How do I overcome doubt? Part 5

“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” John 20:29

We are learning from John 20:24-29 how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

– Renew our confession of faith (John 20:28).

Today we will look at the final way to overcome doubt. RECEIVE JESUS’ BLESSING (John 20:29). After Thomas said to Jesus,  “my Lord and my God,” (John 20:28), Jesus did not correct him for addressing Him as “my Lord and my God.” No, Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship because Christ is Lord and God. Jesus then told Thomas, Because you have seen Me, you have believed.” (John 20:29a). But then Jesus has something to say to you and me two thousand years later, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b).

The risen Lord Jesus is saying to His doubting disciple, “Thomas, I did something special for you. I came and showed you the nail prints in My hands. I showed you the scar in My side where the spear pierced Me. I want you to know the blessing on the lives of those millions of people who are going to believe in Me even though they have not had this experience.”  1

Jesus gave only a small number of people (about 500, 1 Cor 15:6) the privilege of seeing Him bodily after His resurrection. Most who believe do so without benefit of such direct revelation. Thomas and the others saw and heard, and thus their eyewitness testimonies have benefitted many people since then (John 20:30; 21:24-25; 1 John 1:1-3).” 2

Jesus wants you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life even though He has not personally appeared to you. He wants you to trust in Him alone to give you never-ending life before you see Him work in your life. This is why He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With these words, Jesus is broadening the object of faith from His resurrection to His promise to give eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. That is the transition John makes in the next two verses (John 20:30-31). 3

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Do you believe this? If you do, Christ guarantees you now have His life which never ends (John 11:25-26). You now have a personal relationship with Him that lasts forever (John 17:3). And Jesus wants to bless you with His remarkable gifts (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus before Christ appeared to him (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Even after you believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the risen Lord Jesus Christ wants to bless your life and work in your life. However, you are going to be filled with doubt if you think, “I’m not a good enough person for Him to bless my life. I will just let Christ give His blessings to somebody else.” Did Thomas deserve what Jesus gave him? Not at all. Thomas had received the eyewitness reports from the women and other disciples who had seen Jesus alive, yet he refused to believe them (Mark 16:10-11, 13-14; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18, 24-25). Even so, Christ graciously appears to him and gives him the evidence he needed to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s blessings are not something we earn. They are gifts He wants to bless you with.

His blessings are part of what builds our faith and keeps our faith growing. Receive His blessing. The result of faith is blessedness. The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). God rewards those who exercise faith and diligently seek Him.

Jesus is teaching us that those who believe in Him are blessed. Not only are they blessed the moment they believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, but they can continue to be blessed as they learn to live a life of faith. People who believe live a blessed life. This is not a perfect life, nor a life without problems; but a blessed life. The satisfaction and fulfillment that the world longs for can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Later John reminds us that the result of faith is life (John 20:31). When people believed Jesus then and when they believe Jesus now, lives are transformed. There is a new quality of life for us to experience. He says there is “life in His name” (John 20:31b). The kind of life that has the name of Jesus stamped all over it. Every blessing that comes into your life has Jesus’ name on it. The decisions that you make – Jesus’ name is stamped all over them. Your family has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Your job has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Everything about your life is to be lived in His name.  His power, His blessing, His purpose, His character is to be manifested in your life. 

Do you want to overcome doubt and have faith? I will not tell you to just have faith. Instead, I will say here is how to have faith. Here is how to overcome doubt. These are some practical suggestions. You don’t have to do all of them. Just start with one of them this week and see where the Lord leads you.

1. Intentionally connect with other Christians this week. One of the reasons we struggle with doubts is because we are isolating ourselves from other like-minded believers in Jesus. God wants us to connect with one another to receive love and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Schedule a time this week to get together with a trusted friend who knows Jesus and can offer a listening ear.

2. Write down your doubts on a sheet of paper. You might even be really brave and show your list to someone else. Not to an enemy, but to a trusted friend. Then at the bottom of the sheet of paper write, “Jesus, I ask You to give me Your answers to these doubts.” He wants to do this for you just like He did for Thomas.

3. Then you may need to redirect your will. This week or even tonight, decide to have faith in an area of your life where you have been struggling with doubts. You have been waiting for your emotions to catch up with your faith. Perhaps you have been studying this for months and you think you cannot learn any more. But now is the time to decide to move toward believing. You know what God wants you to do. You know what His Word says to do. It is time to act.

4. For some of us, we may need to renew our confession. Let me encourage you to do this this week if you are struggling with doubts. Start each day with a confession of faith. Use Thomas’ confession every day if you want to – “My Lord and my God.”  Or pick up your Bible and open it to the book of Psalms. Start reading any psalm. You will find two or three confessions of faith in any psalm – “Lord, You are my rock. Lord, You are my fortress. Lord, You are my hiding place.” (Psalm 31; 32; 119). The book of Psalms is just filled with confessions of faith. Find some confessions of faith there and use them to start each day. 

5. Perhaps you need to receive His blessing this week. You might be afraid to think about all the blessings that come from the Lord. You may feel guilty to recognize that God is doing something special in your life. There are times when we may look at our past and conclude that we are not deserving. The truth is, none of us are deserving. I do not deserve God’s blessings and neither do you. We admit that together. We come as undeserving people to God, but because of His grace – His undeserved favor – He gives to us abundantly. This week take twenty minutes and sit down and start to make a list of blessings from God on a piece of paper or on your computer. Since Jesus is in your life now, focus on His life which is stamped all over yours. Write down the different ways He is blessing you.

These are some practical ways that you and I can begin to overcome our doubts and build our faith.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may feel that we do not deserve to be blessed by You. We have been conditioned to believe that blessings must be earned. But Your encounter with Thomas reminds us that none of us are deserving of Your goodness. It is because of Your magnificent grace that we can be in a position to receive Your many blessings. Thank You especially for the gift of everlasting life that is ours forever the moment we believe in You. Please teach us to live a life of faith; A blessed life whereby we diligently seek You because we know that You are a Rewarder of those who do. In Your hope-filled name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 566.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How do I overcome doubt? Part 3

“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.’ ” John 20:25 (Emphasis added)

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Let’s remember that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5) when he struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise, as believers in Jesus, we will all have doubts in our lives. There are many different kinds of doubts that we will face. 1

One kind of a doubt is what is called the sudden kind of doubt. You are driving down the highway and all of a sudden this thought jumps into your mind that says, “None of these things about Jesus are real.” Or, “No one is really going to heaven. What if this is all a lie?”  Have you ever had those kind of thoughts? Where do those thoughts come from?  They come from Satan, the evil one. These kind of thoughts will just pop into your mind. You can just throw them out like trash as quickly as possible. Don’t be concerned about these. 

But another kind of doubt is called circumstantial doubts. These doubts come into our lives because of certain circumstances that we face. Doubts that come because of certain relationships or disappointments. These are longer lasting doubts. They come into our lives when circumstances do not turn out like we expected God was going to do.

When these circumstantial doubts take place, we have to decide how we are going to deal with them. How are we going to trust God in this? The way to do this is the same way Thomas needed to do it.

Thomas was not among the disciples the first time Jesus appeared to the ten disciples the day He rose from the dead (John 20:19-23). After Jesus’ appearance to them, the disciples came to Thomas, saying, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas then 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.” (John 20:25). The disciples are encouraging Thomas to have faith that Jesus is alive. But Thomas says, “I will not believe.”

Thomas is telling us, “I am choosing not to believe.” He is making a choice not to believe Jesus is alive. It is a matter of his will. Those who deny that faith is a choice are ignoring the truth of the Scriptures. God makes it very clear that faith is a matter of the will.

Jesus amplifies this when He comes to His disciples eight days after His resurrection. 26 Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ 27 Then 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.’ ” (John 20:26-27). Although the doors were locked, Jesus materialized in front of the disciples and said, “Peace to you.” Then Christ turned directly to Thomas, as if He had come for his sole benefit. Knowing full well the struggles going on in Thomas’ heart, Jesus invites him to explore with his hands (“Reach your finger here”) and his eyes (“look at My hands”) the reality of His resurrection body.

