A Sermon for Doubters on Easter Sunday
Introduction: Some historical events are very hard to believe even though they are really true. For example, I recently read the story about Mike the headless chicken. Yes, you read that correctly: Mike the headless chicken! On September 10, 1945, a farmer in Fruita, Colorado named Lloyd Olsen, went out to select a chicken for his wife to prepare for dinner. He picked up a chicken, chopped off its head and let it run around on the ground as usual. But, much to his surprise, the chicken, with its head chopped off, didn’t die! So, the farmer began feeding it with an eyedropper through its open esophagus. A week later Olsen took the chicken to the University of Utah to be examined by scientists. They discovered that the ax had missed the jugular vein and a blood clot had formed which prevented the chicken from bleeding to death. Although its head had indeed been severed, most of the brain stem remained in place. Since most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem the chicken was able to remain quite healthy. In the 18 months that followed the wonder chicken known as Mike the Headless Chicken was taken on a nationwide tour. People from New York, to Los Angeles lined up to pay 25 cents each to see it. He even appeared on page 53 of the October 22, 1945 issue Life magazine. Although it is hard to believe, this is not an urban myth: It is hard to believe, but it is really true!
Some things are hard to believe. And for many people, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of those things. Let’s face, it is hard to believe that a man who was dead and buried for three days actually rose from the dead! Even one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas, had trouble believing that. And of course, Thomas isn’t the only one: There are plenty of others who have difficulty believing in the resurrection.
Now, here is a question: What can a modern-day doubting Thomas do to find the faith to believe? In other words, where can those who consider the resurrection of Jesus impossible to believe go to find faith? The answer to that question is given for us in our text, John 20:24-31.
(Read John 20:24-31)
I. How Doubting Thomas got his name.
A. The context of this is Christ’s first appearance to His disciples. But Thomas wasn’t present when Jesus appeared to them. When they told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he answered with these famous words found in verse 25: “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.”
B. Have you ever wonder what was going on inside of Thomas’s mind for him to doubt in spite of the insistent testimony of all the other disciples? Doubts or unbelief can come from three different sources.
Some unbelief is rooted in our emotions. Several years ago I was in my office at church when a man who had never been to our church dropped in and asked to see the minister. His name was Jimmy. He was not a Christian, but had come out of concern for his wife, whose name was Jean. She was terminally ill with cancer and she asked Jimmy to find a minister who would come and help her prepare to die. Soon after, I visited this couple in their home. They lived near the church in a modest, but well maintained home. We met together in a family room addition that Jimmy himself had built. His wife was an attractive, middle aged around 50 years old. She spoke with a very kind and tender voice. Not long before, her doctor had given her the dreaded news that there was nothing more he could do to help her. I explained to her the gospel of Jesus Christ. She listened very carefully and attentively. And when I asked her if she wanted to ask for forgiveness of her sins and receive Christ into her life, she readily said, “Yes.” After that I began to visit the family on a regular basis. Her husband, Jimmy began to attend our church. He seemed to be sincerely grateful for the strength and peace that Jean had received. He even began to help out with some building projects around the church. One day Jimmy took me for a drive in his pick-up truck out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. He showed me something that broke my heart: Jimmy and Jean had bought some land and were building a beautiful dream home there where they had planned to spend their retirement years. It was only about one-half completed when Jean died. We walked around and looked at room after room. Jimmy explained that now that Jean had died, he didn’t have any motivation to work on it anymore. Jimmy was angry with God for taking his wife away, for shattering their dreams of spending happy years together in their dream home. Soon after Jean died, Jimmy came by to see me. He asked my opinion about the wording to be engraved on her headstone. He had chosen the words, “Together forever.” I looked at him and said, “Jimmy, those are beautiful words, but for those words to be true, it all depends on you.” I reminded him that his wife, Jean, had opened her heart to Christ before she died and that she is with Jesus in heaven. Then I said, “Jimmy if you want to be with Jean forever, then you must also receive Christ into your life.” Our eyes met and I saw that he understood. But instead of opening his heart to Jesus, Jimmy left and changed the wording to be inscribed on his wife’s headstone: Instead of “Together forever,” he had the words inscribed, “With love forever.” You see, Jimmy’s unbelief was emotional. He was so angry with God for crushing his dreams and taking away his wife, that he would not give his heart to Christ. I think that there are many people like Jimmy. There are many people whose resistance to believing in God is not rooted in their heads but in their hearts.
