HOW DO I DEFEAT MY WORST FEARS? (Video)

This is the sixth video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles to defeat your worst fears.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from BiblePathwayAdventures.com, Goodsalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Wycliffe BibleTranslators of Russia, or they are creative common licenses.

Overcoming the Fear of Death

14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15

We are living in a world that is becoming more fragile due to COVID, the war between Russia and Ukraine, terrorism, and cancer to name a few reasons. These factors (and others) are causing more people to think about death.

Often death takes place much sooner than most people anticipate whether it is due to an accident, a mass murderer, or a terminal illness. As tragic as these things are, death and dying are not God’s idea. The Bible tells us that “the devil… had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14b) because he tempts people to sin, and sin brings forth death (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12; James 1:15). 1

For many people the greatest fear they have is the “fear of death.” Satan uses this fear to reduce people to slaves (“subject to bondage”). Because of the fear of death, some people exercise vigorously every day while others do not exercise at all. Because of the fear of death some people will never get on an airplane. Because of the fear of death some people never want to see a doctor. But for others, a doctor is the first person they do want to visit. Some people are so afraid of death they must make light of it to avoid crying about it. Many people spend a fortune trying to make themselves look younger because they are terrified of dying. The fear of death reduces us to slaves. 2

The good news is that Jesus Christ became like us (“inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same”) so He could conquer death with His own death on the cross. Christ took the punishment we deserved for our sins (death) and died in our place. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead victorious over death so “He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “Through” His “death,” Jesus conquered death to “release” people who believe in Him from the “fear of death.”

Christ promised, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Jesus guarantees a person who believes in Him that “though he may die” physically, “he shall live” eternally with Him. Yes, our breath stops, and our bodies become cold. But the Bible promises that “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, all who believe in Christ never need to be afraid of death because He promises “never” ending life to them. The moment we die we are in the presence of the Lord.

Evangelist Larry Moyer writes, “I found out that the pilot of the plane that was flown into the second tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was a believer in Jesus Christ. I am here to tell you; the terrorists did not defeat him. He defeated the terrorists. Because he did not go down, he went up.” 3

If you had died in that plane crash, would you have gone down or up? You can know for sure you will go up by believing in Christ alone to take you to heaven when you die. Jesus is not asking you to be baptized, go to church, live a good life, keep the Ten Commandments, take all the sacraments, or pray everyday. He is simply asking you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life. The moment you do, you can see death as a new adventure rather than your greatest fear.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for becoming human like us so You could defeat the devil and his power of death through Your own death so those who believe in You can be released from the fear of death. Please lead us to those who are afraid to die so we can share the good news of Your never-ending life to all who believe in You and You alone. Thank You for the simplicity of the gospel that delivers people from their greatest fear. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Dr. Larry Moyer’s sermon, “Four Things A Loving God Wants Us To Know About Death and Dying,” contributed on August 5, 2009, at sermoncentral.com.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

Revelation 13 – Part 2

“And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Revelation 13:3

Last time (see diagram below) we were introduced to the three members of the unholy Trinity: Satan, pictured as the dragon (Revelation 12:3-17); the World Ruler or Antichrist pictured as the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-10); and the False Prophet pictured as the beast from the earth (Revelation 13:11-18). 1 In contrast to the unholy Trinity are the three members of the holy Trinity: God the Father (Revelation 1:6; cf. Ephesians 1:2); God the Son (Revelation 2:18; cf. I John 5:20); and God the Holy Spirit (Revelation 4:5; 22:17; cf. Acts 5:3-4).

