What is your mental image as you picture when you think about people from church history? Most of the time I picture calm, dignified men sitting around a table talking politely to each other. For some reason, they always have a British accent, although I know they probably spoke Latin. “Pish, posh. That was a terrible sermon say I.” It’s probably true that these people were very respectful as they discussed issues, most of the time. One of my favorite stories from church history involves a man that you probably have another mental image of—St. Nicholas. Nicholas attended the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The big item of discussion that day was the teachings of another man named Arius. Arius had begun teaching that Jesus was not actually God. He was like God, maybe he was made from the same stuff as God, but he wasn’t actually God. Arius said that the Son of God was just a created being, not God from eternity. The result of this big meeting with all of the leaders in the church from around the world was what we call the Nicene creed. That creed specifically fights against Arianism and you can hear that when we say, “…eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.”
While I think the Nicene creed is pretty cool, it wasn’t the coolest thing to happen at that council. As St. Nicholas sat there listening to Arius rip apart Christ’s nature and teach falsely, twisting Scripture, telling lies about his God, soon he couldn’t take it anymore. Dignified, respectful, bishop St. Nicholas stands up, walks over to Arius and punches him right in the face. Now, don’t walk away from this story thinking this is how you should confront false doctrine. Please, do not punch anyone because you heard it in this sermon. In fact, Nicholas was actually arrested for this and thrown into jail for three days. They even stripped him of being a pastor and bishop, until the emperor, who was also at the meeting re-established him. But, in that story we should not miss how important Jesus was to those people gathered there. They wanted nothing to cause anyone to doubt that Jesus truly was God, who had become a man and died and rose for them. That was how passionate they were about their Lord. Jesus wants you to have that same passion. He wants you to know that you should set aside your doubts about him and put your trust in him.
In our lesson from the Gospel of John, the disciples are afraid. Even though it has been reported that Jesus was risen that very morning, fear is reigning in their hearts. When our story picks up it’s the evening of Easter Sunday, “the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:19-22). Jesus wants to overcome the fear in their hearts. So, he appears among them and announces peace. He makes sure that they realize, foremost, that he is truly risen. How could they doubt that after seeing his hands and his side. More than that, Jesus wants them to realize that he doesn’t want them to live afraid, hidden in a locked room. He wants them to go out to tell others he is risen.
But, there were only ten of Jesus’ disciples in the room that night. One of them, Judas, has perished by his own hand. The other disciple, Thomas, for whatever reason isn’t there. When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus, he doubts. He doesn’t believe them, and we don’t really know why. It doesn’t say that he was feeling sad or afraid. All we can say is that he thought the message was unbelievable. Thomas says, “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 it” (John 20:25). His teacher and Lord had died. He had been buried, but even though he had heard the message of the resurrection, he didn’t think it could be possible. Dead men don’t rise. Men who went through what Jesus went through don’t rise. “So, unless I see Jesus and touch his wounds, I won’t believe.”
This mindset of Thomas is where the text meets us. We know that he is going to see Jesus, because the story goes on: “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:26-27). But, you and I have never had the experience. We are like Thomas before he sees Jesus. You have heard the message of the resurrection. And if you haven’t, here it is: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, just as he said he would. He is alive forever and forever more. The tomb is empty. Your God is truly alive.
How often do you find that your attitude is like Thomas’s? How often do you find that the message is just too unbelievable? I know that it’s true, because otherwise, our church would be as full today as it was last weekend. Last weekend, there were so many people in church that we had to set up chairs out in the atrium. It was beautiful. Maybe you were one of the people who invited someone to church for Easter. Did you invite someone today? A man has come back from the dead. He was dead, his body was buried, and he came back. That is the most amazing message ever. Have you just heard it so often that it seems unbelievable? Does it still seem worth it to come and hear that message? To invite someone else to come and hear that message?
Doubt is a dangerous thing. Perhaps, we don’t talk about it enough in church. But, doubt is the opposite of faith. There’s two main reasons that’s true, and they’re also the reason why doubt is so dangerous. First, doubt causes you to look inside yourself. I’ve had this conversation with many people, where they come to me and they say, “I’m not even sure I really believe,” or “How do I know that I have faith?” They are looking hard inside themselves to see if they can find the answer, but you aren’t going to find it there. Second, doubt destroys trust. Trust is the main part of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ means that you trust him to forgive your sin, to take care of you day to day, and one day take you to heaven. Doubt breaks down that trust. It makes you think, “Maybe Jesus can’t forgive my sins, maybe Jesus doesn’t care about me, and maybe even I don’t if I’ll get to heaven.”
There’s a song that was very popular on Christian radio for a long time by the Newsboys. It’s called “God’s Not Dead” and it came out along with a movie of the same name. If you like that song, I hope I’m not about to ruin it for you. My experience with it was very discouraging. At a time when it was very popular, I was at a church that sang it on Easter morning. Doesn’t it sound like a great song to sing? The lyrics go like this: “My God’s not dead // He’s surely alive //He’s livin’ on the inside // Roaring like a lion.” But, while the congregation was singing it, I felt very discouraged. Is the message of Easter, “My God’s not dead, because he lives inside my heart?” It’s not. If that was the message of Easter, that Jesus was only alive inside our hearts, then your faith would be worthless. The message of Easter is that Christ is risen, not that he is alive in our hearts, but that a dead man came back to life by his own power. And, friends, if that is not the case, then “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The truth is, this message is unbelievable. You can’t believe it, at least not on your own. It’s literally a miracle that you do. You can’t look into your heart to see if the message about Jesus is true. If you do, then you’ll find only doubt. The truth is not within you. And, if you keep looking inside yourself, you’ll only find more doubt, more things that erode your trust in Jesus. You can’t believe this message. It’s too unbelievable, but the miracle is that you do. Because you have heard the message of the resurrection, and God has worked through that message so that you trust Jesus. It’s just like Jesus said in our lesson: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). You have not seen the Lord, but you have believed. That is exactly where your God wants you to be.
This is what you do with your doubt: take it to the Word of God where Jesus will crush with his power. He doesn’t want you to look inside your heart, he wants you to look inside his book. He doesn’t want you to doubt, so that your trust is slowly broken down, but rather to see that in every instance he keeps his promises. That’s what the whole Bible is about: “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Believe the message about Jesus Christ. He truly was raised from the dead. He truly has given you the forgiveness of sins, a new life, and one day eternal salvation. These words are certain and true, and they are what you do with your doubt.
That night, after Saint Nicholas punched Arius in the face and went jail, he asked for a copy of the Gospels. He spent the whole night reading all four of them to see who was right. Was Arius right about Jesus? Or, was Jesus really the Son of God who rose from the dead and had forgiven all their sins? He read all four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The next morning, he was sure of it. He had taken his thoughts to the Word of God, and Jesus had crushed all his doubts. Jesus was the Son of God, raised from the dead, and that message was worth being arrested and jailed over, that was worth dying over, that message was probably worth punching Arius again. I hope that’s how you feel. If it isn’t, take your heart and mind to God’s Word, and there you’ll find the power of God. There you will find peace for your fear and faith for your doubt. Because Jesus Christ is truly risen. Amen.