Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 16 April 2017

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But Some Doubted

 

When Jesus rose from the dead, he met up with his disciples proving to them that he was alive. But there were challenges, which were of such an order, that even Bible experts struggle with what the Bible is saying. Can you help me, please? I read a few verses to you, and then ask you a question.

 

Matthew 28:16-20:  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Who was doubting? Who was doubting that the person in front of them was the risen Jesus? Who did the doubters belong to? What group? Who went to Galilee, to the moutain where Jesus had told them to go?

Why would commentators of the Bible struggle with the suggestion that some of the eleven doubted meeting the risen Jesus?

 

The Expositor’s Greek Testament, edited by W. Robertson Nichols: Various methods have been adopted to get rid of the unwelcome conclusion that some of the eleven did not do homage, e.g., by taking ἐδίστασαν as a pluperfect (Fritzsche, Grotius), or by finding the doubters among the 500 mentioned by St. Paul (1Corinthians 15:6), or even by altering the text οἱ δὲ into οὐδέ (Beza). The whole narrative is so brief and vague as to lend support to the hypothesis that in the appearance of Jesus here recorded we have not one particular occurrence, but a general picture of the Christophanies, in which mingled conflicting feelings of reverent recognition and hesitation as to the identity of the person played their part. Such is the view of Keil, Steinmeyer, and Holtzmann (H. C.).

 

Henry Alford: The Greek Testament: The impression given by it is that the majority of the eleven worshipped Him, but some doubted (not, whether they should worship Him; which is absurd and not implied in the word. On οἱ δέ, cf. ch. Mat_26:67. ᾧχοντο εἰς Δεκέλειαν, οἱ δʼ ἐς Μέγαρα, Xen. Hell. i. 2. 14: see also Anab. i. 5. 13). This however would hardly be possible, after the two appearances at Jerusalem in Joh_20:1-31. We are therefore obliged to conclude that others were present. Whether these others were the ‘500 brethren at once’ of whom Paul speaks 1Co_15:6, or some other disciples, does not appear. Olshausen and Stier suppose, from the previous announcement of this meeting, and the repetition of that announcement by the angel, and by our Lord, that it probably included all the disciples of Jesus; at least, all who would from the nature of the case be brought together.

 

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted” — certainly none of “the Eleven,” after what took place at previous interviews in Jerusalem. But if the five hundred were now present, we may well believe this of some of them.

 

John Gill: Exposition of the Entire Bible: “but some doubted”; or “some of them”, as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it; that is, some of the eleven disciples: not that they doubted now that Christ was risen from the dead; since he had appeared several times to them before this, and had given them all the proofs of the truth of his resurrection they could desire; but they, who worshipped him now in Galilee, had doubted before in Jerusalem; not only Thomas, but all of them: they looked upon the words of the women as idle tales; nor did the rest believe the two disciples, with whom Christ travelled to Emmaus: wherefore he upbraids them for their unbelief, Luk_24:11, or else the sense is, that some of them, though they believed Christ was risen from the dead, of which they had had the strongest assurance; yet they doubted whether what they then saw on the mountain was he, or whether it was not a spirit, or a mere phantom; and therefore, as in the next verse, he "came" nearer to them, when they knew him: or else this may be understood of some of the seventy disciples, or of the five hundred brethren, who saw him at this time, and at first had some doubts of his resurrection, but were afterwards fully satisfied.

 

The Bible text is not complicated and the plain meaning surely suggests that some of the eleven doubted the risen Jesus – so also one of the best Bible commentaries on Matthew in our time:

 

R. T. France: The Gospel of Matthew: Matthew has very specifically limited the number of people present to eleven, and has mentioned no additional group whose reaction may be contrasted with that of the eleven. Moreover, if the conjunction hoi de, “but some,” were intended to denote a separate group it would naturally be preceded by hoi men; coming as it does after a clause describing the reaction of the eleven as a group but without men, it is best understood as introducing a counter-current within that group, affecting some but not all of them.

 

Why do so many Bible commentators question and reject the idea that some of the eleven doubted the appearance of the risen Jesus in Galilee? These were the men that Jesus had called to follow him right when he began to preach and teach, and heal the sick, perform miracles and drive out unclean spirits. For about three years, these men had lived with Jesus 24/7, and they had experienced one supernatural highlight after another:

 

Matthew 8:14-17: When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

 

Matthew 10:1-8: Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…”

 

Matthew 14:15-21: As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Matthew 14:22-36: Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

 

In addition, Jesus forewarned them about his death on a cross, and he foretold them the resurrection. The man that was multiplying food, that was raising the dead and preaching the power of God’s kingdom announced to them beforehand what would happen:

 

Matthew 16:21: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (See also Matthew 17:22-23; 20:17-19.)

