Encountering Doubt on the Discipleship Journey
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20
The Discipleship Journey
Grace Community Church
May 22, 2022
Encountering Doubt on the Discipleship Journey
We’re reading from Matt. 28 verses 16-20.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:16-20
After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his disciples to meet him in Galilee on a specific mountain or hill. When they saw Jesus raised from the dead, they worshipped him. Their eyes were truly beginning to be opened to see who Jesus is, a question they had asked themselves often in the three years they followed him: who is this man?
- Who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey him?
- Who is this man, that casts out demons with a word?
- Who is this man who heals the sick and raises the dead?
- Who is this man who teaches like no one we’ve ever heard before with authority?
As they meet Jesus on this hill they now realize that Jesus is God. When they saw him they worshiped him. You don’t worship a creature, no matter how great or powerful. Worship is reserved for God alone so when it says that when they saw Jesus raised from the dead they worshipped him it tells us they knew he is God. No question about it.
Except there is a question. In verse 17 we find three surprising words: but some doubted.
Even with Jesus standing alive in front of them. They saw him die. They knew where he was buried. And now he is standing very much alive, very physically alive, they can see it with their eyes yet some doubted.
If they could experience doubt in that moment, it’s not surprising that we can experience doubt at points in our lives.
Have you ever struggled with doubt? Doubt about what God is doing. Doubt about whether this whole thing is really true. Doubt about whether there is a heaven and a hell. Doubt about whether God is good. Doubt about whether you’re saved.
I know I have.
I can look back over my life and see low points where I really couldn’t see what God was doing. Where I wondered why things were happening (or not happening) in my life. Or in my family. Or in my church.
Doubt is kinda like a fog where you can’t see clearly. You’re not certain something is true, you’re not certain it isn’t true. Doubt is kinda like foggy uncertainty. I think that’s what some of the disciples were experiencing. They saw Jesus, no doubt about it! But there was doubt: is he real? Is this real? What does it
mean? Am I going crazy and this is all a hallucination? But some doubted.
Foggy uncertainty. We doubt God which means we feel foggy uncertainty about who God is or what He’s doing. Or we may be confident in who God is but doubt ourselves. Everything else is clear to us but when it comes to our lives it gets foggy. I know God is good, but will He be good to me? I know God is working, but is He working in me?
But some doubted. I’m glad Matthew put that line in there. Some of those who doubted must have confided in Matthew that even in this high point they found doubt rattling around in their hearts. Who knows? Maybe Matthew was one of them and that’s why he knew some doubted.
I’m glad it’s here because it helps us know that doubt is a part of the discipleship journey. We will probably all encounter doubt at some point in our walk with Jesus. And I’m glad it’s here because of how Jesus responds to it.
Let’s talk about doubt
I’m going to be drawing heavily upon Paul Tripp’s wisdom found in his book, Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. Doubt isn’t all bad. It’s like fear – it can have a good purpose.
Doubt can cause us to think deeply about things and ask important questions. Doubt can protect us from being gullible. Doubt can actually press us towards God – that is what it’s meant to do, but doubt can also become a toxic poison to our souls, casting everything we believe into foggy uncertainty and eating away at our faith. Paul Tripp describes the difference between healthy doubt and unhealthy doubt. It’s a long quote but worth our reading together.
There are two kinds of doubt. First is the doubt of wonderment. God’s ways can confuse you. His ways are not like our ways. His plans often don’t mesh with the plans we have for ourselves. What God knows is good for us doesn’t always look good to us. He takes us places we would never choose to go. There are times when the way in which he delivers what he’s promised looks to us as if he’s breaking his promise. He doesn’t warn us ahead of time before he initiates change in our lives. He doesn’t invite us into the counsel of his secret will. He will not submit his sovereignty to our sense of what is best. He will exercise his power to deliver not what we want but what he knows we need. Because of this, at street level, the life of faith is always a struggle of trust. In this struggle of trust you will be left with questions about what God is doing. If the doubt of wonderment causes you to come to God with sincere questions, asking is an act of faith. You’re not rebelling against him; you’re not running from him. You’re not demanding answers, but crying out of your confusion for the help that only he can give. The doubt of wonderment is a normal part of a healthy life of faith. God won’t always make sense to you, and when he doesn’t, bringing your doubts to him is good.
