Faithlife Sermons

John 20:24-31

Easter 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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I. The Need: How do we navigate seasons of doubt?

A) It’s hard to celebrate the season of Easter this year.

Let’s be honest with one another for a moment. It’s really hard to celebrate the season of Easter this year. One day, sure, we all probably could muster a celebratory spirit, but sustaining the joy of the Resurrection is proving to be a challenge. The season of Easter is all about the sweet truth that our God is making all things new; that just as he has long promised, he has broken into the darkness of an ailing world with an all-encompassing mission of restoration and renewal.
1. It feels like we are look at Easter through a clouded window.
Restoration, renewal, resurrection, rejoicing - doesn’t it feel like we’re looking at Easter through a clouded window? We know it’s there, we can see the outline, we can see its shadow, but it’s obscured enough by what’s going on in our world that we can’t quite make it out.
When I’m not wearing contacts or glasses, I can see the outline of things, but I can’t see the detail. I can recognize that there are words on that poster, but because I can’t make out the details, I don’t know what they say. There are times when I make a joke at home and I look over at Melanie, and I can see her, but I can’t tell what face she’s making. Is she laughing or rolling her eyes? I’m not sure. I have to ask her.
We feel that uncertainty and doubt this Easter season, maybe more than ever before. We see the outline of restoration, renewal, resurrection, but right now we can’t see the details, and so our hearts have begun to question, to seek assurance, to desire evidence.
2. Thomas’ story teaches us how to navigate our doubts.
This morning we’ve been given a gift of a story. I for one am grateful for Thomas’ honesty, because in his doubt we have the opportunity to explore how disciples of Jesus can navigate our own questioning and desire for evidence. How do we navigate seasons of doubt?
In the midst of all of the unknowns that characterize our life right now, I want to offer three certainties that we find in this text. First, you will have doubts. Second, Jesus will accommodate your doubts. And finally, the worshipping community is the best place for doubters.
So let’s take a look at this incredible story together. Verse 24.

II. You will have doubts.

English Standard Version Chapter 20

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.”

A) Thomas is willing to follow, but has questions

We don’t know much about the disciple named Thomas. In fact, John is the only gospel to give us any real interaction with him. We’ve heard from him twice before in this gospel. He was the loyal and pessimistic disciple who responded to Jesus’ desire to go towards Jerusalem by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Loyal, but pessimistic. We hear from again, after Jesus reassures his disciples that he’s not abandoning them but that he is going to prepare a place for them with the Father, it was Thomas who sought more information, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
So here’s a guy who is willing to follow Jesus no matter the costs. Thomas wants to follow Jesus, he wants to be faithful, he wants to be obedient, but at times, he’d like a little more elaboration on the details of that journey. And here he hears this phenomenal report that his friends had seen Jesus who was very much dead, and Thomas says he’s going to need more than just their word. He’s going to need to see Jesus for himself. It’s unclear to him how this is a part of God’s plan. He wants to follow, but he’s going to need something more.

B) Thomas has been with Jesus for years, and he still had doubts.

But here’s what I really want you to see. At this point in the story, at the end of John’s gospel, after the cross, after the resurrection, Thomas has been with Jesus for years. He’s literally walked with Jesus. He’s heard his voice. He’s seen his miracles. He’s been with Jesus for years now. And, he still has questions. He’s still wants clarity.
So if you think that you, who have not seen Jesus, not walked with him, heard his voice, shared a meal with him, if you think that you can somehow follow Jesus without also having questions and doubts and a desire for clarity, than you’re going to unnecessarily burden and constrict your relationship with Jesus. Jesus never asks for certainty from his disciples. He asks for their trust.
In our world of unknowns, our first certainty is that we will have doubts. We will have questions. We will want clarification. What Thomas shows us is that no matter how closely you walk with Jesus, no matter how firm your devotional practices, no matter how solid your faith, there will arise times in your life when you have doubts - and often it will happen when it is unclear how your situation fits into God’s plan.
So if that is you today, take a breath, and stop listening to the voice that is lying to you, saying that a true disciple of Jesus never doubts or questions.
Instead, let’s listen to what Jesus has to say as he responds to the very real concerns and queastions that Thomas has. Verse 26.

