The Revival of a Doubter’s Heart – John 20:24-31

The Revival of a Doubter’s Heart

Nick Esch, 11/25/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

As you know, Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one of my favorite preachers from the past. And as I was preparing for this sermon I found myself thinking a lot about what he once said about revival and some things connected to it. He said, “Revival, above anything else, is a glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the restoration of him to the center of the life of the church.” Basically, he argued that revival was a work of God where the Holy Spirit came upon the church in an extraordinary way, using ordinary means, causing them to truly love Jesus and live for Him. In other words, through the basic faithfulness of the church—through prayer, singing, studying, and the teaching and preaching of God’s Word—sleepy Christians woke up and became truly passionate for the Lord, nominal Christians became truly converted, and the lost were saved in great number, because all of these new and newly revived Christians were so focused on and so passionate about Jesus that they boldly shared Him with others. Lloyd-Jones, by God’s grace, had been a part of such things, and had seen God’s work of revival firsthand in Whales in the early 1900s.

He described revival—as an individual Christian experiences it—like a father and a son walking hand in had through a park. The son knows that he is the father’s son, and that his father loves him. He can feel his loving embrace and the comfort of his father’s protection from his grip on his hand. Even if he lets go, his father’s grip will remain, and keep him from falling away. So the son is in true relationship with his father. But, suddenly the father pulls the boy up to himself, and gives him a long warm hug. And he tells the boy, “I love you more than you could ever know. You are my son in whom I am well pleased…” And then, after one more tight squeeze, he places his son’s feet back on the ground, and they continue to walk hand in hand. In that embrace, nothing about the relationship between the son and his father changed, except the experience of it. Suddenly there was an outpouring of love that wasn’t experienced before. His father loved him no more or no less before, during, or after, but he was aware of his father’s love in a new and fresh way. And that brought with it great assurance, confidence, and joy.

Well, according to Lloyd-Jones, that’s what revival feels like for the Christian. God makes us increasingly aware of His love for us in Christ; and thus we are overwhelmed with assurance, confidence, and joy, which causes us to love and live for Jesus all the more. That’s what happens in the soul of a Christian in a revival. And again, revivals happen through ordinary means. So, being that Lloyd-Jones had seen and experienced this, he always encouraged the members of the church he served to be in the habit of gathering with God’s people, week in and week out, because you never know what God might do. We should all come to church with great expectation. And when we have to miss church, we should recon with the fact that we might miss a great work of God. I mean, can you imagine missing church one Sunday, and then coming the next only to find out that while you were gone God poured out revival on the church? He did an amazing work, but you missed it because you weren’t there.

Well, today in our text we’ll see Thomas, who missed a Sunday and thus missed a great work of God; but, God in His grace revives his heart and strengthens his faith, causing him to truly worship; causing him to truly love Jesus and live for Jesus. Through the grace of God in Jesus Christ Thomas is transformed from a doubter to a sold out follower of Jesus—from a doubter to a disciple. Thomas starts off as a materialist—believing in only what he can see and touch—but he becomes a missionary, calling others to live by faith and not by sight, for the glory of King Jesus. And this all starts with the grace of God in Jesus: life giving, faith strengthening, reviving grace. The same grace that we need each day. So with that in mind, look with me a John 20:24-31.

John 20:24-31

In verse 24 we read, “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” So, after Jesus had lived and died to save His people from their sin, He rose from the grave in power and glory and appeared to His disciples on a Sunday. As we saw last week, He went to where the disciples were gathered together and He appeared to them and gave them peace—the peace that comes through the gospel of our risen Lord… But, Thomas wasn’t there… We don’t know why, and we don’t where he was, we just know he wasn’t there…

So in verse 25 we’re told, “So the other disciples (the ones who were there) told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’” So the disciples share the good news of the risen Lord with Thomas… No doubt they say much more than John records here… It would seem they shared how Jesus showed them His hands and His side, giving them resurrection proof… And these are Thomas’ friends and fellow disciples of Christ… He knew them and knew their word to be trustworthy… But he denied the testimony of his brothers…

Now, we have come to know Thomas as Doubting Thomas; I looked up the word skeptic in the thesaurus and Doubting Thomas was in there as a synonym… But his doubt here just goes to show that he, and the other disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead… This wasn’t something they came up with, or a rumor they spread… They were shocked by the risen Lord… That’s one of the reasons why this is so hard for him to believe… And though Thomas does doubt here, we shouldn’t think of him as an unbeliever because he has shown himself thus far to be a true disciple. In John 11:16 for instance, he called his fellow disciples to follow Jesus, even to the death if need be… But here, because he wasn’t there when the risen Lord showed Himself to the disciples, his heart is in a posture of unbelief… Now, not necessarily as a non-Christian, but as a Christian with weak faith… He’s more concerned with what his eyes can see, than the eyes of his heart…

