The Account of Unbelieving Thomas
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
The Biblical account we will focus our spiritual radar on today is famously known as the chronicle of “doubting” Thomas. Many scholars of all theological persuasions have commented that the description of the account of what happened isn’t fair to Thomas, and it doesn’t do justice to the story. A careful look at the translation of the word “doubt” in the original Greek does not appear anywhere in the story. In Verse 27b, a more accurate translation of “Do not doubt but believe,” is “Do not be unbelieving.”
The account of “Unbelieving Thomas” has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a narrative about Thomas. It’s also an eyewitness account about a group of frightened disciples. So, scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the horrible, humiliating death of Jesus Christ the one they confessed to being the Messiah. They stood by helpless as He was betrayed by one of his own, Judas, one of the most famous traitors in history. They witnessed the most lopsided, miscarriage of justice trial in history that the Jewish religious leaders quickly put together in the dead of night. This mock trail pulled together in a matter of hours had Jesus tried and convicted by both Jewish religious leaders and Roman civil authorities. From there they took this innocent man and had him brutally beaten and executed between two actually guilty criminals.
Stop for a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. It is little wonder they were afraid? If they could do this to Jesus as popular as He was with the crowds, and did nothing but improve the lives of those He came in contact with, then what is next? What would those same people who had Jesus killed have in mind for His followers? Logic would dictate that next they round up Jesus’ followers and snuff out the movement. In the midst of all this fear and uncertainty Jesus reappears alive on the scene, their fears are sweep away and are replaced by unbridled joy.
Just the way you imagined faith to work, right? Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy, wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas nor the way it works for us, either. He is uncertain. He questions. He disbelieves. He has a moment of shaken faith. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life. Why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors. It is possible he is thinking it is time to get back to the grind of life and restart my career that was placed on hold as I chased after this charismatic Rabbi. But Thomas is not alone in his questioning. He joins a long list of those who struggled to believe.
♣ Epicurus- Greek Philosopher” -Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
♣ Stan Lee, Comic Artist”- Q: Is there a God? A: Well, let me put it this way… [Pauses.] No, I’m not going to try to be clever. I really don’t know. I just don’t know.”- Onion AV Club Article, Oct. 9, 2002
♣ Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft”- Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”- Time Magazine – January 13, 1996
♣ Heidi Klum, Model”- I believe I have a healthy common sense and therefore have no need for religion.”- Vogue (Germany), June 2009
♣ Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek”- We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”- Free Inquiry, Autumn 1992
Some Questions to Ponder this Sunday after Easter:
Does doubt mean faith is not working properly?
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps if this is the opportunity before us this week, I want to provide the same opportunities for the many Thomases sitting in our churches and traveling this journey of life and faith.
Why Are We Here Questioning? Some observations:
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead. He shook up the world. He was on this path to greatness. And in a week’s time from His triumphant march into Jerusalem to Good Friday, everything is brought to a screeching halt. Jesus was incredible. He should have been their greatest Earthly King.
The disciples find themselves in this odd place. Their world has been rocked, and their faith was shaken to the core with one horrendous weekend turn of events. Their leader had been crucified. He died a death without honor, one reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no Messianic king. And would display that fact publicly on one of the most traveled roads for all the world to see. Israel would see their king dangling above the crowds on a cross on a hill placed between two thieves. With a sign above his head declaring to the crowds who once followed and cheered him, here is your King. Bow down and worship him now!
The followers of this disgraced king now spent their frightened saturated moments huddled together in a room filled with fear and anxiety concerned at the pending retribution of those who have unfinished business. They wanted to wipe any memory of this Jesus of Nazareth off the face of the earth. The religious leaders will move swiftly to destroy this grass roots movement of the man from Galilee.
This fear was thick and tangible. Surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look.
We know this fear.
Every single day we’re told to be afraid. From crime rates to unemployment. To terrorist plots to the fear of isolation, we are people living in fear. And that fear can cause us to struggle with unbelief and doubt. But here is a question to ponder.
Is there a place for the Thomas’s of the world?
So, here’s what I’m wondering a day or two, after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomases in our world? I remember as a teen when in religious instruction class that one teen brave enough to raise his hand and dares question “is this all real?”, only to be quickly shut down. There is no room for doubt, “Stop doubting and believe” we were told. I suspect that there are those among with us this Sunday that struggle with the Thomas syndrome. Who need a little bit more that, “Stop doubting and believe.” That would like a little hard evidence, maybe even a personal appearance of Jesus. If so, you should get to know more about Thomas.
Thomas was not a person who struggles to believe. The point is that Thomas was no more of a struggling Christian than the rest of the disciples. Thomas questioned. Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put … my hand in his side ...”! Thomas was a skeptic, an unbeliever.
