What do you know about the disciple whose name is Thomas? Anything? What do you know? Almost everybody knows him by the name – what – it’s okay, you can talk to me. Yeah. Doubting Thomas.
It’s too bad the disciple Thomas didn’t have a better press agent. Thomas, has become well known in history because of one episode in his life. He gained a reputation that has stayed with him now for nearly 2000 years.
Our Gospel reading today – where Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection – happens on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection. He appears to the disciples, but Thomas is not with them. When Thomas gets back together with the other disciples – they tell him that they have seen the Lord. But Thomas does not believe their story.
Well, a week later, Jesus appears again to the disciples. This time, Thomas is with them. And in a moment – in one of THE most dramatic moments in Scripture – Thomas sees the risen Christ – and cries out, “My Lord and my God.”
I love – absolutely love – how Thomas responds to Jesus. He recognizes not only that Jesus is alive after having been crucified – but he also confirms for us in a simple confession who Jesus is. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. So thanks to Thomas and his confession – we learn something of who Jesus is.
But this episode in John chapter 20 is not the only reference to Thomas in the Scriptures. And even though I don’t think anything I say today will change anyone’s thoughts about him being forever known as Doubting Thomas – I do think you need to hear – the rest of the story.
Some of you are familiar with the story of the raising of Lazarus. You’ll find in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. There is one verse that often goes unnoticed when we read that particular chapter. I suppose because it is contained in the story of the raising of Lazarus, a story that is so powerful in and of itself – that a brief mention of the disciple Thomas is barely worth noting.
Let me recap that story for you. When our story opens Jesus has just learned that his close friend Lazarus is sick. Lazarus lives in the village of Bethany with his sisters Mary and Martha. At this moment Jesus is a considerable distance from Bethany. However, Mary and Martha hope that Jesus, their close friend who has healed so many other people, will do something to help their brother Lazarus. Yet when he hears that Lazarus is sick, Jesus stays where he is two more days, a fact that greatly troubles Mary and Martha. Finally, however, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
This time it is his disciples who are troubled. You see, earlier Jesus’ enemies in Judea had tried to stone him. There were people in Judea who would not rest until Jesus was forever silenced. “But Rabbi,” his disciples protest, “a short while ago they tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
Jesus answers that their friend Lazarus has died, but that he is going there to be with him. At this, one of his disciples steps forward and challenges the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
That disciple – you’ve probably already guessed it – is Thomas. Usually it’s Peter who pipes up – who feels he has to say something. But not this time. This time it’s not Peter, but Thomas who speaks up. It is Thomas who is bold. Although Thomas would later express his doubts about the resurrection – at least here in the story of the raising of Lazarus, he is a man who is willing to die for Christ. So here – Thomas is bold. Thomas is daring. And I think maybe we ought to call him Daring Thomas – willing to die for the sake of Jesus Christ. And yet today – unfortunately – he is still known as Doubting Thomas.
Every year the MOPS moms ask me to meet with them. I remember a number of years ago we met, and we had what I call a “stump the pastor” session. Well, actually, that isn’t quite right. It WAS a question and answer session, and thankfully, they prepared questions ahead of time for me to answer. In reality, they weren’t trying to stump me at all – but asked genuine questions of faith that they were wrestling with. Like this one. “Is it okay to take communion if you have doubts?” I quickly answered, “Yes,” and then said, “Next question?”
But then after my somewhat flippant answer, I parked on that question for a few minutes. And I said, “Let me tell you how I handle my doubts.” And for the record I handle my doubts by coming back to two questions. Again, this is nothing new, I’ve told you this many times before. Number 1: How did we get here? And Number 2: Did Jesus really rise from the dead. The evidence to answer both questions is overwhelming. Since science tells us you can’t get something from nothing, and that space, time, matter, and energy all have to exist in order for any one of them to exist – the only logical conclusion is that there is a creator – a creator whom we confess to be God. And then –as I shared with you last Sunday – and the Easter before that and the Easter before that – the evidence for the resurrection is so overwhelming that all attempts to disprove it fall flat on their face.
Interestingly – one of the MOPS moms was surprised that I – a pastor – would have doubts. Yeah! I also have fears and worries. And if you can believe it, I’m not always Mr. Nice Guy. I know. Hard to believe. But I – even I – can even get a little grumpy once in awhile.
