The very nature of faith according to Scripture is believing what cannot be seen. It’s understandable, then, that faith invites questions and even doubts. And in a world that values reason, logic, and thoughtful analysis, it’s natural that some question the rationality of Christianity. But Jesus doesn’t condemn this unbelief. On the contrary, he accommodates himself to meet us where we are and engage our doubts. Watch this sermon as we survey what faith is and consider why it is right and good for us to invite Jesus into the process of moving from doubt to belief.

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    Last week on Easter Sunday, I suggested that we have reached a critical inflection point within our culture. There have always been people who have been skeptical about the claims of the Christian faith. That's nothing new. But in the past, people might have struggled to believe in Christianity. And yet, at the very least, they still believed that Christianity was a positive benefit to society. And therefore, the driving question for the average skeptic was simply “Is Christianity true?” And that, of course, remains an important, vital question for us to ask.

    It does seem to me that things have begun to shift because there are more people who no longer assume that Christianity is actually a positive benefit to society. It seems that there are more people who believe that Christianity is harmful, and therefore the first question that people wonder about may not be “Is Christianity true?” but rather “Is Christianity good?” Is it good for you? Is it good for society? Is it good for the world? That changes things for a person like me because that means that in addition to trying to help you see that Christianity is in fact true, I have to help you see that it's also good — so good that you should want it to be true.

    Last week, on Easter Sunday, we launched a new sermon series which will carry us through the rest of the spring and in which we will consider some of the common contemporary challenges to the Christian faith in order to determine if Christianity is, in fact, good for you and good for the world. Last week, we began with the question “Is Christianity escapist?” Is it nothing more than an escapist fantasy? Today I'd like us to consider the question “Is Christianity irrational?”

    We live in a society — and, in fact, we live in a city — that prides itself on and prizes education, thoughtfulness, and the life of the mind. But many people assume that Christianity does not properly value reason, logic, or just plain common sense. For that reason, many people do think that Christianity is irrational. It's just a blind leap in the dark. Mark Twain once quipped that “Faith is believing what you know ain't so,” and you should never believe anything without good reason. Are the critics right? Is Christianity irrational? Is placing your faith in Jesus opposed to reason? Let's find out.

    What I'd like to do is take a look at one of the most famous stories of doubt and faith, not only in all of the Bible but perhaps in all of history. We're going to turn to the encounter between Jesus and the disciple we affectionately know as “Doubting Thomas.” As we do, I'd like us to consider three things: 1) what faith is, 2) how we get it, and 3) why it matters.

    24Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples 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.”

    26Eight 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.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but 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.

    What Faith Is

    First, let's consider what faith is. Here's the backstory. The passage opens by telling us that, for some reason, Thomas just happened to be somewhere else on that first Easter day when Jesus was raised from the dead. Did he forget to set his alarm? He didn't have any luck getting a cab? Maybe the trains were delayed because of weekend service changes? We don't know what he was doing or where he was, but he missed the whole thing.

    Later, the disciples tell Thomas that Jesus had presented himself to them alive again on the evening of that first Easter day, but Thomas is not going to be duped. He lays down the conditions that will be necessary for him to believe. He says, “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.” What I want you to notice, first of all, is that all of the gospels provide us with deeply honest accounts of doubt. John's gospel is not the only one. Matthew does the same thing. In Matthew 28, we're told that Jesus appears to his disciples, after his resurrection, on a mountain, and when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Or consider Mark 9. A father comes to Jesus in desperation because his son is sick, and the father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion and help us.” Jesus responds by saying, “If I can? If I can do anything? Anything is possible for the one who believes.” The father responds by saying, “I believe; help my unbelief.” That is a prayer that God will always answer. “I believe; help my unbelief.”

    In all these instances, notice that Jesus never chastises anyone for their doubt. He never makes them feel bad about it. He never says, “How dare you doubt me?” No, he always comes to people in patience. He's forbearing with those who haven't yet made up their minds about Jesus or don't quite know what to think. He always gives them time to process their questions and their doubts. I love this account of Thomas' doubt, not only because of its intellectual honesty but also because of the way it encourages all future doubters, like the rest of us. He shows us that Jesus isn't afraid of our doubt, but rather Jesus is willing to accommodate himself to us in our doubt. He engages our doubts. He meets us at our point of need in order to move us from doubt to faith.

