READ : John 20:19-29
Does doubt make you an unbeliever? Not if Thomas is any kind of disciple.
In this brief series of programs during the season of Easter, we’re looking at the
encounters between the risen Lord Jesus Christ and several of his followers. These
happened during the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his
ascension into heaven. According to Acts 1:3, Jesus used this brief period of time for two
things: first, to confirm his teaching in his disciples’ minds and then to convince them
that he really was alive, that he actually had risen from the dead. And, apparently, they
took some convincing.
The most common alternative explanation for the rise of the Christian faith is the
suggestion that the disciples of Jesus somehow invented the story of his resurrection in
order to overcome the problem of Jesus’ crucifixion. After all, it’s rather hard to
convince someone you have found the Messiah and the Savior of the world if he ended his
life as a criminal on a Roman cross. So, according to the skeptics, for the disciples to
launch their new religion based on faith in Jesus they had to come up with a new ending to
the story. Thus, the resurrection account.
The New Testament evidence is that the disciples themselves had doubts about the
reality of Christ’s resurrection, doubts that took some time to overcome. And the
doubter-in-chief among them was Thomas — Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to call
Thomas the Disciple
Here is his story.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my
God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those
who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus’ disciples first met their risen Lord when they were together — probably in
the Upper Room — on Easter Sunday evening. One week later they met him there again.
This, incidentally, is why most Christians worship on the first day of the week rather
than the seventh, on Sunday rather than Saturday because every Sunday is Resurrection Day,
the day when we meet with and worship the living Lord Jesus. Ten of Jesus’ original twelve
disciples had seen the Lord on Easter and the evidence of their own senses convinced them
that he truly had risen from the dead. But Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas hadn’t seen him and
Thomas didn’t believe. And until he could be absolutely sure that the same Jesus whom he
has seen nailed to the cross was now risen from the dead, he wouldn’t believe. As far as
he was concerned, seeing is believing. So when the other disciples told him excitedly that
they had seen the Lord, Thomas replied, in effect, “Show me!”
The following week when they were gathered together again, Thomas was present. I wonder
why he had skipped the first gathering. And who persuaded him to rejoin the fellowship? We
just don’t know; the story doesn’t tell us. But it does introduce Thomas as “one of the
Twelve,” that is, one of Jesus’ apostles. Now, that’s an interesting description. Here’s a
man who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, who has rejected the
testimony of all his friends (which was wrong to do). Here is a man whose attendance
record at the Sunday services of the fledgling Christian church leaves much to be desired
(he’s missed half of them, and he’s paid for it by spending an extra week in the misery of
thinking that his Lord was dead and gone.) And yet he’s still called one of the Twelve.
He’s Thomas the disciple, not Thomas the ex-disciple.
The truth is, you don’t have to have perfect faith to be a Christian. Being a believer
doesn’t mean you never doubt anything. Have you ever lain awake at night wondering whether
it’s all true after all? Have you ever asked yourself if there really is a God, or if
Jesus really is alive? Have you ever questioned whether or not the gospel story is
trustworthy? Have you ever cried out because secretly you doubted whether God cared about
you at all, or could do anything to help you? Well, if you have, you’re in good company.
Jesus’ disciples do those sorts of things.
There’s Doubt, and then There’s Doubt
Near the end of his life the great novelist Theodore Dostoyevsky wrote, “I do not
believe in Christ or confess him like a child. My hosanna has come through a crucible of
doubt.” “But wait a minute!” someone says. “If a Christian can still have doubts, then
what makes someone a non-Christian? How do you tell the difference between a doubting
believer and an unbelieving doubter?”
Well, there’s doubt, and then there’s doubt. A lot of doubt is really hardcore
scepticism. It’s a doubt born often of pride, of a stubborn refusal to be taken in. “Those
dumb fundamentalists may believe in God, but I won’t fall for that. I’m far too
intelligent.” Honest doubt struggles to believe. It says, with the man in the gospel
story, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” But scepticism, priding itself on its
intellectual superiority, doesn’t want to believe.
Thomas’s doubt wasn’t scepticism. It wasn’t head doubt; it was heart doubt. His doubt
wasn’t intellectual; it was deeper and more personal than that. Purely intellectual doubt
doesn’t usually cause those who entertain it any deep pain or trouble, nor is it something
they earnestly desire to overcome. That sort of doubt characterizes the uncommitted and
serves as an excuse for their non-involvement. It’s the doubt of permanent fence sitters,
the doubt of people who love to argue and find difficulties but who don’t really want
answers, people who claim they can’t believe but whose real problem is they don’t want to
believe because faith would require that they eventually bow the knee like Thomas did.
None of that was Thomas’s doubt. His doubt didn’t come from intellectual questions. It
rose out of his sorrow. The reason Thomas found it difficult to accept the testimony of
his friends to Jesus’ resurrection was because Jesus’ death had so utterly devastated him.
From what we learn about him elsewhere in the gospel, Thomas seems to have been one of
those people whose basic temperament was gloomy. He was a glass-half-empty kind of guy. He
may have been melancholic, but he wasn’t coolly detached. He wasn’t neutral. Thomas’s was
the doubt that is prepared to be overcome, if it only can believe that the news that seems
too good to be true really is true after all.
Seeing Is Believing
And here’s another thing: despite Thomas’s doubt, Jesus still loved him. When he came
again into the midst of his gathered followers, he came especially for Thomas’s sake. His
first words were, “Peace be with you.” Not “Peace be with you except for Thomas over there
who doesn’t believe in me.” No. Jesus sought Thomas out. He went to him. He didn’t make
Thomas come to him. He readily offered to him the proof that Thomas had demanded. What an
amazing thing! Of course, Thomas was wrong in arrogantly laying down conditions before he
would believe, and demanding specific proof. And of course the blessing that Jesus
pronounces is not for those who need to see in order to believe, but for those who believe
even though they haven’t seen. And of course, the Word of God alone is the resting place
for our faith, not any subjective experiences we have. But in this case Jesus brushes it
all aside, and comes to Thomas and invites him to touch and see and believe.
Well, Thomas didn’t take him up on the offer. Did you notice? As someone said, Thomas
didn’t need to see the nail prints any more. He recognized Jesus by his love and grace. So
instead of examining Jesus’ body, Thomas falls to his knees and confesses, “My Lord and my
God.” It’s the greatest confession of faith in the New Testament. When he actually came
face to face with Jesus, his doubts vanished like a morning mist, and he fell down and
worshiped. And in that action we see exactly what it is that separates Christians from
non-Christians, believers from skeptics. It isn’t how much faith or doubt you have. What
defines a Christian is to worship Jesus as Lord and God. And if you can do that, then you
belong to him.
Maybe you’re struggling with doubt today. Maybe you’ve been laying out conditions that
you think have to be met before you could really believe in the Lord. What would it take
for you? To witness a miracle? Would you believe if you could see the lame walk or the
dead raised? Would you believe if you could actually see God or audibly hear his voice?
Would you need to lay your eyes upon Jesus, touch him with your own hands? If you did,
would you believe then? I wonder. You know, whenever we say, “If I could only see, I would
believe,” God says, “If you would only believe, you could see.” Why don’t you try it