The Faith of Doubting Thomas

Sunday, January 31st, 2010 • Sermons

What do you know about Thomas?  My grandson says he is a train. But the Thomas mentioned in the Bible was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He is mentioned in every list of the apostles in the synoptic gospels. But it is John’s gospel that tells us most about Thomas.

The apostle Thomas was a true believer. He testified to his faith in one of the most dramatic and emphatic confessions of all time in John 20:28. And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

What becomes ironically apparent is that, Thomas, who voiced such confidence in Jesus, is not known for believing, but rather for doubting. (“doubting Thomas”).

  • John 20:19-2919 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  …24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the rint of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”  26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”  27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him,  “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Note: Sometimes people become identified with one moment, and their reputation and legacy is forever connected with that moment, even though there may have been much more to the story. (Bill Buckner  - In a 22-year career that began with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Buckner collected over 2,700 hits, had a career average of .289, and won a National League batting title. Yet he will always be remembered for his error in the 86 World Series while playing with the Red Sox. A slow roller from Mookie Wilson went through his legs and the Red Sox lost game six and then the series. From that fateful moment on, the name “Bill Buckner” has been forever tied to his error.  In fact people talk about “pulling a Bill Buckner.” It’s synonymous with making a really bad, obvious mistake.

I.  Defending Thomas: I feel a need to defend Thomas in regards to his doubting. He may have received an unjust reputation.  Consider these points:

A.  John tells us that Thomas was not present for this first meeting between Jesus and His apostles. Jesus did not appear to Thomas personally, so he was left without physical evidence of the resurrection for 8 days after the others had seen Jesus. Jesus made Thomas wait, and he did wait. He did not abandon the other apostles. His demand for physical proof was not inordinate considering that the others had already seen Jesus.

B.  Thomas was not the only apostle to have doubts. The gospel accounts clearly record the doubt of the other apostles following the resurrection: Mark 16:9-149 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Luke 24:10-11 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

1. Later, the apostles were huddled together in a room with the doors locked – Jesus appears to them: Luke 24:36-39Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Jesus understood that they all needed to be sure; to see and touch His resurrected body. Later John wrote… “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1-NIV) Jesus was willing to give Thomas the same opportunity as the rest. They were to be eyewitnesses of His resurrection. So after offering in the irrefutable evidence of His own body, Jesus says, “stop doubting and believe”

C.  Thomas did not remain a doubter. It is interesting to note that the scriptures do not tell us that Thomas actually touched Jesus. Whether he actually did or not, his doubts were replaced with undeniable faith. “My Lord and My God” .

II. Learning from Thomas: What can we learn from “doubting Thomas”?

A.  It is not wrong for a disciple to doubt – to search for certainty.  Jesus did not openly rebuke Thomas for wanting to see the proof. Although God is not going write out “I EXIST” in big letters across the sky to satisfy our skepticism, He has provided ample testimony to His existence. Faith does not exist in a vacuum.

1.   In this sense God applauds those like Thomas, who are searching and asking questions. The presence of skepticism and doubt can lead to greater faith if the person is honestly searching for the truth. I think Thomas displays this type of honest skepticism. When Jesus provided the proof he readily believed and expressed his confidence more strongly than he expressed his doubt. Francis Bacon said, If a man will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he will end in certainties.

2.  Thomas’ original doubt (and the doubt of the other apostles) indicates that these men were not gullible or easily deceived. They were not simply suffering from wishful thinking, nor did they make it up to please themselves. They had to be convinced that Jesus was alive. This type of conviction, that overcomes the obstacles of doubt, is strong and resilient in the face of unbelievers.

3.  Thomas was searching for answers. I think I can see Thomas’ inquisitive approach in another event. On the eve of Jesus’ betrayal Jesus was comforting His apostles with the words found in John 14:1-6 – “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. Thomas wanted to know more so he spoke up. How can we know the way? He was perplexed, maybe even confused. Have you ever been that way?  What does God want you to do?  Keeping looking for the answer.  Ask Him to help you understand. Look more closely at what He has said.

a.  The theologian Henry Drummond expresses a distinction between a doubter and an unbeliever.

  • A doubter is a person who searches for God and the godly life; He is on a quest for truth, and continues to ask the questions that only God can answer.
  • An unbeliever isn’t searching for God but for the pleasures of this world. An unbeliever isn’t asking questions about God because he is apathetic to God.
  • A doubter struggles with God and in the course of his struggle strengthens his faith.
  • An unbeliever simply struggles to pay the bills, find a spouse, find a job, find a house. That is all.

B.   But, it is wrong for a disciple to keep doubting. We are not live by doubt, but by faith. Despite the honesty of Thomas’ skepticism, Jesus says, “Thomas, stop doubting and believe.” There is a time for certainty and absolute conviction on the matters of faith.

1.  This call for certainty applies not only to the facts of the gospel, such as the resurrection, but also to the person of the Gospel, Jesus Himself. I must strive to stop doubting Jesus.  I must strive to trust Him completely.  Matt 14:26-31 – Then the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

a. In the perplexity of Job’s suffering he entertained doubts and questions. He even addressed those questions to God. But in the end, God called on Job to quiet his questions and doubts and put his trust in him – without reservation. Job 40:1-5 – The Lord said to Job:  2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  3 Then Job answered the Lord: 4 “I am unworthy — how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer —  twice, but I will say no more.” Job 42:3-6 - …Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 ["You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

C.  A true disciple walks through the doubts. It is interesting to compare our impression of Thomas as a skeptic and doubter with an earlier event in his life as a disciple of Jesus. In John 11 after hearing that his friend Lazarus as sick and dying, Jesus waited on the other side of the Jordan River. He delayed for two days before going to his aid because He was planning to resurrect Lazarus from the dead.

1.  When Jesus told the disciples He was going to Judea they became fearful. John 11:8 – But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” This was a legitimate fear. The plot had already be hatched, and Jesus would be killed in Jerusalem.

2.   But Jesus was undeterred by their fears. John 11:14-16 – So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Going to Judea with Jesus would take a commitment. Thomas recognizes that, and at this point he ready to make that choice. He will die with Jesus, and he even encourages the others to make the same choice. Later Peter would voice the same devotion… “I will die for you”.  But their faith would be tested. They would struggle with doubt and fear.

3.  Thomas depicts a true disciple to us. He is not this wishy-washy skeptic who can never make up his mind. In the end he works through the doubts and fears and walks by faith all the way to his death. Secular tradition tells us that Thomas took the Gospel to India and a Brahmin priest, upset at his success in preaching the Gospel, ran a spear through him while he was kneeling in prayer.

Conclusion: Thomas was a man of great faith. His faith led him to follow Jesus wherever Jesus would lead him. He confronted his doubts and allowed Jesus to convict him of the truth.  When God answered his doubts he confidently expressed his faith. “My Lord and My God.”   Are you ready to confess your faith in Jesus today? Will you allow your faith to lead you to obey Jesus in baptism for the remission of your sins?

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