While standing on the seashore, the apostle John saw a monstrous beast come up out of the sea, having “seven heads and ten horns” (13:1). The apostle then tells us, “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” (Revelation 13:3). John sees “one of the heads” be “mortally wounded, and… healed.” Some interpreters believe that the head wounded and restored refers to the myth that Nero had not really died, but was alive, and would return to continue his monstrous atrocities as the Antichrist. 2 Others thinks that this refers to Judas who is restored to life. 3 Some believe this event refers to an empire not a person, concluding that it refers to the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476 and its resuscitation in the end times. 4

I believe the biblical text is referring to the literal death and resurrection of the Antichrist for the following reasons:

1. The language in Revelation 13 describes an individual, not a nation or empire. The pronouns “he,” “his,” and “him” are used repeatedly (13:1-8). The second beast builds an idol to the first beast (Revelation 13:11-18). Such an idol would be peculiar if it refers to an empire instead of a person. 5

2. The Greek phrase translated “as if it had been mortally wounded” (hōs esphagmenēn eis thanaton – lit. “as having been slain to death”) in 13:3 is the same phrase John uses to describe the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain [hōs esphagmenon].” (Revelation 5:6). Again, in Revelation 13:8 John uses this same phrase when he refers to Christ as, “the Lamb slain [tou esphagmenou] from the foundation of the world.” Christ’s death was clearly real and resulted in a literal bodily resurrection. 6

Regarding resurrection, the Greek word used of Christ’s resurrection from the dead in Revelation 2:8 (who was dead, and came to life”) is ezēsen, and this same word is also used in Revelation 13:14 where it says that the Beast “who was wounded by the sword and lived [ezēsen].” 7 So in both cases, John is describing the literal death and resurrection of the Beast.

3. Would the whole world really be awestruck by the revival of the Roman Empire? When the Beast is killed and brought back to life, “all the world marveled and followed the beast” (13:3b). John Phillips describes the importance of such an event: “With this master stroke of miracle, the devil brings the world to the feet of his messiah…. It is this miracle of resurrection that is given as the reason for the popularity of the Beast. No doubt the whole thing will be stage-managed by Satan and the false prophet to make the greatest possible impact upon men. Their propaganda machine will see to it that the miracle is magnified and elaborated to the fullest extent.” 8

Hitchcock writes, “This resurrection is the event that propels the Beast to popularity and compels the world to fall at his feet. This response would be much more likely if it refers to a man. If a great world leader were assassinated with a fatal head wound and then came back to life a few days later, this response would be understandable.” 9

4. It is more reasonable to apply the wording of Revelation 13:3 to a man rather than a kingdom. As Warren Wiersbe says, “it would be difficult to understand how a kingdom could be slain by a sword. It is best, I think, to apply this prophecy to individual persons.” 10

Many Bible interpreters do not believe the resurrection of the Beast is literal because they conclude that Satan does not have the power to give life. 11 While I agree that only God has the power to resurrect the dead, I believe that the biblical text teaches that God gives this power to Satan to raise the Beast from the dead as part of the strong delusion.

In support of this, is the increase in Satan’s power during the Tribulation period. Currently, the Holy Spirit is restraining the Devil from certain activities (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). But once the Restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is removed via the Rapture of the Church (2 Thessalonians 2:7; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), Satan’s powers will be unbridled during the Tribulation period in ways never seen before. The coming of the Beast or “lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). The Bible tells us that God will permit this activity. 11 God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Since Satan will have increased power and freedom during the Tribulation, it is reasonable to conclude that he will have the ability to raise the Beast from the dead to accomplish this “strong delusion.” 12

Revelation 13 also tells us that the false prophet “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (13:12b),  “performs great signs” (13:13a), “deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast” (13:14), and “granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak” (13:15).If Satan has the power to give life to a dead idol, then why is it not possible for him (with God’s permission) to resurrect a man from the dead?” 13

In addition, Revelation 17:8 also speaks of the Beast’s death and resurrection. It says, “the beast that you saw was, and is not” (17:8a). This is a reference to the assassination of the Beast (cf. 13:1-3). Then we are told that the beast “will ascend out of the bottomless pit” (17:8b; cf. 11:7). This is most likely a reference to a demon that ascends out of the bottomless pit to resurrect and indwell the Beast. 14 When John says the Beast will “go to perdition” (17:8c), he is telling us that the Beast will not go back to the bottomless pit forever, but to eternal “perdition” (apōleian)or destruction in the lake of fire at the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 19:20). 15

