Can Christians struggle with doubt?

Many of us may thing that the people in the Bible are “great heroes of the faith”, “unreal”, not like us and had no questions. When we do struggle with doubt in our own lives, we might feel isolated, just so unlike from those who praise God exuberantly, aimless and ever-wandering in our life.  What is the point of following Jesus if our lives are so “crummy”? 

While it may not be immediately obvious, the passage at hand speaks to us especially when we doubt the resurrection of Christ. In this passage, we see how Christ speaks with two doubtful disciples on the road to Emmaus, we see how the disciples encountered and experienced the same doubt.  They too, found it even harder to believe that their hopes were being restored: that Christ has truly risen. It encourages us to a similar honesty about areas of doubt in our lives, and draws us onto the risen Christ.

(A) Doubt and the resurrected Jesus (24:13-16)

How does this passage begin, and who is in it?  We first see that Luke refers to the crucifixion and now the resurrection of Christ as “these things” (Luke 24:14).  seemingly as a ‘bundle’ that shows the interconnections between these two events.  We also see from Luke 24:14 that Luke makes clear who is involved here. The “them” in the previous verse refers to 2 disciples of Jesus, going to Emmaus. 

We may then be wondering: why would these two followers be on the way to Emmaus?  Bear in mind that this is after the death of Jesus Christ, shamefully crucified  and condemned by the chief priests.  It is likely that the sentiment was that that the ‘game’ was up for some of the disciples at that point in time; their leader was dead, and there was no reason to come together again.

This may strike us as strange. For us in churches, we come together because there’s something worth coming together for. But here, the disciples have stopped coming together, because there was the sentiment that there was nothing worth coming together for.

This motivation becomes clearer when we examine who Cleopas (mentioned in Luke 24:17) is.  We learn from John 19:25 that Cleopas’ wife was one of the woman at the foot of the Cross, who witnessed His crucifixion Hence, Bible teachers have inferred that the two disciples may actually be Cleopas and his wife. Regardless, from the text, we know that these 2 disciples saw for themselves the death of Jesus, and they truly knew that their leader was dead.

These disciples were not being melodramatic. Imagine, if, for 3 years of your life, you gave yourself for a cause, only to see it collapse before your eyes. Luke 24:15 mentions about how they were “talking and discussing together”.  This conversation was likely to be one wrapped in sorrow, in grief, in disappointment: a similarity, perhaps, to the way we might approach a funeral.  But even greater than that, this conversation would possibly be one of doubt: “What does it mean now? What should we do with our lives?”

Luke 24;15-16 demonstrate to us that the key event in their passage their encounter with Jesus. We firstly learn that this was a deliberate encounter for “Jesus himself drew near and went with them” (Luke 24:15b).  Jesus intentionally and deliberately approached them, and found a skillful way to enter a conversation. Consider how great that is: that the resurrected Jesus would come deliberately, specifically for these two disciples, especially in their moment of doubt and sorrow.  Everything that Jesus did was planned and purposeful. After His resurrection, He intentionally revealed Himself to people so that His message would be made credible, for He would be seen by many. 

What do we see about Jesus do we see from this passage, then?  We can be encouraged to know that this Jesus knows us in our sorrow.  He knows us, in our disappointments; when we feel that nothing makes sense, that all of our hopes have come to an end. These two disciples were eyewitnesses to His death, and to His sorrow, and experienced pain and doubt. The hope that Luke 24:15 provides the Lord Jesus draws close to those in sorrow, and indeed, He reveals to those who cannot do anything on their own. Indeed, we learn later from Paul that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. (1 Cor 1:27)

(B)  Doubt and Resurrection Truth (24:17-24)

In Luke 24:18-19, we see Cleopas mention “the things” that happened. From the way he speaks (“Are you the only visitor who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”) we know that the death of Jesus Christ was not a random event that happened obscurely. Rather, Cleopas appears to be full of disbelief, that this person has not heard of this amazing events (a “scandal” of sorts) that had just happened in the city. From this, we can see that the Cross is an event known by many. It was a public event and it also alludes to the fact that there are extra-biblical sources that attest to the crucifixion. We can trust that it really happened.

Cleopas retells who Jesus is, and what had happened to Him for the benefit of this stranger who seemed to have missed out on the biggest public event (Luke 24:19-25).  Underlying this retelling is actually an understanding of his own attitude towards Christ. We can see this as we try to break down the way that Cleopas reports the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

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  • Who was Jesus? Jesus is viewed as a powerful prophet in word and deed (Luke 24:19). Jesus was a doer of miracles, but He also came with a message. Mark 1:15 tells us of this message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel”.  Jesus did not just have small following. We read in Luke 24:19 that He was before “all the people”. People knew Him, and there were people who followed Him!

  • What happened to Him? He was “condemned to death” (His legal status) and crucified. He was not just randomly stoned, but subject to trial, and condemned by the chief priests and rulers. In fact, He wasn’t subjected to this by a foreign judicial system. It was “our chief priests and rulers” (Luke 24:20). What we hear from Cleopas was that the Jewish leaders sent Jesus to the Romans to be crucified. In essence, Cleopas implies that Jesus, a great prophet, was betrayed by His own people, and killed in the most embarrassing, and humiliating way possible!

  • What hope did the people place in Him? There was the expectation for Jesus to “redeem” his people; in this case, giving them hope that He would free Israel from their enemies (Luke 24:21). It had been three days since that hope died, and with Him, their hopes.