III. Jesus will accommodate your doubts.

English Standard Version Chapter 20

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!”

So Thomas, who was not present for the first appearance of Jesus, essentially says that if he is going to believe that Jesus is alive, he’s going to need to see what his friends saw. He’s going to need to go a step further still and physically touch the wounds that killed his Messiah.
And then eight days goes by. A full week passes and there is no response from Jesus. No sighting. No evidence of his resurrection given to Thomas. Nothing. We’ll come back to that, because this is a very important part of this story.
But I love this scene: So the following Sunday, Thomas is with his friends, having made his firm demands and requirements for belief, and Jesus appears right there in the room and his eyes fasten on Thomas. “Hello Thomas, fancy meeting you here.” Thomas is most certainly frozen in place. “Oh Thomas,” Jesus continues, “I think I heard you say something the other day about needing to touch my hands and my side.” Thomas, completely beside himself, says nothing. His friends wonder if he’s still breathing. Jesus invites him still, “Come, come Thomas, bring that finger of yours over here.” Can you imagine that scene?

A) Jesus gives Thomas everything he needs to believe.

But do you see what Jesus has done for Thomas?
Jesus isn’t upset or frustrated. He’s not slighted by Thomas’ doubts. He doesn’t greet him with anger or guilt or punishment. He greets him with peace, and he accommodates Thomas’ doubt. Thomas has said that he needs to see and to touch in order to believe, and what does Jesus say? “See! Touch!” He’s given Thomas everything he needs to believe. Jesus meets his requirements to the letter, and in doing so he reveals the heart of God towards those who want to follow but have honest doubts and questions.
1. Jesus knew Thomas’ doubts
Jesus knew Thomas’ doubts. He knew the hang ups. Jesus knows your questions and your desire for clarity or assurance. He knows that you’re looking at this upheaval of everything familiar in your life and you’re wondering, “What the heck are you up to God? I thought you had my best interest in mind. I thought you would lead me to greener pastures and still waters. Where are you taking me, because I’m not sure I want to go.” Jesus hears your doubts, and he greets you with peace and with grace. So you don’t have to hide them. In fact, I’d say that your doubts and questions are far more harmful to your faith when you keep them tucked away rather than follow Thomas’ example and air them out to your community and ultimately to Jesus himself.
2. Jesus wants Thomas to believe
Jesus knows your doubts and what we see in this story is that he wants you to believe. He wants you to trust him, and so his posture is, “Anything you need, I’ll give it.” Thomas needs physical proof, Jesus delivers. Why? Because he wants Thomas to believe. Jesus says to Thomas what he say to us, bring me your question, your doubts, your concerns, your uncertainties, your tensions and I will give you whatever you need.
3. Thomas didn’t know what he needed
Now, we have to notice: Thomas thought he knew what he needed to believe. He thought he needed to touch the wounds of Jesus - to put his fingers in the holes in his hands, and his hand in the wound in his side. But is this actually what Thomas needed to overcome his doubt and to shed light on what was unclear to him? No. And how do we know that? Because Thomas never touches his wounds. Jesus offers, but Thomas doesn’t need it. Being in the presence of the risen Jesus was enough for him.
Jesus knows your doubts, he wants you to believe, and he’ll do whatever it takes. In the many unknowns of our present circumstances, we can be certain that we’ll have doubts, and that Jesus will meet us in those doubts with his presence.
4. Thomas had to wait eight days
But he’s not always following our time-table. Thomas spends eight days with his doubts. Eight days left out of the joy of the resurrection and the certainty that God’s Messiah has indeed come to make all things new. That must have been a long and dark week. What we forget is that in for the vast majority of this story, Thomas is left in a really uncomfortable and troubling place. But if we can be certain that Jesus knew his doubts, and wanted him to believe, then we can be certain that Thomas needed to sit with his questions for a time. Somehow those eight days prepared Thomas for belief.
And the truth is that in the saga of your doubt, you’ll spend time in the same eight days as Thomas. You’ll ask your questions, and the answers will not come right away. You can be comforted by the fact that Jesus knows your doubts and wants you to believe, but those eight days are still difficult to endure. Many of us are in those eight days right now - our heads and hearts swimming with doubt and questions. How are we going to make it to that eight day?
What does Thomas do? Bet you never thought a Pastor would endorse WWTD, what would Thomas do? But he shows us how to navigate those eight days. Because even in his doubts and questions, He stays connected to the Jesus community.

