Youth Suggestions to Discuss Doubt: Adolescents face tremendous challenges throughout their daily lives. The best time to teach any teenage Bible lesson is before the problem gets out of control. It’s essential to build in our youth a solid foundation of faith that will carry them into adulthood. However, it’s also important for teens to understand what they believe and why. Their beliefs shouldn’t be based solely on what adults tell them, but ought to be trusted on their own. Turbulent teenage years often bring doubts and uncertainties. As mentors, we should allow room for questions and doubts, but also guide youth in the direction of Christ as they wonder and explore.
Lesson focus: This lesson reviews the story of “doubting Thomas” and the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. Within the Gospel events, teens will discuss the reality of personal doubts and what they can do in times of uncertainty and inquiry.
Scripture Passage: John 20:19-31
Target Audience: Middle-high school students (6th-12th grade) Youth Group Sunday School Class
Optional Materials: Blindfolds; paper bags; paper and writing utensils; Bibles; photos.
Youth Group Games: Introduce Bible Lesson on Doubt
Lesson Opening: Since the focus of this lesson is on beliefs and trust, consider some opening discussion topics or youth ministry game activities that connect to faith:
- Two truths and a fib…have students take turns describing three statements. One of the statements should be false, and the others accurate. Have other students attempt to identify which statement is not true. Explain that sometimes it an be challenging to know what to believe or trust.
- Unbelievable! Share some tough-to-believe facts about record holders for impressive events. See if students have doubts about the feats, and what it might take to believe the claims people make.
- Blindfold belief: blindfold students and invite them to feel inside a bag of items to guess what things are hiding within. How can they tell what things are without seeing them?
- Try a simple card trick or sleight of hand, or invite a student to try one out for others. How skeptical are students?
- Discussion/contemplation question: Where does belief come from? Can you force yourself, or someone else, to believe something?
Invite students to consider how it can be challenging to believe or understand Scripture at times. Encourage them by reminding them that doubting is healthy and natural. There is an element of faith that involves trusting God without having every fact. The story to explore in this lesson involves someone who doubted the Resurrection, but reminds us that we are called blessed when we believe without sight.
Ask: Have you ever had doubts or questions about Christianity, or about anything? How can you make sure that things are true? Or can you?
Youth Bible Lesson: Overcoming Doubt
Middle and high school students work well with a variety of reading methods. Some might prefer to read passages on their own and review what they understood from reading. Many, though, enjoy hearing verses read aloud and explained. Some students are happy to read out loud themselves, and “popcorn reading” can be a great way to keep them engaged with the text. However, students who wish to remain out of that limelight should not be forced to read.
The story of doubting Thomas could also be acted out dramatically. Consider assigning parts and having students mime out the action; or divide teens into groups and have them come up with their own skit version of the events. If available, you could even try it with puppets!
Begin by explaining the context, that these events took place shortly after the Resurrection. The disciples were hiding away, nervous that the Jews might come after them. But locked doors are no match for a risen savior!
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” -John 20:19-21
Despite the testimony of witnesses and the words of Jesus Himself, the disciples were still not quite certain that He had risen from the dead. In fact, they were hiding out in fear when Christ came to them. Notice the first thing that Jesus does: He calms their anxieties and invites them to be at peace. He shows them His hands and side to prove that it really is Jesus, not a ghost or a strange vision, but the Messiah. Jesus again reminds the disciples to have peace.
Ask: What brings you peace? Have you ever felt extremely nervous about something, and then somehow been calmed?
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus gives further peace with this comforting Holy Spirit assurance. He breathes on them and grants the power to forgive and be forgiven. Surely this was a comforting and remarkable moment for the disciples as they not only saw their Lord alive again, but received His strength and authority to forgive. However, one of the followers was absent. We don’t know where Thomas was. Maybe he went out for supplies. But he didn’t see Jesus when the others did, and refused to believe.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” -John 20:24-25
Thomas was a skeptic. He might have thought he was doing the right thing in having suspicion, or perhaps he was just stubborn. But he was also demonstrating a lack of trust in others and ultimately in Jesus. He demanded proof. Sometimes we demand proof, too.
Discuss how it’s okay for us to want things certain and proved. However, part of our faith involves trusting in God without absolute proof. We don’t always have the answers we want or hope for, but we can still rely on God. That’s what faith means, ultimately, “the assurance of things unseen.” We may or may not always have feelings that we think should have, but we trust in God’s power and work in our lives.
Ask: Where do you think faith comes from? Can we increase our own belief or force others to believe in Jesus?
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” -John 20:26-29
This is some pretty serious “FOMO”…Thomas missed out, but Jesus humored him, in a sense. The Lord allowed Thomas to see Him and touch Him. Something significant occurs at the end of this passage, though. Jesus calls Thomas out, to an extent, for believing only by sight. He then says “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Point out for students that this “blessed” number would include us! We have not seen or touched Jesus in the flesh, but we do believe in Him.
It is also worth emphasizing that even our faith comes from God. It isn’t something that gets left behind in a lost and found. Nor is it a thing we can conjure up on our own, drawing from some deep inner well of belief. We rely on the Holy Spirit to grant belief. It’s not just up to us. We can pray when we struggle, and even if we don’t feel emotionally drawn to God, we can ask for help with our doubts and unbeliefs. We can pray also four those around us who might be facing challenges with faith.
Ask: How would you respond if someone asked you why you believe in Jesus, or who you believed Him to be? What would you say if faced with a peer who claimed that we cannot prove Christ’s life or resurrection?
The final words of this chapter close the Gospel by reminding us that Jesus did even more than we can know or imagine.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. -John 20:30-31
Ask: Why is it important to believe in Christ and His work? What would you do if you felt uncertain about your faith?
Remind students again that doubt is acceptable and normal. In fact, it is better to doubt and then return to God than to go through the motions without authenticity. In times of struggle it’s important to talk things over with trusted adults like parents or leaders, and maybe even with other teenagers. Know where to look to search Scripture. Research if needed. More than anything, pray and humbly come to God, trusting in Him for strength and for faith.
Close with prayer. Thank God for helping doubts and encouraging faith. Ask for His help to trust and believe without sight.