The coronavirus quarantine is something we introverts have been training for our whole lives. If you are an introvert, you have a sacred duty to safely check in on your extrovert friends. They are really challenged right now.
Ironically, as we've been looking at Thomas' response to the resurrection, we're up to the third thing we want to consider when dealing with doubt. This is something Thomas did that we don't want to do:
3. Don't withdraw from fellowship.
When things get back to normal, we'll embrace this Biblical truth once more.
So far, we've seen two things from Thomas on how to handle doubt the right way:
1. Admit your doubts.
2. Drop requirements for belief.
And now, we learn from Thomas something we don't want to do. Don't neglect being together with other believers. For the time being, technology has helped us hold on to a sense of that. Electronically, we are with other believers. While a temporary solution, it will never be able to replace the real things…worshiping with others and praying with others and enjoying fellowship with others. I miss the hugs and the handshakes and the fist bumps!
That first night in the upper room, when all the disciples were making sense of all that had happened, who wasn't there? Right…Thomas. He lived in misery for the next week because he wasn't there that first Easter night.
When we remove ourselves from fellowship, it's like a killing freeze on our faith. It hurts us. It's stunts our growth. The Christian faith was never meant to be lived in isolation from others. If we're going to have the kind of faith we want to have in Jesus Christ, we need each other. That's how God has wired us up. That's why the church is called "The Body of Christ." It's made up of many parts, together. Online worship is a temporary or interim answer in specific circumstances, but must never be thought of as a permanent alternative to being the church together in worship and fellowship and Bible study and service. In other words, if Sunday morning work responsibilities keep you from worshiping in the Body of Christ, there are other opportunities to share life with other believers in ways that are going to build your faith up. If there are extenuating circumstances that keep you from Sunday morning worship once-in-a-while, it is a good thing that we have online worship to keep you connected and caught up. But under normal circumstances, sharing life together, in person, is the Biblical way to live out your faith. Are you with me on that?
If you think you can grow your faith all by yourself sitting on a
mountaintop somewhere, then you're not as familiar with the Bible as you think. The Bible says faith grows and is made stronger in the body. It's built into each of our lives, as we love each other and challenge each other and serve each other and perform good deeds together. That's where the greatest faith comes from. Which means sometimes we have to put up with each other because sometimes we're kind of awful. But it's worth it. Even while we're putting up with each other's imperfections, faith is getting built up. So when I start to pull away from the body, my faith suffers.
Thomas teaches us that most of us, at some time in our lives, are going to have doubts. And we have to learn to be open and honest it about it. Somebody once said, "When in doubt, mumble." That's what a lot of us do. When doubts hit, we sort of fumble our way through. Be like Thomas. When in doubt, tell someone. The disciples told Thomas they wanted him to have faith. And he humbled himself enough to say, "I'm struggling with this. I need proof." And saying that set up what happened a week later.
The next thing we learn from Thomas that we want to do is this:
4. Redirect your will.
Most of us will have doubts in our lives. The key is how you deal with them.
One kind of doubt is sudden doubt. You get this question that pops into your head out of nowhere. "What if all this Christianity stuff; this Easter stuff, isn't real?" That happens. Whether you think they come from Satan or are just part of our broken human nature, those kinds of doubts can pop up in your mind. Those are the ones you can easily treat like trash. You throw them out as fast as they come in. You don't worry about those.
But there are other doubts that are there because of circumstances. We've
been through a run of challenging circumstances these past several weeks. Loss of income. Loss of jobs. Loss of businesses. Trying times like these can create longer lasting doubts. When life doesn't turn out the way you had hoped, or when life takes a drastic turn for the worse, you have to figure out how you're going to deal with doubt. That's when you redirect your will.
Redirection hangs on two statements about faith - one from Thomas, the other from Jesus.
Thomas says, when the disciples come to him and say they want him to have faith:
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. - John 20:25
That's a strong and bold statement. "I will never believe." Thomas is telling us that, for him, doubt is a choice.
Let's pick things up one week later:
Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 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." - John 20:26-27
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Believing is a matter of the will. It's a choice you make in your life.
When Thomas said, "I will not believe," a Greek double negative is used. This is when two forms of negation are used in a single sentence. It is literally translated, "No not will I believe." In other words, he positively will not believe. How's that for determination? He's definitely choosing not to believe.
Perhaps you've already figured out the question this raises. Is faith a
matter of head or heart? Is it intellect or feelings? The quick and easy answer is it's neither. Faith is neither an intellectually nor an emotionally driven decision.
Faith is a determination of the will. Here's what I mean. Do you ever feel something that you decide not to do? That's a willful choice. Do you ever think something that you decide not to do? Although your logical mind tells you not to do something, do you go ahead and do it anyway? Although your feelings tell you not to do something, do you ever go ahead and do it anyway? Of course. All four scenarios have played out in your life. That means your will, your deciding has done something. It doesn't matter what your heart or your head says, you've chosen to do it. You are not compelled to do something by some unseen force.
Faith is a matter of the will. It's a decision.
And then here's what happens. You've decided, and your emotions follow. You've decided, and your intellect follows. That's where God becomes real.
It starts with the will.
That's why you're here this morning. That's why we are here. We've
chosen to temporarily worship like this. We have all kinds of reasons not
to, but we have decided to worship the Risen Savior. Amen?
I once read about a magazine called "The Skeptical Inquirer." That subject is right in my wheelhouse. I'm a natural born skeptic. Knowing the state of print media in 2020, I wondered if they still published. Google told me they still do, with circulation of about 25,000. Color me surprised. I wonder about many things.
Anyway, "The Skeptical Inquirer" is for doubters. They only believe what can be scientifically shown to be true. In a cautionary article on faith and the will, here's what they said:
"Don't be surprised should you one day have a very strong emotional experience that seems to cry out for explanation or faith. Given the way our brains work we should expect such experiences from time to time. If unprepared for them they could become conversion experiences that lead to strong belief."
God forbid anyone believe in something beyond themselves! What is the
article warning against? Exactly. It's warning against experiences you have in your life that cause your will to decide to believe. So be prepared. Decide in advance that you're not going to do it. Which simply affirms what Jesus said - Faith is a matter of the will. I can decide in advance to believe or not to believe.
On this beautiful Easter morning, I love the way Jesus says it. He said to Thomas and he says it to us - "Do not disbelieve, but believe." The literal translation is, "Not be unbelieving but believing." In other words, stop moving toward doubt and instead, let your will move you in the direction of faith. Which is true of most of our lives, most of the time. We're either moving in the direction of more and more faith or in the direction of more and more doubt.
What direction are you going on this beautiful Easter morning? With great love and tenderness, Jesus moves Thomas in the direction of faith. And then Thomas says, "My Lord and my God!" This is a high, exalted, glorious expression of who Jesus is. And Thomas makes it. After Jesus changes the direction of his faith.
What Jesus says to Thomas, he says to us. With great love and tenderness, Jesus is giving direction to our faith. Like Thomas, will you say "My Lord and my God"? Let that be our Easter declaration of faith!