Trusting Thomas (John 20:24-29)



There are two questions that arise from the story of Jesus and “Doubting Thomas.”

First, where is your head at?

The story is often taken to indicate that while Thomas believed on the evidence he saw, people are much better to believe in Jesus without any evidence.

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe
(John 20:29 NRSV)

However, the lesson for us actually goes the other way. When Thomas asks for evidence, Jesus provides it. In fact the verse above refers to those who have believed on the testimony of eyewitnesses, which is evidence! When people ask us for evidence for the truth of Christianity today, we should be ready to provide it. And there is much evidence, all of which comes together to create a strong cumulative case. We do well then to learn what the evidence is through what we call apologetics.

but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15-16 NRSV)

So we learn from Thomas that the intellectual side of faith is important and that our minds ought to be engaged.

Second, where is your heart at?

“Doubting Thomas” is  a terrible name for Thomas. Though he begins with doubt, as most of us do, he breaks through to belief, so he ought to be called “believing Thomas.” But then even that name would not capture it because belief in our time and place often has the connotation of a dry intellectual assent. When Thomas does express faith it is not done so in a detached rational statement of religious dogma. It is done with passion: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NRSV). He has not just made a creedal statement and so joined a religion, he has made a statement about his relationship with Jesus, and so entered into a new depth of relationship. A better title for Thomas would be “Trusting Thomas.”

Which brings us to a valuable insight. While sometimes we consider faith and religion from a purely intellectual perspective, God is speaking to our hearts. While people often ask for, look for, or expect God to provide some big “sign in the sky” to prove His existence, God is doing a far greater work over a much greater period. While we look for evidence that God exists, God provides evidence that He loves.

Suppose, being Mother’s Day, that you discover you are about to become a mother for the first time. This might come as shocking news, especially to us guys! Now suppose too, that you really don’t know anything about motherhood. That part will come more easily to us males. Will you ask the question: “how can I prove to my child that I exist? When my child gets old enough shall I hire a skywriter to write my child a note in the sky?” Of course you will not ask such questions. But you might ask “how can I express love to my child over the long term so that she knows that I love her?” A good answer to that can be found in the writings of Gary Chapman in the “Love Language” series of books where Gary speaks of five basic ways we all express and receive love. They are; acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, and gifts. Engage in these over the long haul and your child will know that she is loved.

Now consider that while people sometimes look for a grandiose sign from God, God is ready to provide rich evidence, not just of His existence, but of His love:

  1. Acts of Service. We say grace at meals to thank God for the provision of food. While we are at it we could thank the Lord for gravity, families, air, . . . the list could go on and on.
  2. Words of Affirmation. I could choose a few verses from the Bible, but in fact the whole storyline of the Bible, from beginning to end speaks of God’s love for us.
  3. Quality Time. We can think of God’s presence with us through the Holy Spirit. We can think of worship, and prayer. God is willing to spend time with us.
  4. Physical Touch. Yes, there can be moments when we feel the presence of God in a physical way. If you have never felt this, perhaps you have not asked, or been open to, or needed this.
  5. Gifts. The gift of Jesus, the gift of reconciliation, the gift of eternal life, the gift of forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit. We could keep going. Yes, God expresses His love for us through gifts.

Thomas was not looking for some grandiose sign of God’s existence. He was looking, and appropriately so, for evidence that, yes, Jesus did rise from the dead. But Thomas went far beyond some sort of intellectual statement of belief, to an expression of relationship. While the intellectual evidence of God’s existence is great, let us remember that the evidence goes way beyond what can be considered intellectually. The evidence is the kind of evidence we find in relationships, the kind of evidence that goes beyond saying “I exist, I wish you would believe that I do,” to “I love you, I want you to trust me.” Are you looking for evidence for God as if He is something to behold in a test tube? Why not try on the evidence of Christ as the Lord and God who loves you?

photo credit: Robin Hutton via photopin cc

thinking credit: my sermons and blogs would not exist were it not for others. In particular I can thank author and cold case detective J. Warner Wallace for steering my thoughts on how Doubting Thomas supports the evidential approach to faith. His website is a great place to learn some apologetics.

Kindled Belief, Trust Enflamed (John 20:1-10)

large__3392295014Easter Sunday arrives with great celebration as Christians around the world gather in joy to worship our Risen Lord. But Easter also comes as as a day of great disbelief around the world and rejection of the resurrection story. Now please note that I was careful to use the word ‘disbelief’ and not ‘scepticism,’ for there are many of us who are Christian believers who are also sceptics at heart. I happen to be a sceptical kind of person. And as it turns out, I am in good company for before there was belief in the resurrection of Jesus there was scepticism. In John we read that Mary’s first inclination was not celebration, but rather the assumption that someone had taken the body of Jesus away:

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him'”(John 20:2 NRSV).

And as Peter and the other disciple, John, get to the tomb, their belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not immediate either. John arrives first at the open tomb and stops, neither going in, nor celebrating. Peter goes in, but we do not hear of any celebration from him either. But as John enters the tomb, the reality, slowly it seems, but finally, begins to sink in.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20:8 NRSV).

What did he believe? We draw our first conclusion from what he saw:

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20:6-8 NRSV)

The presence of the cloths used for burial is significant, for if anything was of value to a grave robber, it would be these along with all those spices wrapped among them. When a grave robber left a tomb they really would leave it empty and not take the time to unwrap the corpse. The detail of the cloth for Jesus’ head also is significant. These cloths were not all taken off and thrown down, but rather the impression is given of Jesus simply vacating them. When John takes all this in, he does not do so as one expecting and hoping that the news was good. He takes in the scene as one who weighs the evidence. He sees the evidence of the grave coverings and how they are arranged and comes to a conclusion: Jesus has risen from the dead.

But that would not be the end of all we could say about John’s belief. The word ‘believe’ in the Greek goes beyond the idea of mental assent, to trust and confidence in, which can be as much a heart thing as a head thing. And we find next a comment that, yes, though this was an unexpected turn of events, this is exactly what had to happen:

and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NRSV).

That understanding, of how the Old Testament scriptures point to a risen Christ, would come in the days to come. And the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, with the forthcoming resurrection appearances confirming that belief, would lead to trust that God has all of history in His hands, that Jesus is not just risen, but is in fact Lord, God. All that preceded Jesus pointed to Him. All that follows Jesus flows from Him and will lead back to Him. The God who delivered His people from slavery in Egypt by miracles has now worked an even greater deliverance. His people, now from every tongue, tribe, and nation, are delivered from a slavery of sin unto death. Jesus is risen, so look back to God’s promises to deliver in the Old Testament scriptures. God is to be believed!

From that first moment of belief in John, from the kindling of belief in the resurrection will come an enflamed trust in God. This trust will hold the disciples as they face their deaths in persecution. This trust will hold the Church as it flourishes and grows under the harshest of conditions. This trust will hold you as you face the daily grind, even through that day which sees you ground back to the dust from which you were taken. Jesus is risen! God is to be believed! Hallelujah! Amen.

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