Not Faithless, But Believing

March 27, 2005 / No. 3247

Dear radio friends,

      On this glad day of celebration in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I call your attention to the Word of God in John 20:24-29 under the title:  Not Faithless, but Believing.

     This is the call that Jesus addressed to His disciple Thomas.  And that is the one that He speaks to you and to me today.  Be not faithless, but believing!

     Are you faithless?  Not sure?  Skeptical of the promises of Jesus Christ?  Do not believe that He powerfully works everything for your good?  Afraid of what might happen to you in this week?  Are you hopeless?

     We need to ask, then, a deeper question.  Do you believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ — that He arose bodily as the Head of the church in great victory?

     If we do not lay hold of the resurrection, our faith is empty and fruitless and powerless.  That is what we read in I Corinthians 15:  If we believe not the resurrection of Jesus, the literal, physical, bodily resurrection on the third day — if we do not believe that, then our faith is vain; we are yet in our sins; and our preaching is vain.  If we do not believe, says the apostle, we are still in our sins.  We cannot have the assurance of pardon without faith in a risen Savior.  Our preaching is vain.  All of the doctrines, all of the truth, all of the preaching — preaching on family, marriage, personal problems — it is all powerless if there is no risen Jesus.  If Jesus is not living in us and alive, there is no power unto salvation.

     The word of the risen Christ is:  Be not faithless, but believing.

     So that we might believe in the risen Jesus Christ, the Lord Himself appeared on earth for forty days after His resurrection.  He could have risen from the dead, told His disciples, left it at that, and gone to heaven.  But He remained forty days on the earth and made ten appearances for us.

     Jesus came to His disciples and He said, “It is I.  Believe.  Blessed are those who believe.”  He made ten appearances.  The first five were on the resurrection day itself.  And the word of His resurrection spread like wildfire and, in trembling joy, the disciples of the Lord greeted each other on that day and henceforth:  “He is risen!”

     But Thomas, one of the twelve, had not been there on the resurrection day.  He had not been an eyewitness of the risen Lord on the day of the resurrection.  And he did not believe it was possible.  When they said to him, “Thomas, we have seen the risen Lord.  He came to us!  You should have been there!”  Thomas’ response was stubborn.  “I can’t believe that!  I’ll have to see that myself.  In fact, I’ll have to put my fingers into the nail prints and my hand into the spear-thrust in His side.  Unless I do that, I will not believe!”

     It was the following Sunday, a week after the resurrection, that Jesus came to His disciples once again gathered in an upper room with Thomas present.  The Lord appeared and said, “Thomas, reach thither thy hand.  Be not faithless but believing.”  And Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”

     The Word of the risen Christ to you:  Be not faithless but believing.

     The Scriptures tell us very little of this disciple of Jesus called Thomas or Didymus, which means “twin.”  He was one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus called to follow Him.  There are three incidents in the gospel of John about Thomas.  This first is in John 11:16 in connection with the resurrection of Lazarus.  Jesus had left Jerusalem.  The Jews were plotting to kill Him.  He went through Perea to wait for the Passover, and there He received the news that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus waited two days and then told His disciples that they were going to go back to Jerusalem.  We read, “Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us go that we may die with him.”

     The second is in John 14:5, the night of our Lord’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While He was yet with the twelve in the upper room, Jesus told them that He was going to go away, to the Father, and prepare a place for them.  And He had said to them, “Whither I go, ye know; and the way ye know.”  Thomas said unto Him, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”  Jesus’ beautiful answer:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

     The third incident is our text in John 20.  Thomas had not been with the disciples of the Lord on the resurrection day.  He was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples gathered together in the upper room.  So the disciples had gone out to find Thomas and had taken pity on him, for they knew where he was.  And they told him, “Thomas, we have seen the risen Lord!”  But Thomas did not believe them.

     From these three incidents we learn about the character of this disciple, this believing, this born-again-by-grace man.  He had a pessimistic attitude.  The assurances of God’s promises, which he believed, were not enough when he stood before what so plainly to him contradicted those promises.  He was skeptical.  He looked on the downside.  There was a voice of fear within him saying, “It’s not going to turn out right.”  And he could become despondent and hopeless.  He could feel all hope being crushed in him.

     In that first incident, in connection with the resurrection of Lazarus, he says, “Let’s go that we may die with Him.”  Those are not words of courage but resignation to a tragedy that he believed was coming.  If Jesus dies, all of our hopes are blown away with Him.  We may just as well die then too.  In the second event, there was a frenzy that gripped him when the Lord said that He was going away.  And now, in our text, in the incident that we are considering, he shows the same hopelessness.  Jesus has died, Jesus is gone, it is all over!

     Maybe you recognize yourself here.  That is true of all of us to one degree or another.  Pessimism, skepticism over reports of good and of hope.  We can see only the negative side.