But, some unbelief comes from honest intellectual objections. Some people don’t believe in God because of scientific objections. Scientifically, there is no way to outright prove God because He is an invisible, metaphysical reality. And there is no way to scientifically prove miracles because miracles are supernatural events: they are above nature and cannot be repeated by experimentation. Nevertheless, although science cannot outright prove God, it does very convincingly point to the existence of an intelligent designer. For example, in early December of 2004 the world renowned atheist author Dr. Antony Flew at age 81 astounded other atheists with his candid admission that because of modern science, he now believes in God. Flew, who is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Britain’s Reading University, was an influential champion of atheism for more than fifty years arguing repeatedly that there was not enough evidence to support the notion of a creator. But Flew has changed his mind and now believes in God based on the scientific evidence. Flew concluded that a super-intelligence is the only plausible explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of the universe. In a letter he wrote in the August-September issue of Britain’s Philosophy Now magazine, “It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.”(1)
And sometimes unbelief is rooted in the will: an intentional, deliberate, stubborn unbelief. Some people deliberately will not believe even after they have all their questions satisfactorily answered. For example, a couple engaged to be married came for the routine premarital counseling required by the church where they planned to be married. As the pastor became acquainted with the couple, he discovered that although the woman was a Christian, her fiancé was an unbeliever. The man explained that he had so many unanswered questions that caused him not to believe in God. So, the minister went to his library and pulled down a book from the section on Christian apologetics that dealt with common intellectual objections unbelievers have to Christianity. He asked the young man to thoughtfully read the book and then asked him, “After you read this book and if all your objections are answered to your satisfaction, will you then give your heart to Christ?” The young man sheepishly grinned and answered very honestly, “No.” You see, although he may have had some intellectual objections to believing, these were really just a smoke screen. Deep down, the real issue was not that he could not believe but rather that he would not believe.(2)
II. Now, what do you think? Which of these three was the source of Thomas’ unbelief?
A. It was not an intentional unbelief. Surely Thomas wanted to believe that Jesus was still alive. He loved the Lord and like the others, he was heartbroken that He had died. Surely his unbelief was not because he didn’t want to believe.
B. It could not have been merely intellectual unbelief. Remember that for 3 years Thomas had been with Jesus and seen the many amazing things He did. Thomas had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. Surely, by now Thomas knew for certain that Jesus had power even over death and the grave. Intellectually, Thomas knew the resurrection of Christ was possible. It seems to me that there was something else going on inside of Thomas.
C. Thomas’s unbelief may have been partly rooted in his emotions. It wasn’t that he was unwilling to believe, or that he was unable to believe, but it might have been that he was afraid to believe. For Thomas, the resurrection of Jesus was just too good to be true. And he would not allow himself to get his hopes up to believe something as wonderful as the resurrection without unmistakable proof. Before he would believe, he would need to see the mark of the nails in His hands, put his finger into the mark of the nails, and put his hand into Jesus’ side.
III. In this encounter Jesus teaches not only Thomas but everyone who doubts something important about faith.
A. The narrative reaches its climax in verse 28-29: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Emphasis added.]For those who doubt, like Thomas, Jesus explains something very important about coming to faith: Seeing a miracle isn’t essential for believing. According to Jesus, being an eyewitness to a dramatic miracle like the resurrection isn’t necessary for believing that He rose from the dead.(3)
B. Well then, if seeing isn’t necessary for believing, where can people who doubt go to find faith? John answers that question in the following verses: John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [Emphasis added.] This tells us where to go to believe — the Word of God. Faith comes from hearing and reading the Word of God. When we read and are attentive to the Word of God we are given everything necessary to believe. And when we believe, we are given life in His Name.
C. Many years ago I heard the story about Gaylord Kambarami, the General Secretary of the Bible Society in Zimbabwe. Gaylord give a Bible to a man who didn’t believe. He mocked Gaylord and said that he would roll the pages and use them to make cigarettes. Mr. Kambarami said, “I understand that, but at least promise to read the page of the New Testament before you smoke it.” The man agreed and the two of them went their separate ways. Fifteen years later, the two men met at a convention. The Scripture smoking unbeliever had found Christ and was now a full-time evangelist. He spoke to the audience and said, “I smoked Matthew and I smoked Mark and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke any more. My life was changed from that moment.”
Conclusion: During this Easter season when so many celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, there are still many others who, like Thomas, doubt. If that describes you, if you are a modern day Doubting Thomas, there is a way for you to believe. God has given you His Word. And if you will read it with an open heart, you too will come to believe!
- Philosophy Now Magazine, Feb/Mar 2016, Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology
- “This, then, is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
- Seeing a miracle can encourage believing faith (as it did with Thomas). Sometimes seeing a miracle can prove believing faith (Mat 21:22). Sometimes seeing a miracle can reward believing faith (Mat 13:58). But never is seeing a miracle required for believing faith.