When Jesus said, “reach your hand here, and put it into My side,” he was referring to a literal hole in His side that was left by the spear. It had healed over but it left an obvious impression. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t say, “You should not ask questions like that Thomas!” Christ gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He rose from the dead to answer his objection and then invites him to believe.

Christ began with Thomas’ objection and then gave him evidence. Peter taught the same thing in principle when he wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (I Peter 3:15).

When sharing the gospel with an intellectual skeptic, they may say to you, “Where did Cain get his wife?” The answer is he married his sister. But we can go beyond that and show the reasonableness of that answer. Granted, there are some problems with that answer. The first problem is we know that Adam had sons – Cain, Abe, and Seth (Genesis 4:1-2, 25), but we cannot name any of his daughters. Now if Adam did not have any daughters, how could Cain marry his sister? The answer to that difficulty is that Adam did have daughters. Genesis 5:4 says, “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters.”

But this brings up a second problem. Today we cannot marry a sister because if a brother marries his sister the mathematical possibilities of the weakness of their genes coming up in their children is great. That is why this is called incest and is forbidden today.

The only way to solve that problem is to have genetically perfect parents. That is exactly the case with Cain and his sister. Adam and Eve were created directly by God so Cain and his sister had perfect heredity. Their children would have had few harmful mutations. When sin entered the world at the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12), it brought with it mutations in the DNA resulting in disease, death, and destruction. The gene pool would gradually become corrupt. At first no harm would result from marrying a brother or sister, but as generations passed harmful genetic mutations along, those harmful mutations and defective genes would increase and accumulate. Eventually, it became too dangerous to marry a close relative because of the increased likelihood of inherited disease. This is why God forbid marrying a close relative in the time of Moses, about 2,500 years after the creation of Adam and Eve (Leviticus 18:6-8).

But there was no prohibition against marrying a close relative in the beginning because there was no need for it. So the point is that there is a reasonable answer to the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?”

Some of us may conclude that we could never witness because we will not be able to come up with all those intellectual answers. But often times, non-Christians do not ask the questions Christians ask. Those of us who are believers in Jesus hear the Bible discussed and explained and we expect non-Christians to ask the same questions we do. But more and more non-Christians in the world are biblical illiterates. They usually don’t ask the questions we do.

Most non-Christians ask very basic questions: What about those who have never heard? Is Christ the only way to God? How can you be sure Jesus is God? Why do the innocent suffer? How can miracles be possible? Isn’t the Bible full of errors? Isn’t the Christian experience psychological? Won’t a good moral life get me to heaven?

Rather than worry about non-Christians asking difficult questions, simply share the gospel with those who will listen. If you do not know the answer to their questions, be honest and tell them you do not know. I find it helps to say to them, “Thanks so much for a great question. I do not have an answer to that right now, but I will do some research and get back to you with an answer.” The internet has many helpful Christian websites that can help you answer tough questions. 2 Ask your pastor for some help if you don’t find any on the internet.

When an intellectual objection is given to you by someone, start out by giving a reasonable answer to the stated objection. Some people do have honest intellectual questions. They want answers. They will usually accept reasonable answers, or at least the reasonableness of an answer.

But when a person objects to Christianity and does not accept the reasonableness of an answer, his or her problem is moral, not intellectual. These people tend to argue rather than listen to the reasonableness of your answers. So pursue the moral issue.

Perhaps they are struggling with guilt. For example, an evangelist was having a rap session with high school teenagers. One girl who sat in the back had been quiet. Near the end of the session, she said, “The Bible says God loves everyone. Then it says God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?” The evangelist gave reasonable answers but she kept coming back with arguments. He didn’t convince her nor did she convince him. Soon the session was dismissed.

Afterward, the evangelist approached the girl and said, “I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative.” Then he said, “May I share something with you?” “Yes,” she said. So he began to present the gospel to her. When he got to Romans 3:23, he said, “We are all sinners.” Then she began to cry. She then admitted to having an affair with a married man. The one thing she needed was forgiveness. After the gospel presentation, she trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of all her sin and received the gift of eternal life. The reason she had not believed in hell was because she was going there. Rather than face her guilt, she denied there was any future hell.

Others we may witness to may struggle with bitterness. Many non-Christians have been turned off by Christians or Christianity. They have had Christianity crammed down their throats or they have been stabbed in the back by a Christian. Their response was bitterness. They have been wounded and they are hurting. They need to hear and see the grace of Jesus Christ.

Another moral issue that can hinder a non-Christian from hearing reasonable answers to their questions is a sinful self-will. After hearing the gospel presentation, one student said, “I can’t answer your presentation, but it is reasonable. It is just that I refuse to accept it.”

This is what kept many religious leaders from believing in Jesus when Christ walked the earth. Christ said to those who refused to believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, 39You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40). These religious leaders devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures “which testify of” Jesus, but they never found Him. Why? Because they were “not willing to come to” Him that they “may have life.” They were unwilling to believe in Jesus even though the Bible testifies of Him from cover to cover.

When witnessing to intellectuals, we must avoid two extremes:

1) Anti-intellectualism which says, “Don’t bother me with intellectual questions. Just let me present the simple gospel.” The result is the thinking non-Christian will conclude that his honest questions have no answers and he won’t listen to the gospel.

2) Intellectualism that says answers will win the person to Christ. So we rely on intellectual answers and not on God. Keep in mind that it was not the disciples who convinced Thomas (John 20:25a), it was Jesus Himself who convinced this skeptic. Giving people the gospel will often do what all the intellectual arguments fail to do – break down the barriers. There is only one way to God – the gospel or good news of Jesus and His death and resurrection. But there are many ways to the gospel. The road may be straight, or it may contain curves. You have to travel the road the person is on when you find him or her. No matter where you find him or how many roads he takes, or how many rest stops he insists on, guide him gently toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rely on the Holy Spirit instead of reasonable answers to persuade the person to believe in Christ alone as his or her only hope of heaven.

After Jesus gave Thomas the evidence to answer to his objection, Christ commands him, Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 3  It is a matter of the will. It is a choice to stop doubting and to believe.

When Thomas said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25b), in the Greek language he used a double negative. 4  Literally, he is saying, “I will no not believe.” We might translate it, “I will positively not believe.” At least Thomas is being honest. He is making it clear that the reason he will not believe Jesus is alive is because he has made the choice not to believe it. He is choosing not to believe.

Some people think that having faith is a matter of the intellect or logic. Others view faith as being based on emotions. So which is it? Logic or feelings? Neither is true. Faith is volitional. It is not based upon the intellect or feelings. It is based upon the will.

There are people who are waiting for their mind to inform them or their emotions to lead them into the kind of faith in God that they see other people having. It is not going to happen. Yes, information or emotions can influence our decisions. But simply having enough information in our minds or enough emotions in our hearts is not going to automatically give us faith in God. Faith is a matter of the will.

When I choose to believe, then my emotions will follow and my mind will start to understand more and more of Who God truly is. It is a matter of the will.

When Jesus told Thomas, Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b), He was telling him to choose to stop moving in the direction of unbelief and to decide to start moving in the direction of belief. So the third way to overcome doubts is to REDIRECT OUR WILLS TOWARD BELIEVING (John 20:25b-27). We are either moving in the direction of belief or we are moving in the direction of unbelief. We either decide to accept God’s Word is true or we decide to reject His Word is true. We either decide that God is a Promise-Keeper or God is a Promise-Breaker. We decide that God is either a Truth-Teller or a Liar.

Please understand that Thomas still had eternal life even though he had doubts. When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you can never lose eternal life. That is why Jesus says you “shall never perish” after you believe in Him (John 10:28a). The word “never” means forever. If you could “perish” in hell after believing in Jesus, then Christ told a lie in John 10:28a. But Christ will not break His promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him because He is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6). He always keeps His promises.

But you may ask, “If I doubt my salvation, does that mean I am not saved?” It is possible. Those who doubt their salvation fall into one of three categories: 5

– You may be a doubter at heart. In other words, some people doubt everything. They doubt whether their mates love them or whether their children respect them. They doubt they will reach the age of retirement, or that their plane will reach its destination. Such people have issues they must deal with that are far different than eternal salvation.

