Jesus never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. I have personally wrestled with issues of faith and doubt on a number of occasions. Oswald Chambers quipped, "Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Today we will see how Jesus loved two doubters—both of whom were friends of His.
Some of the strongest believers in Jesus Christ were once struggling unbelievers: C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Collins (Human Genome Project), and Lee Strobel, to name a few. Charles Spurgeon said, “I suppose no man is a firm believer who has not once been a doubter.” Even the apostles who were closest to Jesus doubted after the women reported the resurrection. Yet even these doubters eventually went throughout the world to preach the resurrection and died for their faith. This study is a tale of two skeptics: John the Baptist and the apostle Thomas. Let’s consider them, their doubt, and how Jesus handled their doubt.
First, we take a look at these two notable doubters. John the Baptizer doubted Jesus’ identity (see Matthew 11:1-6) while Thomas doubted Jesus’ activity (see John 20:24-29). John initially made a strong confession of faith. Yet in this passage we find him in jail, and it was as a prisoner that he started doubting. Thomas, on the other hand, was predisposed to doubt, though he was loyal and courageous. At one point, he announced that he was willing to travel with Jesus and even die with him (see John 11:16). These brave and committed words show that he was willing to follow and experience danger with Jesus. Thomas was also real and honest. When Jesus told the disciples, “Where I go you know, and the way you know,” Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5). He was not the kind to nod and pretend to understand. Jesus said that John was the greatest among those born of women (see Matthew 11:11), yet he doubted. Thomas was an apostle, and he doubted. Their doubt was a question of belief, not character. Knowing this, discuss how you can better accept your doubts or those of others.
Next, let’s examine two noteworthy doubts. John’s doubt was based on unfulfilled expectations, and Thomas’ was based on a personal presupposition. John held misconceptions about the Messiah, expecting that He would set up His kingdom now, that He would overthrow Roman oppression, end suffering, and judge the unbelieving world. Yet John found himself suffering in jail, and these unfulfilled expectations, on top of emotional and physical strain, produced doubt in him toward Jesus. Thomas’ doubts were based on his presupposition that dead people don’t get up again. He was crushed that Jesus died, and he didn’t expect Him to rise from the dead. He wasn’t even open to the idea, which makes his doubt a shade different—it was actually unbelief! Now, doubt is not the same as unbelief. Doubt looks for answers, but unbelief does not care about answers. Doubt says, “I can’t believe.” Unbelief says, “I won’t believe.” Doubt is honest, but unbelief is obstinate. John was going through personal suffering, whereas Thomas went into personal solitude. Doubt works through difficulties and finds faith that is reasonable and satisfying. Unbelief decides against faith and pushes it away at all costs. Matthew Henry said that there are “none so blind as those that will not see.” Expectations and presuppositions are assumptions. John asked questions to clarify; Thomas made a declaration. Which is better? Why?
Now we examine two noble displays of Jesus’ love. Jesus appealed to fulfilled prophecy—specifically Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1—to affirm His identity to John and show why he should believe (see Matthew 11:4-6). With Thomas, He appealed to personal discovery (see John 20:26-27). Notice how Jesus graciously condescended to Thomas’ request and gave him evidence. If you need evidence, the credentials of Jesus are many and undeniable: His impact on human history, fulfilled prophecy, His claims about Himself, and His resurrection, in particular. Verse 27 could literally read, “Stop becoming faithless, but become a believer.” In response, Thomas rose from the lowest depths of unbelief to the heights of faith. Jesus affirmed His identity to John through prophecy, and He recognized and graciously fulfilled Thomas’ request by appearing to him. How has Jesus met you, reassured you, and dispelled your doubts?In closing, here are some tips for dealing with doubters. First, be available. In both cases, Jesus responded knowing that some people want a rational faith because their heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false. Second, be unshockably patient. We as Christians do not have to operate from an offensive posture when people make outrageous challenges about Jesus. Third, be prepared. Read up on evidences for faith, and show others that God is not asking them to take a blind leap into the dark, but rather a balanced leap into His light. Lastly, be nice. As Benjamin Franklin said, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” Jesus did not rebuke John and Thomas for failure. Instead, He compassionately offered proof of His identity and His activity. Jesus Christ loves people, even doubters. Discuss these four steps and begin praying for an opportunity to practice them.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Often doubt is not a sin but another step—crucial but painful—of growing in Christ.
Figures referenced: Tim Stafford, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Collins, Matthew Henry, Benjamin Franklin
Cross references: Isaiah 35:5; 61:1; Matthew 3:11; 11:1-6, 11; Mark 1:7; 9:23-24; Luke 3:16; 24:9-11; John 1:15, 27, 29-30; 11:16; 14:1-6; 20:24-29
Keywords: faith, doubt, skeptic, Jesus Christ, resurrection, proof, Christianity, unbelief, prophecy, belief, rational faith, evidence