Doubt upon the Mountain – Matthew 28:16-20

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I admit that many of the messages in this series have been designed to explain some aspect of the text. This is one of the problems of this kind of study – but at the same time it can provide a long-term blessings. With that said, someone might think that to spend thirty minutes on verse 17 might be like that. But there is a subject raised in this verse which seriously affects all of us. I refer to the fact that some of these people on the top of Jesus’ mountain had doubts. Even if YOU have no doubts about what you believe, perhaps you should – if it is of the right kind. And even if you have no doubts personally, what should do you with a brother in Christ who does? What should we do with children and friends who question what we teach them about our Saviour?

Let’s consider this verse in three ways – the doubters, their doubts and the dissolution of those doubts.

The doubters.

I said last week that I could not tell you why it was that Jesus sent His disciples back to Galilee. After another week of study and meditation, I still can’t explain this 120 mile round trip. But maybe, just maybe, it was for the benefit of these doubters.

“Then the eleven disciples went away (from their locked apartment in Jerusalem) into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” Does the scripture seems to emphasize it was the remaining eleven disciples who returned northward? Just as I can’t tell you WHY they were sent to Galilee, I can’t tell you exactly WHERE in Galilee they went. Tradition tells us that this was Mt. Tabor, to the southwest of the Sea of Gennesaret, but there is no proof of that, so apparently it doesn’t really matter. But does it matter if when they got to the top of that mountain, they were or were not alone? The answer to that question might create problems later down the road. First, if they were alone, it would mean that despite Christ’s post-resurrection meetings with His disciples in Jerusalem, there were still some among them who were filled with doubts. On the other hand, if there were others on the mountain besides the eleven, then what impact does that fact have on the so-called “Great Commission”?

I Corinthians 15 begins with Paul’s definition of the Gospel. Part of that scripture describes Jesus’ appearances before the brethren. He said, “I have been preaching” that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once.” Notice that these five hundred saw the living Christ, resurrected from the grave, all at the same time. It was not one by one or in small groups. When was this group meeting? Could it be that Jesus sent His little church back to Galilee, telling them to meet Him at the top of Tabor, so that hundreds of other Galilean believers might have the same privilege and joy that they had? Couldn’t this meeting have been perfect for the gathering of a large crowd of Christian followers? I’m not saying that I know these things for a fact, but this is reasonable. As I say, it raises other potential problems, but those might not be all that insurmountable.

Christ’s most successful ministry had been in northern Israel – in the region of Galilee. But many of those people, for one reason or other, refused to fully commit themselves to the Lord. They may have had great hope, or even believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but they were not willing to join the ranks of the twelve. But by now, the Lord had fully convinced the eleven that He really is the Messiah, and also that He is the Saviour – the redeeming sacrifice necessary to make the Messianic Kingdom a reality. However very few beyond the eleven knew or believed these things – they needed more proof.

As the emotionally charged disciples made their way back to Galilee, they drew their old friends and semi-believers back to them. They told those closest to them that Christ told them to meet Him on the mountain on such-and-such a day. Soon the eleven grew to several dozen and then a hundred, two hundred and finally five hundred people. As they all excitedly gathered on the rounded top of Mt. Tabor, once again Christ miraculously appeared in their midst. And every single one of them fell on their faces in worship before the King of kings and Lord of lords. But the five hundred Galileans didn’t have all the facts and evidence that the eleven possessed, so they still possessed questions and doubts. Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Again, I am not going to say that there aren’t problems with this interpretation, but let’s grant that this could be the explanation of this verse.

All right then, what about these people’s doubts?

The word which Matthew used in this verse is rare in the Word of God. Other than here, it is found only once Matthew 14:31 – when the Lord rescued Peter from drowning. After Peter made a few timid steps on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, he became afraid, “and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Even though they may be related, there is a difference between “unbelief” and “doubt” – in English, in Greek and in the Word of God. And even though throughout God’s Word unbelief is condemned as wicked and usually rebellious, I think that when Jesus spoke to Peter, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” it was with a little grin. Peter probably looked like a half-drowned kitten – the one who had mistakenly jumped into the bath.