– You may not understand the gospel and are not saved. Perhaps you are trusting in Christ plus your works or just your works alone, instead of trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 3:15-16; 19:30). Therefore, you don’t have any certainty of going to heaven. Or you may have been taught that if you cannot remember the date you became a Christian, then you are not saved. So you wonder, “Could that mean I’m not saved?” Let me ask you, did Jesus say, “Whoever believes in Him and knows the date they were saved has everlasting life?” No. The real question is, “Whom am I trusting right now to give me eternal life?” Our salvation is established by Whom we place our trust in, not when we trusted Him.

– You have trusted Christ and are saved, but you have confused entering the Christian life (John 3:16; 5:24) with living it (I John 1:4-10; 2:3-6; 3:6-15; 4:20:21). When a believer takes his or her focus off of Christ and His promise of eternal life, he or she may begin to doubt their salvation. When you listen to teaching that confuses entering the Christian life with living it, you are going to have doubts that you are saved.

For example, a few years ago I listened to a famous preacher on the radio in America say that the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are saved. He said to ask yourself, “do I have fellowship with the Father?… am I abiding in Him?… do I keep God’s commandments?… do I love other Christians?…  am I overcoming sin?” If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all these questions, then he said you cannot be certain you are saved.

But this preacher failed to observe the purpose of I John is not to tell you how to become a Christian or how to know you are a Christian. First John was written to tell us how to have fellowship (closeness) with Christ or how to know you have fellowship with Christ. The author of I John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes, 3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  (I John 1:3-4).

The gospel of John tells you how to receive the gift of eternal life, mentioning the word “believe” ninety-nine times. 6  The book of I John tells us how to get close to the One you have believed in, using the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times. 7

Therefore, closeness to Christ is discussed in I John, not salvation. People who don’t act like a Christian or a disciple may not be a believer. But to use characteristics of a disciple to determine if you are a Christian is not helpful. Some people might live a good moral life without being a Christian. It could be that those people are trusting in their works instead of Christ’s finished work on the cross to get them to heaven.

Losing your assurance of salvation is not the same as losing your salvation. As we have seen in the gospel of John, when you believe in Christ for eternal life, you are eternally secure at the moment of faith because of Christ’s performance and promise (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; 19:30), not your performance or feelings.

However, being certain of your salvation can waver if you start looking to someone or something else other that Christ and His promise of eternal life. If you doubt your salvation, ask yourself: 8

Do I understand the simplicity of the Gospel? Since Christ paid the full penalty for my sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), God can now forgive me based on what He has done for me, not what I do for Him (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14).

– Have I trusted Christ alone for my salvation? We appropriate Christ’s death on the cross by coming to Him as sinners, recognizing that He made the full payment for sin on our behalf, and “believing.” Jesus promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). The word “believe” means to place our trust in Christ alone as our only basis for living eternally with God. If you are trusting Christ alone to get to heaven, you are forever God’s child regardless of when or where that occurred.

Am I taking God at His Word? Once you trust in Christ, you must trust His Word. That means accepting God’s promise that, having trusted Christ, we are forever His. Jesus assures us: “And I give them  eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28).

If I were to ask you whose child you are, you would say, “I am the child of …” You have proof that would stand up in a court of law – a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures you that you are their child. God has given us a piece of paper – the inspired Word of  God, the Bible. It assures us that once we have believed in Christ, we have everlasting life. We are His forever. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16 when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

In closing, Jesus looked at Thomas and said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b). This meant it was a matter of Thomas’ will. This was something he could choose. And Thomas did. His decision teaches us our next way to overcome doubt. But that is for our next time together.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for showing me that it is my decision to move toward doubting or believing. I cannot blame my doubts on my circumstances, my past, my parents, my personality, or my peers. I am responsible for whether or not I choose to doubt or believe. Simply having more information in my mind or more emotion in my heart is not going to automatically give me faith in You. It is a matter of my will. This day I am deciding to move in the direction of believing, not doubting. Whether I feel like believing or not, I will choose to move toward believing. Whether I have more or less information, I will decide to move toward believing. When I doubt my salvation, I will refocus upon You and Your unchanging promises. Please help those who doubt Your resurrection to realize it is their choice to do this. Just as You gave Thomas evidence to answer his objection, please give others what they need to come to faith in You. They can choose to believe or not believe. The choice is theirs. But that choice has eternal consequences. In Your name I pray, my Lord and my God. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. See www.answersingenesis.org ; www.josh.org ; www.probe.org ; www.carm.org ; www.christiananswers.net .

3. The verb (ginou) in the phrase, “do not be unbelieving” (mē ginou apistos) is a present imperative.

4. Ou mē pisteusō.

5. Adapted from R. Larry Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said: Correcting Our Misconceptions About Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004) pp. 79-81.

6. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47,  64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 40, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

7. In the Greek Majority Text, John uses the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times: I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 24(3), 27(2), 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24(2); 4:12, 13, 15, 16 (3).

8. Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said, pp. 81-83.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 2

“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.’ ” John 20:25

We are learning from John 20:24-29 how to overcome doubt. Last time we discovered we can overcome doubt when we restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24). In our previous series of lessons, Jesus appeared to His ten fearful disciples the day of His resurrection (John 20:19-23). But one of His disciples, Thomas, was not there at that time to see Jesus after His resurrection. Eight days after Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to those ten disciples, Thomas is now with those disciples.

“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.’ ” (John 20:25). The disciples who witnessed Jesus’ appearance on resurrection day reported to Thomas, “We have see the Lord.” The word “seen” (heōrakamen) is in the perfect tense. They saw Jesus in the past and remain convinced of His resurrection at this time. The word “said” (elegon) is in the imperfect tense which implies that they kept on telling Thomas this report. Those who saw Jesus alive were overflowing with excitement and could not keep quiet! They were bubbling over with enthusiasm and they just had to keep sharing it with Thomas.

But this did not meet Thomas’ need. It is like telling someone to “just have faith” when what they really need is to be shown how to have faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas had no doubt that Jesus died on the cross, which is another proof that Jesus really did die. However, he refused to believe the other disciples’ report—that Jesus was alive— without personal physical evidence. He insisted on touching Jesus’ wounds, specifically His crucifixion wounds “in His hands” and in “His side,” not just seeing Him. No one else in the New Testament made demands like these before believing. 2 This is where Thomas got the nickname, “doubting Thomas.”

Thomas teaches us a very important lesson to learn as a believer in Jesus Christ: It is okay to have honest doubts. Don’t pretend they are not there. Don’t try to hide them from those who love you and care about you. Honest doubts can grow into great faith if we are open to God’s truth. 3

We learn from Thomas that the second way to overcome doubt is to READJUST OUR UNREALISTIC REQUIREMENTS FOR BELIEF (John 20:25a). Thomas had his own standard of requirements for belief. He says, “Unless….  I will not believe.” Unless I can see and touch the nail scars in His hands and place my hand in His side where the spear went in, I will not believe.”

We do a similar thing, don’t we? We say to ourselves, “Unless I can get everything just right, I won’t take this step of faith in my life. Unless every Christian that I meet is a perfect person, I won’t believe. Unless God runs the world in the way I think it should be run, I won’t believe.”  We demand that certain unrealistic conditions be met before we believe.

Thomas is like many modern-day skeptics. He was a natural pessimist. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when Christ was going back to Judea where people were plotting to kill Him, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16). The cross was the only thing Thomas believed would happen to Jesus. Christ’s resurrection was not on his radar. This pessimistic spirit is seen in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ report that Jesus was now alive.

This cynical spirit is also seen among many Americans. We are trained to be skeptical by ads or commercials online or on TV. If we believed everything that was said in every one of those ads or commercials, we would either be dead or in the poor house. We would have consumed this drink or that food, or invested in this weight loss program or skin treatment or that medicine. We are trained to be skeptical because these ads and commercials are just trying to sell us something.

We are also trained to be skeptical in our educational system which teaches the scientific method. The scientific method is great for comprehending certain things that happen in biology or chemistry, but it is terrible for understanding how things happen in matters pertaining to faith. So sometimes when it comes to matters of faith, we say, “Let’s just apply the scientific method – if I cannot see it, if I cannot touch it, if I cannot repeat it in a laboratory and prove it, then it cannot be real.” And we find ourselves lacking faith.

But we need to recognize that there are some things that we cannot see or touch that are very real such as love, God, grace, and heaven. These are all very real things. But we are trained to doubt such things because of the unrealistic requirements we impose on them.

