Doubting Thomas? Faithful Thomas!
Easter 2, 2006 * Idaville and Watseka, Illinois * John 20:19-29
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
I think Thomas gets a bad rap here, don't you? On the basis of this situation ALONE, we refer to him as "Doubting Thomas." Is that fair? In fact, that label has become so famous that people even identify someone having doubts as a "Doubting Thomas" even if they hardly read the Bible and hardly know anything about the story that we just heard in the Gospel. "Don't be a Doubting Thomas." "You're just a doubting Thomas." Well, I, for one, think it's UNFAIR to call Thomas a doubter based on this single situation.
It is unfair to single out Thomas as the doubter because just about everyone who first heard about Jesus' resurrection had their doubts. I mean, really! Someone being alive after they are dead. COME ON! Think about it. After you watch someone die, after you go to the visitation at the funeral home, seeing the dead body in the casket, you go to the funeral, to the burial, and you even go back and see that the vault has been sealed and lowered into the ground and dirt is spread over the top. How many of you would believe that after seeing ALL THAT, that someone would be alive? How many of you? You would be a doubter too. Just like Thomas.
Allow me to recall for you some of the other doubters in those early hours after Jesus rose from the dead. Consider the disciples themselves. Listen to Luke 24:9-11: 9 When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. So... the women see the evidence... they heard about Jesus' resurrection from angels, and they believed, but when they went back to tell the disciples, guess what? The disciples doubted. Yet, we don't hear the disciples called "the doubting disciples" or "doubting Philip" or "doubting James" or "doubting John". Why are we so quick to pick on Thomas?
Next verse, verse 12: 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Peter doesn't sound convinced to me. Wouldn't we label someone who could not be convinced a doubter? Yet we don't hear him referred to as Doubting Peter, do we?
Then, there's the two men on the Road to Emmaus. They walked with Jesus, and spent the entire evening with Jesus before they even recognized him. And why were they even walking to Emmaus on the very evening of Easter? Why were they so depressed? Well, they doubted! Listen to them, in their own words, Luke 24:19-24 "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." They were walking away from Jerusalem, back to their homes in Emmaus, because they doubted! They felt that Jesus had let them down.
So, it just so happens that on Easter evening, ten disciples are in the upper room, with the doors locked. Again. Why locked doors? Because they were afraid... they doubted. Jesus had died, and when the leader is killed, the followers are next. And, on that first Easter evening, they had the privilege of having Jesus show up among them. It wasn't because they were men of such great faith. Up to that point, they did not believe... they doubted. Yet they got to see Jesus' hands and side, and they believed. They believed because they had proof, Jesus, alive, right there in front of them.
So, that takes us to the situation we have before us. Thomas, who was not with them, is told about Jesus. Just before the disciples saw Jesus alive, they doubted. Now, they believe. Thomas hasn't had that advantage. He didn't get to see Jesus. So he does NOT believe. The only difference between Thomas and the rest of the disciples is that they got to SEE. He did NOT. And yet, the poor fellow gets branded for the last 2000 years, "Doubting Thomas." Why is that? It is because we like to label people. It is because we do not uphold the 8th commandment. Do you remember that commandment? It says that in all you say about someone else, you should do it in such a way that their reputation is preserved. ABOVE ALL COSTS that their reputation is preserved. Thomas had a moment of weakness. Because of that, and because the Holy Spirit inspired that this incident be written for all people to read, people standing in self-righteous judgment of Thomas and label him a doubter, when in fact none of us would have faired any better. Do you think that, after watching Jesus die, after carrying his dead body to the tomb, and then being in fright for your life, you would believe that he really was alive? Would you? I think not. I would have had as many doubts, if not more, than Thomas, and so would you. We all have our doubts.
I spend time every day with people who doubt God's goodness, God's love, God's mercy, God's presence in their lives. There is the man with a terrible cough that has a lung biopsy. He just knows that it will be lung cancer, and he's scared to death. He might be a doubter... where is God when you have lung cancer? Or how about the woman suffering from ovarian cancer? I work in the cancer center... and I see women, with no hair, weak, helpless, wasted lying on the bed. Don't you think they doubt? Where is God when the source of life within a woman... her ovaries... becomes the seat of death? Or how about the parents of a trauma victim, someone who runs a car into a tree, has a serious head injury. If the patient wakes up at all, life will never be the same. And sometimes, they don't wake up. That can cause even the strongest Christians to doubt... having a loved one, especially a teenage child, in a coma, or dead.
Have you ever had a time when you doubted God's goodness, God's presence, God's mercy? A family whose son DID wake up from a coma, when they thought he might not, said to me just this past week, "the Resurrection of Jesus meant more this year than ever." But what about those who aren't so lucky? Ever had a time when you doubted Jesus' resurrection, or maybe it didn't make much sense to you? Maybe a year or two of bad crops. Maybe financial ruin... maybe waiting for test results on a serious health condition... maybe someone who died... maybe having to place a loved one in the nursing home, maybe a marriage that has fallen apart. You see... we all have times when Thomas' doubts become our doubts. We all have time when it seems like God has failed us; when it seems like God has abandoned us.
Yet just as it was for Thomas, so it is for us. Jesus appeared to the 10 disciples, when Thomas was not there, to assure them He was alive... to assure them of His love and His mercy. Jesus then came back to appear to Thomas, to assure him of the same thing. And in whatever situation, Jesus calls out to you. He assures you of His love, His mercy, His kindness no matter what the situation. His love reaches out to you.
So, the next time you think about Thomas, and you are tempted to label him a doubter just because people have historically done that, remember, God loved that man Thomas enough to die for him, and reach out and assure him of the life that he had in Christ. And the next time you are ready to talk about someone, to brand someone, to discount someone because of what you think they have done, remember Thomas. He was a great man of faith, who just for a short time had trouble believing the resurrection of Jesus. It simply isn't fair to label someone based on what you think you have heard, or what you think you might have seen them do. Jesus didn't do that to Thomas. He didn't brand him. He didn't call him a doubter. He reached out to him in love. That love reached out to you, and through you to others. Amen.
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