Thomas struggled, to be sure — but Thomas doesn’t really doubt any more than anyone else. This is not a story about Thomas and to focus too much on him missed the real nugget, the gem in the account. This is a story about Jesus. This story could be renamed, “Jesus and the Unbelieving Disciples.” And for sure it would let poor Thomas off the hook. You see every one of the disciples had doubts, every one of them needed to see Jesus face to face, but we focus far too much on Thomas. From grieving Mary on Easter morning right on down to unbelieving Thomas, they are all doubters. Unbelievers! Every one of them!
Mary Magdalene in the opening verses of this chapter is weeping at the tomb because she saw Jesus die, right before her eyes. She is weeping and grieving and mourning at the grave, when suddenly, Jesus is there! She does not go to the tomb expecting a miracle. She goes to the tomb to complete the burial rites. When we see through the eyes of John that she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. She does not recognize him at first. However, Jesus asks her, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She is so consumed by grief she does not even recognize His voice. She thinks she is talking to the gardener. And it is not until he calls her by name — “Mary!” — That she recognizes him, and her anguish turns to joy. It is not until Jesus revealed himself to her that Mary becomes a believer.
The point is that it is not odd to have moments in your faith life where you struggle to be sure. But what do you do in those moments of doubt? Here is a three part solution based on the lessons of this passage of Scripture.
What to do when you have doubts?
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
1. Live in the Peace of God
Peace. It’s the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Words are meaning peace, wholeness. Fullness. Harmony.
Wholeness. Fullness. Living in the way and living out of the life and identity we were created for. How were we set up to live?
Tim Keller says it beautifully. He says, “"God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent."
What Keller is getting at here is the truth that it’s the desire of God is to restore justice, harmony, and peace in our world. He desires to bring about peace, and he doesn’t intend to do it alone. He has invited us to do it in partnership with him.
We were created to be together, living in community with one another, sharing life together, forgiving one another, and inviting each other into the Kingdom of God. Fear short-circuits this calling. We stop seeking justice, fighting for reconciliation, and advancing the Kingdom of God.
I love, though, what Jesus does next.
He breathes on the disciples, an image rich with symbolism of what’s to come, and tells them tells them, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
He’s saying, yes, I understand you’re afraid, but be at peace. For you aren’t helpless. You aren’t hopeless. You aren’t alone. Go, live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Live in faith and trust and hope, and not fear. Know that you’re not going at this alone, and as you do it, know that even the power of sin and death cannot hold you.
2. Realize you have received the Holy Spirit
Gordon Brownville's Symbols of the Holy Spirit tells about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his trips, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird's cage and set it free. Imagine the delight of Amundsen's wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, "He's alive! My husband is still alive!"
So, it was when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but the disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. What joy, then, when the dovelike Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The disciples had with them the continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious at the right of the Father. This continues to be the Spirit's message. -Thomas Lindberg.
He who sends enables those whom he sends, and the enabling is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. You have been sent by Jesus to be on mission
Here is a recap of Jesus’ missionary command:
“I the Lord, Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority in heaven and on Earth, command you, my devoted disciples in every age to go to the ends of the earth, to teach all people of every tribe and nation my gospel. Make all people my disciples who in turn will produce other disciples to expand my kingdom to the ends of the earth.”
The Strategy is Simple:
Jesus first gave us the missionary command, and he also gave us the mission strategy.
He said pay no attention to national boundaries.
“Go into all the world” translates as go wherever people live, breath, move and have their being. Find them. Join them on their life’s journey as they go about their daily lives.
Have a sense of urgency that Mark 16 expresses.
“16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16
What a bold, majestic command of our Lord and Savior. No one else would dare make such a decree. Not only does Jesus command we “go out” this same Jesus backs up that order with all the authority of heaven and seals it with the promise of salvation in His precious blood shed on Calvary’s cross and verified with the empty tomb.
As this King Jesus, who has all authority and power, is about to take his rightful place on the throne of heaven, Jesus sends out ambassadors to the ends of the earth to proclaim to all the peoples of the land that this is the final King of the Jews. He is calling all the peoples of the land home under His kingship for all eternity. Our mission manifesto is that we go forth with the promise of Jesus’ personal presence and the backing of his almighty power. All the authority of heaven and earth supports this mission manifesto.
Jesus came back to move the disciples from fear to mission. And He calls, equips and empowers us to do the same. He reminds us that we have His Spirit living and dwelling inside us and that Holy Spirit points us back to the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. That same Spirit comforts our soul when it is dealing with uncertainty and doubt so that we can have the peace that comes only from our relationship with God.