Thomas lived with doubts because he imposed unrealistic requirements on faith. He said, “Unless I see it and touch it, I will not believe.” Do you know someone like that? Have you ever been like that? You must see it or touch it before you can believe? 4

The Bible tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).  In its essence faith is being sure … and certain… about unseen hopes and realities.” 5  The unseen realities of God are not dependent in any way upon faith to give them substance or to offer proof for them. They are there whether we believe them or not. Faith simply apprehends the unseen realities of God and is sure of them. 6  Faith brings unseen future realities into one’s present experience.

One definition of faith is informed trust. The Bible informs us that Jesus Christ came to this earth over two thousand years ago (Matthew 1:18-2:11; Luke 2:1-7). In fact, history informs us of this every time we write down today’s date. It is AD 2021. To what does “AD” refer? It is Latin for “Anno Domini” or “Year of the Lord.”

The Bible also informs us that out of love for us, Jesus Christ laid down His life for us on the cross and rose from the dead (John 3:16a; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). And we are informed by the Bible that Jesus Christ invites us to believe in Him alone for His wonderful gift of everlasting life (John 3:16). The Bible also tells us that Jesus is preparing a wonderful place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). But having this information is not enough.

You may know some people who have an uninformed trust in the wrong things. They trust without information. And they can easily trust in anything that comes along.

You may know other people who have lots of information. They have learned many things because they study and read all the time. But all that information does not translate into faith. They are very informed and intelligent, but they do not trust anyone.

There must be trust. The information or the truth that God has given us must be joined with trust for the unseen realities of God to become reality to us. The way we begin a personal relationship with the God of the universe is by an act of faith or trust. When we come to the living God as a guilty sinner who deserves to go to hell (Mark 9:43-48; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15), and receive from God the gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ for it (John 3:16; 11:25-26), we are engaged in a tremendous act of faith! Why?

Because we have never seen God. We have never seen these places called heaven or hell. We have never seen Jesus Christ in person. We have never seen this thing called eternal life. And yet, when we believe God’s Word, those things which we cannot see become realities to us. They take on substance for us. And by faith, we gain the assurance  and conviction about things our eyes cannot see. By faith, we lay hold of the realities that are invisible to our eyes.

Recently, my wife and I watched the “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” movie. Near the end of the movie, Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, had to pass a series of tests to get to the Holy Grail. He knows from his father’s diary, that one of them will be a “leap from the lion’s mouth.” With his father, played by Sean Connery, close to death after being shot, and the Holy Grail, which is believed to have healing powers and the only hope to save his father, Indy rushes through a doorway below a carved lion’s head. Suddenly, he finds himself facing what seems at first to be an impassible bottomless ravine to get to the Holy Grail. On the opposite side of this ravine is a doorway, but in between there seems to be nothing but air.

While Indy says to himself, “It’s a leap of faith,” his father keeps saying, “You must believe, Boy. You must believe.” What can Indiana do? With no other options, and time running out, he does the only thing he can do – he steps out into that chasm by faith. And his foot lands on solid ground. The camera pans down and reveals a bridge across this ravine – perfectly comouflaged to look like the opposite wall of the ravine.

When Indiana stepped out in faith, he discovered the unseen reality of that bridge across the bottomless ravine. What was once unseen, became reality when he exercised faith.

Faith is informed trust. Thomas had to learn this to remove his doubts. He had to readjust his unrealistic requirements for belief. And we may need to do the same to remove our doubts.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must admit that I have had unrealistic requirements for my faith. Before I became a believer in Jesus, I was expecting Christians to be perfect before I would believe. I focused on their imperfections to avoid my own. Even after becoming a Christian, I have demanded that circumstances by just right before I step out in faith. I have struggled with doubts because You have felt distant to me during painful times in my life. Thank You for helping me to understand that Your presence is not a feeling. It is a reality that faith apprehends and is sure of. Please help me, my Lord and my God, to readjust my requirements for faith so the unseen realities You have revealed in Your Word can become reality to me. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 368.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 381 cites Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: Revised Edition (New International Commentary on the New Testament series. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pg. 752.

3. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

4. These last several paragraphs are adapted from Holladay’s sermon.  

5. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

6. Adapted from Professor Zane C. Hodges’ Class Notes, Greek 225, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Spring Semester, pg. 207.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 1

“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:24

When we are in the midst of doubts, one of the hardest things to hear is, “Just have faith.” For example, when you are having doubts about your finances and someone comes up to you and says, “Just have faith,” does it help you to have faith? No, it discourages you. Or if you are facing difficulties in your marriage or you are having health problems, and you stay up late at night worrying about them. You have never had to face these problems before in your life. And a friend comes up to you the next day and pats you on the back and says, “Just have faith.” That is like going up to someone who just broke their arm and they are laying on the street, and you bend down and say to them, “Just don’t hurt.” It does not help that person. That is not what they need.

When I am struggling with doubts I do not need someone to come up to me and say, “Just have faith.” I need someone who can come alongside me and show me how to have faith. Here is how to have faith when you are struggling with your finances or in your marriage. Here is how to have faith when you are facing a serious health problem. Here is how to have faith when God seems so distant. Here is how to have faith when you feel like giving up. 1

One of Jesus’ close disciples named, Thomas, struggled with doubt. He struggled with having faith. In our last series of lessons, when Jesus appeared to His ten fearful disciples in the evening of His resurrection day (John 20:19-23), Thomas was not there with them. We do not know for sure why Thomas was absent. Perhaps he was discouraged so he sought isolation instead of fellowship with the other disciples. Hence, He missed Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the other disciples. From these verses in John 20:24-29, we are going to learn how to overcome doubt.

The first way to overcome our doubts, is to RESTORE OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS (John 20:24). Eight days after Jesus had appeared to His ten fearful disciples behind locked doors (John 20:19-23), He comes to them a second time with Thomas present with them this time (John 20:24-29). John tells us, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24) the first time. This is very significant.

If Thomas had been with the other disciples that first time Jesus appeared to them, he would not have struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection that past week. If he had been around the other disciples when Jesus appeared the first time, he would not be burdened with lingering doubts. He would have the faith he needed.

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, Thomas was willing to go into hostile territory and die with Jesus (John 11:7-8, 16). But a week after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas still did not believe Jesus had come back to life as He promised. So it is clear from the Bible that you can be a spiritually strong believer one moment, and be a spiritually weak believer the next. 2

John informs us that Thomas was “called the Twin” (didumos). Figuratively speaking, Thomas has a lot of twins – believers who doubt. When we remove ourselves from fellowship with other Christians like Thomas did, it can strengthen our doubts and weaken our faith. But if I am going to overcome my doubts, especially during difficult times, I need to be with other believers in Jesus.

The Bible tells us, “24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). God wants us to know that it is vital for Christians to encourage one another and motivate each other toward love and good works. The word “consider” means to carefully focus on another person in such a way as to “stir up” or stimulate one another to love God and each other so they can live a godly life (“good works”). Worshiping together is a key part of this calling. But Sunday gatherings are not the only time this is to take place. We should be encouraging one another and building each other up in the Lord throughout the week.

Why does God say this? Because we need each other. It is not just what you hear and learn at church, it is the relationships that you develop in those gatherings. Hebrews 10:24-25 is telling us that as we see the Day of Christ’s return drawing near, we are to meet with one another all the more to encourage one another to love others and do good works.

Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith.

What is one of the first things we do when we start to struggle with doubts? We withdraw from other Christians, don’t we? Perhaps we do this because we have been wounded by believers who tell us, “Just have faith,” when we are struggling with doubts. Or perhaps our pride gets in the way and we don’t want other Christians to see us struggle. Or if we do gather with them, we hide our doubts because we don’t want them to see us in a vulnerable position and think less of us.

But the first thing we need when we start to experience doubt is to draw near to other believers who love and support us. A smile or a kind word from our Christian friends can turn our doubts into faith. Listening to their struggles with doubts can also validate our own struggles and remind us that we are not alone. Such interactions with one another can dispel our doubts and strengthen our faith.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the body of Christ which offers us encouragement and hope in the midst of our doubts. Thank You for reminding us of the importance of gathering with other believers in Jesus to motivate us to love and good works. Help us to move toward other Christians when we are struggling so we can share our doubts with them and receive their encouragement. You never intended for us to live the Christian life in isolation. You created us for relationships with You and one another.  Please give us the courage to pursue healthy relationships so our doubts will be transformed into faith. Guide us to other believers who are also struggling with doubts so we can encourage one another. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1829.

