Skip Heitzig - Jesus Loves Doubters
Good morning, would you turn in your Bibles to two places in your New Testaments: the first gospel, the gospel of Matthew, and the fourth gospel, the gospel of John; Matthew, chapter 11, and John, chapter 20. Dennis was a doubter. Dennis grew up in a home with a family that gave him a traditional upbringing believing in God, going to church. But as Dennis came of age, he found himself doubting many of the things he had been taught. By the time Dennis hit college, his struggles were pronounced. He became a major in science and eventually his doubts solidified into deep convictions. He was very secure in his unbelief. Dennis went on to become an instructor in biology at the college level and then a medical doctor eventually.
By the time I met Dennis, however, he admitted to me that he knew something was missing in his life, and we had great conversations. And I remember Dennis beginning to doubt his own doubts. And he revisited all of the things that he was doubting and what he had once believed. And I watched a man who at one time held to some form of belief, had become a doubter, and eventually unbelief, to move from unbelief back to doubt, and then eventually to become a bona fide, strong, vibrant believer in Jesus Christ, great doctor, great Christian. Dennis' story is not alone. Hundreds of people for generations have struggled with issues of faith. Did you know that people who even lived during the time of Jesus did as well?
You remember the story of the man who had a son who was oppressed and brought his son to Jesus? And our Lord said, "If you believe, anything is possible to him who believes." And the man said, "I believe, but help my unbelief." Ever been there? "I believe, but there's this part of me that struggles with doubt." Tim Stafford, who was an author, admitted this when he was in college. He said, "I was supposed to 'hear his voice' in a two thousand-year-old book. I was supposed to 'talk to him in prayer.' But when I read the Bible, I heard no voices, and my prayers often seemed more like I was talking to myself. My sense of his presence was never intense enough to form absolute proof of God. And other people's experience, well, that was other people."
"And so one blustery night when the wind blew the trees high into the air, I walked for miles, asking God again and again to simply show himself to me. I shouted to heaven to shatter the silence. I did not want to 'work up' a feeling of God; I wanted God to break in on me. He did not. I heard no voice. I saw no lights in the sky. I went home to my dorm room and I went to bed. And I survived. I did more than survive; I grew. But I did not stop longing for God to be unquestionably real to me." I've discovered something, that many people, like Dennis, some of the strongest believers I've ever met or read, were one time struggling unbelievers: C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Collins who was head of the Human Genome Project, medical doctor.
Many, many people, like those people, struggled through doubts and came to vibrant faith. But you need to know that even the very closest men to Jesus had their own doubts. The apostles themselves, after the resurrection, when the women came and reported that the tomb was empty, listen to what the Bible says: "And their words seemed like idle tales, and they did not believe them." We're going look at two skeptics today, two doubters: John the Baptist, I prefer to all him John the Baptizer, because we really don't know if he was Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian. So, let's just call him John the Baptizer or J the B, if you prefer. He was the one who announced the Messiah. And then the other one was the classic doubter; and that is, Thomas.
You could call this message "A Tale of Two Skeptics." John the Baptist and Thomas, we're going to look at these two gentlemen and then we're going to look at their doubts, and then we're going to see how Jesus handled it. Let's begin with John the Baptizer, first notable doubter in Matthew, chapter 11. Now, his problem is that he doubted the identity of Jesus. In Matthew 11 verse 1, "It came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding his twelve disciples that he departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to him", that is, the two disciples of John said to Jesus, "'Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?' And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.'"
So, here's John the Baptist wondering if this Jesus is really the guy. Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Now let's back up a little bit. At one time John the Baptizer was very clear as to who Jesus was. He was the guy, you remember, when Christ came to the Jordan River and John saw him, said, "Look, there's the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." That's a clear statement of faith. "That's the Savior right there."
On another time, he said, "You know, this guy is so great, I'm not even worthy to bend down and untie his shoelaces, his sandal straps. That's how great he is and how not great I am." And then he said of Jesus, though John himself was older than Christ, he said, "The one who comes after me is preferred before me, because he was before me." Another translation says, "He preexisted before I was born," a powerful statement of his deity. So you put it all together, John knew who Jesus was. He's the Savior of the world and he's God in human flesh. Now I want to add a layer to that. We know that probably John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were second cousins. Most scholars believe that Jesus' mother Mary and Elizabeth were first cousins, making Jesus and John second cousins.
