“But some doubted.”
That phrase jumped out at me this week as I heard someone reading the familiar “Great Commission” verses from the end of Matthew’s gospel. Usually, people will start reading at vs. 19, where Jesus declares to His disciples that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (a comforting reminder on the day after an election).
But on this occasion, we backed up and read the verses that set up Jesus’ declaration of authority (Matthew 28:16-17):
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.”
“But some doubted.” Who doubted? And why?
The text doesn’t answer those questions for us. We know from other passages that the eleven disciples weren’t the only people present on this unnamed mountain in Galilee. We also know that one of the disciples, Thomas, had expressed his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection until he saw and felt His pierced hands.
I don’t think any of the 11 disciples were still doubters at this point. But in the larger crowd that gathered that day in Galilee and that heard Jesus’ charge to go and make disciples, there were two groups of people: worshippers and doubters. There were those who had concluded that the crucified Jesus was the resurrected Messiah and others who remained skeptical, in spite the presence of Jesus on the hillside.
It’s interesting to me that Matthew made sure to mention the presence of doubters at the scene. While the 11 disciples and many others in the crowd were worshipping Jesus and the Promised One, there were others who, even as they were standing and looking at and listening to Jesus weren’t fully convinced.
We ought not be too hard on the doubters. Their skepticism was reasonable. I mean, think about what they were being asked to believe. A man once dead was now alive again. That’s not something you see happen every day.
Did they doubt that Jesus had really died? Did they doubt that the man they were seeing was really Jesus? Did they accept the idea of the resurrection but still doubt that He was the Messiah? The text doesn’t tell us. But Matthew wanted to make sure we knew that not everyone who was there was persuaded to the point where they joined the worshippers.
The absence of doubt is certainty. The dictionary defines certainty as “the quality of being reliably true.” Certainty comes when some kind of empirical data leads you to a particular conclusion. Thomas moved from doubt to certainty when he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He was empirically persuaded through the use of his five senses.
We rely on our five senses to explain our world to us. We see things, hear things, taste, smell and feel things, and draw conclusions as a result. And most of the time, our senses provide us with reliable data. We wind up saying things like “I know it’s true because I saw it with my own eyes!” By virtue of our experience over time, we have come to trust our senses. We have chosen to place our faith in the information they provide for us.
But as anyone who has ever been to see an illusionist knows, our senses can be fooled. And two eyewitnesses to an even can draw very different conclusions based on their perspective. From time to time, we may find ourselves wondering if we can really trust what we thought we saw or heard or experienced. In other words, even empirical data can leave us doubting our conclusions.
Perhaps that’s part of what was happening on the Galilean hillside in Matthew 28. Maybe there were people wondering if they could really believe what they were seeing and hearing. “Could this really be the Messiah?”
We can also find ourselves being certain about all kinds of things based on on confidence and trust in reliable reporting. If I asked you if you are certain that Alaska exists, you would probably say you are even though you’ve never been there. And the reason you’re certain that Old Abe Lincoln was the 16thPresident is because a reliable body of evidence together with eyewitness testimony has persuaded you.
But we’ve all experienced the letdown that comes from learning that our trust in what others have told us has been misplaced. We’ve been deceived or even outright lied to. Or we’ve learned that what we thought was an objective reporting of facts was actually a biased mischaracterization of only partial information. We hear news reporters telling us about event in our world and find ourselves wondering “is that reliable? Is that the whole truth?”
Ultimately, the reason we have a certainty about the existence of Alaska or the reality of historical events is because we choose to trust the source.
The crowd that gathered to hear and see Jesus in Matthew 28 may have doubted instead of worshipping because they didn’t know if they could trust the things that were being reported by others. They may have wondered if the supposed eyewitnesses had an ulterior motive or an agenda of some sort.
We don’t know why some doubted while others worshipped. We know from other passages that Jesus rebuked His followers in times when they had “little faith.” Doubt is never presented as a virtue in scripture. Still, He is gracious to all who come to Him as the father of a sick child did in Mark 9. When Jesus told the man “All things are possible for one who believes,” the man responded by saying, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Followers of Jesus are called “believers.” There is a difference between a believer with doubts and a doubter. It’s a significant difference, and one that the Bible indicates has eternal consequences.
Dennis Rainey has shared often about his own battle with doubts when he was a college student. His doubts were keeping him from worshipping Jesus. Dennis writes:
“My slippery spiritual descent was halted in the fall of 1968 through a number of people whom God brought across my path. Through these people, God loved me out of my spiraling unbelief.
“On of the these people was an evangelist named Tom Skinner… Let me share with you a quote he gave me: ‘I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts, when suddenly I realized I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer to the reality of answers that I cannot escape… and it’s a great relief.’”
Dennis continues. “You see, my life was riddled with questions that I couldn’t answer, like ‘Why does God allow suffering? Where did evil come from? Will the heathen in foreign countries who have never heard about Jesus really go to hell?’
“I was hopelessly entangled by doubts about the Christian faith, in part because of hypocrisy in the church. But hope is never found in doubt.”
We’ll never have answers to all our questions in this life. That’s where faith comes in. God wants us to bring our doubts to Him. He wants us to be honest about them. He wants us to say “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
It’s that time of year! Time to fill a shoebox and bless a child for Christmas. Here’s the information about Operation Christmas Child and how you show Jesus’ love to a young person this year:
We’re also looking at opportunities to love and bless our new neighbors – the teachers and staff at David O Dodd Elementary School, just down the street from where our new church building is being built.
We have an opportunity we’re investigating that would enable us to provide books as gifts for students by helping sort books that have been donated to Goodwill. We’ll be looking for a team of willing book sorters to do the work for Goodwill that will earn books for students.
We’re also talking with the school about providing a Christmas lunch for teachers and staff on Monday, December 17. We’ll have info for you soon on how the plans are shaping up and on how you can be involved and help us be good neighbors!
Ladies, have you added the RCC Women’s Christmas Tea to your holiday calendar yet? And are you available to help out with the event? Emily Davidson would love to hear from you! Here are all the details.
As we saw last Sunday, Queen Esther has agreed to put her life on the line for her people, the Jews. So when King Xerxes promises her that whatever she wishes will be granted, why does she hesitate? And why have two banquets before she tells her husband what’s on her mind?
We’re in Esther 5 this Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!