John adds, “And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” (17:8d). When the unsaved people of the world(“whose names are not written in the Book of Life”) see the death and resurrection of this Beast who then kills the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem near the midpoint of the Tribulation (11:7), they “will marvel,” realizing this is no ordinary human being. It is at this point that the Beast will take his place in the rebuilt Jewish temple where he will declare himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). 16

How will the unsaved people of the world respond? John tells us, 3And all the world marveled and followed the beast. 4  So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:3b-4). The Beast imitates Christ’s death and resurrection to astound the unsaved world and gain its political and religious devotion. 17

After three and a half years of terrible judgments, the world will be easily deceived by the miracles they see and will wholeheartedly follow the beast. Much of the world will give their worship to “the beast” and to Satan (“the dragon”) “who gave authority to the beast,” making him seem invincible (13:4).

Let’s not forget that Satan is also seeking to destroy the nation of Israel knowing that he has a short amount of time before he is bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Revelation 12:12-13; 20:1-3). By mimicking Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan is attempting to persuade the nation of Israel to believe that the Antichrist is their long-awaited messiah so he can lead them to eternal destruction with him in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15), thus rendering God’s promises to Israel false, making God a liar.

It is important to remember that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). We see this exemplified at the midpoint of the future Tribulation when he will mimic Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection through the Antichrist to trick the world into giving him its economic and religious devotion. It is at this time that Satan will deceive the world with his unholy version (Satan, Antichrist, False Prophet) of the true Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) to trick people into worshiping and following him (Revelation 12:3-13:18). Since the potential for spiritual deception will be even greater during this future Tribulation period because of the many worldwide judgments, political upheavals, and widespread suffering and death, the Beast’s death and resurrection will offer false hope to a starving world.

While Satan is not able to unleash the full force of his attacks and deception today like he will in the future Tribulation, he is still using the same deceptive strategies today to lure people away from worshiping the true Triune God of the Bible. Satan uses many false teachers and churches today to oppose God and mislead people away from the truth (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 11-15). Satan’s churches teach many false things like the Bible is not true, God is not three in one, Jesus is not God, Jesus did not die or rise from the dead, salvation is by works or faith plus works, plus many more lies.

Remember when the Bible describes the Beast in Revelation 17:8? It said, “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” Compare Satan’s imitation Christ with the true Christ, Who said “’I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8).  “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and signify here, Jesus’ comprehensive control over all things—including time (cf. Revelation 21:6; 22:13). He is in control of the past (“who was”), the present (“who is”), and the future (“who is to come”), and He will bring history to its conclusion. Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8) because He exists eternally. 18

And because Jesus exists eternally, He wants us to exist forever with Him in His heaven. But Satan wants to trick us into thinking he is in control. He wants to instill fear in us because we give control to whatever we fear. Our greatest fear is physical death and Satan has used this fear to control people for centuries. But when Jesus Christ, the Creator God of all things (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), came to earth in the form of a man without ceasing to be God two thousand hears ago (John 1:1, 14), He destroyed Satan’s power regarding the fear of death. The Bible tells us, 14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Satan’s strategy to get humankind to sin and suffer death was to instill fear in them, especially the fear of death. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ removes the power of this fear, because His resurrection and victorious ascension to the right hand of the God the Father assures us of our own resurrection and victorious ascension to the Father in heaven when we believe in Jesus, so we no longer need to fear death.

Do you know for sure where you will live after you die physically? If not, would you like to know for certain you will live with Jesus in His heaven? If so, here is how. The apostle John not only wrote the book of Revelation, but he also wrote the book of I John.