     But, you see, Thomas’ problem was not his character.  Although we can analyze that character and see the weakness and the sin in the character, that was not his problem.  His problem was his unbelief.

     Now unbelief is not simply atheism — to say there is no God, and we walk only by sight.  But unbelief can also manifest itself when we listen to the voice within us saying, “How can it be?  I can’t see that.  I know that’s what faith says, but, look, how can that be?”  Unbelief can express itself when faith is clashing with sight.

     Let us not label Thomas a doubter, but say it the way Jesus said it:  Be not faithless but believing.  It was not doubt.  He struggled with unbelief.  They all doubted.  We read that when the disciples heard the report from the women early on the resurrection day, Mark 16:1, “And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen … believed not.”  We read further, in Mark 16, that the Lord upbraided them for their unbelief.  If we call Thomas a doubter, we have to give that label to all of the disciples.  Thomas was not simply a doubter.  He was not simply pessimistic.  It was not just that his nature was to look upon the dark side of things.  It was not simply that he was confused over an earthly kingdom.  All of them believed in that earthly kingdom, and their hope was crushed.

     No, we have to say it this way:  He was unbelieving.  His sight, his appraisal, his distress rose up against his faith and overwhelmed his faith.  Jesus said, “Thomas, here’s your problem — it’s not your personality — it’s your heart, Thomas.  You don’t believe.  Be not faithless in your heart.”

     We can see the problem he had in connection with his faith.  First of all, unbelief would demand its own terms for believing.  Jesus then must submit to certain tests before I can believe Him.  I will not believe unless, with three of my five senses, I am able to know that He is alive.  I have to see Him.  I have to hear Him.  I have to touch Him.  Thomas is laying down conditions for his faith — “I’m willing to believe if He will do these things.  Here are my terms, Lord.”

     Now that sounds familiar, does it not?  I say, again, Thomas was a believer, but he was a weak believer.  Believers like you and me have that same struggle.  That struggle is called sin.  We say, “Lord, I’ll believe that, and I’ll do that, if these conditions are met.”  For example:  There is the gospel of creation.  “I’ll believe that when you show it and confirm it with science — through the telescope, microscope, and test.  When I have something in my hands and before my eyes, then I’ll believe it.”  Or we confront a great burden.  “I can’t bear that,” we say.  “I can’t believe the Lord is going to bless me in this way, that He calls me to walk this way under a great burden.  I can’t believe that I have to go through life this way.  Prove it to me.  Find someone else who has gone through this and they survived.  And when I hear it from them, then I’ll believe that God is able to keep me.  Otherwise I won’t believe.”  Or it can be a difficult calling:  “Lord, if this happens, I don’t believe I will have strength to do that.  Lord, if this happens to me in the future, or if something happens to my child in the future, I won’t be able to bear that, Lord.  I can’t take that, Lord.  You need to satisfy my sight first.  You have to transport me into the future and show me that everything is going to turn out the way I want.  Let me touch, Lord, let me see.  Then I’ll believe.”

     But there was more.  Thomas showed a stubborn refusal.  It was not just doubt.  It was a stubborn refusal.  He had said, “I will not believe.”  It comes out in the original that he used very strong language:  “No, never will I believe!”  We can cement ourselves into our unbelief.  We can become emphatic:  “No, never, I’ll never accept that.  It can’t be!  I won’t submit to that!”  And God, in a powerful way, must come and shake us out of our unbelief.

     Thomas’ unbelief was rooted also in his refusal to fellowship with the other disciples.  On the first day of the week Thomas’ friends were gathered together, friends who had the same struggles he had.  But Thomas was not there.  He had taken the attitude, “What’s the use?”  He wanted to be alone to hug his hopelessness and to sink into his despair.  He did not want to look past what he was feeling and join the disciples.

     That applies to us.  The worst thing that we can do when we are struggling with unbelief, when hopelessness over our way is upon us, the worst thing we can do is to separate ourselves from fellow believers under the ministry of the risen Lord.  In a bitter attitude or a hopeless attitude we go off and say, “I will not believe unless….  I’m not going to church.”  We miss the prayer, we miss the praises, we miss the Word, we miss what God has prepared for us among the fellow believers, we miss the means that God uses to work faith in us.  In your struggles, do not isolate yourself from the place and the people among whom the risen Lord is to be found.  Do not miss this word that waits for you every Sunday morning and Sunday evening.  The Lord is risen, and hath appeared in His house!

     Thomas would not believe until the Lord came in a perfect way to work faith in His beloved disciple and in you and in me.

     It was again on the Lord’s day, the following Sunday, that Jesus appeared to His disciples.  We must take note of that for a moment.  Jesus did not appear to Thomas during the week.  He waited for this day, a day when they were assembled together.  The Lord is marking off, He is emphasizing that this day, today, the first day of the week, Sunday, is the day of worship.  Those who have a problem with the change of the Sabbath from the Old Testament seventh to the New Testament first day of the week need to see that.  This is the day of worship.  This is the day of rest.  And Thomas was there this time.

