Second Sunday of Easter
- Isaiah 65:17-25 (CEV)
- Revelation 1:4-9 (CEV)
- John 20:1-18
“Doubting Thomas” – this is the label often given to the disciple who was not present to see Jesus when he first appeared ALIVE to the other disciples in a locked room. And when Thomas heard his friends say, “Jesus is alive!” – he had questions! He wanted answers!
“Doubting Thomas” wanted to see for himself the nail and spear scars in Jesus’ body and touch Jesus with his own hands. Never mind that the other disciples had actually seen Jesus already.
From my perception of my childhood Sunday School classes… “Doubting Thomas” was somehow wrong for “doubting” and questioning – for not immediately accepting the news that Jesus was alive. I grew up thinking “You don’t want to be like Thomas – a doubting Thomas!” Therefore, just believe!
But, I must admit that I am no longer comfortable with my childhood evaluation of Thomas – where “doubt” is belittled, where voices with questions are hushed, where life is simple and belief is unquestioned, under the mask of “just believe”.
We actually do not know much about Thomas in the scriptures. He appears in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke when listed along with the other disciples. But, in the Gospel of John, we see the individual words and actions of Thomas 3 time as he interacts with Jesus. I would like to suggest that the disciple Thomas may be a practical, thoughtful kind of guy who considers, seriously, his relationship with God – maybe in a way that we, in 2019 can learn something about faith and belief.
- First we see Thomas when Jesus has declared that they should all go to the tomb of Lazarus, who had just died. Now, the last time that Jesus had been in Judea the Jewish leaders had tried to seize and kill Jesus; due to the growing antagonism towards Jesus, all the disciples feel that going to the tomb of Lazarus is a dangerous thing to do. But, since Jesus is going to the tomb of Lazarus, Thomas declares himself ready to follow Jesus “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas is faithful to his friend, ready to share the fate of Jesus, ready to die with him. He believes in Jesus. Here, he is more “Loyal Thomas” than doubting Thomas.
- Second we see Thomas interact with Jesus when Thomas does not understand what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is aware of his coming torture and death and he is telling the disciples that they should NOT worry but have faith and believe in God because in God’s house are many dwelling places. Jesus says that he will leave the disciples for a while, but they will follow. They won’t follow right now… but later.
I can imagine all the followers sitting around, listening to these words – in hindsight we can sort of understand when we put together the bigger picture of the Scriptures – but did those disciples really all grasp what incredible things they were hearing? Thomas was the one who spoke up, as if to say – just a moment Jesus “What on earth are you talking about? (Can you picture his worry – imagine him shaking his head in his attempt to understand… ) Jesus, we don’t know where you are going? How can we know the way? And, if we don’t know the way, we’ll never get to you. Here’s a follower who wants to be in the presence of Jesus and he seems to be struggling, most concerned, troubled even, that he will not be able to find Jesus anymore. Thomas wants to know the Way to Jesus.
This great question leads to one of the most well known and loved verses in the Bible – Jesus responded to Thomas’ question: I am the Way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Hmmm! Does this sound like a question from a “Doubting Thomas” – I’d say he is more like “Honest Thomas” in this scenario or “Seeking Thomas”. He does not just sit there and nod at the words of Jesus, as if he understands, but he is courageous and asks the hard questions that need to be asked.
- The third time we meet Thomas is in today’s reading. If we consider the first and second references to Thomas… I can imagine that this loyal and honest seeker – Thomas – was torn apart by the loss of this friend and teacher who has just died and been buried. It is just too much to simply accept what his friends are telling him – the grave is empty, Jesus is risen. How can this be? By the way, when Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, first, he showed them the nail prints in his hands and the scar on his side.
When I read of this desire of Thomas – to see the nails and spear scars… to touch Jesus – I do not interpret these words coming out of an attitude of arrogance or from one demanding proof before I belief. I hear these words, spoken in humility, from Thomas as from a friend (a follower of Jesus) who is broken, haunted with love and clinging to hope that seems to have slipped beyond his grasp at this moment.
Thomas wants to know what he is to do. There is a deep yearning in his heart! He wants to believe. Yes, he wants to SEE his Lord as the others have seen. He wants to touch – to be certain. His human mind cannot yet fathom the incredible miracle of God’s Grace to humanity – to us!