John tells us, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” (I John 2:18). Although the Antichrist will appear in the future Tribulation to lure people away from the true Christ, there are many little “antichrists” or false teachers in the world today who oppose Christ and want to replace Him with an imitation Christ so people will not believe in the true Jesus of the Bible. These antichrists deny “that Jesus is the Christ,” the Messiah God (I John 2:22). For John, the belief that “Jesus is the Christ” is what saves us from hell and gives us eternal life (cf. I John 5:1; cf. John 20:31). To believe that Jesus is the Christ means we believe Him to be the One Who guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-27).

But these little “antichrists” or false teachers deny that Jesus is the Christ (I John 2:22) and deny that eternal life is available only through Jesus alone. John writes, 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” (I John 2:25-26). Satan wants us to doubt God’s promise of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. This is one reason why so many preachers tell us it is not enough to believe in Jesus for eternal life. People are being told to do everything but believe in Jesus for eternal life. They are taught they must confess their sins, obey the commandments of God, surrender to the Lordship of Christ, sell all your possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, ask Jesus into their heart, give their life to Christ, or commit to follow Jesus as His disciple, and many other substitutes in place of belief in Christ alone.

Perhaps you have been told to do these things and you still lack the assurance that you will go to heaven when you die. You are still afraid of dying. Satan has tricked you into believing his lies.

Please listen carefully. John tells us in I John 5:1: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Do you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah-God, Who died for your sins and rose from the dead, proving He is God (John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)? If you do, the Bible says you are “born of God.” God is now your Father, and you are His child forever!

Later in the same chapter, John also tells us, 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:11-13). Eternal life is a gift that God gives to us (5:11a). We do not have to work for this gift. It is free. This eternal life is only found “in His Son,” Jesus Christ (5:11b). Do you have God’s Son through faith in Him alone? If you do, then you have eternal life (5:12). God wants us to be certain of this. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” If you believe in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, then you can “know” (not think or hope) with absolute certainty that you “have eternal life.” Because Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Therefore, if we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, we do not need to fear death any longer because we are guaranteed a future home with Jesus in His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22). No longer do we need to give control to the Devil because Jesus has conquered him and his lies through His death and resurrection. As believers in Jesus now, we are to “abide” or continue in Christ’s word so we may know “the truth” of God which sets us free (John 8:31-32) from Satan’s lies and the fears they produce.  

Prayer: Father God, thank You for showing us Satan’s strategies of deception that he will implement in full force during the future Tribulation period on earth. As an angel of light, he will mimic Jesus’ death and resurrection through the first beast to lure people away from worshiping and following the true God. Satan is using similar tactics of deception today to mislead people away from the true Christ and the eternal salvation He freely offers. We pray that the eyes of millions, who have been tricked by Satan’s lies, can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ Who guarantees never-ending life to all who believe in Him alone. Please enable those of us who believe in Jesus to abide in His Word so we may know the truth which sets us free from Satan’s lies and the fears they produce. In the name of the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty God, the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2399.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 143 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John, 2nd Ed., Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pp. 115-119.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 331 cites Arthur W. Pink, The Antichrist (Swengel, Pennsylvania: Bible Truth Depot, 1923), pp. 50-55.

4. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days

(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 322; also see Pentecost’s discussion, pp. 331-332.

5. Hitchcock, pg. 322.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 248; Bob Vacendak; 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), pp. 1545-1546.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1546.

8. Hitchcock pp. 322-323 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), pp. 166-167.

9. Hitchcock, pg. 323.

10. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), pg. 605.

11. Pentecost, pg. 332; Hitchcock pp. 323-324, 486-487 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, vol. 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), pg. 1000 and Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says about The End Times and Why It Matters Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xix-xx, and Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer, The Last Disciple (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), pg. 394 as examples of those who hold this view.

12. Adapted from Hitchcock, pg. 324.

13. Ibid., cites Wiersbe, pg. 605.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1565. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Swindoll, pg. 311.  

18. Evans, pg. 2369.

Revelation 12 – Part 1

“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1

If you are a Christian, you are familiar with God’s love for you. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). The world includes you and me. God loves us!!! The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God showed how much He loved us by dying in our place “while we were still sinners.” God did not wait for us to clean up our lives and become “worthy” of His love. Even when we were at our worst, God loved us by giving His best for us when He took our punishment for sin on the cross.

