Dealing with our Doubts

Luke 24:36-49

April 22, 2012 | Brian Bill

A defendant was on trial for murder and there was strong evidence indicating guilt, but a body was never found.   In the closing argument, his lawyer, knowing his client would almost certainly be convicted, made a last-ditch move.  He stood up and said, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all.”  He looked at his watch and continued, “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.”  He looked toward the courtroom door.  The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked as well.  A minute passed but nothing happened. 

Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement; but you all looked at the door, expecting him to come in.  Therefore, I put to you that there is reasonable doubt as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.”  The jury, clearly confused, was excused for deliberations.  About five minutes later, the jury returned with a verdict of “guilty.”  The lawyer was stunned and questioned them, “How could you do that?  You must have had some doubt; I saw each of you stare at the door.”  To which the jury foreman replied, “That’s true, we looked at the door…but your client didn’t.” 

In a similar way, the disciples were filled with doubts about the resurrection and didn’t expect to see Jesus walk through the door.  They were convinced he was dead, even though his body could not be found.  But with the door sealed shut, the Lord suddenly appeared in their midst.

Doubts don’t disqualify us

As we wrap up our series in Luke’s Gospel, we’ve been focusing on the moments that most mattered.  Today we want to learn how to deal with our doubts.  Our main point is this: Doubts don’t disqualify us.  Last week we listened in to a conversation that Jesus had with two guys who were walking on the road to Emmaus and we learned that God gives us all the evidence we need to believe and receive.  This was our outline:

  • Get it out 
  • Look it up
  • Take it in 
  • Pass it around 

As these two travelers pass around to the other disciples what was passed on to them, something incredible and stunning happens.  Turn to Luke 24:36: “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  I love that phrase: “Jesus Himself” because it shows that this is the same Jesus that had been with them; He is personally present. 

In our text we see the disciples huddled together in a room.  It’s Resurrection Sunday and it has been an eventful day for everyone involved.  It’s now evening and they’re excited, yet afraid.   The disciples are emotionally up and down.  They were pumped up when Peter shared that He had seen the Savior but according to John 20:19, the door was locked and bolted shut because the Jewish leaders wanted to arrest and dispose of anyone who had been associated with Jesus. 

Steven Cole suggests that many Christians live this same way when they say: “I used to feel so good.  I felt like Jesus was near but I don’t feel that way anymore.”  When we use words like this we know we’re living by feelings, not by faith.  Friends, our faith is built on fact, not on feelings.  Feelings by their very nature will fluctuate.   I still remember a very simple illustration that I came across when I was nineteen years old and brand new in my faith.  It’s from Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) and a train is used to demonstrate that facts are the engine, faith is hooked up to facts and the caboose is the feelings.  Fact Faith Feelings.

Suddenly, in the midst of all their emotions, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” I don’t imagine those were the words some of the disciples were expecting.  There is no rebuke, no “how could you?” Jesus doesn’t scold or shame them. The first words out of his mouth show one thing: He accepts them.  

  • Jesus offers peace even though He knows your past.
  • Jesus offers peace when you’re afraid in the present.
  • Jesus offers peace when your mind is filled with doubts.
  • The peace of God and the presence of God are inseparable.

The disciples are anything but peaceful in verse 37: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.”  The word “startled” indicates that they were “suddenly surprised.”  The word “frightened” is from the word “phobos” and carries with it the idea of “flight” and of being in a continual state of fear.  John MacArthur says that they were “stunned and startled and shocked into a condition of terror.”  The disciples were so alarmed that they wanted to bolt. 

In verse 38 Jesus asks his followers two questions: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?”   To be “troubled” means to be “stirred up and agitated.”  As a result, “doubts” or inward disputing is rising up in their minds.  My guess is that some you have struggled with doubt as well.  In response to the question about doubts, Jesus offers some compelling evidence meant to deal with their doubts…and ours.

1. Appearances to eyewitnesses. 

Let’s back up a few verses to Luke 24:34-35: “It is true!  The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.  Then the two told what had happened on the way and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread.”  The phrase “It is true!” is an emphatic exclamation.  I love how Simon Peter is singled out because as we discovered several weeks ago, he needed to be restored after failing and bailing on the Lord.