How Can I overcome my fears? Part 2

“When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” John 20:20

We are learning from Jesus’ interaction with His ten disciples in the evening of His resurrection day how to overcome our fears. Last time we discovered that we must rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19). Today we will see that our fears can be overcome when we REDIRECT OUR FOCUS TO THE EVIDENCE OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION TO CONVINCE OUR DOUBTING HEARTS (John 20:20).

We see in Luke’s account that the disciples themselves did not believe the testimony of others that Christ had risen from the dead. When the women reported it, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Even when some of the disciples saw Christ themselves they were “slow of heart to believe “ (Luke 24:25). Indeed, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples, 37 they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?’ ” (Luke 24:37-38). Their fears were mixed with doubts.

But how could they doubt the Lord was risen? The Old Testament had predicted His resurrection (Psalm 16:10; 22:21b; cf. Acts 2:30-32), and Jesus had proclaimed it several times prior to His death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; John 2:19, 21; 10:18). It is possible they were looking for Jesus to establish a literal kingdom on earth. So even though Christ had told them He was about to die and be raised from the dead, they did not hear Him because they were so convinced He was going to usher in a political kingdom. Then when Jesus died they were dumbfounded. The crucifixion left them confused because of their own preconceived ideas. Now they didn’t know what to believe. Doubt and fear overwhelmed the disciples.

Consequently, they were not shouting the gospel from the housetops; they were sitting silently behind locked doors. When believers doubt and fear, they are incapable of speaking up for the Lord. This explains why the church has failed to obey Christ’s command to preach the gospel to everyone since the time of Christ (Mark 16:15). It is centered around the church’s doubts and fears.

How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ doubts and fears? Does He rebuke them? Does He shame them for allowing their doubts and fears to overtake them? After all they had abandoned Him in His hour of suffering (Matthew 26:56). No. After graciously speaking “peace be with you” (John 20:19), Christ convinces them of His resurrection through a personal display of His wounds. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20a). The disciples had no concept of the nature of a resurrection body and supposed that they were seeing a “spirit” or ghost (Luke 24:37). 1  

Christ reassured them by displaying His hands which had been pierced by the nails and His side which had been pierced by the spear (John 19:34). Although Jesus now possessed a transformed glorified body, the presence of the wounds showed that He did not have a different body, but the same body.

Those scars had not been removed from his resurrection body. One day, then, all believers will see them. They will serve as eternal reminders of the cost of our redemption, and they will forever give us reason to praise him. Jesus will be the only scarred person in eternity, a perpetual reminder of the price paid for our redemption.” 2

In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus invited the disciples to touch Him showing that His resurrection body was a material body. He also asked for food to demonstrate that He was not a disembodied spirit appearing in human form. They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb and He ate it in their presence. There was no mistaking Him! It was really Jesus!

The results were something Jesus promised three nights before (John 16:22): 3  “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20b). Their fear turned into faith which was expressed through their testimony of joy. The disciples were overjoyed as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection penetrated their minds. 4

Although the disciples were afraid and filled with doubt, Jesus dealt gently with their struggles. His presence brought them peace and the personal display of His wounds convinced them He was their risen Lord.

Are you troubled or doubting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? Have you tried to shut Jesus out of your life because you are afraid or you doubt His love for you? Jesus can pass through our locked doors and give us peace. He can provide the evidence we need to overcome our doubts and fears.

The scars on Jesus’ hands and side are proof that He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead. He truly does love us and His scars serve as eternal reminders of this. I can think of no greater power to remove our fears than the perfect love of Jesus Christ. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18).

Therefore, we can boldly proclaim the love of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of His death and resurrection. Eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Christ gave them the evidence they needed to overcome their doubts and fears. And He can do the same for you and me. Are you willing to let Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must confess that I struggle with doubts and fears at times just like the ten disciples did the evening after You rose from the dead. It is easier for me to admit this struggle now after seeing how gracious You were with Your disciples that night. You did not condemn them nor scold them for having their doubts and fears. Instead, You met them where they were at (behind locked doors) and You gave them what they needed (a display of Your wounds) so they would know that it was their risen Lord. I am convinced that You still come to people when they are afraid or doubting today. And You come to them not to condemn them or scold them, but to give them the evidence that they need to know that You love them. For the disciples they needed evidence that it was really You Who rose from the dead. And the scars on Your hands and side, will serve as eternal reminders of the great cost of our salvation, and they will forever give us cause to praise You throughout eternity! Thank You, my Lord and my God, for giving us the evidence we needed to convince our doubting and fearful hearts. Please enable us to boldly proclaim Your death and resurrection to a very broken and lost world that needs to know You love them far more than what they do or don’t do. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 505.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1828.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 565.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 365.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 1

“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” John 20:1

The apostle John wrote the gospel of John to non-Christians so they “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). In chapters 1-12, John records seven miraculous signs of Jesus to persuade non-Christians to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God so they may have eternal life in His name. Then in John 20 he records the eighth and greatest miraculous sign – the resurrection of Jesus! The entire book of John has been leading up to this exciting event! What makes it even more exciting is that John was there to watch it all happen as an eyewitness.

Some people think Jesus was in His resurrected body for a short time on earth and was seen by only a few people. But the truth is He was in His resurrected body on earth for over a month and He was seen by over 500 people (Acts 1:1-3; I Corinthians 15:3-8). This is an incredible event and for the next few days we are going to see how Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to a lot of different people at different times. Today we are going to see that He first appeared to Mary Magdalene. The resurrected Jesus is alive. He makes Himself known in peoples’ lives. The exciting thing about each of these appearances is the difference it made in people’s lives when they saw Him alive after His death and burial.

As we take a look at how the empty tomb challenged the life of Mary Magdalene, we are going to see how He can make a difference in our daily lives. The first way the risen Lord Jesus can make a difference is to DISPEL THE DARKNESS IN OUR LIVES WITH THE LIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION (John 20:1). The apostle John writes, “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). Let’s look at some important details in this one verse.

The first detail is that it was “on the first day of the week.” What is the first day of the week? Sunday. Interestingly, “for the Jews, Sunday (the day after the first Sabbath following Passover cf. Leviticus 23:11) would be the Feast of First Fruits. On this day the Jews would present the first sheaf of the barley harvest to the Lord in the Temple. This offering was both an expression of gratitude and an expression of faith that a full harvest was about to follow. It is significant that Jesus rose from the grave on the Feast of First Fruits. And so Paul presents Christ as the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23).“ 1

In the Old Testament, believers worshiped God on the Sabbath which was Saturday. But in the New Testament believers got together on Sunday because that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Acts 20:7). This is why believers around the world worship the Lord together on Sunday. It is resurrection day! Some believers insist that you must worship the Lord on Saturday to be a true believer. But the Bible tells us in Romans 14:5-6a that it doesn’t matter what day or night of the week you worship because we are no longer under the regulations of the Old Testament Law anymore (cf. Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24; 4:5). So you could worship the Lord together on a Wednesday night if you wanted to. What matters is that your observance shows your commitment “to the Lord” (Romans 14:6).

The second detail is the word “early.” The Greek word [prōi, πρωί] refers to “the watch that is between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.” 2  It is very early in the morning while it is still dark. The reason Mary and other women [note plural “we” in verse 2, cf. Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1,10) got up early to go to the tomb was because it was a tradition of the Jews to go to the tomb for at least three days after the person was buried to take care of the body and make sure all the spices were in the right places. They couldn’t go on the Sabbath day, so they had to wait until Sunday. I also believe Mary was eager to go to the tomb so early because of her love and devotion for Jesus, living and dead, which was based on her gratitude for His delivering her from bondage to Satan (cf. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She had been an observer at the cross and now was the first person at the grave. 3

So as early as she could get up on Sunday while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went down to the tomb. She, being a agile young woman, ran ahead of the other women and came to the tomb first, and discovered that the tomb had already been opened. 4

The third detail to observe is that “it was still dark.” This reference to it being “dark” may refer to both the physical darkness of the morning and the emotional and spiritual darkness that Mary was probably experiencing.Mary no doubt was stricken with grief by Jesus’ sufferings and death. After all, this was the Messiah-God who had healed her from demon possession (cf. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). He wasn’t supposed to die like this! Mary had no idea what had already happened that Sunday morning. So this was a very dark morning for her emotionally and spiritually.

