The Text: John 20:19-31
Some of our popular sayings are absurd, like “seeing is believing”. If you see, you don’t need to believe. People have refused to affirm what they see. They often have vested interests for doing so. Jesus’ opponents witnessed His mighty miracles and yet refused to believe in Him. Earlier in John’s Gospel, after Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people, Jesus said: “You have seen me and yet you do not believe (John 6:36).” In the Bible, believing makes seeing possible. At her brother Lazarus’s death, Jesus tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?”
You see, faith is a lot like falling in love. Falling in love isn’t blind, but super-sighted. It enables you to see all sorts of things, good qualities in your beloved you never noticed before. So faith opens our eyes to the things God is doing in your life right now. Both love and faith involve taking a risk, the risk of commitment. Some people have never found commitment easy. There have always been those who have found faith in God a struggle, like Thomas did in today’s Gospel. When you consider all the attacks on our Christian faith in our media, in pubs and at parties, it’s an amazing miracle that so many people in our community, not only believe in our Lord but give visible evidence of their faith week by week. Thank God for every sign of faith you see around you.
Thomas didn’t initially share Peter’s Easter joy. He was absent the first time our risen Redeemer appeared, when His followers were gathered together. What blessings he missed out on by absenting himself from the company of his fellow believers. Consider what blessings, what enrichment and strengthening of your faith you may have missed out on by absenting yourself from the fellowship of the Lord’s House on Sunday only to inform this person that that topic was dealt with the previous Sunday when that individual was absent. That’s why God urges us: “Some people have got out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we mustn’t do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Hebrews 10:25).”
Thomas grieved over his Lord’s death longer than he needed to. He believed he was a realist. He’d expected all along that Jesus would be crucified. When Jesus proposed to visit Mary and Martha because their brother Lazarus had died, Thomas replied, “Let us also go that we may die with him (11:16).” He didn’t lack courage, but was a pessimist. A loyal follower of Jesus, he was a slow learner, slow to grasp who Jesus was and why He’d come. He wasn’t afraid to ask the questions of Jesus no one else dared ask. “Lord, we do not know where you are going”, he said.
Thomas is the most maligned of Christ’s apostles. He has been dubbed “doubting Thomas”. We don’t refer to Peter as “Peter the denier”. There’s something up-to-date about Thomas. He strikes me as a suitable patron saint for our times. He wasn’t prepared to believe because others said so. He wanted a genuine faith, a firsthand experience of the risen Christ. He wasn’t going to be content with second-hand testimony. If others had encountered the risen Christ, so must he. Thomas doesn’t ask to hear our Lord’s voice or see His face; he wants to see Jesus’ wounds. He’s only interested in the resurrection of His wounded Saviour. The wonderful thing about the other apostles is that they don’t snub him because of his doubts, but gently keep him posted about their Easter experiences. Maintaining friendship and fellowship with someone plagued by doubts has won many a doubter back into a stronger, firmer faith.
I have found that most doubters are dissatisfied with their doubt, and long for the joy a firm faith provides. Thomas’ lack of faith does more for us than the firm faith of his fellow apostles. Thomas doubted, so that we need not doubt.
Jesus now comes to His followers on His Day, the Lord’s Day. This time Thomas makes sure he’s with the others. Thomas has perhaps begun to realise that the place to find an answer to doubt isn’t in isolation, but in the company of others with a stronger faith than his own. Faith, you see, is partly contagious. As Jesus has often done with others who need their faith strengthened, Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to have, a firm faith in Him. Jesus displays His wounds which reveal the depths of His love for Thomas (and us). The wounds in Jesus’ hands heal the wound in Thomas’ heart. The slowest learners often become the strongest believers. Thomas may have been slow to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but at a bound, he leaps ahead of the others and is the first to come to full faith in our Lord: “My Lord and My God”, he confesses. He now confesses a greater faith than eyes can see. Thomas gives expression to the highest act of worship in the New Testament. The words “My Lord” mean Thomas is thrilled to now belong to his Lord and to surrender his life to Him.
We remember Thomas more for his supreme confession of faith than his previous doubts. Jesus calls a faith like ours that hasn’t seen Him “blessed”. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (John 20:29b).” Our Lord commends, praises and blesses a faith that heroically continues to believe without immediate or obvious confirmation. Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in hindsight. Faith that makes a difference believes that our Lord is with us in all our difficulties, disappointments and doubts. Faith that thrives constantly feeds on God’s Word. Christians are more likely to read God’s Word for comfort and help if they believe God is with them in their difficulties and doubts. Doubt is faith suffering from malnutrition. Doubt points to areas where one’s faith needs to grow and acquire deeper insight. Doubt is faith’s inbuilt stimulus to increase, deepen and develop.
Regular prayer and worship help keep our faith in good shape, fit to meet life’s challenges and setbacks. Luther once said: “To believe in God is to worship God.” God is greater than all our problems, difficulties and doubts. When we bring our doubts to God in prayer, the sting is taken out of them and they no longer impact negatively on our faith. We needn’t understand everything about our faith for it to be robust and resilient. Faith becomes unshakeable when I realise that Christ my Lord has grasped me more firmly than I ever could grasp Him. Fear, shame and guilt have kept more people away from God than doubt ever has. The welcome news Jesus brings is that He can free you from fear, guilt and shame like no one else can. Pray for a faith that nothing can destroy. Pray to stay faithful to your Lord unto death, so that you will receive from Him the crown of life everlasting. Amen