Following his resurrection, Matthew tells us that Jesus sent word for his disciples to meet him on a mountaintop for final instructions. When Jesus arrived on the scene Matthew tells us “they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matt. 28.17).
I’m constantly astonished at how often I can read a passage of Scripture and totally miss something of significance. “Some doubted…” I had to go back and read again. “Some doubted…” That’s what it said. Those eleven men gathered on that mountain top had followed Jesus 24/7 for three years. They had seen him cruelly crucified on a cross and knew beyond doubt that he was dead. Rome was a ruthlessly efficient death monger. As far as those followers were concerned, all the hopes and dreams of their time with Jesus had given birth to were nothing but ashes beneath their feet. But now Jesus was standing before them.
They believed! They believed so confidently that they wrote about it. Time and again they would say, “We were witnesses.” They saw with their own eyes. They touched him. They ate with him. They had conversations with him. What they saw was not just some ephemeral glimpse in a mirror. They spent time with the resurrected yet still embodied Jesus. Their confident affirmation would echo throughout the ages in the life of believers, “Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”
On that mountain top they “worshiped Jesus, but some doubted.” Jesus didn’t say, “if you doubt you’re out.” Instead, it was those very doubters Jesus charged with carrying forward his mission. Why then, does the church so often insist on certainty? Why does the church shame those who doubt? Why does the church insist that “real followers of Jesus” must believe without question?
The doubters were commanded to go and make disciples. It’s a challenge to the church today. Don’t be so smug and sure that we have the answers. Don’t be so sure that we have the formula for who’s in and who’s out. Don’t be so certain that we are the ones with the inside knowledge. Bearing witness requires truth, even about our own inadequacies, our own doubts.
This last week, a young woman died far too early. Rachel Held Evans was only 37, but her life bore abundant fruit for Jesus. Thousands have posted on Twitter about their recovery of faith because of Evans’ courageous witness. She described herself as a “doubt-filled believer” and in doing so gave others permission to doubt. In her book, “Searching for Sunday,” she wrote: “We long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff — biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation and social justice — but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”
“…they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28.17).