    What do Christians then mean by faith? Christianity does not ask us to put blind faith in God, against all the evidence, but rather we're called to put our trust in God because there are good reasons for doing so. Perhaps I could offer this illustration. In 1859, a man named Charles Blondin became the first man to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope made entirely out of hemp — 1,300 feet long and two inches thick. 25,000 people gathered to see the stunt, and the smart money bet that he would plunge to a watery death below. He set out from the American side of Niagara Falls shortly before 5 p.m., and when he got about a third of the way across the line, he sat down on the cable, and then he signaled to the famous Maid of the Mist to anchor directly below him, and then he lowered down a rope and hoisted up a bottle of wine. Then he enjoyed a glass of wine before getting up and then running the rest of the way across the tightrope. Then he returned from the Canadian side carrying a tripod and a camera on his back. Before he came across to the American side, he stopped and snapped a photo of the crowd. Today, he would have snapped a selfie, of course, but it was a different era. He snaps a photograph of the American crowd and then completes his 23-minute journey across the falls and back. No one thought he could do it, but he did. He not only did it once, but he held a number of encore performances that summer of 1859. On one occasion he walked across the tightrope backwards. On another he wore a sack over his whole body, which blindfolded him. On one occasion he somersaulted and backfliped his way across and then returned from the Canadian side pushing a wheelbarrow.

    After everything that the people had seen, you could imagine Blondin could have asked the crowds, “Do you believe that I am capable of pushing someone in a wheelbarrow across the falls?” Based on everything they had witnessed, most people would probably say, “Yes, I bet he could do it.” You could also imagine him asking, “Do you agree that this is not some kind of trick?” Again, based on everything they'd seen, most people would say, “Yes, we agree. This is no charade.” But then imagine if he asked, “Would you be willing to get inside the wheelbarrow?” That's a different question. Believe it or not, at the end of July in 1859, Blondin appeared on the Canadian side of the falls with his manager, Harry Colcord, clinging to his back. Apparently before he set off, he said to Harry,

    “Don’t look down!

    Look up, Harry … You are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place, be a part of me, body, mind, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do, we will both go to our death.”

    On this particular crossing, a few of the guidelines snapped, but nevertheless, Blondin made it across carrying his manager on his back. We even have a photograph to prove it.

    I would suggest that this illustrates the essence of faith, and let me tell you why. Theologians talk about three dimensions to faith 1) knowledge, 2) assent, and 3) trust


    First of all, faith involves knowledge. There's real content to faith. You have to know something about God. Faith is not irrational or blind; rather, it's based on what we can know. It's based on what we can know about God based on what he has revealed to us about himself or about how he has acted in the past. Just as Blondin demonstrated his mastery over the tightrope before asking anyone to join him on the high wire, God reveals himself to us before he asks us to put our trust in him. There's real content to faith based on what God has revealed about himself, and specifically within the person of Jesus.


    Secondly, faith involves not only knowledge but also assent. You have to assent that the content of this knowledge is true — that it's not some kind of trick or charade or just a house of mirrors.


    Finally, and most importantly, faith involves trust. You have to personally trust God with your life. It's not enough to simply know a claim or to assent to a truth propositionally. You have to do something about it. You have to get in the wheelbarrow. You have to trust God with your life. That's my question for you: Have you done that?

    Here's the point. The fundamental message of Christianity is that we human beings are not the people that we're supposed to be. We've made a mess of things. There's nothing that we can do to make things right again in our relationship with God or with other people or even within ourselves. Try as we might, we can't completely eradicate our guilt or shame or regret. We can't get rid of evil and injustice, no matter how hard we try. We certainly can't do anything about suffering and death. But the gospel is the good news that by sheer grace, God can do for us what we could never do for ourselves through the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

    Here's the simplest way I could put it: Faith involves a transfer of trust. You transfer your trust from yourself to Jesus for your life, your future, you're standing before God. Rather than trusting in yourself, your own ability, your own record, your own performance, you trust Jesus, his record, his ability, his performance for your relationship with God and everything else. In a way it's a little bit like what Blondin said to his manager. “Don't look down. Look up.” Look at Jesus, not yourself. Look away from yourself. Look to him. Lose yourself in him. Be one with him, body, mind, and spirit. Don't try to do this yourself. You'll fail. You only do it in him, as him. That's what it means to be a Christian. My life is hid with Christ. Our life is hidden in his, and that is how we experience the life transformation that only he can bring. What is faith? Faith consists of knowledge, assent, and above all, trust. It involves a transfer of trust.

