When It’s Hard to Believe

John 20:19-31

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I came across a rather interesting story recently about a community in the south whose entire economy revolved around the cotton crop.  One year though the boll weevil came in and completely destroyed that crop, leaving some of the farmers destitute, near bankruptcy.  But rather than give up, they re-grouped.  One of them came up with the rather novel idea of planting peanuts instead of cotton, which they did.  And lo and behold, the peanut crop brought far more prosperity to the area and to the individual farmers than any cotton crop they’d ever had.  And to this day, if you visit this small town in Alabama, at the intersection of the 2 main roads that go through the town you will see, believe it or not, a statue of a boll weevil.  At the base of that statue it says: “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the Herald of Prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

Now I’m sure most of you had no idea what a boll weevil even looked like until you saw the picture on the screen, but I would also imagine that when the boll weevil was wreaking its havoc upon the cotton crop in that area, if you had told the farmers there that the day would come when they would actually memorialize that creature and erect a statue in their community in its honor and give thanks for what it was doing, they would have laughed at you.  They wouldn’t have believed you.

And you know what?  I think Thomas would have done the same thing.  If you were alive at the time when Jesus was crucified and had sought Thomas out after Jesus died and put your arm around this grieving disciple and said to him, “Thomas, I know it’s hard for you to imagine, but the time will come when what you see right now as a tragedy will be viewed as a triumph.  Someday, Thomas, people are going to take the cross that Jesus died on and memorialize it.  They’re going to wear it around their necks.  They’re going to put it on the tops of church steeples.  They’re going to write beautiful songs about it.  And what for you right now is a symbol of tragedy is going to become a symbol of triumph.”  If you could have said that to Thomas, do you think he would have believed you?  Doubtful, right?

Just like you may not believe me were I to sit down with you and say, “You know the financial struggles you’re going through right now?  Someday you may very well thank God for them.”  Or, “You know that job you just lost, someday you’ll see how God used that for your good.”  Or, “You know that illness that your loved one has been battling?  Someday you may see that God was able to use that as a blessing, though right now it seems like a curse.”

My friends, sometimes it is hard to believe, isn’t it?  You know that, I know that, and God knows that.  And because of that, I want to use our time this morning talking about that very issue, using Thomas as our guide.

And the 1st of 2 things we can learn from Thomas today is that small dreams lead to small faith.  Now some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, Pastor.  It’s not that my dreams are too small.  If anything, they’re probably too big.  You see, I have this dream of living in a beautiful home with a happy family and working at a job that I enjoy going to everyday.”  And all of that’s fine and dandy.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, but could it be that from God’s perspective those are small things compared to the far greater things he wants to do in your life?

You see, I think that was the problem with Thomas.  Now we don’t know a whole lot about this disciple who has the rather unfortunate reputation of being known as the doubter.  But a few weeks before Jesus died we see that Thomas had certain expectations of Jesus.  In John 11 Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to go to Jerusalem even though he knew good and well that the Jewish religious leaders were waiting for him there looking for an opportunity to kill him.  Thomas’ response is somewhat courageous when he turns to his fellow disciples and says,“Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Now what did he mean by that?  Well, I suspect Thomas had the same mistaken views about the Messiah as most Jews had back then.  He thought Jesus had come to fight a battle, to defeat Rome and re-establish Israel as the great and glorious nation it used to be centuries before under King David and King Solomon.  He had high hopes that Jesus would be another Alexander the Great, a mighty military hero who would conquer the enemy.

Now folks, to Thomas and the other disciples, those were pretty lofty dreams.  But to God, that was kids’ stuff.  You see, they wanted Jesus to fight Caesar while God sent him to this earth to fight Satan.  They wanted Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom, but he wanted to set up a heavenly kingdom that would last forever.  They wanted Jesus to conquer Rome while he came to conquer far greater enemies like sin, death, and hell.  And because they didn’t understand God’s goals for them, they were disappointed when Jesus failed to meet theirs.

Think of it this way.  If a father sat his 5-year-old son down and said, “Son, I want you to tell me what you expect of me as your father,” what do you think that 5-year-old would say?  He’d probably say, “Oh, what I hope you do as my dad is buy me ice cream every day and play catch with me every evening and take me to Six Flags every weekend.”  Now that’s pretty lofty stuff for a 5-year-old, isn’t it?  But the 5-year-old doesn’t understand that a responsible father is thinking of things that a 5-year-old has probably never heard of before like tuition, mortgage, budget, insurance, and so on.  A 5-year-old can’t comprehend those things, can he?  And if the father limits what he does for his son to ice cream and Six Flags, he’s not being a very responsible dad, is he?