This Biblical account of Thomas has been the topic of countless theological debates over the centuries, as well as the subject of many artists, musicians, stories and drama. These events of Scripture can speak to us today. Thomas wanted to know the truth. He had real questions.
And, who among us can claim to have NO questions for our God? As humans we experience doubt and unanswered questions many times in our life. There will always be mysteries that puzzle our minds, problems that we cannot solve and situations for which we have no answer.
I have talked a lot about Thomas as a significant character in today’s story but may I suggest that the main character, and most important character, is Jesus – God incarnate. The story of Thomas reveals God’s faithfulness to Thomas AND God’s faithfulness to us! Jesus knows Thomas – his hopes, his concerns, his grief, his love, his unbelief. Jesus came back to see Thomas, to resolve the doubts of this one disciple who was struggling with uncertainty, while clinging to hope.
And hear this, Jesus, the Great Teacher, models for us how we should treat each other. Jesus does not rebuke Thomas nor does Jesus belittle the doubt, the questions or the uncertainty when one cannot see. Jesus comes to Thomas and invites him to touch, to see, to believe. Jesus is gracious and attentive to the needs of Thomas. Jesus answered his questions, provided the proof he needed and gave Thomas room and freedom to believe on his own terms.
And, you know what? When Thomas encounters the God of Grace, I am certain his face shone with delight, pure joy. Thomas not only believes but we read in the Scriptures that he utters the highest confession possible, acclaiming Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” Encouraged by a faithful God, this sounds more like a faithful Thomas than a doubting Thomas.
May I suggest that doubt and questions are not signs of a weak Christian, but possibly an indication that we are taking our relationship with God seriously enough to let ourselves be honest and to recognize that our God is bigger than all our thought, all our questions, all our imaginings. Being a Christian is not a black and white experience that either you believe or not. In the grey areas of uncertainty, our God gives us room to grow. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. Even as Jesus affirmed his relationship with God, he cried out his doubt on the cross: My God, my God why have you abandoned me? It is our questioning that leads to deeper faith.
In the field of education, we encourage teachers to probe deeper with important questions to allow students to think critically and strive for greater understanding. As humans, we are on a journey, without knowing the exact details. Sometimes we can rationalize situations and comprehend ideas. We live in a time where we want answers to everything. We want to be able to “figure it all out”. But, there are times we accept by faith that which we cannot see, cannot touch, cannot measure or comprehend. God’s graciousness allows us room to doubt, to question, to grow and become faithful.
Hebrews 11:1 Faith isn’t knowledge but instead “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
One theologian, Marcus Borg, suggests that “believing” is really about “beloving a person”. “To believe in Jesus is to belove Jesus. And, this means more than simply loving Jesus. It means to love what Jesus loved. It means loving the Way of Jesus.” Jesus told the disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
In our story today, Jesus tells Thomas that there will be people (like you and me) who never get the physical proof that the disciples claimed; and yet we are blessed for believing and loving the way of Jesus. This would suggest that belief is not about seeking proof for our faith, but it is about loving the Way of Jesus. It is about following the path of Jesus, acting like Jesus. It means to participate in the Kingdom of God in the way we live and how we love every day.
The Bible text says that Thomas was sometimes called “the Twin.” So, Thomas had a twin — I think I know who it is. I see a Thomas’ twin in my mirror every morning. Me! Do you see “that twin” as well – in your mirror? This story of Thomas speaks to the power of our God who IS the Faithful One – loving us in all our moments, with our questions and our uncertainties. God knows this Easter Story of Amazing Grace is, well, beyond human belief. Any yet, with God as our Emmanuel – God with us – we are called to believe and walk in the Way of Jesus.
Ideas for today’s sermon adapted/taken from
Rev. Steve Domienik – “Doubting Thomas” (May 1, 2011)
Derek Thomas – “Doubting Thomas” (June 25, 2003)
Elliot Ross – “Doubting Thomas” (June 5, 2001)
David Lose – “Preaching about Doubt: Three Keys from Thomas” (May 18, 2011)
Matthew Cashmore – “Sermon on Doubting Thomas” (April 12, 2015)
Amy B. Hunter – “The Show-me Disciple” (March 13, 2002)
Emily C Heath – “Doubing Thomas, and you, and me” (April 15, 2012)
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton – Beloved Doubters (April 9, 2012)
Marcus Borg – Beloving vs. Believing (April 9, 2007)
Copyright 2019 by Dr. Darlene Eerkes (Elder of Dayspring Church)