As much as God loves us, we need to understand that Satan hates us. Swindoll writes, Never forget those three words if you love and follow Christ’s teachings. Satan wants nothing more than to sabotage our love for God and for others, to tempt us into a moral catastrophe, and to see us choose a lifestyle of sin rather than a walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we falter, he stands ready to accuse us before God. When we pass the tests of temptation, he looks beyond that and is already strategizing his next attack. Satan’s hatred of us is relentless.

“… Understanding that Satan is neither all-powerful nor completely powerless will help us come to terms with the real challenges we face as we do battle with Satan’s evil empire in its current form. I say ‘current form’ because it’s important to understand that Satan’s ability to unleash his fury on God’s people is limited in the present age. However, one day Satan’s empire will be allowed to strike the world in full force before crumbling at the coming of Christ.” 1

You may recall that the apostle John received instructions to“prophesy again,” a second time regarding the seven-year Tribulation “about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” in Revelation 10:11. Therefore, Revelation 11-19 surveys the seventieth week of years (Tribulation) a second timewith a view to revealing the specific characters on the stage of the drama. In Revelation 11, John reviews the first half of the Tribulation with a focus on the Two Witnesses whom God will bring directly to faith in Christ so they can proclaim the truth to the world from Jerusalem (11:1-6), resulting in the salvation of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (“firstfruits” – 14:4) who will proclaim the “gospel of the kingdom” during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. 7:1-10) to “all the nations” (cf. Matthew 24:14).

At the end of Revelation 11, the seventh trumpet sounded to prepare the apostle John, and his readers for the seven horrific bowls of wrath (cf. Revelation 16) immediately before Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth (Revelation 11:15-19). God now gives John and his readers more information about the forces behind the anti-God hatred during the last half of the Tribulation (Revelation 12-15), so John and his readers could understand the bowl judgments (Revelation 16) which the seventh trumpet judgment contained. 2

Beginning in Revelation 12, John will describe the conflict between God and Satan in the spiritual realm that has taken place throughout history since Satan’s rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-18) so we can understand how it will be manifested in the physical realm during the second half of the Tribulation period, especially during the bowl judgments. 3

John will now focus on five main characters in Revelation 12 that are involved in this spiritual conflict. First, we are introduced to a woman. “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1). The phrase “a great sign” (mega sēmeion) Walvoord says refers to “the first of a series of events called ‘signs’ or ‘miracles’ (12:3; 13:13-14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20). As signs they were symbols of something that God was about to reveal and usually contained an element of prophetic warning. Though this sign was seen in heaven, the events which followed obviously occurred on earth.” 4

Swindoll states that the Greek word for ‘sign’ (sēmeion) signifies a mark or symbol that carries a special meaning or points us to something beyond it.” 5 In this case, John indicates that the new vision contains symbolic characters that point to real people or events in history – past as well as future.” 6

Many interpretations have been offered regarding the identity of the “woman” in this verse. Some have said that John was referring to something that his original readers knew about, namely, the “mother of the gods” represented on Roman coins. 7 Others have held that this woman is the church that is laboring to bring Christ to the nations. 8 This is built on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture and must be disallowed. The church did not produce Christ, but Christ produced the church. Also, since the church is not seen on earth in Revelation 4-19, the church cannot be represented by this woman. 9

Others say the woman refers exclusively to Mary, the mother of Jesus. 10 But this is not possible because Mary was never persecuted and never fled into the wilderness where she was fed for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6, 13-14). Clearly the woman is the nation of Israel who will be intensely persecuted during the last half of the Tribulation period (Revelation 12:13-17; cf. Matthew 24:15-22).

