Jesus appears to the disciples
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus,[a] 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.
I love this story of the disciple Thomas. He has been dubbed, Thomas the Doubter. I think that underestimates Thomas. He was left out of the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. We have no idea where he was or what he was doing. But when he found out that Jesus had come to the group he was probably devastated. So I ask, was Thomas’ doubt a weakness? Did it show that he was not a strong follower of Jesus? No! It was his honest need that asserted itself. I want you to notice that Jesus honored what he needed. After offering his peace to the gathered disciples, including Thomas, he said, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” It resulted in an immediate statement of belief from Thomas. Jesus’ statement in 20:29, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe” is not so much about Thomas as it is about future believers. It is a statement about how things will be.
For Thomas, doubt was a pathway that opened up and ultimately led to great faith. Honest questioning, with an open heart and mind, yields a stronger faith.
Now I want to contrast that kind of honest seeking with what so often is the case now days - a “debunking mentality.” A debunking mentality comes from a skeptical, even cynical mindset. Debunking begins with a preconceived notion of truth. Whatever I am considering does not fit with what I already believe. I am open only to the facts that corroborate my preconception. This is not the kind of doubt that gripped Thomas. Instead his was an honest seeking for truth.
I play a game on my phone called “Wordscapes.” It is a series of 6 or 7 letters, in random order, all jumbled. The object of the game is to fill in a crossword like grid with words that can be made from the letters. Every now and then I get stumped. For instance, “it is a four- letter word I need that ends in “e”. I can’t immediately see what it can be. I start trying combinations, starting with every consonant in the letter pool. What happens is that I forget to remind myself that the word could start with a vowel. I can often forget to check that possibility. But then there is when a vowel doesn’t sound like what my mind is thinking. The word “once” gets me every time. “Ounce” as well. My preconceptions about how the vowel “o” sounds keeps me from seeing the word I need.
Thomas didn’t doubt the resurrection but needed confirmation I often wonder if he was feeling left out, missing that first encounter – did he miss out on his only opportunity?. His was an honest seeking of the truth. The others had told him. He needed to experience it.
Consider the story in Mark 9:22-24. It hasn’t been that long since I referenced this story. It right after the Transfiguration, and is the story of a man whose son was healed of the demon. The man says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!” 23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can do anything’? All things are possible for the one who has faith.” 24 At that the boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” The New Revised Standard Version says “I believe; help my unbelief!”
It is after what the man says that his son is healed! Jesus met him in his honest need and provided the clarity he needed. Jesus could indeed do what was needed.
My Lenten Devotional was particularly powerful this season. It was entitled “Listen to Him: Forty Steps on the Road to Resurrection” by J. D. Walt. Throughout the Lenten Season it utilized “The Jesus Prayer” every day with two modifications. We said the same three prayers everyday of Lent. The Jesus Prayer is a simple statement, yet powerful. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It asks for the mercy of forgiveness – that powerful gift that Jesus assured on the cross. Then it moved on to “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a son/daughter.” By someone seeking to follow Jesus it is asking for the mercy of faith. And finally, on to “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a saint.” Recognizing our belief and faith, it is asking for the mercy of fullness, both of faith and of service for God. Not just faith but fullness of faith. We are all saints! Yet we all need to grow, continually. Sounds a lot like the man’s statement doesn’t it? “I believe; help my unbelief!”
So, what do we do with doubt? Maybe the first question is, “what do we most often doubt?” Maybe it is our own forgiveness? Consider a contrast between Judas and Peter. I firmly believe Judas was forgiven, but he could not see or accept that forgiveness. He died broken and alone. Peter, on the other hand, had done exactily what Jesus said he would do, but he was able to receive and feel forgiveness. He became the “Rock” that Jesus had proclaimed him to be.
Maybe it is our own beloved status in the eyes of God? Are we worthy of God’s love? Acknowledging our bent to sinning – our status of “sinner” – how could God love us? How could God love us so much that he sent His only Son to die for us? Maybe it is our ability to follow fully that causes doubt? What ever it is that causes you to doubt remember that Jesus is ready to meet you in honest doubt and provide what you need.
Then, what do we do with doubt? First, and foremost, it is NOT a sign of weakness or weak faith. It is a sign of a seeking faith. What did Thomas do with his doubt? When he missed Jesus’ appearance, he embraced it his doubt and stated what he needed. He could easily have succumbed to “peer pressure” in the group of the disciples. After all it was ten to one! Ten of the disciples had seen the Lord. It would have been easier to just say he believed fully and hidden his doubt. He didn’t. Instead, embracing his doubt he sought clarity – ‘not until I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my hand in his side will I believe.’ That took courage. I can almost hear the other disciples getting down on him for not believing them.
From the fifth week of our Lenten Sermon Series, “The Need for … A Guide”, remember John 16:13? Jesus said, “However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth.” I firmly believe Thomas was leaning into this promise. He wanted to be guided into the truth. Honest doubt and yearning are close cousins. Honest doubt seeks honest resolution - a clarity about what you need and a yearning for its resolution. Jesus did not scold Thomas for his need – his doubt. After Thomas’ enthusiastic statement of belief (notice there is no report of him actually putting his hand in Jesus’ side) Jesus says, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Again, this is a statement not so much for Thomas but for all those who would come after him in belief. His isn’t a rebuke but a statement of how things will be in the future. As a disciple Thomas could use his own story of doubt to invite others into belief.
Now in Good Paul Harvey style, “And now for The Rest of the Story” – Not only did Thomas believe, but he traveled outside the Roman Empire - moving toward the “ends of the earth” that Jesus referenced in Acts 1 - all the way to the south eastern coast of India – Modern day Kerala, where he established churches up until his martyrdom in 72 AD. In Chennai, India there is St. Thomas Mount and cathedral with his name. What did he do with his doubt? He put it to work! He could understand when someone doubted and help them to find from their honest doubt and honest need for clarity a strong belief.