“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.” 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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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)
Other the past few weeks we’ve focused on the mission of Christ as given to the Apostles and, thus, passed on to us. We’ve talked about how that mission requires us to have the focus and drive of a super hero all while having the incredible power and authority of God that is completely and utterly submitted to His leadership and purpose. Today, we’re going to switch gears and take a look at one of the Apostles who struggled to understand and believe, Thomas the Twin. Now most folks call him doubting Thomas, and perhaps for good reason, but we’re not so different from him. We also struggle with belief and commitment, don’t we? Let’s take a look…
Thomas was noticeably absent during the first encounter the disciples had with the risen Lord. Those disciples present at the first encounter had also struggled with initial belief, but were gathered in one place, behind locked doors, “for fear of the Jews,” (John 20:19) when Jesus appeared in their midst. He showed them His hands and His side and we can only assume this was to alleviate their own doubts and questions. He gave them visible, physical proof of His identity, His physical reality and His deity. These things elicited belief in His resurrection, faith in His deity and then led them to worship Him and to obey Him as Lord.
But Thomas wasn’t there… he didn’t see any of this personally. But he did hear it from his friends. “The other disciples told him, ‘We’ve seen the Lord.’” You see, Thomas really represents us and the belief struggles we face. He hadn’t seen the evidence first hand but was dependent upon the eyewitness accounts of the other disciples, but he doubted. Many today have this same struggle. They feel that they cannot believe the truth of the resurrection because they’ve not been able to validate the evidence first hand. But honestly, how many times are we called to belief and faith in some event, idea or concept without first hand knowledge or evidence?
For example, many years ago I visited my mother who was living in an apartment a few hours drive from my home. During that visit she asked me to help her locate her missing checkbook. After several minutes of searching, I noticed her checkbook was tucked in between a couple of books on her bookshelf. After presenting it to her, she asked why I had been looking for her checkbook. Hmmm, odd. She didn’t remember asking me to find it. Oh well, she is getting older. During the same visit I noticed a pan of food sitting on her kitchen stove. It appeared to have been there for several days but she insisted that she had just been warming up some leftovers before we arrived. I began to fear something deeper, more serious was wrong than just normal aging forgetfulness. Later, I shared my fears with my brothers, but they had not observed her symptoms first hand. They had doubts about my growing fears of her mental condition. Sometimes our doubts are difficult to overcome.
But, we are often asked to believe evidence we’ve not personally observed. Doctors ask us to trust them with healthcare diagnoses based on evidence only they’ve observed or completely understood. Scientists expect us to trust them regarding discoveries they’ve made based on evidence only they’ve seen, truly understood and evaluated. Elected governmental representatives, national security leaders, and military officers demand that we trust them regarding sensitive and secretive decisions they make to ensure our personal safety and national security. In fact, every time I step foot onto an airplane to travel somewhere I have trusted these people to do their jobs well and ensure that I will not be the victim of a terrorist plot. Faith in the testimony and word of others is a common and daily occurrence. Especially, faith in those we know well and should trust…
However, trust can be easily broken, too. But distrust is also based on evidence and experience. Sometimes that evidence and experience is accurate, correct and should result in doubts and distrust, but many times it shouldn’t. Just for a moment, let me return to my story regarding my mother’s memory problems. She was diagnosed with dementia and began the slow, downward spiral that results from Alzheimer’s. During this time I learned several valuable life lessons but only through the painful reality of this horrific disease. I initially became the primary caregiver for my mother and she began to distrust me and my decisions regarding her finances. While I realize her distrust was the result of her disease, I also began to recognize that her sister and brother also began to distrust me. Their distrust was not the result of her disease but was based on my mother’s faulty view of reality which they believed. Fortunately, my brothers knew me well enough and understood my mother’s condition well enough to recognize that my mother’s accusations were false and tainted by her deteriorating mental condition, her brother and sister never did.
