“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Didymus (ie the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came.” That’s one of the more intriguing verses in this morning’s Gospel. Where was Thomas on Easter? Why wasn’t Thomas with the rest of the disciples in that upper room on that first Easter evening? Was he with his twin brother? Was he in hiding somewhere?
In the gospels, Thomas is always buried in the middle of the pack when the disciples names are listed, usually lumped in with Philip, Bartholomew, and Matthew the tax collector. In John’s gospel, Thomas is the disciple who always seems to say the wrong thing for all the right reasons. When Jesus set out to Bethany to attend to his friend Lazarus who had died, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When, in the upper room, Jesus told his disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, Thomas piped in with, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Thomas was the C-student of the disciples, always trying but never quite getting and whenever he chimed in, he seemed to be a sentence or two behind the action.
Thomas had missed the big event. Jesus’ appeared before His disciples, even though the doors were bolted tight. He was there, in the upper room. He showed the His hands and side. It was the real Jesus, the one who had been crucified. He had the marks to prove it. He blessed them with His peace. “Peace be with you,” He said. He words give what they say. He breathed on them, and with His breath bestowed the Spirit in a little preview of Pentecost. The big one would come 50 days later. He authorized them to forgive and retain sin. And Thomas had missed all of it. See what happens when you miss church? You miss out on all the Jesus gifts.
The others brought the news to Thomas. “We have seen the Lord.” And Thomas’ reply: “I won’t believe it until I see it. Until I see the nail marks and spear marks and touch them with my own hands, I will not believe it.” We call him “doubting Thomas,” but he’s really unbelieving Thomas. He doesn’t believe the message of the eye witnesses. He must see it for himself.
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Haven’t you said it yourself? It’s such a common phrase, it literally rolls off our lips. Your kid says, “I’m going to clean my room,” and you say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Remember that famous line from Cuba Gooding in the movie Jerry McGuire? “Show me the money.” Don’t just talk about it, don’t just make a bunch of empty promises. Show me. That’s the unofficial state slogan for Missouri, the “show me state.” Some people attribute it to Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver who in 1899 said in a speech, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces me nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You’ve got to show me.”
Seeing is believing. Talk is cheap. Show me. Thomas wants to see and touch the great good news of Easter. It’s one thing to hear the good news “We have seen the Lord,” it’s quite another to see and touch Him risen from the dead.
Who can blame Thomas? Perhaps the disciples were hallucinating. Maybe they encountered a Jesus lookalike. Perhaps this was a case of mass hysteria brought on by the news of the open, empty tomb. Thomas wanted to see and touch a real flesh and blood Jesus. He wanted to see, and even touch, those nail marks and the spear mark in Jesus’ side. Then there would be no doubt about it.
A week later, the next Sunday, Jesus again appears to the disciples gathered together in their locked up room. A pattern seems to be developing. Jesus had promised where two or three were gathered in His name, there He would be in their midst. He’s establishing His Church, His post-resurrection people. This time Thomas comes to church, doubts, unbelief and all. Jesus appears again in the flesh. No knocking on the locked door, no sneaking in the window. He just appears as though He’d been there all along because He had. He shows them His wounds; He gives them His peace.
And then a wonderful thing happens. He turns to Thomas and says, “Here. This is what you wanted to see. My hands and my side. Go ahead. Touch my wounds. Don’t be unbelieving but believe.” Jesus had heard what Thomas had said that week. Jesus answered Thomas’ unbelief with the proof he had asked for. The funny thing is that Thomas never seems to get to the point of actually touching Jesus. He simply cries out his confession: “My Lord and my God.”
By the way, keep this verse in your hip pocket the next time someone says to you that Jesus never said He was God. Here Thomas calls Jesus his Lord and God. If that weren’t true, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas for taking the Lord’s name in vain. Instead, He praises Thomas, and goes on to bless those who believe the same thing without seeing.
