Out of the all of the people mentioned in the Bible, Thomas is the one person who is identified with doubting. He’s certainly not the only person who questioned. There are many folks in the Bible who had their questions about what God was doing. Job did. Jeremiah sure did. Sarah laughed at what God said He would do. Asaph wondered what in the world God was doing. But somehow “doubt” never stuck with any of those folks. It is Thomas that got tagged, “doubter,” and it has stuck throughout the past two thousand years.
Thomas had followed Jesus for three years. When he watched Jesus arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thomas ran for his life. He was no doubt watching from a distance when the Romans nailed Jesus to a post and put Him on display at Golgotha. As Jesus’ life slowly faded, so did Thomas’ hope.
Following Jesus’ death Thomas was perplexed. It wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. The rest of the followers of Jesus were together, but Thomas couldn’t bring himself to join them. They were scared to death. They had the door locked because they were afraid that the Jewish leaders might come looking for them. All of a sudden Jesus walked into the home where they had gathered and said, “Peace be with you!” Jesus showed them His hands and the wound in His side, but He was alive. He was really alive! The disciples were overjoyed, but Thomas wasn’t there.
The followers of Jesus found Thomas and told him what had happened, but Thomas wasn’t buying it. I can hear him now. “You saw what you wanted to see. When will you realize that He is dead. Get on with your lives!” Thomas’ experience had affected him deeply. I have a hard time believing that we would have reacted any differently. John tells us,
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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 it.” (John 20:25 NIV)
John tells us that one week later the disciples had gathered again. Just to let you know that there was still some hesitation in their hearts, John tells us, “The doors were still locked.” Jesus holds all of the keys and in an instant He was there, right in the middle of the group. He said, “Peace be with you!” and then He walked straight over to Thomas—who was no doubt, still doubting. Then we read in John 20:27-28,
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28 NIV)
Thomas’ doubts were swallowed up by the truth of Jesus. Thomas’ doubting was put to rest. He was set free from the doubts that had plagued him, paralyzed him, and put him in a straitjacket—the doubts that had kept him from basking in the victory that Jesus had won on his behalf. Jesus told Thomas.
29 …”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded 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. (John 20:29-31 NIV)
Thomas had seen the risen Lord and as a result of what he saw, he believed. Jesus said that those of us who were not there and yet believe are blessed. I love John’s last verse in this section. Why are these stories of Jesus’ life and His interaction with others recorded in God’s Word? So that “by believing you may have life in his name.”
We have the Word of God at our fingertips and yet doubt still plagues many of us. Doubt about the truth of God’s Word. I’ve met many folks who wonder out loud, “Is all of this really true?” We who do believe also have our doubts from time to time. Does God really love me? If God loves me, then why am I going through these trials, why am I so depressed?” A young woman wrote,
I’m like Thomas some times. I questioned God for things that happened. I questioned God for the suffering I faced. I question God for the difficulties I endured. I doubted God’s presence in my life. I doubted God’s power in making me happy. I doubted God’s love because He let me be in trials of many kinds. I doubted God’s power to heal because of pain I suffered when I was sick.
Doubt. The emotion can be debilitating. The questions can be suffocating. The affects can cripple our perception of God. I know because I’ve been there on more than one occasion. The greatest remedy I have found for my doubts are the assurances of God’s great and glorious love for me. This is the heart of our Scripture for this morning. Let’s read Romans 8:31-39.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 NIV)
This passage of Scripture should be tattooed on the heart of every follower of Jesus. At the end of a long chapter of reassurances, Paul writes, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” What more can be said? In light of all the facts that have emerged, what more can be said? If God is for us, who can be against us? If He has delivered us from the law of sin and death, who can be against us? If He has given us His Spirit to help us put to death the deeds of our sin nature, then who can be against us? If He has given us His Spirit to enable us to cry out to God when we find ourselves in a fix, then who can be against us? If He has given us His Spirit to intercede for us when we don’t even know what to pray, then who can be against us? Who can be against us? What can separate us from the Lord who has demonstrated His overwhelming love for us? John Stott has written,
Our confidence is not in our love for him, which is frail, fickle and faltering, but in his love for us, which is steadfast, faithful and persevering. The doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” needs to be re-named. It is the doctrine of the perseverance of God with the saints. (John Stott)
Our confidence is not in the strength of our faith, but it is in His strength to accomplish in us what He has set out to do. Paul wrote to the folks in Philippi and reminded them of this truth when he wrote,
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NIV)
The foundational truth that underscores everything else that Paul says in Romans 8 about our confidence in God’s provision is found in verse 32. Take a look at it with me. Paul writes,
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 NIV)
Paul points to the cross. If God did not spare His own Son for our sake, then how can we question that He will withhold anything from us that is necessary for us to become the people that God has called us to be? There is a word in this verse that points us to one of the most heart wrenching and heart warming stories found in the Old Testament. The word I want you to notice is the word, “spared.” God did not spare His Son. The word “spare” translates the Greek word, “????????” (pheidomai) and the story I am referring to is found in Genesis 22:10-14. Let me set the scene for you.
Abraham and Sarah had waited twenty-five years to be able to hold the child that God had promised them. They had spent another several years loving Isaac and watching him grow into a young man. Isaac was the promised child, the one through whom God would accomplish all that He had promised Abraham and Sarah. Then, at the beginning of Genesis 22, God told Abraham,
2 …”Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2 NIV)
Can you imagine the thoughts that must have run through Abraham’s mind? How could he do what God was calling him to do? Isaac was more than God’s vehicle to accomplish God’s purposes, he was Abraham’s son. With all of the thoughts that must have bombarded Abraham’s mind, we don’t read about any of them. The next morning Abraham took Isaac and they made their way to Mt. Moriah. Let’s pick up the rest of the story on top of Mt. Moriah as Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac. Turn to Genesis 22:10-14.