Here’s my point, many folks today have a distrust of Christ and the church that is based on a false narrative of history and an inaccurate view of reality. I’m not saying there aren’t accurate accounts of atrocious acts performed in the name of the church. But, I’m not asking you to put your trust in “the church” or the supposed church leaders who perpetrated those actions. I’m asking you to put your trust in the undeniable power and authority of Jesus the Christ. Why? Because of one of the very things that Thomas observed in the resurrected Lord, His scars. Now that might, at first, seem odd to you, but stay with me. I find it extremely interesting that the disciples specifically noted the existence of physical scars on Jesus resurrected body. But why? While I certainly believe the scars Jesus bore were used to positively identify Him, were they just for physical identification? I think they tell us something much, much deeper and greater…
We are all wounded by life in general, and by others in particular. It is impossible to live life and not be wounded. We are wounded by accidents that occur around us and to us. We are wounded by our own mistakes, the mistakes of others and, especially, the neglect and even malicious acts of others. The question in life is not whether we’re wounded but by whom and why? But the bigger question is how we will react and respond to these wounds. I hope you realize that I’m not really speaking about physical wounds, but relational wounds. Relational wounds cut deeper and take much, much longer to heal. If they ever heal.
Unintentional emotional wounds usually heal quicker and with less pain. We usually recognize that these wounds were unintentional or accidental and we allow the salve of forgiveness to be applied to them much quicker. That’s not necessarily true of intentional wounds. We often refuse to forgive in those circumstances and, thus, those wounds never receive that healing salve of forgiveness. They fester, become infected or we continue to pick at the wound unwilling to let it “scab over” and begin healing naturally. I suspect most of you have one ore more of these emotional wounds that you refuse to offer forgiveness and allow God’s healing to penetrate.
Jesus’ resurrection power is not just about the future or end times, it is also about now. Peter declares, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV) Did you catch that statement? His death declares the truth of our sin and guilt and His resurrection declares the reality of our healing and righteousness! Here’s the hard part regarding forgiveness, we tend to see only the offense and the offender and we never see our own sin.
Don’t misunderstand here, I’m not necessarily suggesting your own sin contributed to the emotional wound you’ve suffered but I am suggesting that we’re all guilty of sin and in need of forgiveness. You might retort and say, “I’d never do to someone else what they did to me!” You may very well be right, but you’ve still hurt others intentionally and unintentionally and, thus, you’re guilty of the same offense and in need of forgiveness and healing.
In a generally healthy person, physical wounds heal naturally given time and proper wound care. However, some conditions hinder or even prevent the body from naturally healing itself. Emotional wounds react in much the same way. Emotional health contributes to emotional healing and most emotional wounds heal given time and proper wound care. But some conditions hinder or even prevent emotional healing and being unwilling to forgive someone is one of those conditions that prevents emotional healing.
Honestly, forgiveness is probably the hardest part of our calling as Christian believers. I think that’s why it takes such a central position in the Lord’s model prayer in Matthew 6…
“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15 ESV)
Forgiveness is essential in not only our relationship with others, but forgiveness of others is essential in our relationship with God! So, if you’re needing to experience emotional healing in a relationship but you’re struggling to forgive then listen to Jesus’ prayer and recognize your own need of forgiveness. It will help you be able to offer forgiveness to others. Now, let’s look at the rest of Thomas’ struggle with doubt and Jesus’ response.
Thomas states emphatically that he WON’T believe unless he is able to personally validate the truth of the disciples’ claims regarding Jesus’ resurrection. “Unless I see… I will never believe!” Jesus waits an entire week before appearing to them again. I imagine that was a hard week for Thomas. His friends are insistent they’ve seen Jesus alive but he refuses to believe. This is where I think those relationship struggles I mentioned above must have developed. Peter, John, James and the others are convinced and rejoicing in the reality of the resurrection, but Thomas is still plagued by fears and doubts. It must have caused tension between them. Why? Because Thomas not only doubts Jesus’ resurrection, he doubts the other disciples and their testimony.