“My Lord and my God.” Crucified and risen. Bearing the marks of His cross. “Rich wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified” says the hymn. There’s no mistaking this Jesus for any other Jesus. He has wounds, and by those wounds you are healed. They say that scars lend character to a person. I’m not talking about those self-inflicted scars that the kids are doing. I’m talking about the wounds you sustain in this life that leave a trace for history to note. I have this funny Y-shaped scar over my left eye from twenty stitches in the emergency room thanks to a concrete light pole I ran into while playing touch football in senior year high school. Those who remember the incident still point to the scar and talk about it. It was quite the scene on the playground. It got me out of a whole year of swim classes. I milked it for all it was worth, I assure you.
The scars of Jesus’ crucifixion remain in the resurrection. They convinced the skeptical disciple that the Easter news was true. Jesus had risen. They are entered as evidence in the court of history today. No, you and I cannot see them. But the disciples, including Thomas, did see them, and were convinced. Over 500 at one time saw them and testified to the world. Peter who had been too cowardly to even admit knowing Jesus to a little servant girl saw them and preached the resurrection to thousands in Jerusalem. James, the brother of the Lord, saw them and believed. Tradition tells us that Thomas went on to establish the church in India. One of the oldest churches in Christianity, St. Thomas’ church, is there today. People gave their lives rather than deny they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you. You get a beatitude from Jesus. Blessed are you. You are not given to see or touch. But you are given to hear the testimony of these witnesses, including Thomas. John, who was there, recorded these things for you, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, would have life in His name.
It’s not simply believing the bare fact that Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead. Even the devils knows this, and they shudder at the thought of their undoing. It’s believing, trusting, that this death on the cross atoned for your sin. That this life laid down was a sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin. That Jesus was not simply a good man who died an awful death, but the Son of God in the flesh who died in your place, who became your sin and conquered your death so that you would have life forever in Him. It’s believing that because Jesus lives, you too will live. Because His grave is empty, your grave will be empty on the Last Day, and people will say the same thing about you that they said about Jesus: He is not here, he is risen! It’s believing that or greatest enemy, Death, the wages of our sin, has been dealt with once and for all by Jesus. It’s believing that His words are true, they are Spirit and life, the words of the crucified and risen One, and with those words He forgives us, He gives us His Body and Blood as surely as Thomas saw those wounds on that Sunday morning.
A.N. Wilson, a writer and biographer, grew up as a Christian. In his forties, he lost his faith and became an ardent atheist, keeping company with some of the famous atheists of our day. Recently he wrote of his reconversion to Christianity in a wonderfully written essay entitled “Why I Believe Again.” He recalls an incident of a young minister who feared that he had lost his faith. He had gone to the late archbishop Michael Ramsey for advice as to what to do. All the archbishop said to the distressed young minister was “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” He told him to continue worshipping Jesus in the Sacraments and faith would return.
Wilson then writes, “For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off Thought for the Day when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief “don’t matter”, that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.”
Bring your doubts to church, as Thomas did. We all have doubts. I certainly relate to that young minister. That could have been me at many times over the last sixteen years. If we are going to be people of faith living in the world, there will be doubt. Perhaps it’s over such things as evolution, perhaps it’s over things they struggle with in their own lives, perhaps it’s over the chaos of this world that seems to have very little of God in it.
The only thing you don’t want to do is let your doubt become unbelief, rejection of Jesus and what He has won for you. Bring your doubts, your questions, your “unresolved issues,” to the Word, to the Lord’s Table. You may not get the answer you’re looking for, as Thomas did, but you will get an answer. And you will discover, that the long road of faith is a slow, ofttimes grinding road that doesn’t afford easy answers and simplistic solutions. Just a Jesus with healing wounds and saving, Spirit-filled words. I again quote from A.N. Wilson: “My departure from the Faith [to atheism] was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again.”
Blessed are those who have not seen, and who yet have believed.
In the name of Jesus.