What about you? Is this a dark day for you? Is your life filled with doubt and uncertainty in light of the coronavirus? Are you struggling with negative attitudes this week? You may not admit it to anyone else, but you may be thinking, “I wouldn’t be around me this week if I were honest about it.” Some of you may be struggling with your faith. You think, “I hear other people talk about faith and how great faith can be and how it makes a difference in their lives but if I was really being honest, I’d have a lot of question marks about it. I’m not a very trusting person.”  

The fourth detail to notice is that John says, “the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” The word for “taken away” [ērmenon, ἠρμένον] means “to lift up and carry away.” It conveys the idea of being “tossed aside.” It was not slowly rolled away. It was thrown aside by the angel of God when he arrived (cf. Matthew 28:2). The power of God tossed this stone aside! This is probably why Matthew tells us the Roman guards shook with fear and became like dead men (cf. Matthew 28:4). I would have done the same!

When the stone was thrown aside, it was not so Jesus could come out of the tomb. Jesus in His resurrected body went through the grave clothes that surrounded Him. Jesus in His resurrected body had the power to go through doors and into rooms without the doors being opened. So I’m suggesting that Jesus had already come out of the tomb before the stone was thrown aside. The stone was removed so the disciples could come into the tomb and see that it was empty. This is what makes Christianity distinct from all other religions. The founders of all other religions are still dead in their graves, but Christians worship a Jesus Christ that left an empty tomb behind Him! We worship a Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and remains alive today! Hallelujah!

If you are struggling in the dark with bad attitudes, doubts, or your faith, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ can change all of that. The same power that brought Jesus back to life can also resurrect a joyful attitude in you and replace your doubts with an unwavering confidence in Jesus and His promises. His resurrection power can revitalize your faith so that all fear is gone and His joy can overflow in your life.

If part of your struggle in the dark is with sin and shame, please know that Jesus’ resurrection power guarantees unlimited forgiveness in Christ to all who believe in Him. You may think your sin is too great for God to forgive. You may believe shame-based lies that say no one could accept or love you as you are. This is not true. Listen to God’s voice of truth: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved you so much He sent His Son to die in your place when you were still an ungodly sinner. God loved you at your worst. He did not wait for you to clean up your life. He loved you just as you are. God loves you regardless of what you have done or what others say or think of you.

The risen Lord Jesus now invites you to come to Him just as you are to receive His forgiveness. The Bible says, “Everyone who puts his trust in Christ will have his sins forgiven through His name” (Acts 10:43). The word “everyone” includes the worst and the best of people. It includes people of all faiths. It does not matter if you are a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Universalist, Jesus invites you to believe or trust in Him alone to receive His unlimited forgiveness.

The Bible says the moment we believed in Jesus alone, “He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). No one can successfully condemn you now because Christ was condemned to death for your sins, removing your guilt ( Romans 8:34b). Jesus was raised to life, satisfying God’s demand to punish your sins (Romans 8:34c). Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father defending you against all accusations (Romans 8:34d). And Jesus intercedes for you that your faith won’t fail, you won’t give up, so that you can encourage others (Romans 8:34e; cf. Luke 22:32).

Hallelujah! Jesus is alive, and we who believe in Him are forgiven of all our sins – past, present, and future! The darkness is gone because the Son is risen! Oh let us worship our risen Savior together!!!

Prayer: My risen Lord Jesus, I worship You this day because You have conquered sin, death, and the devil through Your death and resurrection. The darkness is gone because the Son is risen! You alone are my risen Savior, Lord Jesus! There is none like You. Even when I have dark days filled with doubt, fear, and shame, You are still alive and You are with me and love me more than I could ask or imagine. Thank You for dispelling the darkness on that first Sunday after Your death and burial. And thank You for continuing to dispel the darkness in this world through Your gospel of grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.  J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 358.

2. Walter Bauer,A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 892.

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 695-696.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 496 cites J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), pp. 611-612; cf. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 358.

5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition, pg. 28.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 9

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ ” John 19:28

During one of my missions trips to the northern Philippines in 2015, I had to walk with my translator all day to share the gospel at three remote schools in the mountains of Kalinga province. The day began with swimming across a raging river and then traversing over a mudslide on a steep mountainside. Before we arrived at our first school four hours later, my clothes were already drenched with sweat from the extreme exertion in the high humidity and altitude in this tropical climate.

When we finished preaching the gospel at the first school, we then had to cross several streams and go up and down several slippery and muddy slopes to arrive at our second school where we shared the gospel with forty-nine students and two teachers. We then ate our own snacks and I drank some of my water in a shelter on the school grounds. I was getting low on water at this point because of the strenuous hikes so I tried to conserve what little I had left. I had underestimated the amount of water I would need during the day because I assumed there would be purified water at the schools. But I was wrong.

To get to our last school, we had to walk down the mountainside to a swinging bridge and then follow the river for a while before climbing a steep trail. At this point my legs were starting to cramp severely due to the loss of fluids and electrolytes. I had to stop occasionally to try to stretch my cramping muscles. As we started climbing up the rice terrace walls I became concerned about having muscle cramps and falling off the terrace wall on the steep mountain slopes. A few months earlier on a similar hike in Kalinga, I had fallen off a slippery rice terrace wall in the rain and cracked two ribs and sprained my knee. But during this trip, the biggest challenge was dealing with my ravaging thirst. With each step up the mountain, I kept thinking about how refreshing it would be to drink a cold glass of water.

About forty-five minutes later we arrived at our last school and shared the gospel with forty-five students, all of whom said they were now believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. The teachers were very thankful we would work so hard to come all the way to their school. The male teacher invited us to his home to have coffee and snacks. While resting there, he had his wife pour the remainder of their coffee in a water bottle for me to drink because I drank the last of my water and there was no purified water between our current location and the next village. I was so parched that drinking coffee for my thirst sounded better than going without any liquid at this point, even though caffeine is a diuretic. I learned later that even caffeinated beverages such as coffee have a net hydrating effect.

On our return to civilization, we had to hike up a steep mountainside covered with rice terrace walls to a dirt road with many switch backs going up the mountainside to the main road. As we continued to hike up the mountainside, I longed for several liters of gatorade. My mouth and throat were parched. An hour and a half later, we finally arrived at a village where we thoroughly enjoyed purified water, juice, and a delicious meal. Never before or since had I experienced such a ravaging thirst.

But the thirst I experienced in Kalinga is pale compared to the thirst of crucifixion because “crucifixion is a long slow process of dehydration.” Think about how much bodily fluid Jesus has lost since His last drink of wine at the Lord’s Supper. In Gethsemane Jesus sweat as it were great drops of blood; He sweat as He endured His arrest and His trials before Annas and Caiaphas; He sweat as He spent the night in a dungeon, with a new series of trials in the morning; His flogging and being forced to carry His crossbeam would have drained the fluids from His body. And now for six hours He had hung on the cross without consuming any liquids. 2

We then read, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ ” (John 19:28). We learn several things from this verse. First, we see that the word teleioō is used twice in this verse. “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished [tetelestai], that the Scripture might be fulfilled [teleiōthe], said, ‘I thirst!’ ” This is the same word translated “It is finished” [tetelestai]in John 19:30. We might paraphrase in this way: Since Jesus knew that all things were finished, in order that the OT Scripture might be finished… He said, ‘It is finished!’ Clearly John is emphasizing that Jesus successfully completed all that He had been sent to do.” 3

Secondly, we see that when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” He was consciously fulfilling the Old Testament Scripture in Psalm 69:21, “And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Jesus had not been given any vinegar yet, so He called out that He was thirsty so He could fulfill this prophecy. John informs us that this verse was fulfilled when, “A vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.” (John 19:29). 

