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The Vanishing Power Of Death

A Skeptic Who Believed

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 31, 2002

Selected highlights from this sermon

The disciples had seen the resurrected Christ, but Thomas had his doubts when they told him about it. He was sure that the Messianic hope was gone. Then Christ appeared, and His reservations vanished in the presence of crucifixion scars. 

Sometimes, we experience some doubt and skepticism, too. While we shouldn’t rebel against revealed truth, we can take solace that Christ will one day put all of our doubts to rest. 

All of us know we are living in an age of skepticism. We’re skeptical of politicians who make promises they do not keep. And by the way, aren’t you glad that they sometimes don’t keep their promises? [laughter] We watch the news and we see stories of clergymen accused of everything from sexual abuse to embezzlement, and we say to ourselves, “Who can you trust? Who can you believe?” and “Can we even trust God in this world?”

Let me ask you a question today. Is there room for doubt in the Christian faith? I think the answer is yes because sometimes doubt is really the raw side of honesty. But I do need to point out that doubt should be distinguished from unbelief. There’s a great difference between the two. Someone has written that doubt is not unbelief. Unbelief is rebellion against evidence we cannot or will not accept. That’s unbelief. But doubt is stumbling over a stone we do not yet understand. Unbelief is kicking at that stone we understand all too well. 

What I’m trying to say is there’s a difference between honest doubt and dishonest doubt. Honest doubt is not gullibility. It’s not accepting anything without any evidence, but it is being open to the possibility of evidence. It’s open to the possibility of one changing his mind. But dishonest doubt is different. Dishonest doubt always wants to raise the bar. Dishonest doubt wants evidence that probably is not available. Like a man said to me, you know, “I’d believe in God if He came out of heaven and were to speak to me,” or like the atheistic college girl who prayed, “God, I don’t believe you exist, but if you’re there, please make me beautiful by morning.” In other words, dishonest doubt is always finding some reason to not believe.

Today we’re going to speak about a man whose name is Thomas. He is known in history as Doubting Thomas. I often wonder when we get to heaven and we meet him, you know, is he going to be glad about the fact that we as preachers always called him Doubting Thomas? I think in heaven he’s going to be so perfect it’s going to be okay with him.

What do we know about this man? First of all, he had what could be said as—he was a loyal pessimist because, in John, chapter 11, we find that Jesus said, “I’m going to Jerusalem to die,” and he said, “Let’s go and die with him.” I mean, that was loyal pessimism, wasn’t it? But we also are intrigued by this melancholy part to him. He’s saying, “You know, we’re going to die.” He’s the kind of person who perhaps would see the cup as being half empty rather than half full.

And then in John 14, we have an interesting story about—Jesus says, “You know, I’m going away to My Father, and you know where I am going.” (John 14:4) And Thomas is speaking on behalf of the other disciples. Have you ever been in a classroom and somebody raises his hand and asks the question everybody else wanted to ask? That was Thomas. He said, “Lord, I don’t get all this metaphysical stuff about You going somewhere and we’re knowing where you’re going.” (John 14:5) He said, “Tell us.” And Jesus then said, “Thomas, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) I’m really glad he asked that question because of the beautiful answer Jesus gave.

But of course, today on Resurrection Sunday we are thinking of the story in John, chapter 20, where Thomas was living in great doubt. As far as he was concerned, when Jesus died on that cross it was the end of a beautiful life. All Thomas could think about is blood, scars, shouts, angry mobs, fear, harassment, and Jesus was now gone, and as far as Thomas was concerned, that was the end of it.

Melancholy people, they like to be alone, and so we read in John 20:19, “on the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together the door was locked for fear of the Jews...” And Thomas was not there as we shall see. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. And the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again, Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you,’ and with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” (John 20:19-23) But we read in John 20:24, “Now Thomas, called Didymus (That word means twin. He had either a twin brother or a twin sister. He was one of the twelve.) was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”

There are two kinds of people who like to be alone; people who are hurt, people who are angry, and people who are depressed. We’re not sure but that may be the reason why he did not gather together with the other disciples on that very special day, and so he misses the appearance of Christ.

Now let me ask you. Should Thomas have believed in the resurrection? I think so for a number of reasons. For example, the predictions of Jesus. Jesus in Matthew, chapter 12, says, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:40) And in Matthew, chapter 16, He began to explain to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, be crucified, buried, and rise again. That should have been enough for Thomas. He should have said to himself, “The Lord said it. I believe it. That’s enough for me.”

Don’t you envy people sometimes who have a very simple faith? I know a man like that. He just believes and he just trusts. He has no problem trying to reconcile the love of God with the Holocaust, or the love of God with the fact that there is so much child abuse. Somehow these questions trouble many of us just never trouble him. He just goes on believing. There are other people for whom the bare word of Jesus is not quite enough, and they struggle with doubt.