Anyway – I thought I’d throw that in, because today many of our young disciples are experiencing their first communion today. And I want you to know that, yes, it’s okay to have communion – even if you have doubts and fears – or come here grumpy. And I believe that you are here today because this is one of those places where we can wrestle with our faith and our doubts – with our fears. This is a place to do that because this is a place where Jesus is. And today the risen Christ comes to you – in His Word – and in the form of bread and wine.
Let’s get back to Thomas for a moment. One of the things I want you to remember about Thomas is that Thomas was a man of passion. At one point we know that Thomas was willing to die for Christ. At least on this occasion when Christ was going back to Judea where his life was being threatened, would you agree with me that Thomas was more daring than doubting?
But then there is this Gospel reading where we find the Thomas we are dealing with is the Doubting Thomas – the Thomas we are more familiar with. And maybe – just maybe – his doubt arises out of his disillusionment. Perhaps Thomas is thoroughly disillusioned. In his mind, Jesus has let him down.
Remember that at one point, Thomas was willing to die for Jesus. Perhaps he thought Jesus fit the common expectation of a Messiah someone who would restore the glory of Israel – someone who would throw the hated Romans out of the country.
How could the Messiah possibly be put to death? Thomas was disillusioned because he misunderstood why Christ came into the world. He simply did not realize that Christ’s suffering and death had been a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation for the whole world.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. Thomas was disappointed and disillusioned. But you know what? That didn’t cause Thomas to drop out of the fellowship. Listen! This is so important. Thomas was there with the other disciples when they met together after Jesus’ resurrection. He could have made up any excuse to stop meeting with the rest of the disciples. He could have stayed home. He could have let his disappointment say, “Awe, the heck with it.” But he didn’t. He went to be with the other disciples. In other words, though disappointed and disillusioned, Thomas still went to church.
I know. It happens. A person goes through a difficult time when they feel God has let them down and the first thing they do is they stop coming to church. They miss one Sunday, then a second, and before very long, going to church takes far more effort than staying home.
Friends, that’s always a mistake. This is where the people are who care about you. Let the people in this church love you and pray for you. Give Christ a chance to come to you and give you His peace. He wants to help you, like Thomas, to move from being disillusioned to being dynamic. It can happen. Don’t give up.
Thomas didn’t give up. Thomas was hurt but he still went to church. Thomas stayed connected, and in that fellowship of faith the risen Christ appeared to Thomas.
Well. You know the story. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Shalom.” By the way – do you know what shalom means? It’s a Hebrew word, and in Israel, when you say hello, you say, “Shalom.” When you say Goodbye, you say, “Shalom.” It means, “Peace be with you,” but it’s so much more than peace. It means, “May it be well with you. May everything be well with you.” It’s hard to translate into English with just one word.
So Jesus says, “Shalom – peace be with you.” Then he turns to Thomas and says to him, “Hey Tom! Tom! Come over here a minute. Put your finger here; put it right here. And where they put that spear in my side? Come here and put your fist in it. Tom! Stop doubting and believe.”
Now we’re not told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds of Jesus or not. We don’t know. I don’t think he had to. But what I want to believe is that Thomas dropped to his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!”
By the way, would you like to know what happened to Thomas? He went on to become a great Christian missionary. He made his way as far as India. There are churches in India named after St. Thomas. And there he was martyred. You see, he did indeed die for the sake of Christ. Today the oldest of India’s churches ascribe their faith to the missionary work of Daring Thomas.
So let’s stop talking about Doubting Thomas. In fact, let’s start a movement right here, right now. From now on let’s call him Daring Thomas. Are you with me?
You know – I hope there’s a bit of Daring Thomas in you. I hope there’s a bit of Daring Thomas in me. We would not be in this room today if earlier generations of Christ’s followers had not dared enough to share their faith with others.
And even though it’s unlikely that we will ever be martyred for the sake of Jesus Christ, I will ask you this. Are you willing to die for him? More importantly – are you willing to live for him? It’s not always easy. But I can’t think of a better way to live. I can’t think of a better way of life than this – than to dare to be a Thomas. Amen