24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord! But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” John 20:24-25
The Biblical account we will focus our spiritual radar on today is famously known as the chronicle of “doubting” Thomas. Many scholars of all theological persuasions have commented that the description of the account of what happened isn’t fair to Thomas, and it doesn’t do justice to the story. A careful look at the translation of the word “doubt” in the original Greek does not appear anywhere in the story. In Verse 27b, a more accurate translation of “Do not doubt but believe,” is “Do not be unbelieving.”
The account of “Unbelieving Thomas” has always been one of my favorites. It’s not just a narrative about Thomas. It’s also an eyewitness account of a group of frightened disciples. So scared in fact, that they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the horrible, humiliating death of Jesus Christ, the one they confessed to being the Messiah. His disciples stood by helpless as He was betrayed by one of His own, Judas, one of the most famous traitors in history. Those present witnessed the most lopsided, miscarriage of justice trials in history that the Jewish religious leaders put together in the dead of night. This mock trial pulled together in a matter of hours, had Jesus tried and convicted by both Jewish religious leaders and Roman civil authorities. From there they took this innocent man, had him brutally beaten and executed between two guilty criminals.
Stop for a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. Is it little wonder they were afraid? If they could do this to Jesus, as popular as He was with the crowds and did nothing but improve the lives of those He came in contact with, then what is next? What would those same people who had Jesus killed have in mind for His followers? Logic would dictate that next, they would round up Jesus’ followers and snuff out the movement. In the midst of all this fear and uncertainty, Jesus reappears alive on the scene, their worries are sweep away and are replaced by unbridled joy.
Just the way you imagined faith to work, right? Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy, wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas nor the way it works for us, either. Thomas is uncertain. This disciple has questions. Thomas disbelieves. For him, he has a moment of shaken faith. Secondhand accounts do not satisfy the queries. He wants to see for himself. And who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified. He has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already moved on with his life. Why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors? Is it possible he thinks it is time to get back to the grind of life and “restart my career that was placed on hold as I chased after this charismatic Rabbi.” But Thomas is not alone in his questioning. He joins a long list of those who struggled to believe.
Some Questions to Ponder this season after Easter:
Does doubt mean faith is not working correctly?
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubts and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps if this is the opportunity before us this week, I want to provide the same opportunities for the many Thomas’s sitting in our churches and traveling this journey of life and faith.
Why Are We Here Questioning?
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead. Jesus shook up the world. Our Savior was on this path to greatness. And in a week’s time from His triumphant march into Jerusalem to Good Friday, everything is brought to a screeching halt. Jesus was incredible. Christ should have been their greatest Earthly King.
The disciples find themselves in this odd place. Their world has been rocked, and their faith was shaken to the core with one horrendous weekend turn of events. Their leader had been crucified. He died a death without honor, one reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no Messianic king. And would display that fact publicly on one of the most traveled roads for all the world to see. Israel would see their king dangling above the crowds on a cross on a hill placed between two thieves. With a sign above his head declaring to the masses who once followed and cheered him, here is your King. Bow down and worship him now!
The followers of this disgraced king now spent their frightened, saturated moments huddled together in a room filled with fear and anxiety, concerned at the pending retribution of those who have unfinished business. They wanted to wipe any memory of this Jesus of Nazareth off the face of the earth. The religious leaders will move swiftly to destroy this grassroots movement of the man from Galilee. This fear was thick and tangible, surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look. We know this fear. Every single day we have very valid reasons to be afraid. Whether that fear comes from the senseless crimes that happen too often to innocent bystanders. To the fact that many of us are just one paycheck away from financial ruin. That fear could be due to the knowledge that there are dangerous people in the world with a different belief system who seek to terrorize us. There are many trapped with social anxiety that leads to the fear and reality of isolation. No matter what it is you are afraid of many people are living in fear. And that fear can cause us to struggle with unbelief and doubt the existence of God. But let’s redirect here and ponder this. Is there a place in our pews for the Thomas’s of the world?
So, here’s what I’m wondering a day or two after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomas’s in our world? I remember as a teen when in religious instruction class one teen brave enough to raise his hand dared to question “is this all real?”, Only to be quickly shut down. There is no room for doubt, “Stop doubting and believe” we were told. I suspect that there were those among us this Sunday who struggle with the Thomas syndrome. Who needs a little bit more than, “Stop doubting and believe.” Some followers who would like a bit of hard evidence, maybe even a personal appearance of Jesus.
Ponder this question until we address in the next post, how we deal with doubt:
What is that fear that is pushing faith to the back of your heart?
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