But there’s a second and not so healthy form of doubt. It is the doubt of judgment. This doubt is not the result of wondering what God is doing. This form of doubt is the result of concluding that, because of our circumstances, God is not good and therefore not worthy of our trust. It’s to bring God into the court of our judgment and determine that he is unfaithful, unloving, or uncaring in some way. The minute your functional theology tells you that God is not good, it’s very hard to hold on to the confessional theology that declares he is. Once this happens, you no longer actually believe what you once believed about God, and because you don’t… you will no longer run to him for help. You don’t actually think that he’s with you and loves you, so you quit doing the “faith in God” things that you once did. Your suffering has told you that God isn’t good, so you quit following him and relying on him for help. Paul Tripp, Suffering pp. 91-93
If your doubt is pressing you to God with questions and confusion, that is, as Tripp says, a part of a healthy life of faith. If you find yourself falling into the doubt of judgment, where a voice inside is saying “forget God. He isn’t good. He isn’t faithful. He doesn’t answer prayers. He’s probably not even real”, fight not to let that kind of doubt get a grip on your thinking. Recognize that your situation is causing you to shift how you view God rather than letting God’s word instruct how you view God. Satan wants to sow seeds of that kind of doubt in our hearts so that we doubt God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His truthfulness, so that rather than going to God with our doubts, our doubts cause us to run away from God.
If you find in your heart and mind the doubt of judgment, run to God! Confess them to God and repent. Those doubts lead us down a dark road that leaves us alone and guided by nothing but our own thoughts and judgments – which are deceptive and deceived. Those doubts lead us to believe lies. Don’t trust your thoughts, trust God’s word. Even when it doesn’t seem to be true – it is! Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away but his word will never pass away.
The risen Jesus is standing before his eleven disciples and some doubted. But Jesus didn’t rebuke the ones who doubted (and we know Jesus knew about their doubt because it says Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men). He didn’t cast them away or reject them. He didn’t sideline them.
We will talk more about the Great Commission down the road, but with the disciples who doubted in mind, let’s consider three ways Jesus helps them (and us) deal with doubt in a healthy way:
- Jesus reveals his greatness to the doubters
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Vs. 18
There really are no words to convey all that this means. Because Jesus lowered himself to become a servant and to die a criminal’s death on the cross, God the Father has exalted Jesus to the highest place, given him a name above every name, and all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ. He is Lord of all. He is transcendent over all.
The doubt of wonderment is an act of faith because it presses us to go to the One who is greater than all with our doubts and questions. Jesus, why is this happening? God, where are you in this trial? Lord, have you forgotten me? It’s the soul-talk of the Psalms, honest with God about our doubts but doubt isn’t the biggest thing to us, God is.
Recently I have found myself struggling with doubts. A couple weeks ago I just wanted to be alone with God so I took a long walk in nature and poured out my heart (including my doubts and questions) to God. I would have loved an answer but I knew that no matter how long I walked there wouldn’t be a neat, tidy answer with a bow on top of it. I would have the same doubts and questions at the end of the walk that I had at the beginning. But I was hitching my doubts to the One who is greater than I, to Jesus. So the doubts remained, but now there was something else: hope. Hope that Jesus, who is Lord over all, has my life in his hands. And he has your life in his hands too.
- Jesus commands the doubters to go and minister to others
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations vs.19
Notice the word “therefore”. Jesus is saying, “because all authority has been given to me, therefore, go!”
To paraphrase an old saying, when you’re going through doubt, keeping going!
Doubt can make us want to stop. It can make us want to give up. Jesus didn’t pull the doubters aside and tell them to take a sabbatical and work through the doubt before they joined in the Great Commission. Jesus tells them to get busy. That’s not Jesus ignoring the problem, staying busy is often a big part of the solution to doubt. Paul Tripp tells how after he was diagnosed with cancer and as he was undergoing painful treatments and felt incredibly weak, he decided to invest his time in encouraging other pastors and leaders to keep going and not give up.
There were days when he didn’t even want to get out of bed (and there were days he did have to cancel), but he stayed busy helping others and he writes:
What happened morning after morning in these meetings is that I left encouraged. As I recounted to these young pastors who God is, who they are as his children, the amazing wisdom of God’s Word, and the wonderful work that God has called them to, not only would they remember, but I would remember too…What was hard for me to do (encourage others) became the very thing that God used to encourage me. Tripp, Suffering, pg. 99
By the power of the risen Christ living in us, we can go. Go to help others. Go to encourage others. Go to alleviate the doubts of others even while we are wrestling with our own doubts. Go to love others when maybe we even doubt God’s love for us. And as we go, God uses our going to encourage us and make His love for us very real to our hearts.
- Jesus promises the doubters he will always be with them
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age vs. 20
I think one of the loudest ways doubt (and through doubt the Enemy) speaks to our hearts is to suggest God doesn’t care about us or see us:
Why isn’t God answering your prayers?
Has God forgotten or abandoned you?
Why is God singling you out?
Where is your God when you need Him?
Jesus promises us he will always be with us. Through thick and thin, to the very end, he will never leave us. What a promise that is!
When you find yourself struggling with doubt, take encouragement from this passage. So did the disciples even with the risen Jesus standing before them. Jesus didn’t sideline them – just to opposite! – he revealed his greatness, commanded them to get busy, and promised he’d always be with them. We serve the same Jesus today!