Pebble 1: Note on Doubt

I will be away for a while and would like to have a short chat before I go. I will be back for our usual conversation by the end of the month.

I marvel at the Bible stories that sometimes give the most astonishing details and other times just gloss over decades of history. No doubt the details are important and God speaks through those particulars of people and events. It is like the telescope of history suddenly zooms in to a cameo or vignette to focus on a subject of learning. Let us learn and rejoice!

One of the followers of Jesus was crowned the king of doubt. Thomas made a statement that marked him through all ages as Doubting Thomas. It became so natural to associate his name with doubt. Today it is used as a joke and an insult. Let us change that forever – now.

Thomas is mentioned quite a few times in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and John mention his calling, together with Phillip, Bartholomew, Andrew, James and others. In John 11:16 Thomas makes a bold and brave statement that reveals his dedication and love for Jesus:

Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

These are not the words with which we associate him and still, it is profound words of commitment to the teaching he has received and his love for the Teacher.

John 14 – 17 are chapters that reveal the heart of our Lord Jesus. Sometimes when life is rough or just too busy and rushed, I get this urge to hear the words of Jesus. I grab these chapters and truly “hear” His soothing and powerful words.

In any circumstances, John 14:1 will calm us down. [The Message]

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

I am convinced that Jesus was not talking about the end of time, although I believe that there are many levels of interpretation possible and necessary. He talked about the work of the Holy Spirit, the Promise of His Father to be with those He loved so much. The Holy Spirit is the diffusion of the Presence after the Ascension. The Holy Spirit enables us to be with Jesus all the days of life and for all time until the Second Coming.

In verse 5 Thomas asks Jesus about the road He mentioned.

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

Note that Jesus did not scold him for asking a dumb question. Jesus answers Thomas with words that became one of the most quoted, deeply reverenced scriptures of all time revealing Jesus as the One and Only. Verse 6:

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

The crucifixion of Jesus scattered the disciples. During the arrest in the Garden of Gesemane, some disciples fled. We find Peter and John in the courtyard during the trial, trying to follow proceedings. Peter’s betrayal takes place after he boldly followed the soldiers into the courtyard of the high priest’s dwellings. The cruelty of the Romans was a fact of life. Fear was understandable. Some historical accounts state that lots of alcohol was available to the soldiers who were charged with this horrible type of execution, to give them courage to go through with it.

Most of the disciples probably hid behind locked doors to escape the inevitable Roman backlash to kill off Jesus’ followers. This did not happen and is one of the mysteries of the trial.

Fearful and stunned they waited until Mary brought them the news of the resurrection. Peter and John cast fear aside and ran to the grave to inspect for themselves. That same evening they went back into hiding, behind locked doors [John 20:19] confused by the disappearance of the body. Jesus came and stood in their midst. His first words to them: Peace be with you.

Understandably His first words would be something to calm them down. They must have been out of their minds with panic and fear, as well as this “ghost” coming through the wall. He calms them and talks to them, breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit and empowers them to go forth with His work, but [verse 24] Thomas was not there.

He hears the story from the others. What was he to do? Did they conspire to feel better? They could have made it all up. He was not going to fall for this story and be made a fool, so he did the rational thing and said:

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.

A week later, Jesus appears in spite of locked doors, just as they told Thomas He did the first time. [John 20:26] He addresses Thomas and responds directly to his own words to the disciples.

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.”

What a wonderful encounter. Thomas cries out in awe and wonder:

My Lord and my God!

The Bible does not say if he really touched Jesus first, but the point is that he had the invitation to investigate.

I think the physical investigation that he previously demanded, was not necessary anymore in the Presence of Jesus. The sheer presence of the One Thomas obviously loved, was enough to convince him of the truth.

Jesus Himself confirmed every detail of the account his fellow disciples gave Thomas and invited him to investigate and believe. The desire to investigate is not wrong.

The invitation stands firm. Come and investigate Jesus, His word and His life. He will reveal Himself to you just like He did to Thomas. You will cry out in awe and wonder when you see Him face to face through the Holy Spirit.

Again Jesus answered him with words that echoed through the ages: [Verse 29]

Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Come and investigate, search the Scriptures, discern the times and receive life in His name. Thomas needed a little more to be sure and Jesus gave it to him. If you seek, you will find. Ask the extra bit and He will meet you at the level of your expectation. That is the promise.

