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Faithlife

Doubting Thomas

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19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you maya believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31 (NIV)[1]

The difficulty in accepting what we have missed.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to experience for oneself.  Jesus however seemed to chastise Thomas for the rut that he was in – stop doubting and believe.  As though it were a choice.  An honest question is one thing but a choice to not believe is something else it is the sin of unbelief.

The blessings of believing unseen.  It’s either foolishness or faith.

There is greater happiness to be found in trust in what God has said

Nothing special in accepting what we cannot deny.  This is not the walk of faith.

These things are written.

His name means “Twin”.  He is mentioned specifically by first and last name 3 times in the gospels.  All in the book of John.  He was one of 12 faith-filled men who believed sufficiently in Christ to leave their homes and their livelihood and follow someone else’s agenda.  Regardless of what we know of Thomas, these facts should never be forgotten.  He believed enough to step out from the crowd.

And yet, we have dubbed him with a name that is less than flattering.  That’s usually the way with nicknames you know.  Someone gives us one that we don’t want.  Some are unrelated to anything serious.  When I went with Gary to Swift Current Saskatchewan, he secured for me a cowboy name.  It was “Gus”.  They thought I looked like a “Gus” – a real life cowboy named me “Gus”.  I’d have been devastated with “Phyllis”.  I took Gary to Grand Manan and put him on my cousins boat.  I told him we’d find a Grand Manan nickname – the best I could think of was “Poopy” after another cousin, Poopy Small.  Nicknames are rarely flattering, often embarrassing.

Thomas, the Doubter, that would be awful.  But we do get those kinds of reputations around the church.  Karl the Krotchety, Roller Coaster Robert, Sour Sam,

There could be many names that would create discomfort for us.  Nicknames are verbal are verbal caricatures.  They exaggerate some obvious characteristic to the point of ridicule.

And so for a follower of Christ, what could be worse that Doubting Thomas.

If the truth be know however, we all face doubt.  Some come through it and others consider it unnatural and draw wrong conclusions and ultimately they turn away from their faith.

This morning I would like to take a few minutes to look at Thomas, dubbed the “Doubter” from this one recorded incident.  Let’s ask ourselves if there have been times in our lives when perhaps this moniker might equally describe us.

A Curious Absence

Ten of the twelve gathered behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews, the scripture says.  We understand the absence of Judas, by now dead at his own hand.  But where was Thomas.

Following the resurrection of Lazarus, Thomas is the one voice raised in favor of the return to Judea.

 

16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:16 (NIV)[2]

Strange words for a Doubter.  The ten had found their way back together.  At least there is a degree of comfort when you gather with those who share the same concerns.

I have read what various commentators say about this portion of scripture and basically it all comes down to supposition.  No one would know for sure why Thomas had not re-gathered with the others.

I imagine myself that it is the idea of striking the shepherd and scattering the sheep.  The focal point was gone, they thought Christ dead and for one at least, the significance of gathering without the leader was gone.  Perhaps more than doubting, Thomas was discouraged.  Perhaps discouragement is a precursor to doubt?

That happens with our “gathering” in these days as well.  People get discouraged and then they are curiously absent.  I worry about absence from church as a sign of spiritual erosion.  Not so much that it is a matter of wrong or disobedience but a matter of soul negligence.  The writer of the book of Hebrews queries from the KJV,

3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;  Hebrews 2:3 (KJV)[3]

It doesn’t mean that there is a problem every time a person misses church.  I remember one dear lady expressing her concern in that way exactly after I had missed a Sunday as a new Christian.  There was nothing wrong and I felt bad that she considered my commitment to be possibly so fragile that she would have a spiritual concern.

And I have to say that there is a difference between people missing church because they are discouraged and because they are disgruntled.  When folks don’t get their way and stay away that is a spiritual issue related to attitude and is something that they will have to work out between themselves and God.  But when people are discouraged and weak as a matter of faith that is a concern to me.