Other reasons why the “woman” refers to the nation of Israel include:

1. The context of Revelation 12:1 reveals that John is dealing with the nation of Israel. Grant says of Revelation 11:19, “The ark, then, seen in the temple in heaven is the sign of God’s unforgotten grace toward Israel…” 11

2. The identity of the woman as the nation of Israel is supported further by the reference to “the sun… the moon… and twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1) which connects back to a similar symbolic representation of Israel in Genesis 37:9-11. In this passage, Joseph, the son of Jacob has received a dream from God. 9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ 10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?’ 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” These verses identify “the sun” and “moon” as Jacob and Rachel, Joseph’s parents, and the stars as Jacob’s twelve sons (cf. Isaiah 26:17-18; 60:1-3, 20). Compare Jeremiah 31:35-36; Joshua 10:12-14; Judges 5:20 and Psalm 89:35-37 where heavenly bodies are associated with Israel’s history. 12

3. The use of the term “woman.” Eight times the term “woman” is used in this chapter (12:1, 4, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17), and thirteen additional times the pronoun “she” (12:2, 5, 6, 14) or “her” (12:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 16, 17) is used in reference to the woman. We find this term used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to the nation of Israel (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; 54:5-6; Jeremiah 4:31; Micah 4:9-10; 5:3; Isaiah 66:7-8). While the church is called a “bride” (Revelation 21:2, 9, 17), a “wife” (Revelation 19:7; cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), or a “chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), we never find the church referred to as a woman in the New Testament. 13

4. The use of the term “wilderness.” The “wilderness” is said to be the place of refuge afforded the woman in her flight (Revelation 12:6, 14). The “wilderness” was a common reference to Israel in her national history (Exodus 3:18; 4:27; 5:1; 7:16; 8:27-28; 13:17-18, 20; 14:3, 11-12; 15:22; 16:1-3, 10, 14, 32; et al.). Israel was taken into “the wilderness of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:36). Israel, since she refused to follow God into the promised land, was turned back into the wilderness for forty years where they would die, and a new generation would be brought forth (Numbers 14:1-35; cf. Hebrews 3:7-18). Israel’s unbelief caused Ezekiel to declare God’s purpose: “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.” (Ezekiel 20:35). Hosea reveals that in the long period Israel would spend “in the wilderness” God would be gracious to them (Hosea 2:14-23). 14

5. The references to the period of three and a half years (“one thousand two hundred and sixty days” – 12:6 and “a time and times and half a time” – 12:14) in Revelation 12 connect to the last half of the week of Daniel’s seventieth week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) which was specifically addressed to “your people and for your holy city” (Daniel 9:24). Since this prophecy was given to Daniel it could only refer to Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Each time this period is mentioned in Scripture, whether as a “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 11:6; 12:3), “forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2; 13:5), “time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14), or three and a half years, it always refers to Israel and a period in which God is dealing with that nation. 15

6. The reference to the angel, “Michael” (Revelation 12:7). In Daniel 12:1 the archangel Michael is called “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people.” Michael is united with the destiny of the nation Israel by this word of the Lord to Daniel. In Revelation 12:7 Michael appears again in reference to the warfare in heaven. The fact that Michael appears on the scene here indicates that God is again dealing with the nation Israel, and Michael is a character here because the destiny of Israel is involved. 16

Pentecost quotes Moorehead regarding Revelation 11:19, And the temple (sanctuary) of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of the covenant.’ This is strictly Jewish ground; the temple, the ark, the covenant belong to Israel, represent Hebrew relations with God and Hebrew privileges. The Spirit now takes up Jewish things, Jewish standing, covenant, hopes, dangers, tribulations and triumph.” 17

Clearly the people of Israel are in view here, so the woman in Revelation 12 represents the nation of Israel.

Next John writes, “Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” (Revelation 12:2). Since the woman is Israel, the “child” is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 12:5). The Bible tells us that Christ would come from the nation of Israel. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5).