To doubt something is to have unanswered questions which keep us from making proper decisions. To doubt is not to absolutely reject an idea or doctrine, but because of a lack in understanding, there isn’t the faith we ought to have. As a result of this we don’t respond as we should. These people behaved exactly as they should have behaved based upon what they knew and believed. They “worshiped” – they gave honor to Christ Jesus which should only have been given to God – Jehovah. It appears to me that whoever these doubters were – the eleven according to some experts, and the five hundred according to others…. Whoever these doubters were they were also believers – children of God. And this brings verse 17 out of the text and back into the laps of the saints of God today. These were doubting believers – worshipers who still had unanswered questions.

From whence come doubts among the children of God? Perhaps we can use the Apostle Thomas as an illustration. Remember his nickname. Why was that man a doubter? Are there reasons found in Thomas which create doubts in other professing believers?

Ignorance is a major source of doubt. Why did Thomas refuse to believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Sure, he may have been more prone to disbelief than others, but he didn’t know what Peter, John, and the ladies, the two from Emmaus knew. He lacked all the facts.. He declares this himself when he talks about seeing Jesus’ wounds, and putting his hand into His side. And why were there doubts in those people atop Mr. Tabor? Wasn’t it because they didn’t have all the facts that the eleven then possessed? And what of the doubt that exist in people’s hearts today?

Here is the reason Satan has so violently and consistently attacked the Word of God. There are hundreds of important truths for which our primary source of information is the Bible. When society becomes convinced that the Bible cannot be trusted, doubt and unbelief follow. One of the first responsibilities of today’s saints must be an intelligent defense of the Word of God.

Consider just one example – Are there any professing Christians who are not convinced of God’s six-day creation? Are there any “Christians” who lean toward some aspect of evolution – perhaps theistic evolution? I refer to people who have doubts about creation, because they have heard so much atheistic propaganda. From whence cometh their doubts? As cruel as it sounds, isn’t it because of their ignorance and lack of education in the subject? When the bias of Darwinianism is laid aside and the facts of science are thoughtfully examined, there is an over-abundance of evidence that God created the universe, just as the Bible declares. Education doesn’t destroy faith in God or in the Bible; proper education strengthens our faith. Creation can be learned either from a study of true science or from a study of God’s word – a combination of both would be best.

Related to ignorance is carelessness. Can you guess why I am not as proficient in car repairs as some of the members of our church? It’s because I would rather spend my time doing other things than learning how to rebuilt a transmission or trying to replace a timing belt. Over the years I could have saved thousands of dollars, if I had applied myself to auto maintenance. You could say that I’ve been negligent or careless in this area. On the other hand, there are thousands of Christians, when it comes to learning and applying the Word of God, who have been as careless as I have been in auto mechanics. So some professing Christian might say that he has doubts that Jesus was born of a true virgin. Another might quote the feminist liberals, saying that he isn’t convinced that an unborn child is a living soul until its birth. A third might question capital punishment, because it offends his senses, or because it is not politically correct. But if these people would take a few minutes to study these subjects in the Word of God, their doubts would be dispelled. Was carelessness a part of Thomas’ troubles?

Another general source of doubt is sin. I say, “sin is a general source of doubt,” because there are so many different areas of sinfulness. Someone might praise Thomas for his doubts, saying that faith should always be built on facts. But I’m not going to praise him, because I see a variety of sins in his behaviour. He essentially called his brethren “liars,” when he should have given them the benefit of his doubt. How much pride was there in Thomas’ heart during this episode? Was he saying to himself, “Plenty of people saw Jesus die, and resurrection isn’t logical. It is embarrassing to run around saying that Jesus is alive after he clearly died.” Was he thinking, “I’m too smart to believe the hysterical words of a bunch of silly women?” In his mind, was he elevating himself over the rest of the disciples? Was rebellion playing a part in his doubt?