To me, that adds to the authenticity of the statements of John about Jesus, because who of you would ever say about your cousin, "My cousin, he's God." You've said a lot of other things about your cousin, but probably not that. "Uh, my cousin, he's the Savior of the world." But John, growing up with Jesus, going to the festivals in Jerusalem, being at family reunions, knew him very well, believed that about him. But now he's sort of second-guessing it. It says he is in prison. And we know why he is in prison. The Bible tells us because he was very openly preaching against one of the rulers named Herod Antipas who dumped his wife, so that he could marry his brother Philip's wife named Herodias. They were hooking up, and John saw that, and he preached against that. Ended him up in jail.
So now he's in jail and he's rethinking the whole thing. He's rotting in jail, and he's wondering, "So where's the kingdom? Are you the One, or do we look for another?" Let's go to Thomas now in John, chapter 20; Thomas the apostle, John chapter 20 verse 24. "Now Thomas called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' So he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.' After eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, 'Peace to you!'
"And he said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.' And Thomas answered and said to him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" Okay, so Thomas was the apostle from Missouri, right, the "show me" state? "Hey, Tom, Jesus is alive!" "Show me." "No, really, the tomb is empty." "Show me." He was that guy. He's the classic doubter. We all always think of Thomas whenever there's a word association about doubt. In fact, we even call people who are doubters, we call them doubting Thomases, as if Thomas is somehow the patron saint of all skeptics.
He has to live with that rap. We usually find Thomas in the New Testament singing in the minor key. He always sees the dark side of things. I've often said if this were a Winnie the Pooh carton, Thomas would be Eeyore, right, Eeyore the donkey? "Good morning, Eeyore." "Good morning, if it is good, which I doubt." I mean, that's Thomas. I heard about a woman who it was her first time she had ever made Thanksgiving dinner, a turkey for Thanksgiving for her family. And she wasn't, she was anything but an expert. She was a novice. And she said to her family, "Look, this is my first go-around. If this turkey does not turn out, I don't want to hear a word from you. We're just going to go out and grab dinner at a restaurant."
So she went into the kitchen and brought the turkey into the dining room, and there was her family already dressed up in coats ready to go. Thomas was the apostle with the coat on. However, there's a couple things that I think we need to know about Thomas to sort of balance out his profile. First of all, Thomas was loyal. Did you know that? Of all of the apostles, Thomas was the guy who was loyal to Jesus. Because there was that time when our Lord said, "Let's go back up to Judea," and all of the apostles said, "Now, wait a minute, the Jews recently have sought to stone you in Judea. Why would you go there?" It was Thomas who spoke up and said, "Let us go with him also, that we may die with him."
Okay, now that's not a very encouraging statement, that's an Eeyore statement, but that's a loyal statement. That's a very courageous statement. "I am willing to follow you to death." So he was loyal. Second thing, and I love this about Thomas, he was honest. He was real. He was real. He was the guy in the upper room, after the Passover supper, when Jesus said to his men, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I'm going to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I'm going you know, and the way you know."
Thomas immediately piped up and said, "Uh, we don't know where you're going, and how can we know the way?" Pretty honest, isn't it? I can sort of imagine this scene that all of the apostles are sort of nodding when Jesus was saying that, like, "Yeah!" "Amen!" "Good." "Profound." Thomas is going, "I don't get a word you just said." And I'm so glad he piped up and said that. You know why? Because immediately Jesus said what I consider gold in Scripture. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to the Father but by me." But Thomas was never the guy to try to put on a spiritual mask and just say, "Glory to God, hallelujah, praise the Lord!" if he didn't mean it. He just said, "Don't know where you're going. Couldn't figure out the way."
Like the little boy that came home with a bad report card. His dad looked at it and said, "One thing is good, with grades like this, you couldn't possibly be cheating." And I would say, "Thomas, with statements like that, you couldn't possibility be faking." So Thomas was a doubter, but Thomas was loyal, and he was real. So, those are the doubters: J the B, John the Baptist, John the Baptizer; and Thomas the apostle. John, he doubted the identity of Jesus. Thomas, he doubted the activity of Jesus, that he had risen from the dead. So, let's now look at the doubts that they had, the things they bring that they're struggling with to Jesus. First of all, John. Now, John's doubt was based upon, listen, unfulfilled exceptions, unfulfilled expectations.