 

What seems to astound many Bible commentators is that people that had such experiences with Jesus – the eleven (the core group whom Jesus mentored personally) – could still doubt him when everything happened exactly as he had foretold them. But are we so different from the eleven? Are there not some of us that keep doubting despite Jesus proving himself to us again and again?

Have we experienced anything with Jesus? Have you? There is the permanent miracle ofglory sparklesappearing on our skin, and then there are countless other testimonies. Only last week, I shared how one of Dan’s leg grew out by about three centimetres to be of the same length as his other leg. Is this a miracle? (Yes.) Will this be the end of all doubting even in Dan’s life? (Probably not.)

 

What other recent miracles have we experienced? At the combined healing night, one man had been healed of sleep apnea. Nadia had a healing from low iron levels and when her nine-week-old son William prayed for her painful left shoulder that had been dislocated quite some time ago, the shoulder was completely healed. A “miraculous wind” had lifted Maddy from her seat when an altar call was given for salvation.

When we gave a seminar at Murrumba Downs, one woman had significant deliverance from unclean spirits which first stirred in her stomach, towards the end held on to her throat (choking her and causing strange jaw movements), but were finally expelled in Jesus’ name (with much coughing and doubling over). She had been hating her mother for years and her intense feelings of unforgiveness had opened the door to this kind of oppression.

Sarah had an encounter with God the Father in heaven where he was showing off and presenting his beloved girl to the all the company of heaven.

 

After having experienced so much with Jesus, will we finally be able to put doubts behind us? All of the eleven had faith. They only showed up in Galilee because Jesus had commanded them to go there and meet up with him on a specific mountain. They went by faith and Jesus kept his appointment with them, and still some doubted.

 

Matthew 28:16:  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

 

 What is going on here? The human mind gets in the way. Even in the church, when our minds are made up and we are set in our understanding of truth, then almost no amount of evidence – be the miracles ever so confronting and magnificent – can shift our thinking. God proves his reality by granting us an experience of it, but we manage to ignore what we have experienced, because we cannot change our traditions and traditional ways of thinking.

The clearest example of what I mean is also recorded in the Bible book of Matthew. If I had been Jesus in this Bible story, at the end I would have shaken and strangled the disciples in frustration. What does it take for people to fall into line with God?

 

Matthew 17:1-13: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

 

The disciples experienced how Jesus was transfigured before them, his face beginning to shine like the sun and his clothes becoming as white as the light. Then, they recognized that Moses and Elijah, two of the mightiest prophet of old, appeared before them and talked to Jesus. Then, a bright cloud covered them (known from Bible stories as being the cloud of God’s presence) and out of the cloud the voice of God the Father spoke to them, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

There was no doubt that the experience was real and impacting: “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.” But then Jesus was back to his old self, and the disciples were walking down the mountain with him, when a previous idea (a previous understanding, a mind-set) reasserted itself. For the disciples, something was not lining up. They had thought that Elijah (a promised second appearing of this ancient prophet) must come before the Messiah, the Saviour King, whom they apparently just experienced on the mountain. No matter what the voice spoke from the cloud, this could not be right unless Elijah appeared first.

Jesus clarified that John the Baptist was the promised Elijah figure, but that was also not easily acceptable, (because Elijah had performed miracles and John had performed none, and John was simply not the same person as Elijah). Yet, Jesus expected his disciples to pay attention to their experience of him and submit to his revealed truth rather than all of their preconceived ideas.

Do you have hang-ups of the mind that prevent you to celebrate Jesus on Easter morning? When I was growing up, many people in the church were embarrassed by miracles, even the resurrection of Jesus, because they did not seem to be scientific enough. In an age of materialism, secularism and rationalism, “enlightened mindsjudged faith in a risen Saviour as clinging to a primitive world-view. (But many healings are verifiable. You can tell when a leg has grown three centimetres.)

What is your hang-up? Has it been popular to dismiss the church crowd and give up on the old-fashioned notion of going to church? But now God proves that he is not giving up on his people so easily, and bears witness to Jesus with power in ordinary church services.

Peter, one of the core disciples, had another problem, which led him to argue with Jesus:

 

Matthew 16:21-23: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

Peter objected to Jesus’ announcement of suffering, because this did not line up with his own expectation of a permanent procession of triumph, proclaiming the kingdom of God with power, until (as Jesus promised) nations would be discipled and come into obedience to Jesus.