In a very similar way, what if God limited what he does for us only to what we want?  You see, God has a dream that one day you will inhabit the mansions of heaven and live with him forever.  Yet your dream is that someday you’ll live in a nice home with all the modern conveniences of life.  See the difference?  God’s dream is that someday you’ll live in perfect harmony with him and everyone else in heaven.  Your dream is that your husband will quit being a grouch or that your wife will quit being a nag.  God has a dream that one day you will inhabit a brand new perfect glorified body that he wants to give to you when Christ comes again.  Your dream is that you might lose 15 pounds so that you can fit in the skinny clothes that you keep in your closet in the hopes of getting into them again someday.  And when we don’t achieve our dreams and goals, we get mad at God for not giving them to us.  Could it be, my friends, that some of our faith struggles occur not because we ask so much of God, but because we ask so little?  Or maybe I should say, because we ask for the wrong things, things that really aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of eternity.

Listen for a moment to 3 Scripture passages that remind us that God has far greater things in store for us than what we are usually thinking of.  In Isaiah 55:8-9 he says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  In I Cor. 2:9 the Apostle Paul writes:  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  And lastly, in Eph. 4:20 we are told that he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

So my friends, if God doesn’t grant you exactly what you ask of him, don’t give up on him.  Don’t bail out on him.  Just trust him and believe that the One who would rather die for you than spend eternity without you has even greater and better things in store for you than what you asked for.

Then the 2nd thing we can learn from Thomas today when we find it hard to believe is thatisolation leads to desperation.  Thomas was the only disciple who was not present that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to his disciples behind locked doors.  Perhaps he felt the need to get away by himself, to sort through his thoughts, to deal with his doubts, to try to make sense of all that had just happened over the past few days.  And we may feel like doing the same and withdrawing from God’s people when we’re going through our faith struggles.  But that’s not always the wisest thing to do because just like happened with Thomas, when we do that, that isolation may not only lead to greater desperation, it may also mean that we miss out on something very wonderful and meaningful that can happen when God’s people get together and that can also help us with our struggles.

Recently I read a great psalm that bears out this truth, written not by David, but by a fellow named Asaph.  And in this psalm he kind of complains to God and says things that you may have said at some time or another or at least felt like saying.  He says:

“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills…This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth.  Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure.”


You ever felt like that, my friends?  You ever felt like being a Christian isn’t all it’s cracked up to be because you look around and see all these godless and wicked people just kind of coasting through life, while it seems like you’re always struggling?  I think we’ve all felt that way at some time or another.  That’s why I want you to notice what Asaph says next in this psalm.  He says: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God.”

So where did he find the answer to his struggles and doubts?  In the sanctuary of God.  In other words, in church, where he would not only be immersed in the faithful teaching of God’s Word which tells us all about a God whose love for us knows no limits or bounds and who has done everything possible and everything necessary to rescue us from our sins, but where he would also be surrounded by God’s caring people.  Make no mistake about it, my friends, there is value in being in God’s house on God’s day with God’s people.  That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 10, verse 25 of that book:  “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

And while we can certainly encourage one another in a variety of ways by supporting each other and praying for each other and sympathizing with each other, the greatest encouragement we can give to one another as well as to those outside of our church family is the hope of heaven, the assurance that this cold cruel world is not all there is to life, but that Jesus through his life, his death, and his resurrection has earned for us and God has prepared for us a life in heaven that will far outshine and exceed even the best of days that we have here.  That’s why the hymnwriter wrote in the words we sang before the sermon:  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone; because I know He holds the future; and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

If you don’t mind, I’d like to close this sermon by praying for all of you here today who are going through faith struggles right now, all who are finding it hard to believe.  I don’t know who all of you are or what you may be going through, but God does.  So let’s talk to him:

Father, we extend our hearts and our hands to you right now.  And we ask you to not necessarily take the storms of life away from us, but to just take us through those storms.  To not take away all our pains, but to just hold our hand through the pain.  To not take away the mountains before us, but to lead us up and over those mountains.  We believe from your Word, Father, that you will not call us to go through any valley that is too deep or climb any mountain that is too high.  Nor will you call us to go where you have not already been.  Father, we trust you because you have proven yourself to be so trustworthy.  And when we falter in our faith, may our prayer be that of the man who brought his son to Jesus for help:  “Lord, I do believe; please help me overcome my unbelief.”  Finally, Father, I pray for each person here this morning who has come here with a faith struggle; each person who right now is finding it hard to believe.  May they leave here today with a new and fresh sense of your presence to face the challenges that lie before them with the confidence and assurance that you are by their side.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.