Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. I am so very thankful to have all of you with us today to celebrate the greatest news in human history. That the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, and our Savior Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! He is risen and I pray today that all of you can feel it, that you’ll believe it, that you’ll see it, and then you’ll embrace it as I share with you a message called The Counselor.
Today we’re going to deal with a very important question that I believe hits one of the most important topics in faith communities, and yet, honestly, one of the least-talked-about subjects. We’re going to talk about spiritual doubts, when Jesus, The Counselor, asks the question, “Why do doubts rise in your mind?” Now for some of you this is not a problem, you don’t have a problem with doubt, because if the Bible says it, you believe it. But for many people is not quite that simple. A lot of people really want to believe, but they’re naturally skeptical, they want to believe, but they need some questions answered first.
As a matter of fact, that was the way I was growing up. Now I probably wasn’t the first teenager to have spiritual doubts, but often times it seemed that way growing up. You know, I grew up in a very traditional Roman Catholic church, and it was like my brothers and sisters had this rock-solid faith. But I would sit there in church and wonder, doubts would flash through my mind, what if this isn’t true, you know, what if this whole God things a myth?
And honestly, I wanted to believe, because when I looked at the world around me, when I saw the glory of creation, the very fact that we can reproduce, that there’s food and water, and everything sustains life; I knew the probability of there being somebody smarter than me that made all that was very likely. And so, even though the likelihood of intelligent design seemed so obvious, I had real doubts.
Now many years later, there are still many people who obviously doubt the existence of God. There are even people who believe with all their hearts that there is no way that God exists. There are other people who will give God the benefit of the doubt, thinking that there’s probably some kind of higher power, but he’s obviously not paying attention or he just doesn’t seem to care. And then there’s those people who doubt that God could actually love them, you know, after all they’ve done how could God love them or forgive them. And then there’s those people who want to believe in God, but then they met some Christians, how could they believe in a God whose followers are so messed up?
And so, honestly, doubt comes in all shapes and forms and so today I want to consider the foundation of our faith. You see, one of the big problems today is that so many people just kind of believe, because their parents believe, they believe because other people believe, and so what we have is a bunch of “sort of” Christians, because we “sort of” believe. But when life happens, when something shakes that little bit of faith that you have, and you find yourself asking, “Do I really believe this? Is Jesus really the only way to God? I mean, did he really rise from the dead?” To answer those questions we really need to be biblically, historically informed, and so we can’t miss the testimony of those first followers, those who were eyewitnesses.
You see, before Jesus was murdered on the cross, he told his followers,
“I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
And so, Jesus promised, to give us a counselor who will be with us forever, one whom the Father would send in Jesus name who will teach us all things and remind us of everything he said. In John chapter 15 Jesus said,
"When the Counselor comes… he will testify about me” (John 15:26).
Now, I believe this morning, that The Counselor, the presence of God, is going to give some of you what you need to believe, just like Jesus did for me. You know, I was a doubter, I believed that there was a God, but like James said,
“Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (James 2:19).
And so, I went to high school wanting to believe, but didn’t really have the faith to believe and like a lot of you in school, I fell into a lot of sinful behavior. And you know it was fun for a while, but I knew coming out of college that there was so much more to life. One day what happened was that many years later I was invited to and began to attend a Bible study. I began to read the Bible and I found I couldn’t put it down. I was reading about all this amazing stuff, and it was messing me up, it was getting into my heart, and I was wanting to believe. You know, I read that Jesus died and rose again. I read it in Matthew’s gospel, I read it in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus died and rose again, and it’s confirmed again in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus died and in chapter 24 it says it this way…
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them” (Luke 24:1-4).
Matthew adds this detail in his gospel account:
“The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6).
Luke tells us in verse nine,
“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:9-11).
Later that same day, two of the disciples were traveling along the road discussing everything that happened when Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but the Bible tells us “they did not recognize him” in his resurrected body. As they approached the village to which they were going they urged Jesus to stay with them since it was late. Luke tells us in verse 30,
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:30-32).
Verse 33, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them assembled together saying, "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” (Luke 24:33-35).
“While they were still talking about this,” verse 36 tells us, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (Luke 24:36-37).
“He said to them, verse 38, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 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” (Luke 24:38-39).