John expected certain things out of Jesus that he was not seeing or getting, and therefore he doubted. John had the misconception, like even the apostles had, that when the Messiah comes, and here he is, Jesus. So, when the Messiah comes, he's going to set up his kingdom now. He's going to overthrow the Roman oppressors. He's going to stop all of that suffering. He's going judge them, and he's going to set up his kingdom now. That's not happening, to John. John's in jail. And in jail, now he's rethinking it, thoughts probably like this: "Didn't Jesus announce he was going to set the captives free? Wasn't this the guy who said, 'I have come to set at liberty those who are bound'?" So you take those unfulfilled expectations, and you add to them emotional and physical strain, and you have a recipe for doubt.
That's John's doubt, unfulfilled expectations. Now, let me tell you this: it is not unusual for strong believers, even Christian leaders, to from time to time struggle with uncertainty. Did you know that? Moses second-guessed his calling a few times. Jeremiah wanted to quit the ministry altogether. Elijah wanted to end his life. You see, when a believer has faithfully and sacrificially served the Lord for years, and then experiences tragedy or a series of tragedies, it's hard to figure that out, the loss of a child, a child going astray, cancer entering into the family. A person starts asking questions: "God, where are you when I really, really need you?" "How come you don't help?" "Why did you let it happen?" You know, it could be that some of you are struggling with similar doubts like John, as to the identity of Jesus.
You've wondered, "Is Jesus really the same guy that all these Christians tell me that he is?" Can I just suggest that you do what John did. John didn't just stew in his prison cell, you know, just bouncing those questions around. He went to find the answer by sending his men to go examine Jesus. Why don't you personally examine Christ? Now, if you are a skeptic, even an atheist, let me just give you a little challenge. I'm not going to have you go read reams of material, but simply this: a twenty-one-day challenge. It'll take you ten to fifteen minutes a day. Erwin Lutzer came up with this, and I've always loved it. He said, "Every day for the next twenty-one days read one chapter of the gospel of John. It will take you about ten, fifteen minutes to do so. Just read through it and in the twenty-one days answer one question: Who was Jesus? Who did John present Jesus Christ to be?"
Begin there. Go to the source and find out about him. So, that's John the Baptist. Now, let's consider Thomas' doubt. Thomas' doubt was different than John's, in that Thomas' doubt was based upon personal presupposition. Now I need to explain that. Thomas had a predisposition, a presupposition, and here it is: dead people don't get up again. When people die, that's it. Okay, he had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but that guy himself is now dead, and he was not expecting Jesus to ever die. If he's the Messiah, he's going to set up the kingdom now. Now he's dead. And because he wasn't expecting his death, he certainly was not expecting his resurrection.
He wasn't even open to the idea at all, which places his doubt in a different category altogether. I would even label it "unbelief." Now, doubt and unbelief are different. Doubt looks for answers; unbelief doesn't really care that much about the answers. Doubt says, "I can't believe"; unbelief says, "I won't believe." Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. See, doubt will work through the difficulties and find a faith that is reasonable and satisfying. Unbelief is different; it decides against faith and pushes it away at all costs. So Thomas, get this, he was one of the apostles that did not go to the tomb to see if it was empty. No record of him ever going. In fact, the first time Jesus shows up with the apostles, Thomas wasn't even with them.
Look at verse 24, "Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came." He showed up, showed himself to them. They told Thomas, because he wasn't there. He isolated himself from other believers. Very different from John. John was put in prison; he's suffering. Thomas is in solitude; he isolated himself from the other apostles. He was not with them. Matthew Henry once said, "There are none so blind as those who will not see. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear." Ever talk to a person who goes, "I don't want to talk about that. I will not talk about faith. I don't want to talk about Jesus." That's blindness. That's unbelief. "Don't confuse me with the facts." Now, we've considered the doubters and the doubts.