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

[Jeremiah 33:3. The Message]


5. A special place for you

The words of God Himself – here is a place for you.

In our pebble-gathering walk together, I will often quote the wonderful words of God to Moses when Moses had to plead for Israel after the disaster of the golden calf at the foot of the mountain, thousands of years ago. It is a powerful and true anchor for all of us this very day. [Exodus 33:21]

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.

To fully appreciate the impact of this statement, let us look at the background. The nation of slaves, miraculously led out of bondage in Egypt, is nearing the end of their desert journey, in which they were kept and fed by God Himself through many miracles and the leadership of Moses. Moses and Joshua disappear on Mount Sinai for 40 days and Aaron, the ordained and anointed high priest is in charge. A misty cloud hangs over the mountain and they grow very uncertain about Moses’ disappearance, unsure if he will ever come back. He is an old man, after all, well into his eighties.

In an impulsive and superficial act of worship they build a golden calf, completely against all the instruction they have received for the last fourty years. The calf is reminiscent of the idols of Egypt, who worshipped images of cattle. They form the calf from their most precious possessions, gold they brought from Egypt. Aaron receives their gold and moulds a calf from it. [Exodus 32:3,4]

Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.

The word for Lord that is used is YAHWEH, their most holy word for God. One can almost think they were sincere in their worship to God. But deception is a terrible thing and will blind you into thinking that you please God with your precious things. In actual fact they reduced the Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Creator of all things to a small baby beast in the image of the abominable gods of a pagan nation. How could they do it? They did it because they wanted to worship something that fits more comfortably into their own fleshly thinking. The mystery of an uncontainable Godhead was just too big and the fear of something to big to comprehend was overwhelming.

It is easy for us to look back and judge, but the sin of the golden calf is dangerous indeed. How often do we serve God according to our own comfort?

True worship is a life of obedience. Full compliance to the will of God in all respects is not always so simple and compels us out of our comfort zones. The law of love and grace demands counter-intuitive responses to life. Self-denial, forgiveness, humility and unconditional love are not instinctive reactions in all circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us for godly action, especially when we feel offended and wounded and our inner being demands revenge and anger. How will we cope with the hurt and storms of life?

We will triumph over life only if we find our place on the rock in His presence.

God sends Moses and Joshua to see the corruption of the people. Moses reacts in white-hot anger and breaks the stone tablets with the written law, which he has received from God on the mountain. Aaron realizes something is terribly wrong and tries to apologize his way out of the mess in his account to Moses. It is almost laughable: [Exodus 32: 24]

And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

Suddenly the calf just magically appeared! Moses make the people choose to stand with God and three thousand are killed in a purge. The next day he offers to go back up the mountain and plead for their forgiveness. This is a true leader, a true prophet – acting according to God’s own heart.

God proclaims that He will plague the people for punishment and then send them into the promised land. He never withdraws a promise – no matter what. Romans 11:29: For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

The shocking part of the statement is that He will not go with them. They have trampled on their own glorious testimony of fourty years of miracle upon miracle, protection and provision without fail and betrayed His love and grace over them, blatantly and shamelessly. [Exodus 33:3]

Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.

Then Moses pleaded and said: [Exodus 33:15,16]

“If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”

This is still the distinguishing mark of the true worshipper of God. Those who dwell in His presence are separate, different, marked by His truth of a life of obedience and victory. They are not the powerless, name-only Christians who falter when things get rough.

Then Moses boldly asked: Exodus 33: 18:

“Please, show me Your glory.”

God’s response is a rare peep into the mysterious holiness of God and at the same time His desire to reveal Himself to mankind. It is precious in the love and compassion that exude from His words:

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. 22 So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

It is your place – in the cleft of the rock with a special revelation of the goodness of God. God knew that after the sin, death and destruction, His goodness needed to be clear. That is what we need to see – His glory and goodness, more than anything. We cannot see it on our own. God reveals it.

When the people asked Moses what God looks like he described what he saw. He saw the character of God, revealed in the passing by of the glory in one Hebrew word – hessed the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

It is indeed a special place – a place of hearing and seeing those things that are hidden from most people. God promised if we put ourselves in the position to listen, we would hear. Isaiah 55:3:

Incline your ear, and come to Me.
 Hear, and your soul shall live. 

In the verses that follow in Isaiah 55 it is significant that David is mentioned. Next time we will talk about the tabernacle of David that Jesus restored – according to the account in the Book of Acts.