    How We Get It

    If that is what faith is, then how do we get it? We have to consider what God has revealed about himself. That's what happens to Thomas. After that first Easter day, one week later, on the following Sunday, Thomas is now back with the disciples. Apparently he set the clock. Jesus comes and stands among them. This time Jesus directly addresses Thomas, and how shocked Thomas must have been when he realizes that Jesus knew exactly what he had said one week before. Jesus says to him, “Go ahead, put your finger here and see my hands, and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe!”

    We don't know if Thomas actually put his finger in the marks in Jesus' hand. We don't know if Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ side. I tend to think not. John doesn't actually tell us. But what we do know is that upon seeing Jesus and hearing Jesus' words, Thomas busts out with the fullest confession of faith in the whole Gospel of John. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” He becomes the first person in the Gospel of John to directly address and to worship Jesus as God. But more than that, he doesn't just say, “You are the Lord and God,” but “my Lord, and my God.” It's personal. Why is it so personal? Because Jesus meets Thomas personally, individually, specifically, and graciously. He knows the doubts that were holding him back, and he accommodates himself to Thomas in order to move him from doubt to faith. He meets him at his point of need. He meets him in his doubt.

    Then Jesus offers this gentle rebuke to Thomas. But perhaps it wasn't really a rebuke after all. Perhaps really all it is is a great encouragement to the rest of us, because Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus blesses all those who without seeing him as the risen Lord have nevertheless believed in him. But notice that Jesus does not commend faith without evidence; he commends faith without sight. Faith is not irrational. He's not asking us to believe against all the evidence, but rather to believe because there are good reasons. It's true, we may not be able to see Jesus in the same way that Thomas did, but there are many things in life that we believe without seeing.

    How are we then supposed to come to faith? It's true that in a way that the apostles had it better because they could see Jesus' face with their own eyes. They could hear Jesus' voice with their own ears. They could touch Jesus' body with their own hands. But that is precisely why the apostles were uniquely authorized and commissioned to write down their testimony which has become for us the Gospels, so that we might come to believe through their credible witness. That's what John makes clear at the end of the passage. “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Here's the point. On that first Easter day, Thomas should have believed his friends when they told him that Jesus had appeared to them alive again, but he didn't. But the opportunity for us is to believe based on the credible witness of the apostles, and billions of people down through the centuries have done just that. They have trusted the testimony of the apostles, and they have discovered for themselves that Jesus is alive and real and personal to them.

    We're not supposed to exercise blind faith, but we're called to consider the good reasons for believing. How do we explore these reasons? We have to investigate the Scriptures for ourselves. God has given us his testimony through the Old Testament and the New Testament. We also need to read those Scriptures not in isolation but within the community of the church, with the Christians around the world and down through the ages who have gone before us. We also need to rely on the inward testimony, the inward work of the Holy Spirit, who brings the truth of the gospel home to our hearts and to our minds. The point is that we're called to explore the evidence. Christians are sometimes accused of being narrow and closed-minded. Perhaps in some ways we are, but Jesus was not. Jesus encourages us to explore the evidence with an open mind and to follow the truth, wherever it leads, and we might just be surprised by what we find.

    But still you might say, “I don't know if this is for me. I don't think I have enough faith to be a Christian. I don't have enough faith to believe all this stuff.” Here's an encouragement. Faith is described in the New Testament in a variety of different ways. On multiple occasions, Jesus asks his disciples, “Why do you have such little faith?” On another occasion, he asks them, “Where is your faith?”, which shows us that faith can be little. It can also be missing, at least temporarily. Where is it? Faith can also be described as great or strong. But here's the good news: Whether your faith is great or small, the tiniest little bit of faith will work. Why? Because the decisive factor is not the strength of your faith but rather the object of your faith. What really matters at the end of the day is not how great or small your faith is but rather where it is placed.