Now here is a group of guys that have been ministering with Jesus for three years and yet they’re doubting, they’re confused, but now they’re believing because suddenly the resurrection became personal. And that’s what happened to me, that’s what I’m believing will happen to many of you this weekend, that something is going to get in your heart and you’re going to stop doubting and believe.
This morning, the counselor asks, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds” (Luke 24:38)?
I remember reading this the first time and it was getting into my heart; I was believing and I was wrestling with it because I was beginning to feel bad about all the people I’d hurt and all the things I’d done wrong. I began wondering how could I ever be right with God? And God in his grace revealed the Scriptures to me in Romans, but the clincher was when he brought me over to Ephesians and I read chapter 2, specifically verses eight and nine:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
At that very moment, when I read about the grace of God, that I couldn’t be made right with him based upon my good works, but only by grace, by believing in him. Suddenly it all came together and I got it, I could only be saved by grace through faith, and in that moment I stop doubting and believed. You see, it was the testimony of those eyewitnesses to Jesus, who they were and their stories, that built my faith.
You know, like Peter who said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." And Jesus replied, "Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34). And sure enough, before the death of Jesus, three different times, Peter said, “I don’t know him. I’ve never heard of him. And I don’t know who you’re talking about.” He failed Jesus, he let him down, but after the resurrection, Jesus appears to him and forgives him. Peter is so transformed that he becomes a rock and when they threatened him, “Unless you deny your faith we’re going to kill you.” He says, “Never again will I deny my Lord and my Savior.” History tells us that as they went to crucify him he said, “I am unworthy to die as my Savior died.” So they crucified him upside down and the same Jesus that Peter denied was the same Jesus that Peter was willing to die for.
Or how about James, the brother of Jesus? What would it take for you to believe that your half-brother was the Son of God? After the resurrection of Jesus, his half-brother James became the leader of the Jerusalem church. Tradition tells us, that about A.D. 62 the enemies of Christ confronted James saying, “Renounce your faith or we’ll kill you.” He refused, and so they pushed him off the temple, he fell about 100 feet but didn’t die. They assaulted him again on the ground, stoning him and saying, “Renounce your faith.” James looked up to heaven, just as Jesus did, and said, “Father, please forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.” Early church father, Eusebius, records that they beat him to death with a club. The fact that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was willing to die for the name of Jesus builds my faith.
And certainly, the apostle Paul had quite a testimony. You know, he was one who hated Christians, he was an enemy of Christ, and even persecuted the church. That is, until one day he meets the risen Christ, is gloriously redeemed, and so transformed that he becomes the leader of those that he hated. He preaches with such zeal that he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). And yet, he was imprisoned, flogged, exposed to death time and time again. Five times he received 39 lashes from the Jews, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, and three times he was shipwrecked. He tells us in second Corinthians chapter 11,
“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:26-28).
Yet when they finally captured him, they tortured him saying, “Renounce your faith.” He said, “I will never do so.” And so they beheaded the one who once hated Christ, but who was now willing to die for Christ. And I’ll tell you, that kind of testimony builds my faith!
Jesus asked, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? (Luke 24:38).
The reality is, some of you have heard the story of Jesus and you’ve seen a lot of Easter’s, but your mind is still not open to the truth of the gospel. The Bible says it this way, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And some of you have heard the story of Jesus, but you haven’t really seen it as it applies to you, because when you really see it, you can’t stay the same. I’m not talking about going to church, I’m talking about becoming radical followers of our risen Savior and King Jesus Christ.
When you understand for yourself that the empty tomb means you can be forgiven, you can be healed, and you can make a difference, that makes all the difference in the world. Hebrews chapter 10 encourages us, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). It’s that kind of believing that challenges our way of living, because now you can invest your life in eternal things, because Jesus’ resurrection truly makes all difference in the world!
You see, Jesus said, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).
Do you believe enough to live for him? The testimony of Jesus builds my faith, when I think about these things, my faith just gets louder, it gets bolder, and the Bible says,
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Now my faith is not a perfect faith, but when I press into God, he reveals himself to me and moves me through my doubts, to a faith that believes the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen. And so with billions of believers around the world we gather together today to say that we believe Jesus is the Son of God. We believe the tomb is empty. And we believe he is risen.
Some of you this morning walked in with doubts and that’s a good place to start, because it’s worthy of asking the real questions. Doubt is not the end of true faith. For many it is just the beginning. And I believe at this moment, there are those of you who because of the presence of God, you will stop doubting, and you will believe.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
April 16, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.