Exeter Temple Message notes: 3rd April 2016
Bible Reading: John 20:24-31
The women in the Easter story were afraid, the soldiers were terrified, the centurion was amazed, the Jewish leaders were angry, Peter full of regret and Judas in despair.
Thomas was doubtful. Maybe this was because of his deep disappointment and he was not ready to hope again. Or perhaps he was concerned that his friends were facing a reality that Jesus’ mission was over.
It is rather unfair to link only Thomas with doubt as none of the other followers of Jesus believed Jesus had risen from the dead at first either. Mary saw the risen Lord but did not believe until she heard His voice. The two friends on the Emmaus road heard Jesus but did not recognise Him until they saw Him break bread. None of the disciples believed the women.
Yet although he was the last disciple to see the risen Christ, Thomas was the first one to voice the truth that Jesus is God.
Thomas doubted at first but progressed to great faith.
1. Thomas was candid.
Thomas would not believe in the resurrection on the say so of his friends. He was clear about that.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finder where the nails were and put my hand in his side I will not believe it.” (John 20:25)
“Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong, it may be a sign that he is thinking.” Oswald Chambers
Not all doubt comes from the same source. There is a kind of doubt that is utterly condemned in the Bible. It is a deliberate denial and resistance to God. There are those who approach the Bible with scorn and blanket assertions that something is impossible. Their minds are closed.
“Doubt is the sincere question - but unbelief is the unwillingness to hear the answer.” (Anon)
The Bible calls people who show that unwillingness, “Fools!”
“The fool has said in his heart, there is not God.” (Psalm 14:1)
Thomas’ doubt came from a reverence of the truth. Thomas absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or that he believed what he did not believe. He knew he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.
How much better to be honest than to profess and insincere faith! Yet Thomas was open and ready to accept the evidence when he could see for himself. Then he was humble enough to bow the knee in worship.
2. Thomas is convinced
The story of Thomas bears witness to the fact that honest doubt can grow into full faith.
Suddenly without warning Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples had gathered and He greets them with; “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)
There is no rebuke for Thomas. In fact, Jesus was very gentle with him and showed Thomas the evidence he had asked for.
Thomas’ story is important because he took a leap of faith and worshipped. Thomas gave up his own conditions and his own demands and had his eyes opened to the truth that he was seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Thomas then made the most amazing declaration for a Jewish man to make. “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
The Greek Old Testament translated Yahweh as Lord and Elohim as God and were used together to address the Almighty as Lord God. Thomas was using the same language to address Jesus as he would have used to address Yahweh!
Thomas had set the conditions for faith based on miracles - yet he learns that sense and sight are not the sufficient proofs he thought. His declaration of Jesus as Lord God was not the result of physical sight but when he believed what he saw he was given a holy understanding of the significance of what was happening.
“Belief in the resurrected Lord does not require physical sight or touch of him. It requires spiritual insight into him and allowing oneself to be touched by him.” (Anon)
Jesus confirmed this by saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29b)
3. Thomas was challenged
Thomas was a latecomer in believing in the resurrection and had earlier missed out because he was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them.
We are not told why that was but maybe Thomas did not want to go back to the upper room with the other disciples to be reminded of their failure and be together with them without Jesus. What changed his mind and caused him to join in with the others we don’t know - but Thomas the latecomer did not get left out after all. This gives such hope to all those who are slow on the uptake.
At the earlier appearance of Jesus, Jesus had given the disciples a challenge, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
Thomas wasn’t there for that but I have no doubt that it was a commission for him too. Thomas believed on and submitted to Jesus as Lord and God. His testimony would be invaluable in spreading the news that Jesus was alive.
Even his doubts could be used to help others. The fact that he and the others doubted shows that they only started spreading the good news of the resurrection when they were sure the evidence was reliable.
This is reassuring for us. We who believe, but who do not see in the same way as those first disciples can know that the accounts of the resurrection were not made by the gullible but by people who made sure of the facts.
We don’t hear much more of Thomas, except that the other disciples did not treat him with disrespect because of his early doubts. He became one of the leaders of the early church, some believe that he was the first missionary to take the gospel to India.
He obeyed the commission of Christ and was a true witness. He did not miss out and we don’t have to either.