    Let me give you another analogy that might help draw this out. A number of years ago, our family spent Thanksgiving up on a lake in upstate New York, and the temperature plunged overnight. The next morning, the entire lake was covered with a thin layer of ice. The lake froze all at once because the temperature dropped so dramatically, and there was no wind at all, so when you looked out over the lake, it appeared like a perfectly clear, spotless piece of glass. It was beautiful. You could have walked down to the lake on that cold November morning with great faith that the ice would hold you up. Believe me, my children wanted to try. But you would have quickly discovered that your faith, in that instance, would have been seriously misplaced, because that ice, as beautiful as it was, was only an inch thick. If you stepped out onto that lake on that cold November morning, you would have fallen straight through.

    But there have been other times when our family has gone up to that same lake in the middle of February after months of subzero temperatures, and at those times, the ice was probably a foot thick or maybe even more. Let's say that you had a bad experience with ice in the past. Let's say you had walked out onto the ice one time and had fallen through. That would be a terrifying experience, would it not? You certainly wouldn't want that to happen to you again. Let's imagine you're up on the lake in the middle of February and the ice is a foot thick. Despite the fact that the ice is a foot thick, your faith that it'll hold you up is so small. You don't believe that it can bear your weight. But you see, it doesn't matter. If you have even the tiniest little bit of faith and you're willing to take a step out onto the ice, you will discover that it will hold you up. You see the decisive factor is not the relative strength of your faith but the object of your faith. Is it well placed? The heart of the gospel is that if you put the tiniest little bit of faith in God, you will stand because the real question is not whether or not your faith is weak or strong, but rather, where is it placed. And no matter how weak, no matter how small, no matter how frail your faith may be, Jesus is strong enough to hold you up. Even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. His grace is our ultimate security. That's why faith in the Bible is never considered irrational or a blind leap into the dark. We're not supposed to believe against all the evidence but rather in light of who God has revealed himself to be. When it comes to the Christian faith, we're not supposed to turn our brains off, but rather we're supposed to turn them on and explore the evidence for ourselves, read the Scriptures, read them in community with others, pray to the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will meet us at our point of need.

    Why Faith Matters

    If that's what faith is and how you get it, let me conclude very briefly by asking why it matters. It matters because what this passage shows us is that 1) faith is a process, 2) faith is a gift, and 3) faith is a life-changer.

    Faith Is A Process

    First of all, faith is a process. Even the original apostles needed time to process their questions and their doubts. You would think that if you fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus, you would airbrush out the part about the original apostles having doubts about it. Who's going to believe your story? But the gospels are intellectually honest, and they show us the apostles as they are. They have doubts, but Jesus never rebukes them for it. He never chastises them for it, which shows that there's nothing wrong. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having questions and doubts about the faith so long as we don't permanently remain in a state of unbelief. If that's true for them, how much more so is that true for us? What I want you to know is that this is a church that encourages your questions. We encourage your honest questions, and we'll seek to provide honest answers to those honest questions because we realize that faith is a process.

    Faith Is A Gift

    Second of all, faith is a gift. Thomas must have been shocked that Jesus knew the exact nature of his problem. And not only that, Jesus did something about it. Jesus accommodated himself to Thomas. He met him exactly at his point of need, and he addressed his doubt head on. I don't think that we should assume from this that Jesus will always provide us with just the exact proof that we're asking for. I don't think that that's likely to be the case. But Jesus does promise to meet us at our own point of need because faith is a gift. It's not something that we conjure up within ourselves, but rather Jesus meets us at our point of need in order to engage us and move us from doubt to faith. No matter what your particular issue may be, ask Jesus for the gift of faith. That is one prayer that he will always answer. “I believe, help my unbelief.”

    Faith Is A Life-Changer

    Finally, faith is a life-changer. Faith has the power to change your life. That's why John concludes this chapter by saying, “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.”

    In John 17 Jesus said that true life, real life, lasting life, the kind of life that we most want, the kind of life that we long for, comes from knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. In other words, it comes through faith. Consider what you can know about God — what he has revealed himself to be through the person of Jesus. But don't just assent to these truths; place your trust in him. In other words, get in the wheelbarrow, and it just might change your life.

    Let me pray for us.

    Father, we thank you that you are a God who invites and encourages honest questions, that you never rebuke us for our doubt, but rather you meet us at our point of need because faith is not irrational; it's not a blind leap in the dark. No, it involves knowledge, assent, and ultimately trust. Help us to ask the right questions and help us to move from doubt to belief so that we might discover who you really are and trust you with our lives. We pray in Jesus' name and for his sake. Amen.