Faith for the Skeptic

Faith for the Skeptic

June 23, 2019
John 20:24-31

Thomas was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He’s often called “Doubting Thomas.”

A better description of Thomas might be that he was a skeptic. I understand what it’s like to be a skeptic.

I am a skeptic at heart. My first inclination is to question, and that’s not always a bad thing. That’s better than being gullible.

Because I have this in common with Thomas, he’s an important person to me.

You would think it would have been easy for Thomas to have faith.

He’d been with Jesus for three years. He’d seen Jesus turn water into wine, feed thousands of people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. He’d seen Jesus make the lame to walk and the blind to see. He’d seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.

After Jesus was crucified, Thomas was like the other disciples. He was devastated and afraid.

While all the disciples huddled together in a locked room after the crucifixion, Thomas left them. Perhaps he found some solace in solitude or with family.

So, after Jesus was raised from the dead and met up with the disciples, Thomas wasn’t with them. Soon, he returned. No doubt, he heard the news, and he came back to see if it was true. When the disciples saw him again, they told him. “We’ve have seen the Lord.”

Thomas responded with the words of a skeptic. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25 NIV).

I understand Thomas. “Give me some proof. Show me some evidence. I’m not saying you are lying, but after all, how many crucified men have you ever met that have come back from the dead?”

Then it happened. Thomas saw Jesus for himself. Jesus invited him to put his fingers in his nail-scarred hands, and Thomas made his confession, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28 NIV).

What happened for Thomas is impossible for us. We cannot physically touch the marks in Jesus’ hands or physically touch his side. We cannot become a believer, as Thomas did.

Our skepticism cannot be erased in that way.

That’s the reason Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is what the Bible refers to as faith.

We exercise faith every day. We have faith that our alarm will go off, that our car will start and get us to work. We have faith other people on the road will stay in their lanes. We have faith in financial institutions. We have faith in those that operate on us and those that take care of our children.

We are used to our faith having a direct and immediate impact on lives, so when we exercise faith in our spiritual lives, it usually requires more patience.

Faith in our spiritual lives does not always produce instant results like flipping on a light switch. It takes more time. That’s one thing that leads to our skepticism.

For example, how can we be sure that there is a heaven? None of us have been there. We have faith, partly because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says is the guarantee of our salvation. We also have faith in heaven because we trust the Bible.

While that helps those of us who believe and feel God’s presence, for those who have not yet become believers, they are skeptical.

Many people are like Thomas. They decide if they cannot hear God, touch God, or see God, that there must be no God or God must not be listening or very active.

This is the reason a lot of people are drawn to charismatic Christianity. People have a desire to see something happen immediately because of their faith.

Many people feel that God is only authentic when they hear or see something out of the ordinary happening, like people speaking in tongues, or people dancing in the isles, or if they can see people fall backward on some podium as a preacher touches them and prays for them to be healed. There is a craving for this kind of religion that activates the senses.

I confess, as a preacher, something is energizing about being in a worship service where you can tell that those in attendance are actually alive. It’s nice to know that you are alive when I’m preaching. I really enjoy going to hear preaching in a black congregation. They let you know how you are doing instantly.

Our style and tradition are more reverent and contemplative. But I know that quiet waters also run deep.  And for some, it also means, napping through the sermon.

You cannot measure faith by how much a church responds to the preacher on Sunday. Faith is measured by how much we react to God Sunday through Saturday.

Did you notice that God did not chastise Thomas? That is good news if you are a skeptic. Jesus did not blame Thomas for doubting or for not being with the others when he came the first time.

Jesus always meets us where we are so He can take us where we need to be.

He did not chastise Thomas for wanting this sensory-based religious experience. But Jesus does seem to say to Thomas that this is not the deepest level of faith.

It requires more faith to believe when you haven’t seen. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet believe.”

Every time a farmer plants a seed, he does so with faith. He cannot see the seed germinate before it breaks through the ground. He has to plant the seed with faith that it will germinate. If he digs the seed up to see if it’s germinating, he will kill it in the process.

He cannot see the fruit produced on the plant when he plants the seed. He plants the seed with faith that there will be fruit.
He cannot see the harvest when he plants the seed. He plants the seed with faith that there will be a harvest.

The farmer is blessed, believing that a harvest is coming.

Every teacher has faith that her students can learn. She believes if she follows the lesson plans and continues to invest her life and knowledge in her students, they will grasp the information and learn the material. She cannot see the end result, but she has faith that learning will occur.

The writer of Hebrews expresses to us that God is willing, capable, and ready to create new possibilities in our lives if we have enough faith to walk with Him through the process.

In chapter eleven he lists a host of names like Abraham, who was called to go to a place he’d never seen but followed God there on faith.

His singles out Moses, who was just a shepherd at age eighty. After he followed God by faith, he led the children out of slavery in Egypt, delivered the Law, and is believed to have written the first five books of the Bible.

He mentions Rahab, a prostitute, who welcomed the spies into the Promised Land and placed her faith in their God.

He wrote: “I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength, and who become powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” Hebrews 11:32-34

Faith involves moving in directions pleasing to God in spite of not being able to clearly see the outcome, in spite of ridicule we may receive from others, in spite of pressures placed on us to do otherwise, in spite of our own excuses and shortcomings.

Faith is not being absolutly that we know all the answers. Faith is just the certainty of following the One who does have the answers.

Faith is allowing our skeptical selves to be vulnerable enough to place our lives in the hands of an All-Knowing God and allowing God to direct our paths.

Faith is being honest about those things that disturb us while refusing to run away from the God we know, a God who made us in His image and came to redeem us through Christ our Lord.

Even as Thomas and the disciples stood and faced a resurrected Christ, they still did not understand how that experience was possible. Who would believe it? Instead, they just accepted it. They chose to continue to be his disciples.

We should maintain this posture until the day we die.

The Hebrew writer states that all those people were still living by faith when they died. That’s the idea.

Faith isn’t clothing that we discard. Faith is a part of who we are. Sure, some of us may have skeptical tendencies, but hopefully, Jesus can turn us into people of faith.

Our lives are supposed to be one long continuous journey of faith.

Once we make the confession that Thomas made, “My Lord and My God,” faith should become part of all that we are and all that we do.

Faith isn’t a Sunday proposition. Faith is a daily deal with God. Faith should permeate every aspect of our lives: our work, our speech, how we handle our money, planning our future, how we raise our children, and the time we give to God

We should not separate any part of our lives from our faith.

The writer of Hebrews is very clear about faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

Faith is not easy. This morning, I want you to know that Jesus will meet you right where you are.

What Jesus wants to do is to carry you to new heights. Jesus wants to maximize the potential you have in your life. That will happen as your faith increases. That happens when we place our faith in God to use us as He sees fit.

Most of us what to see the end results before we commit. We are like Thomas. We don’t want to believe until we have solid proof of the end result.

Jesus says to us something different. If you will trust Him and place your faith in Him, even though you do not know what He will do with you and through you, you will be blessed.

Is the road of faith easy? No. It’s not always easy. It’s just better.

It’s better because God is with you. It’s better because the Lord is going to bless you and is going to use you to bless others.

Is there anything today keeping you for placing your faith in Jesus?

Whatever it is, the Lord already knows about it. Just confess that to the Lord. Ask the Lord to help you, even in your unbelief.

As you submit to Him, your life will change. The seed of faith will grow.
So will your love for God and others. So will your purpose in this life.

God will bless you and bless others through you.

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