As Christians, unbelief and weak faith are a great danger for us… This is why the author of Hebrews talks about our great need to meet together and to encourage and strengthen each other in the faith. In Hebrews 3:12-14 he says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” So we need each other to fight sin, pursue holiness, and stay on the narrow road of faith… We must help each other believe rightly… The author goes on in Hebrews 10:23-25 to say, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” So, is it wrong to miss a church gathering? Not necessarily… Sometimes we have to… For all we know, Thomas had to… But, regardless of why we miss, can missing a Sunday be detrimental to our faith? Absolutely… Thomas misses one Sunday and his heart is in a posture of unbelief… He’s exactly where the author of Hebrews warns us to stay away from—he’s falling into the posture of an evil unbelieving heart…

Thomas, in his unbelief, says that if his precise demands aren’t met, if he’s not able to touch the wounds of the risen Lord he will never believe… It is not right for us to make unholy demands of the Lord—that’s evil… And it is not right for us to doubt the Lord… But if we’re being honest, most of us relate far more to Doubting Thomas than to the great missionary Paul, or the like… We believe, but we struggle with unbelief… But we shouldn’t be ok with that… We should be fighting to grow in our faith; and part of the way we grow is by gathering together with God’s people, week in and week out—praying, singing, studying, and sitting under the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. And along with that, we should be doing life with the church—engaged in one another’s lives, holding one another accountable, and helping each other follow Jesus, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week… As Christians, we must make the church a central priority in our lives… As John Stott once said, “If the church is central to God’s purpose, as seen in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives. How can we take lightly what God takes so seriously? How dare we push to the perimeter what God has placed at the center?” And indeed, God has placed the church at the center for His glory, but also for our own good and joy… Beloved, we need each other…

After missing resurrection Sunday, Thomas’ heart says, “I will never believe…” And indeed, in and of himself, he’s right… None of us would ever believe in the resurrection, or in any other Biblical truth, were it not for the sovereign grace of God… And God’s sovereign grace is about to prove Thomas wrong… By God’s grace he will believe without ever laying a finger on Jesus…

Look at verse 26. “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Eight days later here means the next Sunday, because they’re counting from the previous Sunday… So, on the next Lord’s Day the disciples are huddled up again in a locked room; which seems to imply that they are already covered up in fear again—they’re already suffering from gospel amnesia, which we all suffer from every once and a while, if not every week… Which is one of the reasons it’s so import that we gather with God’s people on a regular basis… But here, the disciples are gathered together, and this time Thomas is with them… And once again, the risen Lord miraculously appears before them, somehow making His way into the securely locked room. And the first words out of His mouth are once again, “Peace be with you…” So He’s greeting them, but He’s giving them a gospel reminder; not wishing them peace, but reminding them that peace is with them because He is with them… They have peace with God, because in and through Christ God is their God and their Father… He has reconciled them to God…

And after this, without a word from Thomas, Jesus knowing Thomas’ heart and mind better than Thomas does, says to him in verse 27, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Jesus could’ve rebuked Thomas; He could’ve condemned him even… But instead He gives grace… Jesus meets and ministers to Thomas in his weakness… It’s like the words of Isaiah 42:3, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench…” The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote a whole book on that verse, and in it he unpacks the amazing mercy and grace of God, and gives us that great line, that, “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…” As we sang earlier, our sins they are many, but His mercy is more… What an amazing truth… And that’s what we see here… Jesus was under no obligation to meet Thomas’ demands, but out of sure grace He offers resurrection proof to him… Jesus’ actions here remind me of Jude 22, where Jude, the very brother of Christ who once doubted Jesus greatly, calls us to, “have mercy on those who doubt…” For that is exactly what Jesus does… And praise God for that, because we know that every single one of us struggle with doubt from time to time… Indeed, that’s what sin is… When we fall into sin we do so because we doubt, we fail to believe God’s Word and trust that Jesus is better than our sin…

Do you realize that? That in whatever area of life that you’re struggling in, ultimately the reason you struggle is because you’re operating in doubt, or unbelief in that area… Are you struggling as a husband, as a wife, as a father, as a mother, as a son, as a daughter, as an employee, as a Christian man, as a Christian woman? Wherever or whatever it is, your fundamental problem is unbelief in the gospel. At the root of all our failures to live right—a lack generosity and a failure to be a good steward, our failure to tell the truth, or to care for the poor, or to not rightly handle worry and anxiety, and on and on I could go—is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not believing God’s Word, of not believing the gospel, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ and living out of our new identity in Christ, of doubting God’s goodness. So if you don’t think you struggle with doubt, if you don’t see yourself like Thomas, just look at your life…

We are all doubters by our very nature, but Jesus is gracious… Instead of judgment He gives peace… Instead of rebuke He gives resurrection proof, He gives the gospel, He gives Himself… That’s what he does for Thomas and that’s what He does for us as well… He has mercy on those who doubt… Indeed, “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…”Oh, and how that should stir our hearts to worship… That amazing grace should cause us to joyfully surrender ourselves, wholeheartedly to Jesus… And that’s exactly what Thomas does.