Most often the discouragement grips people because of one of two things.

Ø      We expect something to happen that does not occur.  We are exercising our faith, looking for God to work a miracle or help us solve a problem and it seems to us in the final analysis that we are on our own.

Ø      We don’t expect something to happen that does occur.  These are the things that blindside us.  Perhaps a health issue, some tragedy or misfortune and we are decimated by it.  And we ask, “Why me?”

So we do what is the worst thing to do – rather than dig deep into our spiritual resource we begin to detach.  We think that it would be better for us if we stayed away.  Perhaps this was a part of the reason for Thomas’ absence?

A Covert Appearance

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

When we stay away we miss the common experience.  I’ve chatted with Chris Haines about this on a few occasions now.  He and Leanne  moved to Kingston for a year during which he earned his MBA at Queens, the fulfillment of a long term dream or goal.  No one would have been more involved in the life of the church than this couple.  In the period of time preceding their move, Chris had taken a short step away from high degree of involvement that he had during the pastoral transition that brought me here to First Wesleyan.  That was certainly understandable.  They were very busy and crucial days for the LBA members.  And then the time away.  A year later they return to their church home and things have changed.  We notice the change more when we are away and then return.  I suppose the same way as we notice growth in young children that we have not seen for a period of time.

For Chris, it was a struggle to find his place again.  This was not an issue of the friendliness of the church or anything like that, just the odd feeling of being disconnected or detached and trying to get up to speed again.

That’s the danger when we allow discouragement to lead us away from our faith family.  We miss the common experience.

Look at what Thomas missed.

Ø      A first-hand personal encounter with the risen Christ.

Ø      A personal empowering.  The scripture tells us that Jesus “breathed” on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Ø      A personal edict.  He commissioned them with the gospel of forgiveness and reminded them that they had an important part to play in others receiving the forgiveness that he had secured.  What does that mean?  Just that we are called to represent this gospel of forgiveness.  We have no power to provide for someone’s forgiveness but we are called to portray it and to proclaim it.  It is out of Christian character to withhold forgiveness

It’s not as though these experiences are lost forever when a person disconnects but it further accentuates a sense of separation from God by heightening a sense of separation from His people.  I think that there is strength and vitality to be found in shared experience.

A Careful Accounting

And then doubt sets in when we think that we have forever missed something that has been so significant to others.  Thomas’  reaction to their account was to make the statement, "Unless I see . . . I will not believe.”

Second hand stories of faith are dismal things when you are searching for something real yourself.

There was perhaps a bit of an over-reaction.  The need for absolute proof flies in the face of a faith based relationship with God.

It need not discourage us if we are full of doubts. Healthy questions keep faith dynamic. Unless we start with doubts we cannot have a deep-rooted faith. One who believes lightly and unthinkingly has not much of a belief. He who has a faith which is not to be shaken has won it through blood and tears-has worked his way from doubt to truth as one who reaches a clearing through a thicket of brambles and thorns.

   Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968)

Believe me, the life of grace is no dead level; it is not a marsh country, a vast flat. There are mountains, and there are valleys. There are tribes of Christians who live in the lowlands, like the poor Swiss of Valais, who live between the lofty ranges of mountains in the midst of the miasma, where the air is stagnant and fever has its lair and the human frame grows languid and enfeebled. Such dwellers in the lowlands of unbelief are forever doubting, fearing, troubled about their interest in Christ, and tossed to and fro; but there are other believers, who, by God's grace, have climbed the mountain of full assurance and near communion. Their place is with the eagle in his eyrie, high aloft; they are like the strong mountaineer who has trodden the virgin snow, who has breathed the fresh, free air of the Alpine regions, and therefore his sinews are braced, and his limbs are vigorous. These are they who do great exploits, being mighty men, men of renown.

   -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

  1. A C______ Account

Doubt

  • Insist on proof - rely on certainty and control.

  1. A Challenging Admonition

Decision


----

a  Some manuscripts may continue to

[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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