Honest doubts and how to deal with them

Text Matthew 28:17b Time 23 04 17 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I was sorry not to be here last week and to preach on the resurrection. Easter Sunday is not the only day for preaching on the resurrection of Christ, anyway. Every Lord's Day is a reminder of his rising from the dead. What I thought we might do therefore this Sunday evening is to look at a text found towards the end of Matthew's Gospel that touches a little on the subject but not so directly.
The text I have in mind is Matthew 28:17 where Matthew says of the eleven disciples who had gone to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go after he rose that
When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.
Matthew could be referring here to the five hundred who Jesus saw at one time but it looks like it is the eleven he has in mind. Now it might be interesting to speculate on who the doubters among the eleven were. We know from John's Gospel that Thomas was probably one of them. In John 20:24, 25 we read how Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."You remember how on the next Lord's Day Thomas was there and Jesus said to him "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." From what Matthew says here, it would seem that Thomas was not the only one with doubts. And fair dues to Thomas he said to him, "My Lord and my God!" From what Matthew says here it would seem that Thomas was not the only one with doubts.
I want to say three things from this verse then that I think will help us as we continue to think about the resurrection and faith in Christ.
1. Consider how honest the Bible is when it speak like this
It might surprise you that Matthew should write but some doubted. Wouldn't it have been more impressive, perhaps if he had left it with When they saw him, they worshipped him and not added that bit about doubts? That is not the Bible's strategy, however. All the way through it has a habit of telling it like it is. And so we know that Noah got drunk and Abraham told lies, David committed adultery and Peter denied his Lord. Thomas was a doubter and Paul began as a persecutor of Christians. John Mark, one of the Gospel writers, was a real let down to everyone in his younger days. Even after Paul was converted, he and Barnabas could fall out so badly that they decided to organise separate missions trips despite their earlier co-operation.
That old question about who wrote the Bible can be brought into play here. Was the Bible written by bad men or good men? If it was written by bad men why do they want us to be honest and not to hate one another, etc? If it was written by good men then why would they lie about Jesus having risen from the dead? If we take that further perhaps we can say that dishonest men might have been tempted to say that no-one had any doubts at all about the resurrection but because Matthew and the other writers were honest men then they are willing to tell us the truth – yes, there were some doubters.
I think that this fact also helps us to see that the idea that the disciples simply cooked up the story of the resurrection of Jesus is well wide of the mark. So far were the disciples from making up a story about Jesus rising from the dead or even thinking that it might happen that for some, at least at first, the very idea was one that they found hard to swallow. Resurrected? Even when they were actually confronted by the thing itself, it was something they found very hard to accept.
What I am saying then is that this throw away remark goes a long way to confirming that what Matthew wrote and what others wrote in Holy Scripture really is the gospel truth – something we can accept and rely on, an honest account. It is often in the little details, such as this one that that fact is confirmed to be true.
When you open the Bible you know you are turning to a book that can be trusted, a reliable book. This is the truth. Do not doubt it.
2. Do not be surprised if you or people like you have doubts
When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Another thing that comes out of what is said here is the fact that even the most holy and reliable people can have doubts of one sort or another. We have said here that Matthew may be referring to the 500 but he is most likely to being speaking of the eleven. Whichever it is, we are speaking of godly people, people who were willing to suffer much to follow Christ. In John 11 we read of Thomas saying of Jesus and his plan to visit Lazarus "Let us also go, that we may die with him." The same man who shows such boldness here and who later spoke of Jesus as his Lord and God and who apparently went as far as India preaching the gospel after the ascension was yet the one we know often refer to as Doubting Thomas. And there were clearly others among the 11 or at least among the wider circle of disciples.
So if you have your doubts then that does not mean that you must be some sort of inferior Christian. I am not saying that doubt is necessarily a good thing in and of itself. No, when Peter walked to Jesus on the water but then began to sink, Jesus said to him by way of rebuke You of little faith … why did you doubt? The faith that is commended in the New Testament is faith that does not doubt. When you pray, James reminds us (1:6) you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. … That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord but is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
However, that does not mean that the moment a doubt creeps in then there is no hope for me. That cannot be the case it is clear from what we find here in Matthew. Further, in Jude 1:22 we read these interesting words Be merciful to those who doubt. Yes, there are others that Jude says we should snatch from the fire; but to others we must show mercy, mixed with fear - hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Certainly there must be mercy for doubters. Given the overwhelming evidence there is every reason to believe that they will come round to a better way of thinking. Doubt is not to be indulged or encouraged but one doubt does not mean all is up. James reminds us, near the end of his letter (5:19, 20) that people do wander from the truth but, as he puts it, My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
A definition may be useful here. Os Guinness (In two minds) says “When you believe, you are in one mind and accept something as true. Unbelief is to be of one mind and reject that something is true. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at the same time, and so to be in ’two minds.”
Apparently the Chinese have an expression for doubt that is literally having a foot in two boats!
We can think of doubts as being basically of two sorts – doubts about facts, emotional doubts. If you start thinking “I can't be sure this is true” or if you start thinking it may be true but I don't see that I can live according to it, then don't panic. First, remind yourself that you are not the first professing Christian to face such doubts. Then that there have been Christian doubters in the past, those who doubted even something as basic as Jesus rising from the dead, but who were enabled to overcome their doubts. They didn't go on doubting but came to believe the truth. If your doubts are genuine doubts God will help you to overcome them. He does not want you to remain in two minds.
3. Realise that the Bible is written with the express intention of removing doubts
The third and final thing I want to remind you of is the fact that the Bible is written with the express intention of removing any doubts we may have. Matthew does say When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted but he does not go on to say “and who knows? Was it really the risen Lord they saw?” Not at all. He is clearly convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead. In the previous verses (12-15) the very way he writes confirms this. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, he tells us they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Yes, this story went around says Matthew but it is just a story. It is not true. No, Matthew is in agreement with Luke who says of Jesus (Acts 1:3) After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Paul takes the same view too, In 1 Corinthians 15 he notes that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, and so you can ask them though some have fallen asleep. In Luke's Gospel we read of an appearance that left them startled and frightened, at first thinking they saw a ghost. Jesus said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. The nail marks were no doubt still there. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. A ghost doesn't eat food! Or think of John writes in his Gospel. At the end of Chapter 20, having spoken of Thomas's doubts an how they were resolved John says Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. This was always John's concern. In 1 John 5:13 he explains I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. He wanted them to be assured. This is God's desire for all his children – that they may not only be saved but sure that they are saved.
In the 1689 Confession it talks about assurance. It says rightly that

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it; yet being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of means, attain thereunto:

From that it draws a conclusion

and therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; - so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

There are many things that assure us of salvation. One of the most obvious is the Bible. We should daily be going back to the Bible and drinking it in. What assurance it will give us if we read it properly. The book is full of assurance. It assures us that there is God that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world and that Jesus died and rose again for sinners. It assure us that if we put our faith in him all will be well. Let's believe then, putting our faith in Christ always.