To verify that He was alive, Jesus appeared to individuals on at least eleven occasions over a period of a little longer than a month.   

  • To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) 
  • To the other women (Matthew 28:9-10) 
  • To two followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) 
  • To Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5) 
  • To all the disciples except Thomas (John 20:19-23) 
  • To all the disciples including Thomas (John 20:24-29) 
  • To seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee’s shore (John 21:1-25) 
  • To the eleven disciples on a mountain (Matthew 28:16-20).  
  • To James (1 Corinthians 15:7) 
  • To over 500 at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
  • To Saul (Paul), after the Ascension (Acts 9:1-22) 

If you’re dealing with doubts today, consider the eyewitness testimony.  These were isolated experiences and each individual gave independent testimony that was corroborated with what everyone else saw – “We saw Him!  It was Him!  He’s alive!”  They all repeated the truth of the resurrection.

2. Appeal to the senses. 

Jesus made it clear that He was alive by appearing to eyewitnesses. Next, in order to deal with the doubts of the disciples He appeals to their senses.  Check out Luke 24:39-40: “‘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 phrase “he showed them” means “to exhibit something that can be apprehended by one or more of the senses.”

  • Seeing – “Look at my hands and feet.”  He’s inviting them to look carefully at the evidence of the scars on his hands and feet.
  • Hearing – “It is I myself!”  This phrase is really cool.  He’s actually saying, “It is ‘I am.’”  In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses these words to describe who He is: “I am the bread of life; the light of the world; the resurrection and the life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the door; I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the vine.”  But it’s even deeper than that.  This is the title used for Yahweh in the Old Testament.  When God was asked to define His name He replied, “I am that I am.”  Jesus is saying that He is Jehovah Himself!
  • Touching – “Touch me and see.”  They’re urged to touch by feeling and handling so that they see that this is the Savior.

As they heard, saw and touched Jesus the disciples still had some doubt, not because the resurrection wasn’t real but because it was almost too good to be true!  That’s the sense behind verse 41: “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement…”  They were so blown away that they couldn’t believe it.  

I’m reminded of a passage that we studied in our series from 1 John last fall.  Listen to 1 John 1: 1-3: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us…” 

Evidently this appeal to the senses made such an impact on the disciples that John was still talking about it years later.  

3. Eating supper. 

Luke 24:41-43: “…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.”  I guess broiled fish is healthier than brats and fried cheese curds!  This is final evidence that His resurrection body is real.  After all, ghosts don’t eat grilled salmon.

This experience is followed a few days later by another fish fry on the beach as Jesus serves sea bass for breakfast and restores Peter to the ministry.  In Acts 10:40-41 Peter picks up on this: “But God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

The overwhelming evidence of eyewitnesses, the appeal to the senses and the eating of supper are all astounding.  But, in the event that this is not enough, and doubts are still rising within you, Jesus goes to the Scriptures to show that everything that was foretold about Him has been fulfilled by Him.  

4. Exposition of Scripture. 

Luke 24:44-45: “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’   Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”  If you’re dealing with doubts, read the Bible and ask God to open your mind to understand what you’re reading.  When someone tells me that they have a problem with the Bible I often ask them if they’ve read it.  

Here are some observations I wrote down.

  • Everything in the Bible, not just some things, points to Christ.  The word “fulfilled” means to cram a net full or to satisfy.
  • The Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms are the three main divisions of the Old Testament.
  • We need to have our minds opened before we can understand.  To “understand” refers to putting something together.   When it says that He “opened their minds” it means to bring what is blurry into focus.  While the Bible should be read by everyone, those who don’t yet know Christ have a natural inability to understand the Scriptures according to 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  On top of that 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that Satan “…has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…”

If you’re having a hard time understanding the Bible, pray this prayer found in Psalm 119:18 before you read: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

In order to deal with our doubts, we’re first told to focus on the truth of the resurrection, as verified by eyewitnesses and the power of the senses and the fact that Jesus ate some supper.  Then we’re to go to the Scriptures.  The final overwhelming piece of evidence is to look at the evangelistic zeal of the disciples after they are commissioned with the gospel message.