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…

 

If Jesus managed to quieten storms, multiply food, heal the sick by touch, and command any unclean spirit to leave, why was there a need for struggle and suffering and death? But Jesus operated in power through sacrifice – humility and absolute submission to his Father in heaven – and he taught that it would be the same for us:

 

Matthew 16:24-28: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

Personal suffering is probably the most powerful source of confusion, because we keep expecting God (who raised Jesus from the dead) to do more now – right away – and not after a time of disciplining or testing or warfare or spending our lives in a sacrifice of love.

None of the eleven became lost in their doubts. They all (except for one) ended up as martyrs for their faith and Jesus whom they trusted with their lives. What helped them to overcome their doubt? I read the verses to you again:

 

Matthew 28:16-20:  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

They doubted but they did not give in to their doubt. At the very least, they gave Jesus a chance to prove himself by going up to Galilee and check out the mountain where Jesus promised to meet up with them. They even worshipped him with the others. When they saw Jesus or the man that the others believed to be Jesus, they all knelt down in worship.

 

The only other time that this particular word for “doubt” is used in Matthew is when Peter walked on water and then came to doubt that this was possible which made him sink in the water. Jesus asked him: “Why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31: “And Peter answered Him and said, “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So, he said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’

Peter had faith – reckless boldness – and succeeded in joining Jesus walking on water, but doubts can rise nevertheless, because the wind can be boisterous and we become afraid. Yet, we can choose faith. At the very least, cry out to Jesus when we are sinking. We do not have to be in two minds.

 

You can have doubts but you do not have to give in to them. And you can draw strength from the others. If you are wavering a little, it helps to be in a band of brothers whom you have learned to trust over the years.

Resisting doubts (at this stage) was not unreasonable. They had experienced much with Jesus. The previous three years did happen. They may have wondered about another trip to remote Galilee to a remote mountain, but they had experienced enough to give Jesus the benefit of doubt, and were making a choice to act on whatever little faith they had and not act out their doubts and simply leave. Many a time, faith is what we do, not what we feel or think.

And then confirming experiences are bound to happen. Jesus actually came closer – Matthew 28:17-18: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said…” Jesus sent the disciples out to disciple nations under his authority after he had promised them that he would never leave them and that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. Shem was the one that prayed for Dan’s leg to lengthen. He had never done this before, but he had enough faith to give it a go. You do not have to give in to your doubts or embarrassing self-consciousness. Worship the risen Jesus with others around you, and try out the promised life with him. From the beginning – from the first time of preaching to a crowd – much happened.

 

Acts 2:32-47: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…

Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words, he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke breadin their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Another part of the Bible spells out how you can hear the good news of Jesus but not benefit from the message, because you choose unbelief:

 

Hebrews 4:2 [AMP]: For indeed we have had the good news [of salvation] preached to us, just as the Israelites also [when the good news of the promised land came to them]; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it was not united with faith [in God] by those who heard.

 

This Easter Sunday – like some of the eleven meeting up with the risen Jesus in Galilee – you may still doubt a little, but you can worship with the others and act on the faith that you do have. We are in this together, and the life with the risen Jesus does not disappoint.

Maybe I can identify two further reasons why some would doubt the risen Jesus in Galilee. (1) After witnessing the cruel torture of Jesus on the cross, mourning a few days, receiving the shock news of the resurrection, processing some first encounters with Jesus, packing up the gear and seeking Jesus again on a mountain in Galilee, the traumatic stress of it all can rob you of the emotional energy for faith. And (2) Jesus’ commission todisciple nations” – the enormity of this task – can be another trigger that pushes you over the edge into doubt and unbelief. How will that ever be accomplished? It cannot be done. This is all ridiculous.

 

Charles Spurgeon: The Minister’s Fainting Fits: The times most favourable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in a brief catalogue. First among them I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint. It might be imagined that amid special favours our soul would soar to heights of ecstacy, and rejoice with joy unspeakable, but it is generally the reverse. The Lord seldom exposes his warriors to the perils of exultation over victory; he knows that few of them can endure such a test, and therefore dashes their cup with bitterness. See Elias after the fire has fallen from heaven, after Baal’s priests have been slaughtered and the rain has deluged the barren land. For him, no notes of self-complacent music, no strutting like a conqueror in robes of triumph; he flees from Jezebel, and feeling the revulsion of his intense excitement, he prays that he may die, lie who must never see death, yearns after the rest of the grave, even as Caesar, the world’s monarch, in his moments of pain cried like a sick girl. Poor human nature cannot bear such strains as heavenly triumphs bring to it; there must come a reaction. Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions.