Let's look at how Jesus handles these guys, the two displays of love. Now, in Matthew 11, John the Baptist, the question is: "Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?" Notice that Jesus does not answer it with a yes or no. "Are you the Coming One?" All he had to say is, "Yep, I am. I'm the guy. Go tell that to John." He doesn't do that. He says, verse 4, Matthew 11, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and you see." These disciples of John have been around Jesus long enough to hear his sermons and to watch his miracles. "You've seen it. You've heard it. Go tell John that." And here's the message: "That the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."
You gotta know that was a very meaningful answer to John, because those were all the signs that the Old Testament prophets predicted that the Messiah would fulfill. Here's one such prophecy, Isaiah 35 verse 5, "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." "Go tell John that you have seen with your own eyes what the prophets have said I would do." Here's another one, Isaiah 61 verse 1, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor." "You go tell John what you have heard. You have heard what the prophets said I would preach, and I have." So Jesus, in effect, appeals to fulfilled prophecy when it came to John's doubts. By the way, that's a great place to start.
I have had wonderful conversations over the years showing what is one of the major differences between the Bible and the other twenty-five or so purported authentic scriptures that exist in the world. One thing that is striking is the amount of predictions, fulfilled prophecy that we find in Scripture. Now, when we come to Thomas, Jesus appeals to something else; and that is, to personal discovery. Look at verse 26. I smile when I read it. It says, "After eight days his disciples were again inside," so they're all together a second time, but this time "Thomas is with them. And Jesus came, the doors being shut," so he didn't come through the door, "and he stood in the midst." He just sort of appeared. "And he said, 'Peace to you!'"
Now, if I'm Thomas, I'm thinking, "Oh no, oh no. I'm in for it." And, sure enough, Jesus turns to Thomas and says, "'Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but be believing." You know, people are funny, are they not? You can tell someone that there's 735,688,000,000 stars up there, and they'll go, "I believe that." Show them a sign, however, that says "Wet Paint" and he has to touch it to find out if it's true. But notice how gracious Jesus is with Thomas. He condescends to his request, putting his hands out, saying basically, "Examine the evidence. You want evidence, now check out the evidence." I challenge you to do the same. If you want evidence for the historic Christian faith, it abounds. There's plenty of it.
The credentials of Jesus Christ are basically these: his impact upon history, fulfilled prophecy, the claims he made about himself, and his resurrection. Just go with those. Look at the evidence that is out there for those things, his credentials. Did you know that there are more details available about the events just prior to death, during the death, and after the death of Jesus Christ than any other single human being in the ancient world? Look at the evidence. And then look at what he says to Thomas. After showing him the evidence, he says, "Do not be unbelieving, but believing," or literally, "Stop becoming faithless, but become a believer." "Thomas, now's the time for you to rise up and become a believer."
And so quickly he ascends from the lowest depths to the highest heights, and he says, "My Lord and my God!" And Jesus affirms that statement of faith. Now, let me close this morning, since we're dealing with doubters, and give you just a few tips on handling them. I bet you have a doubter or two in your life. I bet you have children or parents or friends or coworkers. You might be married to a doubter. Tips on handling doubters, there's four quick ones you should walk away with. Number one, be available to them, be available. Don't say, "No. I don't want to talk about that. I don't know. I can't give you answers to that." Jesus met the doubts of John the Baptizer and Thomas the apostle head-on. Be available to dialogue with people about their doubts.
You see, people want rational faith. There's something within us that says, "My heart cannot delight in what my minds rejects as false." That's where evidence is so beneficial. So, be available. Number two, be patient. It's not going to happen in one conversation usually. And in fact, let me modify that, be unshockingly patient. A couple weeks ago I picked up a lady walking across the street. She was having trouble and so I was escorting her to put her into my car and to help her out, and I discovered she was homeless. So I said, "Listen, I'm going take you to our church and we'll give you a meal and we'll figure out a place for you to stay." And she recognized me. She was homeless, but she recognized. She goes, "You're that preacher." I said, "Yes, ma'am, I'm that preacher."