5. Evangelistic zeal. 

Luke 24:46-49: “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’”

I like what Bob Deffenbaugh points out about these followers of Jesus: “At first, the disciples are almost invisible.  They’re hiding behind closed doors and filled with doubt…these almost invisible guys are transformed into an invincible force that turned the world upside down.”

These ordinary men were transformed from frightened wimps into courageous communicators of the gospel.  Every one of them had come from doubt to determination, from confusion to conviction, from fear to faith.  Tradition tells us how the apostles died.  See if it sounds like they were just making up the Resurrection.  This is what tradition teaches:

  • Matthew was killed in Ethiopia 
  • Mark was dragged through the streets until he was dead 
  • Peter, Simeon, Andrew, and Philip were crucified 
  • James was beheaded 
  • Bartholomew was flayed alive 
  • Thomas was pierced with lances 
  • James, the less, was thrown from the temple and stoned to death 
  • Jude was shot to death with arrows 
  • Paul was boiled in hot oil and beheaded.
The combined testimony of changed lives attributed to the risen Christ runs into the billions, from every race and tribe and language and nationality in the world

Not only did Jesus impact lives in the first century, His resurrection power is still transforming people today.  The combined testimony of changed lives attributed to the risen Christ runs into the billions, from every race and tribe and language and nationality in the world.  Despite the various intellectual and social backgrounds, believers are united in their conviction that Jesus Christ is alive.

Lingering Doubts

Let’s admit something at this point.  Even though there is a ton of evidence, for some of you, your doubts don’t go completely away…but that’s ok.  Because doubts don’t disqualify you.

Turn over to Matthew 28:16-17.  Right before Jesus ascended into heaven; He commissioned them with a task: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

While some apostles adored Him, there were also some who doubted.  This is hard to believe, or is it?  These disciples had seen so much, and yet some of them still doubted.   I think they flipped out because they lost focus.  They started looking around and wondered if they were up to the task before them.  This shows us at least four things:

  • We will continually have to deal with our own doubts 
  • Doubts don’t disqualify us from ministry 
  • Within every group, there are some who worship and some who waffle 
  • The mission of the church is advanced in the midst of doubters 

Let’s ponder the descriptions that show what the increasing amount of evidence did for them.  They started out “startled and frightened.”  And then they moved to “troubled and doubting.”  But they didn’t stay there.  They ended up with “joy and amazement.”

Friend, what will it take for you to take the truth into your life?  There is such a thing as truth today.  Whether we believe it or not, the truth of the matter is that truth…is true.

The resurrection is true, whether you believe it or not.  Some of us are not dealing with doubts, but with a stubborn refusal to believe.  Check out Mark 16:14: “Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.”

I’ll never forget Josh McDowell saying some thirty years ago that if he could answer every question that an unbeliever could throw at him, he or she may still choose to not believe.  Why is that?  Because the issue is not just intellectual; it’s primarily moral.  Frankly, some people don’t want to surrender their lives to Christ because they don’t want to stop living the way they’ve been living. 

For others, the presence of doubt has become paralyzing.  Perhaps you think that you have to have all your doubts dispelled before you can believe.  Let me reframe it this way, borrowing something I’ve heard Ray Pritchard say many times.  Faith is belief, plus some doubt, and then acting on the belief part.  There’s almost always some level of doubt.  The key is to focus on what you know to be true…and then to act on it.

I wonder if you’re ready to do that right now.  It’s time for some of you to believe and then receive the free gift of eternal life by repenting of your sins and trusting in Christ alone for your salvation.  He is our Rock.  He is our Solid Rock on which we stand.

In Luke 24:50 we read that right before Jesus ascended into heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed them.”  Most commentators believe that he was pronouncing the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 on them.  I’d like to do the same right now as we stand and prepare to sing our closing song: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?