While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself. Secretly sustained, Jacob can wrestle all night, but he must limp in the morning when the contest is over, lest he boast himself beyond measure. Paul may be caught up to the third heaven, and hear unspeakable things, but a thorn in time flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, must be the inevitable sequel. Men cannot bear unalloyed happiness; even good men are not yet fit to have “their brows with laurel and with myrtle bound,” without enduring secret humiliation to keep them in their proper place. Whirled from off our feet by a revival, carried aloft by popularity, exalted by success in soul-winning, we should be as the chaff which the wind driveth away, were it not that the gracious discipline of mercy breaks the ships of our vainglory with a strong east wind, and casts us shipwrecked, naked and forlorn, upon the Rock of Ages.

Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them? We are ready to cast down our weapons and take to our heels. Nineveh is a great city, and we would flee unto Tarshish sooner than encounter its noisy crowds. Already we look for a ship which may bear us quietly away from the terrible scene, and only a dread of tempest restrains our recreant footsteps. Such was my experience when I first became a pastor in London. My success appalled me; and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depth, out of which I uttered my miserere and found no room for a gloria in excelsis. Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake me to my village obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods, where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my life-work, and I dreaded what it might reveal. I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious providence had prepared for me. I felt myself a mere child, and trembled as I heard the voice which said, “Arise, and thresh the mountains, and make them as chaff.”

This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while his servant keepeth the sheep and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn. The mariners go down to the depths, but the next wave makes them mount to the heaven: their soul is melted because of trouble before he bringeth them to their desired haven.

 

See also Charles Spurgeon: The Minister’s Fainting Fits: Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. Probably, if we were more like Paul, and watched for souls at a nobler rate, we should know more of what it is to be eaten up by the zeal of the Lord’s house. It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Even John the Baptist is thought to have had his fainting fits, and the apostles were once amazed, and were sore afraid.

Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond, and apart from others. The most loving of his people cannot enter into his peculiar thoughts, cares, and temptations. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. So, in our churches, the man whom the Lord raises as a leader becomes, in the same degree in which he is a superior man, a solitary man. The mountain-tops stand solemnly apart, and talk only with God as he visits their terrible solitudes. Men of God who rise above their fellows into nearer communion with heavenly things, in their weaker moments feel the lack of human sympathy. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering. No one knows, but he who has endured it, the solitude of a soul which has outstripped its fellows in zeal for the Lord of hosts: it dares not reveal itself, lest men count it mad; it cannot conceal itself, for a fire burns within its bones: only before the Lord does it find rest. Our Lord’s sending out his disciples by two and two manifested that he knew what was in men; but for such a man as Paul, it seems to me that no helpmeet was found; Barnabas, or Silas, or Luke, were hills too low to hold high converse with such a Himalayan summit as the apostle of the Gentiles. This loneliness, which if I mistake not is felt by many of my brethren, is a fertile source of depression; and our ministers, fraternal meetings, and the cultivation of holy intercourse with kindred minds will, with God’s blessing, help us greatly to escape the snare.

 

This Easter Sunday – like some of the eleven meeting up with the risen Jesus in Galilee – you may still doubt a little, but you can worship with the others and act on the faith that you do have. We are in this together, and the life with the risen Jesus does not disappoint.

Can I invite everyone, even if you have never done this before, to join us in the joy of the Easter greeting? Pastor: “Jesus is risen.” Congregation: “He is risen indeed.” This is what we believe. Amen.

 

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book III, Ch 2.15: For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful.

 

Doubt and the Apologist by Andrew Hoffecker (www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/doubt-and-the-apologist/):

Doubt” is to a Christian apologist what “choke” is to a professional athlete and “block” to a best-selling novelist. You expect Michael Jordan to score with seconds on the clock and Tom Clancy to write as deadlines approach. And C.S. Lewis should radiate unflinching certainty against rational attacks on Christianity. But life does not always conform to the ideal. If choking is commonplace in athletes, and writer’s block freezes untold authors, are apologists immune to doubt?

A case in point involved C.S. Lewis’ activity in the Oxford Socratic Club. Established with Lewis’ encouragement in 1941, the Socratic boasted of being Oxford’s second largest student organization during the forties. Upwards of 80 enthusiastic undergraduates crowded together from 8:15–10:30 Monday evenings. Their purpose? Unabashedly intellectual—to debate the pros and cons of Christianity.