Another source of doubt is worldliness. What is meant by the word “worldliness?” It is what John was condemning when he said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Paul tells us that the world was the sphere in which we lived before our conversion to Christ. “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Christ tells us that His people are not of the world any longer. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” So this is why Paul commands us “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The world hates Christ and does everything in its power to cast doubt upon the things of the Lord. The world encourages sin; the world encourages doubt. But there are millions of professing Christians whose lives and values still come out of the world. They listen to what the fashionable people have to say; they mimic the rich and famous. If some celebrity laughs at the Word of God, these people are embarrassed if they don’t laugh as well. Our view of the world needs to be Biblically centered and guided. The world is the enemy of Christ and thus it is our enemy, no wonder the worldling is filled with doubts.

Briefly, what are some of the effects of Christian doubt?

Like worry and unbelief, doubt destroys the comfort that should come in being a child of God. Thomas’ doubt grieved the Spirit, and it robbed him of the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.” When you look at Thomas before he meets the risen Christ – would you describe him as joyful? Peaceful? He doesn’t appear meek to me, and his words lacked temperance. The Christian garden without the fruit of the Spirit, is ultimately a waste of good soil.

And again, in Thomas’ case, his doubt certainly chilled his affection for the things of God. We could probably run through a list of doctrines, and many of them would be suffering in Thomas’ case. Earlier, he had been as excited about the coming Millennium as any of the others; but now? If he had earlier agreed with Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” that wasn’t firm in his heart any longer. Was his confidence in Christ’s salvation still the same? His doubts were on the downward slide and on the verge of total unbelief. Thomas’ love of the brethren was ebbing lower and lower as well.

The man was becoming spiritually useless – he already was. This is not the kind of man Christ would want out on the street corner preaching the gospel. Is this doubter worthy of the miraculous power of God in this ministry? Thomas, in his doubts, did not bring any kind of glory to Christ.

But I must say this – Christ had not given up on Him. And the Lord was not displeased to meet with the doubters on the mountain top. That teaches US to be patient towards these people too. Sure they should have known and responded to the clear teaching of God’s Word. There was no excuse for Thomas’ unbelief, but there is was. And then there is the fact that very likely we have been among the doubters in times past ourselves. Those people need to be loved and nurtured, not disowned and disavowed.

Thankfully there is a possibility for the dissolution of our doubt.

What should we do, when for some reason doubts arise in our hearts? What can we do to help other doubters to get over those problems and questions? When for no apparent reason, it seems that the Lord has turned against us – When our house is destroyed in a storm or in a fire. When that person most precious to us is taken away in a moment of time. What do we do when there appears to be reason to doubt the Lord, His love, or something else about Him?

Let’s start where those people on the mountain-top started. When they saw the Lord, they bowed their knees – they bowed their hearts and they worshipped Him. When in doubt start with what we know to be true. Jehovah, “He is the Rock his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment, a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he.” “O Lord God, thou art God, and thy words be true, and thou has promised goodness unto thy servant.” Remember that “by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we…. have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Compared to Job, Thomas’ doubts didn’t have a leg to stand upon. Even though poor Job tottered for a while, like these people on the mountain-top he bowed his knee before the Lord and worshipped Him. During the days when life is good and the blessings of the Lord seem to be steadily flowing upon us, we need to learn to lean upon Him. Because eventually the winds will blow, the waves will rise, and it will seem that our little ship will sink. “Lord carest thou not that we perish?” Of course He cares. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, bring and offering and come before him; worship the Lord is the beauty of holiness.”

And Mr. Doubter, while you bow before the Lord in worship, bow before His word as well. The solution to our doubts can be found in the Bible. Oh, that isn’t to say that all our specific questions will be thoroughly answered. No, but what isn’t concisely explained will be left in the context of a great many other statements and Biblical promises, which make the tabling of our questions quite easy. If Thomas had returned to those lessons the Lord had taught earlier – if he had returned to the Word of the Lord – there would have been no room for his doubts.

There were doubters there in Galilee when the Lord appeared before them. But they were quite willing to worship and accept what they knew to be true. And I point out again that Jesus accepted their worship – He received them. And you can be sure that over time, those people too lost whatever doubts they had.

The answer to our doubts is humble, repentant, worshipful faith in Christ.