The “labor” and “pain” in giving “birth” to Jesus (Revelation 12:2) are pictures of the grief and sorrow that the nation of Israel experienced in Old Testament days at the hand of Satan in his attempts to prevent the Messiah from coming. This agonizing struggle between Satan and Israel has been going on from the very beginning (cf. Genesis 3:15). 18

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, was promised a son (Genesis 12:1-7). Instead of waiting on God’s timing, Abraham took a shortcut and slept with his maidservant, Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-16). Later Abraham’s wife, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7). The result of these two births has been a source of conflict between the Arabs and the Jews ever since (Genesis 21:8-21; 25:12-16). Israel faced terrible pain while in exile in Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria.In the days that Jesus was born, Israel was under the oppression and taxation of the Roman government.

God used many imperfect people to bring His Son into the world through the nation of Israel. When you examine the genealogies of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37), these lists of names contain broken sinners like you and me. They include Jacob (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:34) who was a deceiver. David (Matthew 1:6; Luke 3:31) who committed adultery and murder. Solomon (Matthew 1:7) who took an abundance of wives and concubines. Manasseh (Matthew 1:10) was one of Judah’s most wicked kings.

Moreover, and while women do not normally show up in biblical genealogies, the women in Jesus’s line were particularly questionable. Tamar (Matthew 1:3) was a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute and committed incest with her father-in law Judah. Rahab (Matthew 1:5) was a prostitute; Ruth (Matthew 1:5) was from Moab, a non-Israelite people that worshiped false gods.

Another observation about Jesus’ genealogies is that they are mixed racially, including both Jews and Gentiles which indicates that Jesus’ kingdom identity and rule includes all races of people. All of this points to God’s sovereign grace. He accomplishes His glorious purposes despite difficult circumstances and the character of the people involved. If God can use the imperfect people listed in these genealogies to bring Jesus, the Messiah-God, into the world, God can surely use you and me to accomplish His purposes. 19

Evans writes, Notice also that of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, four are of Hamitic descent: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth. That doesn’t mean that Jesus was black. To assert such, as some black theologians and religious leaders do, is to fall into the exclusionist perspective of many whites, who would make Jesus an Anglo-European, blue-eyed blond with little relevance to people of color. It would also fail to respect the distinct Jewish heritage of Christ. Jesus was a person of mixed ancestry.

“It blesses me to know that Jesus had black in His blood because this destroys any perception of black inferiority once and for all. In Christ we find perfect man and sinless Savior. This knowledge frees blacks from an inferiority complex, and at the same time it frees whites from the superiority myth. In Christ, we all have our heritage.

“Black people, as all other people, can find a place of historical, cultural, and racial identity in Him. As Savior of all mankind, He can relate to all people, in every situation. In Him, any person from any background can find comfort, understanding, direction, and affinity—as long as Christ is revered as the Son of God, a designation that transcends every culture and race and one to which all nations of people must pay homage.” 20

In conclusion, God wants us to remember that His faithfulness to His promises is not contingent upon our character, but upon His. We see this throughout history when God promised to bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel despite the nation’s unfaithfulness. The genealogies of Christ underscore God’s faithfulness in using imperfect Jews and Gentiles to fulfill this promise. As a nation, Israel had to endure much pain to usher the Messiah into the world. Likewise, we may have to endure much pain to fulfill God’s purposes. Whether we are faithful or not, God remains faithful to what He has promised.

The Bible tells us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). I have heard many Christians and churches insist that going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, instead of His faithfulness to His promises. Where is the assurance in such an assertion? If our assurance of going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, then we are all in a heap of trouble.

Why? Because like the nation of Israel, we also have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Our good thoughts, words, and actions cannot make us right before God because they are all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). This is why God sent His only perfect Son into the world through the imperfect nation of Israel (Romans 9:3-5) so He could pay the penalty for all our sin once and for all by dying in our place on a cross and rising from the dead (John 19:30; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10-14). All God asks us to do to enter His heaven is believe in Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Jesus said, “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Just as Moses “lifted up” the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that all the dying Israelites could look at that serpent in faith and live physically (Numbers 21:1-8), so Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross so “that whoever believes in Him” or looks to Him “should not perish but have eternal life.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Whoever remains faithful to Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Repeatedly, Jesus and His followers tell us to “believe” 21 or have “faith” 22  in Christ alone as the only condition for entering God’s heaven.