I put her in my car and we were driving and she turned to me and she goes, "I don't believe in God." I said, "Okay." And we talked a little more, and she felt that that was a message she had to underline. So a couple blocks later she goes, "I don't believe in God!" And I said, "Ma'am, I understood that, and I do believe in God. And I just want you to know that the guy who does believe in God is helping out the gal who doesn't believe in God." And she said, "You got a good point there." When I worked in Israel on a farm years ago, there was a guy named Tony, and he loved to shock people. And he was a Cambridge University student. He was from England working with me on a farm. I was a Christian. He knew that and he would try to make opportunity with that.
We were working out in the fields one day, and Tony wanted to give me a message, but he wanted to announce it to everyone working. So he said, "You know the reason I will not become a Christian is because it would mean that I couldn't have sex with anybody that I wanted to." And everybody just sort of got real silent. He was just trying to shock us. So that began an interesting relationship with Tony where for days and weeks and even months I was with him or corresponded with him and sent him material. And I'll never forget the day that I got a phone call from him, very different tone of voice. Not a shocking, arrogant tone of voice, but he said, "Skip, I've given my life to Jesus Christ." He was from England. Did I mention that? So be unshockingly patient.
Number three, be prepared, be prepared. If you're going to talk to doubters, and you will, why not read up a little bit on the evidences for the Christian faith. It's not hard to do. There's plenty of resources that you could become adept, even minimally, at apologetics. Instead of going, "I hate when people ask me those questions," how about, "I'm ready." I used to look for people who had questions, because I had read these books and I wanted to be prepared. And let me just tell you, even if you don't know all the answers, know where to find the answers. How about have a booklet or a book at home or in your car or at the office that you can give to someone that are dealing with questions about the faith. Show them that God is never asking you to take a blind leap into the dark, but a balanced leap into the light.
That's what they need to find. One skeptic admitted this: "I took all the evidence that I could gather and I put it on two scales. The scales tipped the way of Jesus Christ being the Son of God and resurrected from the dead. It was so overwhelmingly leaning to Christ, that when I became a Christian, it was a leap into the light rather than a leap into the darkness." It's fun to dialogue with people who have doubts. Now they'll say, "Well, you know, I'm just not", this is how it goes, "I'm not a person of faith. I'm a little more clear thinking. You know, it's hard for me to just have faith." And I go, "You know what? You're wrong. You have faith every day." I ask them, "Do you understand the workings of an automobile fuel injection combustion?" Chances are they go, "No."
I said, "But, yet, you have faith that when you put to key in and do this, it's going to go whoom! You don't know it, you can't explain it, but you believe it. When you go to a restaurant, you have faith that they're going to give you a meal that won't kill you. That you're going to actually enjoy and walk out better for it and nourished. Right? You have to have faith to go into a restaurant." By the way, some restaurants require more faith than others. "You have to have faith to go to a bank. You come with a check. It's just a piece of paper. It's just a promise, but you are having faith that that promise is good." Everybody lives with faith, even the atheist live with faith, even the doubter lives with faith. So, be available, be patient, be prepared.
Fourth and final tip: be nice. There is no room for an arrogant believer getting down on somebody for their doubts. Do you notice how Jesus here is so compassionate? He didn't rebuke Thomas nor John for their failure. You know, it would be very easy when the disciples from John came and say, "Hey, John really wants to know if you're really the guy," for Jesus to say, "Go tell John he is such a disappointment to me. He just said I was the Savior of the world and I was God in human flesh, now he even doubts who I am. I can't believe it." In fact, you know what he does? A couple verses later in verse 11 of Matthew 11, he says, "Of all those born of women, there's no one greater than John the Baptist." How's that for being nice to a doubter? He extolled him. He honored him.
And then when it came to Thomas, you know, Thomas wasn't there the first time. Jesus comes a second time, Thomas is there. What if Jesus would have turned to the other disciples, said, "You know, we gotta pray for Thomas. He's really a doubter." He doesn't do that. In both cases he offers proof of his identity and his activity. Jesus loves people. He loves all people. He loves doubting people. And Ben Franklin was right, "You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar." Ask John the Baptist. Ask Thomas. Ask my friend Dennis.
Father, thank you that Jesus showed us how it's done with people that suffered, and in their suffering cried out, wondering, "How could this be? How could a God of love allow me to suffer this in prison?" Or Thomas with the presupposition that there can't be a resurrection; that can't be possible. Thank you, Father, that we see your love through all of this, and help us to show it, in Jesus' name, amen.