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:10-14 NIV)
The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham before he brought Isaac’s life to an end. The angel said, “I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Do you see the word, “withheld?” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it is the same word that Paul used in Romans 8 to let us know that God did not withhold His Son for our sake. Think of the irony.
God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. God provided a substitute to die in the place of Isaac. There was a ram in the thicket, provided by God, that died in Isaac’s place. Many years later there was another Father who walked up Mt. Moriah with His Son, His only Son, but this Son would not be spared. Abraham was commended because he would not withhold his son from God—God is the one who prevented the death of Isaac. What God was willing to do for Abraham in stopping the death of his son, He was unwilling to do for Himself. God gave His Son on the very mountain where He intervened and spared the life of Abraham’s son.
It is interesting that after everything was said and done, Abraham marked the spot where he had experienced God’s intervention. He called the place “??????? ????????” (Genesis 22:14 WTT). He called the place, “YHWH yireh,” “The LORD will provide.” Abraham learned from his experience that God would provide for his needs, all of his needs. You and I can look back on Abraham’s words as prophetic. “The LORD will provide” was realized, not just in Abraham’s day-to-day challenges, but He has provided for the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced—our own sin. It was on Mt. Moriah, at a place called Golgotha, that God gave His Son, Jesus our Savior, as the substitute to die in our place for sin that He never committed, but sin that He took upon Himself.
Jesus’ death on Mt. Moriah, at Golgotha, was not an after-thought of God nor was it a circumstantial tragedy due to the evil hearts of those who wanted Jesus dead. Isaiah tells us long before Jesus was ever born that God sent His Son to die for sinners like you and me. Turn with me to Isaiah 53:6-10.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:6-10 NIV)
How do you understand the death of Jesus? Isaiah answers the question for us. “It was the Lord’s will.” The Lord laid on Him the iniquity, the sin, of each and every one of us.
I asked the people in our Wednesday night Bible study if they would be willing to offer their child for the worst enemy they have ever had in their life. Not one person raised their hand. I asked, “How many of you have more than one child?” Many people raised their hand. I asked, “Would you be willing to give even one of your children for the worst enemy you’ve ever had in your life?” Not one person. No one. Not even one would be willing to give even one of their children for the worst enemy they have ever had in their life. Yet, we read,
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
If God was willing to do this for us while we were His enemies, sinners, what will He withhold from us now that we are His sons and daughters? You know the answer to that question. Absolutely nothing!
In verse 31, Paul asks, “Who can be against us?” The question is linked to the affirmation which precedes it—“If God is for us, who can be against us.” Paul does not use “if” to place any questions in our head, but to drive home to us that God is for us. We can just as easily read Paul’s question this way, “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
Make no mistake about it; there are those who are against us. Paul does not mean to convince us that since God is for us so is everyone else. Paul knows better than most that there is much and many against us. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth.
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV)
Hard pressed. Perplexed. Persecuted. Struck down. Those are pretty tough words to describe pretty tough situations that Paul faced in life and yet he was not crushed, they didn’t drive him to despair, he didn’t feel abandoned, and they could not destroy him.
The situations of life can certainly seem like they are against us. Joseph must have felt that way when he found himself sitting in prison for something he didn’t even do. Naomi sure felt that way when she lost her husband and her two sons. The early followers of Jesus had to have felt that way when they lost their jobs and had their property confiscated because of their unwillingness to denounce their faith in Jesus. Our situations will work on our mind to try and convince us that God doesn’t love us.
Our situations are not the only battle we face. We have an enemy who the Bible identifies as the Devil or Satan. You’ve probably heard, as I have heard, that believing in a “devil” is a backwoods, unsophisticated, uneducated, silly notion. Call it what you will but God’s Word is very clear that we have an enemy. Peter wrote,
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)
He knew firsthand, from his experiences in life, that Satan is an enemy of God’s people. In Luke 22, Jesus told Simon Peter,
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32 NIV)
Satan is not all-powerful. He is on a short lease, but his desire is to destroy, to devour, you and me. The key for us is to cling and cleave to the Lord so that we might resist his temptations. James wrote,
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:7-8 NIV)
“Resist the devil.” By the power that indwells you, resist the devil. Through Jesus we are more than conquerors over all of those that would seek to destroy or defeat us. Paul was so convinced of this that he wrote,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
Can death pry us from God’s gentle grip? Not on your life! Can the hardships of life draw us from His tender arms? Not a chance! Are there any supernatural powers, demons or even Satan himself, that might draw you from under God’s glorious gaze? No way! There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate you from the Lord of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This past week I got a phone call from a friend of mine who was preparing for her father’s funeral. The funeral was going to be held at a different church in town, but she wanted to know if she could bring her family by the church to meet with me before they went to the funeral. I said, “Sure, I would love to meet with you guys. What would you like for me to talk about?” She said, “Would you talk to us about heaven? Would you talk about how our faith makes a difference at a time like this?” I would relish the opportunity!
We need reassurance don’t we? Not just when a loved one dies or when we are told that our time is drawing near, but we need reassurance each and every day. John wrote,
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10 NIV)
God has demonstrated His love for you and me. Any time you are questioning God’s love all you have to do is stop, take a deep breath, and look to the cross of our Savior. It was there on the cross that God demonstrated His infinite love for you and me.
There will continue to be things that happen in your life and mine that can lead us to questions, even doubting, but our doubts can be swallowed up in faith at the foot of the cross. I want to ask you who do not know Jesus as Lord of your life to do so this very morning. Come to know. He already knows you, He made you, He has kept you alive to this very day, but you need to know Him. Won’t you confess your need for His saving grace?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 8, 2009