Hyssop was the very plant used to brush lamb’s blood on the doorposts during the Passover (see Exod 12:21-23). As the apostle Paul says, ‘Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed’ (1 Cor 5:7).” 4  Jesus, the innocent Passover Lamb of God, had become thirsty to save us from an eternal thirst.

I find this to be amazing. Here is Jesus just minutes away from death, and He remembers that a Messianic prophecy needs to be fulfilled. Why is Jesus so determined to fulfill prophecy? One reason is because He knows we are prone to doubt. When we see Him suffering to this extent, we may question if He is truly the Messiah-God. We may conclude that God is not in control.

Do we realize that Jesus fulfilled over three hundred distinct prophecies in the Old Testament at His First Coming to earth? The mathematical probability of all these prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man is 1/840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (That’s ninety-seven zeroes!) A partial list of those prophecies include:

– The betrayal by a familiar friend (Psalm 41:9; cf. John 13:18, 26).

– The forsaking of the disciples through being offended at Him (Psalm 31:11; cf. Matthew 26:56b).

– The false accusations (Psalm 35:11; cf. Mark 14:56-58).

– The silence before His judges (Isaiah 53:7; cf. Mark 14:51; 15:3, 5 ).

– Being proven innocent (Isaiah 53:9 cf. John 18:38; 19:4, 6).

– Being included with sinners (Isaiah 53:12; cf. Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27-28).

– The piercing of His hands and feet when crucified (Psalm 22:16; John 19:37; 20:25-27).

– The mockery of onlookers (Psalm 109:25; Luke 23:35).

– The taunt of being unable to deliver Himself (Psalm 22:7-8; Matthew 27:39-44).

– The casting of lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18; cf. Matthew 27:35; John 19:23-24).

– The prayer for His enemies (Isaiah 53:12; cf. Luke 23:34).

– The yielding of His spirit into the hands of His Father (Psalm 31:5; cf. Luke 23:46).

– His bones are not broken (Psalm 34:20; cf. John 19:32-36).

– The burial in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; cf. Matthew 27:57-60). 7

Jesus did not say, “I am thirsty,” just so He could quench His physical thirst. He did this because He knew this prophecy had to be fulfilled. And it was.

A third thing we learn when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” is that Jesus was fully human. As God He could say, ‘I tell you the truth … before Abraham was born, I am!’ (John 8:58). As man He could say, ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28). God the Father does not thirst; angels do not thirst. This was the thirst of a dying man.” 8

Christ’s humanity was also seen when He was weary in Samaria (John 4:6), disturbed in Nazareth (Mark 6:6), angry in the temple (John 2:15), sleepy in the boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:38), sad at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), and hungry in the wilderness (Matthew 4:20).

Why did Jesus endure all these experiences? Because He knew we would be thirsty, weary, disturbed, angry, sleepy, sad, and hungry. What this teaches us is that Christ understands how we feel. 9

The Bible tells us, 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). We can be confident that whatever we are experiencing, Jesus has also experienced it and more.

Are you in physical pain? Remember Christ’s burning thirst. Have you been rejected? Jesus was rejected by the world and His own Jewish people (John 1:10-11). Have you been put to shame? Christ was crucified while almost naked. Have you been abandoned? Christ was forsaken by His own disciples and worse – by His heavenly Father (Matthew 26:56b; 27:46). 10  Why? So He could understand us when we face similar things. And because He understands us, we can come to Him with confidence.

The most important lesson we learn from these verses is that JESUS BECAME THIRSTY TO SAVE US FROM AN ETERNAL THIRST (JOHN 19:28-29). This is the most amazing thing of all – that the Water of Life would become thirsty. And we are not talking about physical thirst. We areE talking about spiritual thirst.

All people are born with a spiritual thirst for God. The Bible tells us, “He has put eternity in their hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He has placed a thirst in our hearts for something eternal. And only God can quench this thirst. But people often try to quench this spiritual thirst through some other means such as achievements, alcohol, money, possessions, power, and sex. Others may exist on medication because they cannot bear the pain of their own emptiness. Some people pursue pleasure, trying to medicate the brokenness in their lives.

The Bible refers to these practices in Jeremiah 2:13: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Instead of turning to GodWho is like a “fountain of living waters” that provides for our deepest needs and longings (Jeremiah 2:13a; cf. Psalm 36:9; John 4:10-14; Revelation 21:6), we turn away from Him and dig broken cisterns that can hold no water – much less provide it (Jeremiah 2:13b).

The issue is not whether we thirst – for we all do – the real issue is how long will we thirst? Jesus answers that question in a story He told about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. When both men died, Lazarus was escorted by angels to a place of blessing called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) and the rich man went to a place of torment in Hades (Luke 16:23). The rich man “cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’” (Luke 16:24).

What do people in hades (which will eventually be thrown into hell) say? Tormented in the fire they cry out, ‘I am thirsty!’” 11  As Matthew Henry put it, “The torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst, in the complaint of the rich man who begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. To that everlasting thirst we had all been condemned, if Christ had not suffered on the cross.” 12

Lutzer says, Hell is remembering the Living Water we could have enjoyed on earth that would have taken us to heaven. Hell is a lake of fire, a place of endless, unquenchable thirst.” 13

Thank God that Jesus endured the agonizing thirst of His soul when the sins of the world were placed upon Him as He hung on that cross so we could drink His living water that quenches our thirst for eternal life forever. This Jesus, Who is now thirsty on the cross, said to a Samaritan woman at a well earlier in His ministry, 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

Christ became thirsty on the cross so you could quench your eternal thirst. The word “drink” means to “believe.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). “To drink” means “to believe” – because both drinking and believing permanently quench our spiritual thirst. One drink of Jesus’ living water, one act of faith in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life will quench your spiritual thirst forever. Why? Because when we believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of eternal life, He digs a well in our soul that gushes “up into everlasting life” and never runs dry (John 4:14). Have you taken that drink? Have you believed in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life? If so, you will “never thirst” for eternal life again.  

The Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus will be taken to heaven one day where they shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17).

It is no surprise that in the last chapter of the Bible we read, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). 

“Those who come to the One who was once thirsty need never thirst again.” 14  If you have never come to Christ in faith for His gift of everlasting life, you can do so now. Simply take Jesus at His Word when He says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you now believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell Him this through prayer.

Prayer: Loving Lord Jesus, thank You for crying out on the cross, “I am thirsty,” so You could fulfill the remaining Bible prophecy concerning Your death and prove You were the promised Messiah-God. I now realize that You became thirsty on the cross so I could be saved forever from an eternal thirst in hell. As best I know how, I now believe in You, Jesus, to give me everlasting life which can never be lost. Thank You that I will never thirst for eternal life again. Thank You for digging a well in the depths of my soul that bubbles up into a fountain of everlasting life which never runs dry. Please show me how to know You more and enjoy Your living waters. In Your precious name, I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus (Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2002), pg. 105 cites Philip Graham Ryken, “Human After All,” in The Heart of the Cross, James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1999), pg. 37.

2. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 105-106.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 559.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1825; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 692.

5. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 95.

6. Ibid., pg. 96, 154 cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, of New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953), pg. 431.

7. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 95-96.

8. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 107.

9. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 92-93.

10. Adapted from Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 112-113.

11. Ibid., pg. 115.

12. Ibid cites Matthew Henry quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, “Human After All,” in The Heart of the Cross, pg. 42.

13. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 115.

14. Ibid., pg. 118.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 4

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” John 18:27

As we focus on John 18:13-27, we are learning how we can overcome failure and religious hatred. So far we have discovered we must…

Realize life is not always fair, but God always is (John 18:13-14).

– Remain close to Christ and other committed disciples (John 18:15-18).

Respond to our enemies by speaking the truth in love to them (John 18:19-24).

Now we go back to stage two (John 18:25-27) to discover our fourth and final principle. Rather than reporting Peter’s three denials together, John tells of Jesus’ hearing before Annas between the  accounts of Peter’s first denial and his last two denials. This serves to magnify both the shame of Peter’s actions 1  and the triumph of Jesus before His enemies.

“Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, ‘You are not also one of His disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not!’ ” (John 18:25). If Annas and Caiaphas occupied separate wings of the same residence, the second and third denials probably took place in the same courtyard. Peter was warming himself by the fire and again someone asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Again, a negative answer is expected and Peter gives it with the words, “I am not” (ouk eimi) or “Not me!” 3

 “John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything.” Jesus boldly spoke the truth risking His own life, but Peter speaks lies to preserve his life. Christ is presented by John as a courageous Victor, but Peter is portrayed as a lying coward.

“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ ” (John 18:26). Peter must have been sweating profusely when one of the servants of the high priest who was a relative of Malchus, “whose ear Peter cut off” in Gethsemane (John 18:10), approached him and asks, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” His question expects an affirmative answer, in contrast to the former two that expected a negative answer. 5

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” (John 18:27). For the third time Peter denies any association with Jesus. It was a response Peter would deeply regret. At that moment a rooster began to crow. The shrill sound must have reminded Peter of Jesus’ words spoken to him a few hours earlier (John 13:38).

What had happened to Peter from the time he courageously tried to defend Jesus at his side in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10) and his three denials of knowing Jesus (John 18:17, 25, 27)? In addition to what I said earlier regarding Peter’s self- reliance, his separation from Christ, and his companionship with Jesus’ enemies, I believe Peter struggled with doubt, fear, and pride. 6

Doubt had come into his life that was not there before. He thought when he leaped out at that army in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), that Jesus would do something. Christ had disappeared before when crowds tried to arrest Him (John 8:59). Or maybe He would bring lightning bolts. Peter was thinking, “I will make the first move and Jesus is going to be right behind me to back me up.” But Jesus said, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Peter watched them bind Jesus’ arms behind Him and this army marches Him off like a sheep that is being led to slaughter. Peter did not know what was happening. He had doubts because his plan and God’s plan did not match.

Has that ever happened to you? Your plan and God’s plan don’t match and the doubts come flooding into your soul? It happens to all of us. That is a difficult time. That is a time when we can fall prey to the denial that happened in Peter’s life. 

Peter’s denials also happened because of fear. He had a fear of the unknown in his life. He knew what it was like to be with Jesus. He knew what it was like to follow Jesus. He was confident in Jesus’ presence. But all of a sudden he is separated from Christ. Jesus is in the room with the trial going on and Peter is out in the courtyard and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. The fear of the unknown can be a terrible thing.  And it caused Peter to deny Christ. 

And the fear of the unknown can cause us to deny Jesus as well. We get into situations where we do not know what is going to take place next. And we are overwhelmed with the fear of the unknown. Does this sound familiar to you? We can easily deny our relationship with Jesus when this happens.

But I believe there is one other cause that contributed the most to Peter’s denials. Jesus exposed this when He spoke to Peter in the Upper Room. It was Peter’s pride. Like all of us, Peter had pride in his life. He vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake (John 13:37). He thought he would never fail his Lord. And because of that he found himself denying Jesus. His greatest weakness is the same weakness a lot of us have. His greatest weakness was the inability to recognize his greatest weakness. If only he could have seen. If only he could have listened when Jesus said, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38). But he did not hear Jesus. Jesus had warned him but he could not see this weakness in his life.  

So he failed because he couldn’t admit to himself that he might fall. If you and I read the story of Peter and we don’t see ourselves in it we are missing something extremely important. Peter’s story is there to remind us that any of us given the right circumstances can do what Peter did. Peter has followed Jesus for over three years. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Jesus pointed out Peter’s pride and told him he would fail Jesus three times. Just being able to admit that weakness in his life could have kept Peter from getting to that point in the courtyard. But like most of us, Peter was not willing to admit this weakness in his life.

This is the key to overcoming failure in our Christian lives: RESOLVE TO ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESSES TO JESUS (John 18:25-27). This can prevent us from getting to that point in our lives where we deny Christ.

If you are reading this and you are thinking, “I could never deny Jesus like Peter did,” you may want to think again. Or if you think that Moses, who the Bible says was the most humble man living in his time (Numbers 12:3), could fall prey to anger (Numbers 20:1-12), and then say to yourself, “It could never happen to me,” you may want to think again. Or to think that King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), could fall prey to adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17), and then say to yourself, “That could never happen to me.” Is your pride any different than David’s? Or to think of Solomon, who the Bible says is the wisest man who ever lived (I Kings 4:30-31), and then in his later years allowed his many wives to turn his heart away from the Lord to worship their pagan deities (I Kings 11:1-8). For us to think that he could stray from his faith but say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me,” what kind of pride says such things!?!

Are we willing to admit that we have the same kind of tendency to doubt God’s word that Abraham and Sarah had (Genesis 16), or do we say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me?” Or that Noah, who is the example of endurance – 120 years of endurance (Genesis 6:3) – and then after that endurance when he reached the pinnacle of his success found himself drunk and ashamed (Genesis 9:20-21)? What kind of pride does it take for us to say to ourselves, “that will never happen to me – that at the pinnacle of my success I am going to do something foolish? No that won’t happen.”

These stories are in the Bible for a purpose, to remind us that we are human. That we need God in every circumstance of life, every moment of life. The humble thing is to say, “Without God, anger could destroy my life. Lust could destroy my life. I could stray away from Jesus and never see the doors of the church for twenty years. Without Jesus and trust in Him daily, I could doubt God’s word and miss His blessing. Or even at the moment of greatest success, I could find the moment of greatest humiliation.” 7

But when I recognize that these truths are here to remind me that I am human and I need Christ, when I recognize my weakness, guess what happens? I turn to Him at that moment of weakness. Instead of denying Him, I follow Him. Instead of turning from Him, I trust Him. That’s the great thing about these stories. Pride does come before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And Peter’s denials teach us this. 

But if we do fail, and we will, the Bible offers us hope. Luke tells us that the moment the rooster crowed after Peter’s third denial, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61). The eyes of Jesus must have penetrated Peter’s soul. For we are told, “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62).

Do you think Peter breaks down and weeps because Jesus gave him a look of scorn and condemnation? Or did Jesus give him a look of forgiveness? Jesus knew Peter was going to fail (John 13:38). He was praying for Peter and knew Peter would be restored to strengthen others (Luke 22:31-32), so I believe Jesus gave Peter a look of forgiveness. Peter broke down and wept because he knew what it meant to be forgiven. He didn’t live with regret because he knew what it meant to be restored by Jesus Christ.

Peter hit bottom, but the Lord’s hand was under him to eventually bring him back up. No matter how many flaws you have nor how many times you have failed, the Lord’s hand is there to help you up and start over. The Bible says, “The Lord upholds all who fall and… gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.” Psalm 145:14 [NKJV/MSG].

Colossians 2:13 [NIV] says, “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Even the sins we have not committed yet, Jesus saw them in advance at the cross and died for them, and forgave them ahead of time.

God uses our failures to equip us to strengthen others in their spiritual journeys. Someone once said, “You will fail in the area of your greatest strength.” Why is that? Because the area of our greatest strength is often the area of our greatest pride. But failure is not the end of discipleship. Failure is just a detour or a pause in the journey.

Pastor Chuck Swindoll quoted A. W. Tozer, “It is doubtful that God can use anyone greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” 8   There will be times in your discipleship journey when it looks like everything is finished, but in reality that will be the beginning. Imagine how Peter felt after he denied Jesus three times and heard the rooster crow? And yet that is just the beginning for Peter. Now God can really begin to use him to strengthen others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that failure is not final for those of us who believe in You. You can use our failures to magnify Your restoring love and grace, and bring encouragement to others who fail. Help us learn from Peter’s denials of You. Any of us are capable of doing what Peter did, especially if we refuse to face our own weaknesses and transfer our trust onto You to overcome them. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for including the failures of others in the Bible to remind us that we too are prone to wander and that we need You every moment of our lives. Thank You that when we do fail, You do not give us a look of scorn or condemnation, but a look of love and forgiveness. May this image of Your grace motivate us to stay close to You every second of our lives. In Your gracious and mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 552.

2.  J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 325.

3. Ibid., pg. 326.

4. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation and Notes. Anchor Bible series. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-71, Vol 2, pg. 842.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 331. 

6. Tom Holladay’s sermon on Wednesday, July 17, 1996, entitled, “Jesus on Trial.”

7. Ibid.

8. Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s September 15, 2015 post of A.W. Tozer on twitter.