Doubt = Fear
- We live in a time of great doubt. Skepticism. A lack of trust in almost everyone and everything. Politics. Government. Science. Industry. Media. …and even churches and clergy. Is some of that doubt and skepticism justified? I suppose some of it is. There’s nothing wrong with asking a question. When someone refuses to answer a question, then it only makes the doubts and skepticism grow. The last two years especially have been darkened with doubts of all kinds. It seems that doubt is always followed by fear.
- The account of Thomas and the other disciples is a record of unfounded doubt and unfounded fear. It isn’t just about “Doubting Thomas”—the other ten disciples were doubters, too, and their doubts put them behind locked doors because of fear. They had seen what Jesus’ enemies and the Romans had done to Jesus. They were worried about what might happen to Jesus’ closest followers. So they hid behind locked doors. You know the old saying, “Seeing is believing,” but that isn’t necessarily so. People can see, and still be doubtful. People can have the power of God displayed before them, and they harden their hearts against it. A week later, even after Jesus had appeared to them alive, the disciples were behind locked doors again. They still had doubts (See also Matthew 28:17). The doubt fed their fears. And their fears fed their doubts.
- Thomas expressed his doubts and his need to see to believe. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Jesus had said it many times, “On the third day I will rise” (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 13:32; 18:33). His Word was clear. Their minds were not. Again, the frenzy and the horror of what they had seen with Jesus’ suffering and death put a cloud over everything. But what did Jesus say? Doubt leads to fear—and doubt and fear can become a downward spiral and destroy all faith. That’s what it did to Judas. That’s what it was doing to the other disciples. That’s what it was doing to Thomas.
Faith = Peace
- …Which Jesus couldn’t allow. Easter evening, he came to his disciples who were together behind locked doors because of their fears, and he gave them what had to be the most loving and most gentle “See, I told you so!” ever. He came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” “Peace.” That’s the common Hebrew greeting, Shalom. It’s strange that we often define “peace” by what it is not. Peace is lack of conflict. Peace is the opposite of war. The sense of the Hebrew word shalom is a positive—it reminds me of the end of each day of creation when God pronounced his creation “very good.” The Hebrew sense of peace or shalom is everything right, everything good, everything the way it should be.
- With the disciples everything was not good, not right, not the way it should be, So Jesus set about to put things the way they should be. There is a world of meaning in that greeting from Jesus, “Peace be with you.” In the communion liturgy, right before the song “Lamb of God,” we pastors say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” I think we would have to say that is a prayer or a blessing. When Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” it wasn’t just a wish or a prayer—it was a declaration. “Peace be with you.” “I am here, just as I said.” “I said I would rise on the third day, and here I am.” “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ Here’s why. I’m faithful to my Word. If I can conquer death and hell, what are you worried about?”
- And then Jesus spoke about forgiveness. There was forgiveness in that greeting, “Peace be with you,” wasn’t there? Thursday night, they deserted Jesus. Jesus sought them out Sunday night and his first word to them was “Peace…” And what does he say next? “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That reminds me of King David’s prayer when he wasn’t at peace. In Psalm 51 he prayed, “Have mercy, forgive, cleanse, … and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” “Receive the Holy Spirit.” King David also prayed, “then I will teach transgressors your ways.” And what does Jesus tell his disciples next? “Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” “I forgive you. I restore your peace. I send you to restore peace to others.”
- You’ve heard me say this many times. Faith must have an object. Faith in faith is not really faith at all. There’s a reason the creeds say “We believe in one God… We believe in Jesus Christ… We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe something–what the Bible tells us about God, and we believe in someone—in God himself. So, Jesus drove away the doubt and fear of the ten, and then restored their faith and peace simply by being there. And then he drove out the doubt and fear of the one, Thomas, and restored his faith and peace. Jesus gave Thomas what he needed—even what he asked for. “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” Here Jesus shows his exaltation—he displays his power as true God, omniscience—Jesus knew what Thomas said, even when he wasn’t there. We aren’t told if Thomas actually did put his finger where the nails and spear had been. We know he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”
- This account of the ten doubters plus one teaches us something about faith. Faith and doubt often remain together. I’m not saying that they should, I’m just saying that they do. Maybe you remember when Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus. Jairus had come to Jesus and said, “Help me. Heal my daughter, she is dying of a fever.” Jesus went, and about halfway to the house, someone stopped them and said, “Your daughter has died. Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” And Jairus answered, “I do believe. Help me with my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Doubt doesn’t always mean complete unbelief—it means that there is a struggle going on—and there will be as long as we live in the body and as long as we live in the world since our broken nature is always focused on self. We want to trust in ourselves above all things—which pushes out trust in God, his Word, his commands or his promises. We’ve got our favorite things, our lifestyle—and when we love that above all things, it makes God, his Word, his commands and promises less important to us. And when our favorite things break, or our lifestyle is inconvenienced, our love for those things we can’t have can blind us to the greater things we have, and that can’t and won’t be taken from us.
- So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Before his Ascension he said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). There’s a connection. Our risen Christ, who calls himself our brother (Hebrews 2:11-12, 17), tells us that all things are in his hands. Why do you doubt? Why do you fear? You have a living Savior. As he showed himself alive to his disciples in that upper room, he also shows himself alive to you and me—here in his Word. And he meets our needs—just as Thomas said he needed to touch Jesus to believe, Jesus touches us—with water and the Word of baptism, with his body and blood in the bread and wine of the supper. “I am here. I am here among you with peace and forgiveness. Do not doubt. Do not be afraid.
John 20:19–31 (EHV)
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. 31 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.