Have you ever been placed in a situation where your word or trustworthiness is questioned? If you know you’re telling the truth and someone refuses to believe you, it is easy to become very frustrated very quickly. To them doubt seems normal and expected, to you it seems ludicrous or even treasonous. Why won’t you believe ME? Why don’t you trust ME? It becomes personal and can strain or even break the best relationship. So, in some ways I find it surprising that Thomas is present the next week when they meet. I suspect the disciples anticipated another visit from Jesus and I’m hopeful that’s why Thomas was there. He doubted but perhaps he still clung to a thread of hope and trust in his friends’ testimony, but mostly to Jesus’ promise.
We’re told that Jesus appeared again in a manner similar to before and then presented Himself to Thomas for validation. “Thomas, put your finger here and feel. Put your hand in my side and stop doubting. Believe!” We aren’t told whether Thomas actually touched Jesus for validation, but only that he fell at Jesus’ feet and uttered that powerful confession, “My Lord and my God!” What a statement! I could probably spend a few weeks on that one sentence, but suffice it to say that Thomas makes a declaration that has been repeated by every true believer for the past 2,000 years.
But it is also a statement that is ultimately doubted by many. Far too many. Thomas makes a theological statement that is at the very heart of the gospel story. Jesus is not just a good moral man who came to teach us how to live, He is Lord and God. But I want you to notice the two elements of that confession. First, Thomas declares that Jesus is Lord. That’s a declaration of Jesus’ authority and Thomas’ submission. It is first and foremost, a declaration of personal and absolute obedience. In essence, Thomas is saying that he recognizes and submits to Jesus authority over his life. I will obey your commands, I will do whatever you ask and go wherever you send. You are my Lord and I am your willing servant.
Next, Thomas declares that Jesus is God. While it is possible to make the first declaration without the second, it is impossible to make the second declaration without the first. You can declare someone Lord and determine that you’ll be submissive to their authority without recognizing them as God. This occurs anytime someone submits their actions or decisions to political, social or even religious authority. The declaration of “My Lord” is simply a submission of man’s will but the declaration of “My God” is one of necessary dependence, and therein lies the heart of the gospel and the issue that drives many to walk away. We may be willing to submit to someone smarter or more powerful for personal benefit, but we balk at declaring our absolute dependence on someone for our very life and existence. Yet, it is this second declaration that truly gives life.
I mentioned previously how so many have struggled with the gospel because of their experiences with the church. But I also mentioned that the gospel doesn’t call us to faith in the church but calls us to faith in Jesus. The church is a flawed organization full of flawed leaders and members precisely because of the message it proclaims, we are sinners in need of a savior. That’s truly the point behind the scars Jesus showed to Thomas. Those scars were caused by Thomas’s actions, my actions and, yes, even your actions. Not only did our disobedience cause those scars, our ongoing doubts and struggles mean they are still present in Jesus’ resurrection body. Why? To drive away our doubts and fears.
When Jesus appeared before Thomas and showed him the scars, it wasn’t to elicit sympathy for Jesus suffering it was to demonstrate Jesus’ unquestionable love and undeniable power and authority over life. Jesus doesn’t demand submission, though He has every right to do so. Instead, He demonstrates His love for Thomas and Thomas responds with a declaration of submission and belief. Those scars do more than just identify Jesus as one who suffered crucifixion, they declare His victory over life and death! He’s not just our worthy Lord, He’s our loving God.
So, let me end with a simple but powerful observation. I carry several scars on my body. Most of them are the result of personal stupidity or bad choices. But NONE of them are the result of me suffering and dying for my sin. My sin can only be redeemed through a sacrifice that involves blood and death. If I choose to pay this debt myself, then I won’t survive it. It will cost me my life for all eternity. However, Jesus paid that debt for me and because He IS God, He was able to conquer and destroy death. If you don’t get anything else I tell you today, pay attention and get this… Jesus still bears the scars of our sin so that you and I won’t have to. Do these scars identify Him? You bet they do, and they tell us He’s more than just Jewish carpenter. As Thomas said, “My Lord and My God!”
Is He yours?