     How did the Lord work faith in His unbelieving disciple?  First, He appeared to him as the risen Christ.  He spoke:  “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach thither thy hand and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless.  Thomas, I know what you said.  Thomas, I know what you felt.  Thomas, I know how low you were.  All the time I knew.  Now, Thomas, see Me.  Touch Me.  Do what you said you needed to do — put your finger through the nail print in My hand.”

     We need to understand that the risen Jesus is the basis of our faith.  On the reality of His resurrection is the victory of faith.  He stands in the immortality of the body.  Adam sinned and brought ruin, death, tears, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness.  But Jesus has taken that all on Himself.  Now He stands in triumph.  He is risen from the dead.  And because He lives, the victory over sin and death is ours!  The risen Lord is our confidence and assurance.

     What is marvelous is that the Lord appeared to Thomas in the way Thomas needed.  He addressed Thomas in his weakness, in His tenderness, in patience, and in kindness.  Jesus always does that.  He works faith the way that we need it.  He could have said, “Thomas, you stubborn disciple!  You may not be that way.”  But He says, “Thomas, reach out, then.  Don’t be faithless.  Blessed, Thomas, are they which have not seen and yet believe.”

     Thomas believed and confessed.  “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.”  The unbelief and the stubbornness was broken and he embraced the wonder of the risen Lord.  All that seemed insurmountable to him, all that said to him, “It’s hopeless, it can’t be” — that voice was silenced, and he believed the risen Lord.  He confessed, “My Lord and my God!”  He had been trying to lord it over his Lord, to dictate to his Lord, to tell his Lord how things would have to be if he was going to believe.  Now he is submissive.  He does not want to rule.  Jesus is his sovereign.  His entire life now, by faith, is entrusted not to his sight, not to his judgment, not to his estimation.  But he was humbly and blissfully submissive to the risen Lord.  That is faith.  “Thou art risen, Lord Jesus, Thou art the conquering Lord!  Thou art my sovereign.”

     Do you believe the resurrection this Sunday?  Christ enters into His church on the Lord’s day by His Spirit and Word and proclaims:  “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.”  No, we do not have eyes to see Him now.  We cannot feel Him with these hands and we cannot hear Him with these present ears.  But faith does not come that way.  It comes by the Holy Spirit through the Word worked in our heart.  Listen:  Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  It is the Word, the Word of the living One, that works powerfully in you who believe.  Perhaps some who listen are old, some are young, some are married, some unmarried, some widows, some single, some troubled, discouraged, fearful of tomorrow.  Perhaps there are some who are in the despair and the hopelessness of their heart.  You cannot get over the hopelessness of your situation.  To you comes the Word of the living Lord:  “Be not faithless but believing.”  Confess “My risen Lord and my God!”  Do not believe on your terms.  Do not force your way upon the Lord.  Do not say, “If the Lord does this, then I will believe.  If this, then I can obey.  If this, then I can accept, then I will follow.  Show me first or I won’t believe.”  You may not have your faith on your conditions.  You may not have Christ on your terms.  Rather, believe.  Believe on the basis of the infallible and holy Word of the living Savior:  “I am risen!  I reign.  I am coming.  All things are in My hand.”  Believe His sovereign wisdom over every aspect of your life.  Believe it all to be ordained by Him who hung upon a cross and rested in a grave and who lives now.  Believe in Him!  Believe His forgiving mercies.  Submit to Him.

     Or live your life in stubbornness, hopelessness, and despair.  No!  No, do not do that.  Child of God, do not do that.  Do not live that way!  Believe that Jesus lives, and confess, “My Lord and my God.”  That is unqualified submission.  That is unconditional trust.  That is willing obedience.

     Jesus is my risen Lord and my God!  We worship as His friends on the Lord’s day.  We pay our debt of praise and adoration to Him today.  We come because faith needs to be in the place where He shows Himself — that is, the church, on the Lord’s day.  We confess that we live our life in obedience to the Lord.  He is our Lord and our God.  Then we live not our life by our will, by our lust, for our honor, for ourselves, for possessions.  But we live in order that we might honor and praise Him.

     Jesus said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.”  Jesus kept the last Beatitude for this:  “Blessed are they that believe the risen Lord.”  Happy!  Oh, how happy!  Happy in all of life — comforted, strengthened, hopeful, confident.  The happiest person possible is the one who, by grace, believes in the risen Lord Jesus.  Because He lives, we live.  Because He lives, all the promises of God in Him are yea and amen.  Because He lives, however God will arrange my life, it is for my good.  He is Lord.  He is God.  He is risen!

     Be not faithless but believing.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for the Holy Scriptures and pray that it may enter now into our hearts.  Bless us, Lord, and may we go forth in this Word of the risen Lord and stand firm in our faith.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.