Thomas Didn't Get It at First
Read John 20:24-29 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
“Thomas Didn’t Get It at First”
While Astronomer Carl Sagan longed for a reconciliation between science and religion, he was not a believer. However, he did say something profound about both. He said, “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.” This morning we’re going to discover how “Doubting Thomas” found deep truth by changing his mind about something he thought was nonsense.
Thomas was a skeptic, not an atheist. He believed that God existed, but He wasn’t convinced Jesus was God. Christian comedian Tim Hawkins has made some observations on this subject and speculated on what atheists sing at their summer camp meetings.
Instead of “Shout to the Lord,” atheists would sing,
“Shout to the void, all the Earth, let us sing. Power and majesty, praise to nothing.”
Instead of “Jesus Loves the Little Children,”
“No one loves the little children, all the children of the world. No one hears you when you cry, no one hears your lullaby, no one loves the little children of the world.”
Instead of “Row Your Boat,”
“Row, row, row your boat gently down the reef, wallowing, wallowing, wallowing, wallowing in your unbelief.”
Instead of “Jesus Loves Me,”
“Evolution, this I know, for Charles Darwin told me so. Accidentally alive; if you’re weak, you won’t survive.”
Instead of “I Am a Christian,”
“I am an A- I am an A-T- I am an A-T-H-E-I-S-T, and I have N-O-T-H-I-N-G to give me hope and certainty, and when I D-I-E I will be A-L-O-N-E.” Pretty depressing, isn’t it? Tim Hawkins uses comedy to make a point, and that point is its fatalistic to be an atheist or a skeptic. While you’re in the moment patting yourself on the back for being smarter or more realistic than religious people, you’re signing your own death warrant with the other hand. While we can’t lose our salvation by having doubts, we can keep ourselves from ever receiving salvation by stubbornly clinging to our doubts.
Thomas was a skeptic until seeing, He believed.
1. Thomas might be the “poster child” for those who didn’t get it at first. (24-25)
We don’t know much about Thomas. What we do know comes from John’s gospel. He was one of the twelve disciples, one of the last two or three Jesus called. The first time Thomas speaks is in John 11:16, where he urged the other disciples to go to Judea with Jesus, to die with Him. That seems to reveal a gloomy, fatalistic side to his personality. He spoke again in John 14:5, where he disagreed with Jesus. These incidents support our view that Thomas was a thoughtful, philosophical kind of person, slow to accept things, taking time to make up his own mind.
His name means “the Twin,” but there is no record of his sibling. Ironically, in the Synoptics he is always mentioned in connection with Matthew. In Acts 1:13, with Philip. His nickname, “Didymus” also meant “the twin.” Jesus showed His sense of humor kin nicknaming James and John the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), so it may be that He nicknamed Thomas “The Twin” because he was always of “two minds” about things, seeing both sides of an issue.
We don’t know why Thomas was not with the others when Jesus appeared on Resurrection Day. However, his absence serves a divine purpose as an example of faith overcoming doubt.
When the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” Why didn’t he believe it? Let’s answer that question with his own words: “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” In the Greek, this is a strongly worded refusal. Thomas is being emphatic here.
Notice the Ten were sufficiently convinced by seeing Jesus’ wounds; they were not invited to touch them, nor did they. Thomas went one step further, insisting on seeing AND touching the wounds to be convinced it really was Jesus; “Unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers in them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” A person who insists on personal sensory experience is always a skeptic and often an unbeliever.
Note that on His first visit Jesus showed the disciples His wounds (v. 20). I have no doubt they ten mentioned this to Thomas and that was what occasioned his demand to see and – as he added - touch the wounds himself. This looks like a bit of one-upmanship on Thomas’ part.
2. When Jesus appeared again, Thomas got it. (26-29)
Jesus’ next appearance was “eight days later.” Notice that verse 26 is a paraphrase of verse 19; the conditions were identical except no FEAR is mentioned and Thomas is with them this time. This was a Sunday, as the Jews counted the beginning and ending days in a count of days. This gives emphasis to Sundays, which later becomes the customary day of worship in the Church.