In verse 28, Thomas answers Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God!” This should be the cry of every Christian’s heart… Indeed, we should hope, pray, and work for this to be the cry of every person’s heart… When the Bible says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14)… this is the type of things it’s speaking of… People from every tribe, tongue, nation, and generation recognizing Jesus as their God and their Lord, and living to magnify His glory to the ends of the earth… That’s what’s going on in Thomas here. His heart is gripped by who Jesus is and what He has done… He has conquered the grave… He has truly brought His people gospel peace… Indeed, Thomas knows that He is at peace with God because God is standing before Him lavishing mercy and grace upon Him… And so while standing before God incarnate, while standing before the grace of God incarnate, Thomas responds in worship, proclaiming Jesus to be exactly who He is… He is his Lord because He is God…

Now Jesus responds to this with a slight rebuke and clarification. He says in verse 29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Notice Jesus says that Thomas saw Him—he didn’t touch Him… Jesus shows Himself to him, and tells him, “Do not disbelieve, but believe…” And he does… Jesus basically tells Thomas that his heart has fallen into a posture of unbelief, and he needs to repent and be a true believer… He needs to seek to strengthen his faith, and exercise true faith in the resurrected Lord… And by God’s grace he can, and he does… Thomas said he would never believe unless he touched the wounds of Jesus; but God’s sovereign grace proved him wrong… And praise God it did… And praise God He still does that today… He proves us wrong in our unbelief and in our sin, and shows Himself gracious, merciful, mighty to save, and faithful again and again…

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, in rebellion against God, thinking there was no God, or that we didn’t need God, or that God could never love us; but then in His grace He stepped in and proved us wrong… By grace through faith in Christ we were saved… God caused us to be born again and opened the eyes of our heart to see the glory of Christ by faith, and we repented and believed… Our hearts cried out, my Lord and my God… But that’s not quite how it worked with Thomas… He actually got to see the risen Lord with his own two eyes… So Jesus rebukes him because he should’ve believed because of the testimony of the other apostles… That’s how we’ve come to faith… By God’s grace we have come to believe the truthfulness of the testimony of the apostles about Jesus in the New Testament, along with the rest of God’s Word. We operate by faith, and not by sight… As we read earlier, “Though [we] have not seen [Jesus], [we] love him. Though [we] do not now see him, [we] believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9)…

The very reason the resurrected Lord appeared to His disciples was so that through their testimony, and the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in light of the person and work of Jesus, people would be saved from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth… Yet Thomas, by his very actions defies this… But God is gracious still… Jesus accepts his worship and puts him to work… Jesus revives Thomas, He strengthens his weak faith, and He transforms the materialist into a missionary.

Church history tells us that Thomas was so impacted by his encounter with the risen Lord that he became a missionary to India. After he came to truly understand how Jesus had poured Himself out in love for His people, and rose in victory, and was so full of love, mercy, and grace, Thomas was compelled to pour out his life for the fame of His God and His Lord… He worked and preached and loved and established many churches in India, and eventually literally poured out His life for His Lord, being killed for his faith… So the man known for weak faith later had a faith so strong that he kept it to the death… The man known for wanting physical proof before he would believe, gave his life, calling others to believe off of the testimony of God’s Word… Not without reason or logical evidence… But by faith, not by sight… And he did this with joy, out of a heart of worship…

Before this encounter with Jesus I’m sure Thomas thought all of this was a little crazy, but when your heart is gripped by grace, and you have truly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, crazy becomes normal… Just this week I learned of a man named John Chau who gave his life to get the gospel to those who have never heard it… Well, in a letter that he wrote to his parents just before he encountered the unreached tribe that he was seeking, he said, “You might think I’m crazy, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or God if I get killed…” And he did… Just a few days ago the very people he was seeking to reach killed him… But who knows how God might use this… As for John, he knew it was a not a waste… He was not overly focused on the material, but on the spiritual—on the glory of Christ and the souls he was seeking to reach. In that same letter he wrote, “This is not a pointless thing—the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language…” Then he told his parents, “I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ…” That’s what happened to Thomas… From a materialist to a missionary… From a doubter to a sold out disciple… All by the grace of God in Jesus Christ… He went from making demands of Jesus to laying down his life for Jesus, because there was nothing He loved more than His God and His Lord.

Conclusion

In verses 30 and 31 John ties all of this to us. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so 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 wants what happened to Thomas to happen to all of his readers. He wants us all to truly know Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus; and to truly have life in His name: true eternal life that starts now—living to enjoy Him and living for His namesake—and goes for eternity, living in perfect communion with Him… Thomas started off with a weak faith, but the weakest faith still gets a strong Christ; it gets a Jesus who is God and Lord, who is mighty to save, revive, and transform… So, if you have yet to repent and believe, look to Jesus whose mercy far exceeds your sin, and be saved. If you are struggling, in whatever area, look to Jesus and see Him for who He is: your God and your Lord, and let His grace revive your heart… May He wake sleepy Christians up, save the lost, and cause us all to joyfully pour out our lives for His sake… May He revive us…