IV. The worshipping community is the best place for doubters.

In the many unknowns of our life, we can be certain that the Jesus community is the best place for those with doubts.
1. Clarity comes in the community.
Where do we go until the clarity comes? Time and time again I’ve see faithful Christians who truly want to follow Jesus, enter into a season of significant doubt and questioning. Usually something has happened in their life that has rocked them, and out of fear or shame or discomfort, they withdraw from their community to process their doubts alone. And this sets off a downward spiral, as they become increasingly alienated from the very people that Jesus has given for this very purpose.
Why was Thomas in the locked room eight days later? Because even though he had doubts and questions - and let’s take note, his doubts were not about something insignificant, this wasn’t about some marginal aspect of faith, this was about the resurrection of Jesus, the central pillar - but even though he had these questions and doubts, he stayed connected to the Jesus community, which landed him in that room eight days later to see the risen King Jesus for himself.
Do not process alone. Bring them to this community. Do you have doubts? Do you have questions? Bring them to this community.
2. The community must welcome those with doubt.
Notice as well, that his friends didn’t push him away, either. The Jesus community accepted Thomas even with these significant doubts. They weren’t afraid of his questions. They didn’t silence him or push him away. The welcomed him, because they knew that Jesus was alive - they had seen the Lord, and they were certain that Thomas would as well. Thomas didn’t need their arguments or persuasive abilities. He needed to encounter Jesus like they had.
In this time filled with endless unknowns, we can be certain that we will have doubts, that Jesus will accommodate those doubts with scandalous grace, and that the best place to be in seasons of doubt is in the Jesus community.

V. Conclusion

Truth be told, some of us may be uncomfortable with such an accommodating Jesus - a Jesus that hears our doubts and whose love for us is so great that he’d be willing to give us whatever we needed in order to bring us to faith. It’s all a bit too accommodating. But it’s so Jesus.
This is the one who though shared equality with God, he humbled himself to be born a baby for us. This is the one who though his own people rejected him and wanted him dead, he gave his life that they might experience abundant life. This is the one who though tempted in every way as we are never sinned and yet was found to be eating with and genuinely enjoying time with tax collectors and prostitutes and zealots. When has Jesus NOT provided everything we need? When has Jesus NOT accommodated our flaws and faults. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son. It’s all a bit too accommodating, but it is so Jesus.
It is widely believed that Thomas would go on from this encounter to plant churches throughout the world. He’d go as far as India, where many Christian communities claim their heritage originates in his ministry. Thomas is believed to have been martyred for his faith in India. I do not believe this was Thomas’ only moment of doubt and question. He’d certainly continue to desire greater clarity, he’d certainly continue to wait on Jesus for answers, but you can bet he knew that his Lord and his God would supply him with everything he needed to know the life that is found in Christ’s name. His story teaches us that our doubts and questions do not disqualify us from great acts of faith.
Friends, it’s okay to have questions during these turbulent times. That’s a certainty. But remember the other two certainties: Jesus will accommodate your doubts with his peace and grace, and as you wait for Jesus to reveal himself to you, the best place to be is in the community that bears his name.
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