Acts 1:3 give us context for the post-Resurrection period, so we will refer to a couple pertinent points. One, it lasted 40 days. Two, Jesus appeared to His disciples FROM TIME TO TIME. This fits John’s mention of EIGHT DAYS’ gap between appearances.
Jesus appeared supernaturally, as He had the first time. Though “the doors were locked,” Jesus SUDDENLY stood among them. Again, His first words were “Peace be with you.”
At this appearance, Jesus gave Thomas exactly what he’d asked for: He commanded Thomas to see and touch the wounds in His hands and side. As Thomas had declared his refusal to believe until he saw and touched those very wounds, that’s precisely what Jesus gave him opportunity to do.
But Jesus confronted Thomas’ refusal to believe. He said, “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” To characterize Thomas’ doubt as “Faithless” is a strong charge. It is true that, in comparison, Thomas was guilty of a more serious breach of faith than the rest. The other ten were bound up by surprise and fear, having confused emotional reactions precipitated by Jesus’ sudden appearance in their midst. While they were more unprepared, Thomas had heard their testimonies about Jesus being raised from the dead and should’ve been better prepared. Upon hearing their testimonies, he decided not to believe.
Though he said he needed to touch Jesus’ wounds, there is no evidence he ever did. It was enough to see them for himself. Then, to his credit, Thomas finally got it and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” This was a big step for Thomas. He went from being a skeptic to expressing a greater faith than any of the others.
I believe Thomas was able to take that step of faith because he had spent those EIGHT DAYS thinking about all the testimonies given about the Resurrection. Because he’d thought about it, he concluded that if the Resurrection were true, it must follow that Jesus was God. In a sense, he prepared himself to be the first person to identify Jesus as God!
Paul explained the faith-process Thomas exemplified in 1 Corinthians 12:3 = “So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” Applied to Thomas, we understand the ultimately, Thomas made his affirmation of faith at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 29 Jesus accepted Thomas’ faith as genuine and told him, “You believe because you have seen me.” (See Luke 10:22; Matthew 13:16.) But He also established faith as something we possess without the relying on our senses. Jesus anticipated later generations of believers who would not enjoy the privilege of seeing and touching Jesus’ resurrected self and yet have faith; “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
Peter explained this process of faith in 1 Peter 1:8-9 = “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”
Thomas was a skeptic until seeing, He believed.
Through the years people have referred to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” That’s OK, but we need to consider the whole of what we know about Thomas too. One, He never expressed doubt about Jesus. What he refused to accept at face value was the testimony of the other disciples. Two, he went from stubborn doubt to full-formed faith in an instant. When he finally got it, Thomas spoke the greatest expression of faith at that time.
But there’s more; Richard McCormick tells us the traditions about Thomas’ part in the world-changing mission of the Church. “The scriptures do not specify the details of Thomas’ role; however, Hippolytus, a second- and third-century theologian and historian, in a credible account of the areas where each apostle worked, wrote ‘Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Margians, and was thrust through in the four members of his body with pine spears at Calamene, the city of India, and was buried there.’ Assuming Hippolytus’ account to be factual, Thomas led souls to saving faith in Jesus Christ in an area stretching from today’s northeastern Iran through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India – an area approximately the size of the easternmost 25 states in the U.S.”
Thomas had his moment of doubt, that’s true. But I’d say he recovered from it nicely, wouldn’t you? The same can be said of each of us. We have our doubts, but it’s a place we visit, we don’t live there. Instead, following Thomas’ example, God graciously works with us to resolve our doubts and move us on to even greater faithfulness because we had the experience of working through them.
Lyrics retrieved from https://lyricstranslate.com/en/tim-hawkins-atheist-kids%E2%80%99-songs-lyrics-request on 22 March 23.
Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 13, The Gospel of John, 2007, Grant R. Osborne
The International Standard Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4 (Q-Z), Thomas, 1998, pp. 841-842, C. L. Blomberg
The Anchor Bible, Vol. 29a, The Gospel According to John, 1970, Raymond E. Brown
Thomas information retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/84309/thomas-didymas-the-twin-by-sam-mccormick on 24 March 23.