Have you been looking to your own faithfulness as the way to Christ’s heaven? If so, Satan has deceived you to trust your own faithfulness instead of God’s. This is an expression of the Devil’s hatred toward God and humanity. Satan is a liar, a thief, and a murderer (John 8:44; 10:10a). He wants to deceive people to miss God’s heaven by distorting the gospel message lest people believe it and are saved (Luke 8:5, 11-12).

If you have believed the gospel, that Christ gives eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:14-18), but now you are trusting your own faithfulness as the basis of your assurance that you will go to heaven, then Satan, being the thief that he is, has successfully robbed you of your assurance of going to heaven. You still have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus, but your assurance of going to heaven is lost by looking to your own faithfulness instead of Christ’s. Our faithfulness to God can vary from moment to moment. So, when we are unfaithful to God with our thoughts, motives, words, or actions, we are prone to doubt our salvation if our assurance is rooted in our own faithfulness.

God makes it clear in the Bible that He does not want any of His children to doubt that they have eternal life and a future home in heaven with Him. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). God wants you to know that you “have eternal life” the moment you believe in the name of the Son of God.” So, if you lack assurance of going to heaven, why not ask God to show you the truth and to make His Word understandable to you? 23

The key to assurance of salvation is looking to Jesus’ promise that all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-50, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; et al.). It is also important to remember, that we do not get to heaven through the promises we make to God, but through the promises He makes to us! 24

If you have been trusting your own faithfulness or anything else besides Jesus and His finished work on the cross to get you to heaven, Christ invites you right now to stop and look to Him and His finished work on the cross as Your only way to His heaven. When you do this, God gets all the glory and the only boasting in heaven will be in our gracious and loving Savior Who got us there (I Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Prayer: Father God, we give You praise for the first main character in Your description of the conflict between You and Satan. The nation of Israel is central to Your redemptive purposes. It was through this imperfect nation and imperfect individual Gentiles that You brought Your only perfect Son into the world the first time to be our one and only Savior. If any of us struggle with shame and not feeling worthy to be used by You, may Your Holy Spirit use today’s Bible verses to silence our shame so we can present ourselves to You as Your available servants. You are a faithful God Who remains faithful to His promises even if we are faithless. Thank You, Lord, for this powerful reminder that can embolden us to faithfully proclaim Your saving message no matter what our past. Please use us to accomplish Your purposes so all the glory belongs to You. And Lord, if there is anyone reading this article right now who is trusting in someone or something other than Christ alone as their only way to heaven, please persuade them to stop and believe in Jesus for His free gift of eternal life. Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 234-235.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 132.

3. Ibid., pp. 132-133 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8—22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 117.

4. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 5656 to 5662.

5. Swindoll, pg. 235 cites Eugene Nida and Johannes P. Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, §33.477.

6. Swindoll, pg. 235.

7. Constable, pg. 133 cites as examples Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), pg. 337; and Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 151-152.

8. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 288 cites as an example Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1905), pg. 280.

9. Pentecost, pg. 288.

10. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.].), pp. 310-311.

11. Ibid., cites W. Grant, The Revelation of Christ (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.]), pg. 126. There is extensive biblical evidence showing that the woman of Revelation 12 is best identified as the nation of Israel (see Pentecost, pp. 288-291).

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 289.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pg. 290.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., pp. 290-291 cites William G. Moorehead, Studies in the Book of Revelation (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1908), pg. 90.

18. Bob Vacendak; 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. 1541.

19. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1480-1481.

20. Ibid., pg. 1481.

21. Matthew 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Romans 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:6, 9,

22; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Philippians 1:29; I Thessalonians 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:12,13; I Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:31; I Peter 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

22. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Corinthians 15:14, 17; Galatians 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9(2); Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:4; Hebrews 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 1:5; I John 5:4.

23. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 7.

24. Ibid.

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.