The format called for an opening attack or defense of Christian belief—the problem of evil, arguments for the existence of God, or Christ’s claims of deity—followed by rebuttal. In “Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club,” Lewis articulated the society’s raison d’etre: obey Socrates’ exhortation to “follow the argument wherever it led them.” Lewis and his friends believed that while participants harbored prejudices, arguments did not. Honest debates thrived on argument which, being impartial, had a life of its own.

Lewis’ participation in weekly presentations highlighted the evening. His mere presence guaranteed that intellectual doubt would diminish and orthodox Christian belief would prevail. As president of the club, Lewis had the honor of first response to the invited guest—he was David, fully armed with logic and wit, to slay an unsuspecting Goliath. A master of repartee, Lewis engaged in lively debate with some of the most famous critics of Christianity. To the enormous delight of his followers, Lewis unstintingly defended even the most difficult doctrines, then launched effective counterattacks against opposing views.

But on February 2, 1948, Lewis met his match, perhaps more. And not in atheist or agnostic garb. Elizabeth Anscombe, a Catholic philosopher, attacked major points in Lewis’ argument in chapter 3 of Miracles, “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist.” Anscombe and Lewis shared many characteristics both in mind and personality which admirably suited them to public debate. Both loved mental battle if not verbal swaggering, essential qualities to survive in the Socratic forum.

The evening became legendary as the most exciting and dramatic of the Socratic’s twelve-year history. Supporters of both sides claimed victory including (according to selective reports) both combatants. But Lewis scholars now differ radically in their assessment of the debate and its affect on Lewis. Several of his associates, describing his and their spirits in gloomy detail, claimed that Lewis admitted defeat and became very depressed. A pupil confided to his diary that Lewis’ usual graphic imagery “was all of the fog of war, the retreat of infantry thrown back under heavy attack.” George Sayer said that Lewis conceded he was “proved wrong, that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished.” Hugo Dyson, a member of Lewis’ small group of friends, the Inklings, said shortly afterward, “Very well … now he had lost everything and was come to the foot of the cross.”

Other accounts are much less dramatic. Lewis claimed to Walter Hooper, his secretary, that he had not been defeated, though Hooper added that Lewis revised the chapter in Miracles for the 1960 Fontana edition. Richard Purtill said that Lewis may have been “nonplused at the vigor of her attack and its source, since as a Catholic she might have been expected to be an ally.” Interestingly, Anscombe herself supports the contention in her Collected Papers published 35 years later. Playing down the affair, she recounted the proceedings as a “sober discussion” of philosophical issues which resulted in Lewis’ reworking the chapter. As for friends’ rather exaggerated accounts of Lewis’ low spirits (which Anscombe labeled “odd”), she characterized their remarks “as an interesting example of the phenomenon called ‘projection.’”

Since post mortem accounts differ, it is almost impossible to ascertain exactly Lewis’ state of mind or seeds of doubt immediately after the events. At a minimum, he altered his argument to account for Anscombe’s criticisms. Whether or how strongly his faith faltered is somewhat open to question.

Fortunately, Lewis commented on unusual mental states apologists can anticipate in the line of duty. Accounts of the debate’s repercussions approximate what he discussed in “Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club” as occupational hazards to defending Christianity. Because apologists are more than rational beings, and because no one knows with absolute certainty where ideas will lead, apologetic discourse involves more than a systematic argument. Apology also entails risk. All who defend faith open themselves to opponents’ fire. But risk extends beyond enduring retaliatory attacks. “Worse still,” he tellingly admits, “we expose ourselves to the recoil from our own shots: for if I may trust my personal experience, no doctrine is, for the moment, dimmer to the eye of faith than that which a man has just successfully defended.”

In another classic essay, “Christian Apologetics,” Lewis further probed potential backwash of contending for the faith. Nothing is so dangerous to one’s faith than the apologist’s arena especially when one successfully defends the faith! Doubt and pride, strange companions, pry their way into the psyche. In the moment of victory, the apologist is tempted to believe that Christianity’s validity rested upon the apologist: “It [the Christian faith] seems no stronger than that weak pillar [the apologist].”

Then Lewis turns abruptly pastoral. Defenders take their lives as well as their arguments into battle. Apologists’ only sure defense consists in “falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ himself.” Lewis then concludes with a plea: “That also is why we need one another’s continual help—oremus pro invicem [Let us pray for each other].”

Here, as in many other instances, Lewis displays a delicate balance between objective and subjective elements. Faith and doubt evidence both mental and emotional components. He expressed in poetic form the same idea in “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer”:


From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.


Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

 

Apologists are no different from others who live under effects from the Fall. Athletes choke, writers suffer from blocks, and apologists doubt. C.S. Lewis admitted his frailty and warned others lest they not understand.