In 1822 a man by the name of George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He was blind as a college student and his two sisters helped him. And because of their help, he was able to get two degrees from the University of Glasgow. And he was a minister, and being blind he memorized his sermons, he memorized the Scripture, and he memorized all the hymns. He knew it all by memory, but he went through a deep period of doubt. In fact, he wrote about an eclipse of faith, an eclipse of faith was so great that eventually, he left the ministry, though he came through that period of doubt and then ministered with great blessing afterward. But this is what he wrote:

To all of us who struggle with doubt, Lord, there are times when my experience is the experience of Thomas. There are days when I hear not the bells of Easter morn. I tread the Road of Emmaus and meet not the Risen Christ. I stand on the Mountain of Galilee and there comes no voice amid the breezes. I sail on Galilee’s Lake, and I see no vision. I frequent the Upper Room and get no hint of His presence. My faith cannot walk by sight in hours like these. Lord, what shall I do? Hast Thou a remedy for the loss of light? 

Yes, my Father, Thou hast a gate where faith can enter without seeing where it goes. Its name is love. Oh Lord, lead me by that gate when my eye is dim. When I cannot follow Him to all of it, let me worship Him on Calvary. When I lose sight of His risen form, do not shut me out of the hearing and the bearing of His name. If I cannot soar with Him to heaven, let me at least go back to finish His work on earth. Let me mourn with the Marthas whose Lazarus I cannot raise. Let me pray with the paralytics whose weakness I cannot cure. Let me sing to the sightless whose eyes I cannot open. Let me lend to the lepers the touch of a brother’s hand. Let me find for the fallen a chance to renew their days. Then shall my Easter Morn shine again through the clouds of night. Then shall I know the meaning of the words, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Yes, there are times of doubt we might experience. Thomas is going through a terrible time of doubt because there is no disappointment as deep as the disappointment in Jesus. He believed in Jesus, but he thought it was over.

But there’s a second reason why Thomas should have believed, and that is the account of the disciples. We read that he was not with them when Jesus came, but we also read the disciples said in John 20:25, “We have seen the Lord.” Can’t you just imagine it? “Thomas, you won’t believe this. He came to us. He showed us His scars, and He showed us His side, and He invited us to touch Him. Honest, Thomas! Believe us! He’s alive!”

An attorney would have given anything for this kind of evidence, ten men all saying the same thing, telling the same story spontaneously and with enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough for Thomas.

You know, there are some people like that. They hear the gospel. They know the evidence for Jesus is compelling. They may live with a Christian wife who has demonstrated the graces and the love of Christ, and all this, and still they do not believe. They say, “I don’t have enough evidence. There’s not enough evidence for me to believe.”

So Thomas, bless him, sets down his own kind of evidence that he is going to accept, and let’s look at what he has to say. You’ll notice also in verse 25—this is an apostle talking, and not sounding very apostolic, I’d say—“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

If you read this in Greek, you discover Thomas actually was not expecting these conditions to be met. He was absolutely convinced his faith in Jesus had been misplaced. And so he raises that bar of evidence and he says, “If this happens,” but he’s not expecting it to happen. And for eight long days, a whole week, he continues to brood about the hurt and the disappointment in Jesus. 

But I want you to notice how Jesus met his demands. “A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. And though the doors were locked Jesus came through.” Don’t be troubled by that, by the way. This is a resurrection body, and Christ’s molecular structure has been changed, just like ours shall be, by the way. “And Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace to you,’ and then He said to Thomas, ‘Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ And Thomas says, ‘My Lord, my God!’” (John 20:26-28) “He’s here. He is alive. Oh, I can’t believe it, but yes, I can believe it. Jesus is here.”

You know, there are those who do not believe the Bible, and what they like to say is “You know, the stories about Jesus were made up by disciples who were hallucinating, and they were just so excited about taking a mere man and making him God.” Nonsense. The disciples were hardheaded fishermen who would have never taken a man and made him God. That would have been blasphemy. The reason they believed Jesus was the Son of God is because the evidence was so compelling and so overwhelming, and all Jesus had said, and the miracles He performed, and His resurrection was so strong, and it could not be controverted, that they, just based on that kind of evidence, said, as did Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Why was Thomas convinced? First of all, because at the end of the day, bless him, he was an honest doubter. See, if he had been a dishonest doubter, he could have said, “Hey, even though Jesus appeared to me, hey man, it’s a hallucination. And furthermore, you know, all of us are hallucinating. This is just a phantom. I’m still not going to believe.” If you are a dishonest doubter nothing is going to convince you.

Within the providence of God, last night while I was working on this sermon, I received a phone call from a woman who was trying to convince a dishonest doubter to become a Christian. [chuckles] I’ll tell you, I would rather try to convince a tiger he should love straw more than meat, personally, because she was telling me these objections he had. The problem is even if you answered the objections he’d have other objections.

Have you ever met people? Let me ask you, have you ever met people who’ve got issues? You know, they’ve got issues. Well, this guy’s got issues. So he’s constantly finding reasons to not believe, and if you answer this objection, as I mentioned, he’ll have another objection, and then another, and it goes on and on because that’s not really the real issue. He’s not an honest doubter. He’s a dishonest one because he knows the closer he comes to Jesus, he’s going to have to deal with some sin issues and admit his helplessness and his need, and so he’s running from it for all that he can, and so he keeps throwing up one reason after another, after another.