  • What does this loss of hope entail? We see from Luke 24:22 that a transition from considering things on a national scale, towards a communal scale. Cleopas mentions a “vision”. However, but if we read the earlier verses in Chapter 24, we see that the women did not report it as a vision, but as an actual occurrence. It was the disciples that attempted to change.  This change in language suggests an attempt to harmonize what was reported with their own worldview: that dead people stay dead, death is final; so if the body was missing, there was a logical explanation apart from resurrection.  We can see here how this greatly echoes our own struggle with doubt.

  • Why was it so troubling? But verse 24 makes it even more complicated. The two disciples said: “Some of those who were with them went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:24) This verse shows us much about how the early disciples viewed the resurrection. While they too, could not see the body, we learn that their attitude is this: the second report (them going to the tomb to see the body) had not contradicted what the woman earlier saw, but it also hasn’t given them enough to deny their current (logical) worldview. Hence, a position of skepticism is the best way for now.

And with that in mind, let’s examine their beliefs and world views. These disciples believed that this Jesus was a mighty prophet, and they did believe that this disciples had a vision of the resurrected Jesus. But they did not believe that Jesus was alive. 

This is really important: we must understand that the earliest disciples of Jesus found it really, really hard to believe in the resurrection!  At the point in time of the passage, they did not believe that the grave could be conquered, that dawn comes after midnight. When they saw a glimmer of hope, reports of the resurrected Jesus, they tried to explain it away.

In that sense, the disciples we read about in Luke 24 are real people like us. Like them, when we see the good things of God in our lives, we know how best to explain it to other sources.  And hence, we see how characters in the Bible are just like us.  As we struggle with doubt in God’s promises, in who He is, we see echoes of other Bible characters. Like Sarah for instance, laughing after hearing she would be with child at a very old age.  

We might actually find it hard to believe in the resurrection.  However, the depiction of doubt that we see in this passage offers us a solid hope: that if we struggle with doubt and acknowledge that struggle, we join the company of the disciples we see in this passage. Through the coming of Christ to meet his disciples on this road to Emmaus, we too can be assured that God does reveal Himself to those who doubt.

In light of that, we are compelled to re-examine our relationship with the “triumph” of the Christian life. While there would be wonderful victories over sin and growth in our lives, we must understand that there is no victory without the struggle: hence, we must be there for those who struggle!  The wonderful hope here is that Jesus shows up for those who doubt.

(C) Doubt and Resurrection truth (Luke 24:25- 35)

In Luke 24:25-27, Jesus appears frustrated, before leading them through a study of the Old Testament, showing how it points us to Him. .  In the mention of “Moses and all the Prophets”, we learn how Jesus speaks of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and then all the major and minor prophets.  Surprisingly, He calls them “O foolish ones, and slow of heart!” (Luke 24:25a) .

To understand Jesus’ frustration, we must first understand that He calls them foolish, not because of their faults, but ultimately because they did not believe the Old Testament. This lack of belief suggests that the people lived their life without reference to all that He has revealed in the Old Testament.  In other words, this frustration shows us that if we understand the fullness of the Old Testament, we would see all the things that the Christ would have to suffer. These words should trouble us because it suggests that if we do not know how the death and resurrection of Christ is alluded to in the Old Testament, we are the foolish ones that are referenced in Luke 24:25.  

We see this similarly later on in the passage in Luke 24:44, where Christ also unfolds all things regarding Him in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. Consider how subversive, and yet how wonderful this is: that while the followers of Christ expected him as a conquering king to “redeem” his people, Christ instead gives his followers a greater gift: to understand the Old Testament, and how it points us to Christ.  How intriguing is that?   

How does the OT point to Christ? Here are just a few examples of how various passage can and should be read in anticipation of Christ:

  • Genesis 3:15 tells us that the Son would crush the Head of the Serpent, and the Serpent would bite Him in the heel. By performing decisive victory over the serpent, this Son would suffer a blow and an injury that would be fatal. This verse is the earlier record of the Gospel.

  • In Psalm 16:8–10 the Psalmist is confident in God, trusting that in God, he will not be shaken. He is confident that God will raise Him up, that He will rise up over death.  We see that further in verse 11, that in Him is the path of life: we see resurrection mentioned in the Psalms!

  • Isa 53:7-11 points us so clearly to the death and resurrection of Christ, showing us that this Christ will come as a suffering servant, the One who is crushed and put to grief, bearing the iniquities of His people.

  • Hosea 6:1-3: “On the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; press on to know the Lord….” We see here how the prophet waits for the rising of this Servant, encouraging the people to respond unto God by pressing on to know Him.

And so, while the Jews sought freedom from Roman rule, Christ gave his disciples something far more than victory over the Romans. We can see here that God has not committed Himself to a good life. He does not commit that we will be successful in securing internships, in getting good jobs, a good career. Instead, He promises us Himself: that as we follow Him, our entire life would smell of Him, and not of this world!

What does God give us to help us be conformed to Him and not the world? It is His Word!  Hence we read in Luke 24:32: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” The resurrected Christ sought to explain Scripture to His doubting and downcast disciple because He thought that it was important for them to understand these truths in Scripture. His Word is the greatest gift that is given to us. It will explain our sorrow and grief, it will help us to know Him in our desperation. His Word is sufficient for us, and we have nothing else but Him.

Do we truly believe this? Or do we think that Christ has something better to bring us? If Christ is truly alive, and if we have One who lives ever to plead and intercede for us, does it not change our desires? Do we just plead for a better life before Him? He comes, to offer to us Himself. 

Hence, we see that resurrection truth, given to the doubter, is in His Word!  His Word sets our heart ablaze.  Indeed, this passage encourages those who doubt to seek Him, to trust that He will reveal Himself; and for others to press on to know Him. Would we give ourselves to the reading and learning about His Word, that our hearts too may be set ablaze? Will we seek Him today?