes on so that others “who have not seen” may also believe.
In that same vein, Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Until you have had your “Thomas’ moment”—that moment when you are brought face-to-face with your own need to bow before the Son of God, repenting of your sin and embracing Him as your “Lord and...God”—then your doubts will persist. They will hound you to your grave and prevent you from experiencing the “peace” that Jesus breaks through to give you.
Paradoxically, it is “Doubting Thomas” who offers the highest confession of the Person of Christ found anywhere in the New Testament. Don’t allow your doubts in Jesus Christ to debilitate you. If you have not already committed your life to Him, release those doubts, examine the evidence, and discover Him to be your “Lord and (your) God.”
John was inspired by God to leave this record of testimony for the generations to follow. Before concluding his account with one final chapter, in verses 30 and 31...
John concisely summarizes the purpose of his Gospel (20:30-31).
We have referred to these verses several times before in our study of this book, and now we see them within their context. The writer has presented His case in support of the Deity of Jesus and admits that there is much more that could have been included. He draws this chapter to a close by saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so 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 theme and purpose of John’s Gospel has been to present evidence regarding the person and work of Christ and to draw out faith from those who both see and hear. When he says, “so that you may believe,” the “you” he speaks of is us—you and me.
It must be said that “belief” or “faith” means more than a vague trust. Faith must have an object, and that object—if it is to bring “life”—must be in a specific Person, namely the Lord Jesus Christ.
John’s choice of material has been selective. Jesus performed numerous miraculous deeds during His earthly ministry, but only seven such “signs” have been included in this record. And as “signs,” they are intended to evoke from those who read them a response...a response to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing...have life in his name.”
All of the “signs” led ultimately to “the sign” of Jesus rising from the dead. In Matthew 12(:38-42) when the scribes and Pharisees asked Him to give them a “sign” that would confirm His claims, Jesus replied, “An evil and an adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
“Signs” provide the evidence that, when responded to honestly, can transform doubt into discovery, deliverance, and devotion. Many—if not most of us here this morning—bear witness to that because our lives reflect the power of the risen Christ. No longer do we live for ourselves, but for Him and for His people. We are driven by a new motivation that enables us to lay down our lives for Him and proclaim to be “our Lord and our God.”
The fate of Thomas following this event is not mentioned in the Bible. Church history, however, informs us that his subsequent ministry for Christ began in Syria and moved eastward as far as India. There, it is believed, that he planted the first church there. Some years later—in AD 72—he died a martyr’s death at the end of a sword. In that moment, as his earthly life ebbed from him and he entered into eternal glory, Thomas once again saw the face, the hands, and the side of Jesus.
Four decades earlier, when Jesus announced that He would be going “to prepare a place” for those who would believe in Him as Savior and Lord, Thomas had asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus responded, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (cf. John 14:5-7).
Thomas’ doubt had been transformed by God’s grace into the discovery of life evermore in the presence of the One who is his “Lord and...God.” To each of us this morning, Jesus offers a similar invitation, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”