BELIEVING DOUBTING THOMAS
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. 28 Thomas answered him, My Lord and my God! 29 Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
-- John 20:24-29, ESV
Many churches celebrate the first Sunday after Easter as “St. Thomas Sunday.” Today we are going to bask in the light that God gave this outstanding disciple named Thomas. We know him best as “Doubting” Thomas. But at the end of the day, he became better known as “Believing” Thomas. I hope at the end of this day you will be believing Thomas, too.
Thomas, a silent member of “the twelve” in the synoptic Gospels (ref. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15), is mentioned a little more thoroughly in the Gospel of John (ref. 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-29, 21:2). On the one week anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas takes center stage. Here is how God’s word identifies him. Watch closely, for you just might see a little of yourself in this picture, too.
Thomas the Pessimist
Maybe you’ve heard about the pessimist who went skydiving. His friends were supposed to pick him up at a designated spot. He jumped, thinking his parachute probably wouldn’t open. It didn’t. With low expectations, he pulled his emergency chute. It failed. Finally he said to himself, “I’ll bet my friends won’t be there to pick me up, either!”
Thomas had a natural-born negative attitude. He may have developed it from birth, since his brother was called by his real name while he apparently was not. His parents and other people just called him “the twin” (Thomas means “twin” in Hebrew; Didymus means “twin” in Aramaic). Feelings of inferiority often develop into deep pessimism. When other people don’t expect much out of you, you tend to not expect much from yourself.
Perhaps this explains why Thomas was absent on the first Resurrection Sunday (ref. 20:1-23). Jesus had told them all, including Thomas, what was going to happen (ref. Matthew 12:40, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:33; John 2:19). But Thomas was too pessimistic to even show up that first Sunday and give the Lord a chance.
One of the things that has always bothered me as a Christian and a Pastor is the fact that on most Sundays in most churches most of the members do not even show up. Now I certainly excuse those who are bound by age or illness to their homes, those whose vocational calling from God requires them to work some Sundays, and those who are traveling out of town. But that’s not why most people neglect public worship on Sunday. They don’t come to public worship because they don’t think God has anything important to say to them. They sleep or play or watch television instead of assembling themselves with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day (ref. Hebrews 10:25). You might call them heathens, or hypocrites, but today I’ll just call them pessimists, like Thomas.
Thomas did not show up that first Sunday, but Jesus did. I think He shows up every Sunday when His word is preached, His name is praised, and His people pray and sing. I think He shows up in baptism and communion. I think when the Lord’s people gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, the Lord speaks. He can speak a word to you that can change your life for the better forever. But if you are pessimistic, if you are not present, you are going to miss what He has to say. And He may, or He may not, give you another chance. Thankfully for Thomas, another Sunday was just a week away.
Thomas the Doubter
As that second Sunday began, Thomas the pessimist was also Thomas the doubter. He actually had a track record for questioning Jesus.
When Jesus and His disciples arose from Galilee to go to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas doubted. Rather than raising Lazarus from the dead, Thomas thought they would all get themselves killed (ref. John 11:16). When Jesus revealed to them in the upper room where He was going and how they could follow, Thomas spoke up and said He did not know what Jesus was talking about and did not know the way (ref. John 14:5).
Then, when Christ arose from the dead on Easter morning, he heard about it from those who were witnesses. Thomas’ typical response: “Unless I see ... I will not believe.” His comments do display a certain honesty and boldness, but they also reveal a built-in negativity and doubt. He was “Doubting Thomas.” But, he would be transformed.
Most of you know the story of John Wesley, one of the leaders of the original Methodist Church. In his beginnings, he preached a gospel he personally doubted. After returning to England from Georgia, he determined to quit altogether. That’s when a friend, Peter Boehler, told him, “Preach faith until you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Unfortunately, most people let the doubts get the best of them. Thomas must have thought, “If Jesus was God, how could he die?” So on that first Sunday, he quit. Other people think, “If God is good, how could he let my loved one die, how could He allow bad things to happen, how come He never gives me what I ask for?” So they quit coming to worship, quit searching the Scriptures, and quit praying to God. Being a doubter will eventually make you a quitter.
So if you are a doubter, like Thomas, let me tell you something and let me ask you to do something. Christianity rarely offers a quick fix (like the televangelists try to tell you). Sometimes coming to genuine, saving faith can take a long time. Sometime you have to wade through a slough of doubt. But please, don’t quit. Come to worship, read the Bible, pray, keep at it. Faith is found in such ways.
For Thomas it took more than a week, I assure you. He had been steeped in Judaism, but did not believe. He had walked and talked with Jesus for three years, but did not believe. Finally, after many years of pessimism and doubting, Jesus came to him and transformed him into “Believing Thomas.”
Thomas the Believer
What brought Thomas to true faith?
It was not himself, for like all of us he was a born pessimistic, doubting, spiritually dead unbeliever. He was incapable of saving himself.
It was not his friends, although they did play a role. When Thomas missed that first Sunday, I’m sure they got in touch with him and encouraged him not to miss the next Sunday. They witnessed to him by telling him what they had experienced with Christ. Thomas came back to check it out.
Who brought Thomas to true faith? The same person who brought the other disciples to faith. The same person that can bring you to true repentance and faith -- the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was patient with Thomas, just like He is with all of us. Jesus did not bang Thomas over the head because of his doubts and fears, He never does. Jesus came to Thomas, in flesh and bone, as the Word of God in the Spirit of God. Jesus Christ offered him peace and proof. When he got one, I don’t think he needed the other.
We have no record that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ hands and side. We only have one of the greatest confessions of true faith ever recorded: “My Lord and My God!” Jesus Christ is Lord because Jesus Christ is God.
Thomas believed, and was transformed from a pessimistic, doubting sinner into a beloved, believing saint, and even has a Sunday named after him. Peter believed, and was transformed from stumbling block into a rock. John believed, and was transformed from son of anger to an Apostle of Love. Paul believed, and was transformed from chief persecutor to champion preacher.
You can I cannot see exactly what they saw, but we can believe exactly what they believed. If we believe, we will be blessed. There’s something great about that name: Jesus, Master, Savior, Lord, God. There’s something great and eternal that happens to you when you call upon the name, “My Lord and my God.”
Repent of pessimism. Retire your doubts. Believe believing Thomas and be a believer yourself.