Do you remember the story about the man who believed he was dead? And here he was walking around, believing he was dead. So a psychiatrist said, “Well, you know, we have to convince this guy that he actually is alive.” And so he convinced the man of one truth, namely, “Dead men don’t bleed.” And so the man memorized this and he knew it cold. Every day he said, “Dead men don’t bleed.” And then they took a pin and pricked him, and blood came. He said, “Huh, dead men bleed after all.” [laughter]

Jesus said to Thomas, “Thomas, stop doubting and believe.” You’ll notice because he had an honest doubt he ended up with an honest faith. An honest faith. It was not only a personal and honest doubt, but it became a personal and honest faith.

Notice how personal it was, “My Lord, my God!” This was not now the faith of the disciples. It was not the faith of his parents. It was not the faith he had been taught he was supposed to have. Those of you who were brought up in Christian homes you know you have to come to a point where you accept the fact that your faith has to become your own. It’s not your parents’. It’s not your church. “My Lord and my God!”

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, if Jesus appeared to me like He appeared to Thomas, I’d believe too.” Well, let’s continue reading in the text. John 20:29, “Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen Me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet they have believed.’”

No, I don’t have a revelation from Jesus like Thomas did. I don’t know of anyone who does. But blessed are those who, even though they have not seen, they have believed. And we believe because of the witness of the apostles. They gave us the stories of the New Testament, which can be verified from the standpoint of archeology and history, and in every way we can check the Bible out. It’s checked out as being a reliable document. We have the witness of people who have been converted by the work of Jesus Christ. You see, the reason the scars in His hands and in His side are so important is because that’s the cross. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. And there He offered Himself and made the connection to God possible if we humble ourselves and receive Him as our very own if we believe, though our eyes have not seen Him physically.

By the way, I think this is the closest any one of us will ever find our names in the Bible. Now, some of you have your names in the Bible if you’re David or Ruth or somebody with a real nice name like that. But those of us who have odd names, we can’t find them in the Bible. But this comes very close, doesn’t it? Because Jesus is saying, “I’m talking about you!” Blessed are you! This is Jesus Christ’s last Beatitude. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet they believe.

Blessed are you, Earl and Joanne, because though you have not seen, you have believed. Blessed are you, Harold and Charlene. Though you have not seen, yet you have believed. Blessed are you, Phil and Pat. And by the way, these folks always sit in the front seat right over there. [laughter] I can depend upon that. Blessed are you folks today because you’ve not seen, but you’ve believed.

Let me ask you a question today. Where are you on your journey of faith? Where are you on your journey of faith? I’m not concerned about whether or not you have doubts. That does not trouble me. What troubles me is whether or not you’re an honest doubter, and whether or not you’re just throwing up one smokescreen after another, and the real issue is you do not want to admit to your sin, and to know Jesus died for sinners, and to respond to Him in simple faith. And it is because of that you keep giving one excuse after another.

Have you ever met people with whom you cannot have a discussion about these things, you can only have an argument? People who simply will not believe. I urge you today to open your life and your mind to Jesus. Some people relish doubt. They think doubt is really a sign of being an intellectual. The more doubts you have the wiser you are. No, the more doubts you have, the more likely you are to miss the opportunity to believe in Christ and be saved.

I ask you today to reach out, and I’ll tell you why. I believe it is going through the doorway of doubt we come to the room of assurance and certainty. Would you come to Christ today with your doubts?

Many years ago, there was a woman who lived all of her life in a wheelchair. Her name was Charlotte Elliot, and Charlotte was a woman who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and her brother actually was a pastor. And one day her brother said, “My sister has done more by writing one single poem than all of my messages combined.” What poem did she write? She wrote a poem that has become so famous that we love to sing it. It’s one of my favorite songs. It’s entitled, “Just as I am without One Plea,”

...But that Thy blood was shed for me, 
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.

But I’m thinking today of the third stanza.

Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within and fears without,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.

The last stanza says,

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.

I speak to all of you in the balcony today. Have you come to Christ? Have you said, “Yes, Lord Jesus, I receive you as my sin bearer. I receive You as my Savior who died and rose again.” And those of you on the lower floor, those of you listening by radio, come with your doubts, but come, because, at the end of the day, it’s not a matter of evidence. The evidence for Jesus is compelling. It’s a matter of heart. Will you come to Christ?

Let’s bow our heads together.

And now before I pray a prayer, I need to ask you a question. Even where you are seated, are you willing to say, “Lord Jesus, I now receive you. I come in faith. Though I have not seen you, I believe.” Receive Him as the one who died for you, the one who was raised to prove His death was valid.

And if you want to receive Him you can pray a prayer in your heart something like this. “Lord Jesus, today I reach out and receive you as my own. I admit the real issue in my life is sin, but I thank you that you died for sinners, and therefore, I accept you. Today I stand with Thomas, and I say, “My Lord, and my God.”

Do that in the lives, Father, of all who have prayed this prayer. Bring them to the room of assurance even though they may come through the pathway of doubt. Do that we ask, oh Father, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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