Between Doubt and Belief

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John 20:19-31  That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),* was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “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.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. (NLT)

If you tell a man that there are 100 quintillion stars in the universe, he’ll believe you.  But if a sign says, “Fresh Paint,” he has to make a personal investigation.

We all struggle with doubt at some time.  Webster defines doubt as “uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making.”  We live in an age of skepticism.  In fact, we live in a postmodern, post-Christian world, where people do not believe in objective truth.  If nothing is objectively true, then everything is subjective.  Pilate, the Roman Governor who condemned Jesus, was very postmodern in his attitude.   At Christ’s trial, he said, “What is truth?”

Thomas, also known as “the twin,” was one of the 12 apostles.  He is remembered for being unbelieving, so he is known as “doubting Thomas.  He gets a bad rap.  

Nothing is known about how Jesus met Thomas and called him to be a disciple.  The only personal account of Thomas is in John.  Thomas voiced his willingness to follow Jesus even to the death (John 11:16).  In this passage, he is one of the main witnesses to the risen Christ in John 20.

John 20 is the climactic chapter in John.  John gives us 4 eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Christ:  Peter and John race to the empty tomb (vv. 1-10), Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (vv. 11-18), and now in the second half of the chapter:  Jesus appears to the disciples without Thomas, and finally Jesus appears to Thomas.  4 eyewitness accounts, and 4 examples of faith. 

On that same evening (Resurrection Sunday), the followers of Jesus were huddled together behind locked doors in the Upper Room in fear that some of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were still searching for them.  Despite the reports of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples that they had seen the Lord, fear has gripped them.  They feared that the same tragic fate of Jesus may soon be theirs.  The Temple authorities will find them and arrest them too.

Suddenly, as if our out of thin air, Jesus appeared in the center of the room.  (v. 19)

Scene 1. Jesus appears to the disciples without Thomas (20:19-23)

Suddenly, Jesus was standing among them, “Peace be with you,” he said. As He spoke, He showed them His nail-scarred hands, and the place where the Roman spear had thrust into His side.  And they were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!  The disciples began to really celebrate as it sank in that they were really seeing the Lord. (The Voice)

Again Jesus said, “I give you the gift of peace.”  Shalom (Peace) is the standard Jewish greeting.  But Jesus was doing more than greeting the disciples, he was offering them the gift of the peace of Christ.  So we call the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of peace.  God’s shalom was a promise echoed through the ages by the prophets of Israel.  Peace and righteousness and justice would accompany the establishment of the Kingdom of God by the Messiah, the Christ.

Then Jesus gave them a mission:  “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you.”

Each of the Gospels shares a slightly different take on the Great Commission, each of them sheds light on the mission of the church.  John focuses on the message of peace.  The peace of the Kingdom of God summarizes the essence of Jesus’ work and presence in the world.

 

John 16:33 (NLT) “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 14:27 (NLT) “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has spoken of Himself as the One who was sent by God.  Now Christ’s work on earth is nearly completed.  His final task is to commission the disciples to carry on His work.  Just as Jesus was sent by God the Father as God’s special agent into the world, so now Jesus sends the disciples into the world.  They will become the agents of the Good News, working in the world and witnessing to the reality of God and the truth of the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Everything that Jesus has promised was coming true.  Now he has one gift left to give the disciples before He departs to return to the Father.

Then Jesus drew close enough to each of them that they could feel his breath.  He was invading their space.  He got so close to them that he could breath into their nostrils.  He said, “Welcome the Holy Spirit of the living God.”

The picture that Jesus gives here reminds us of another time when God grew close to humanity.  In the Garden of Eden, the lifeless clay body of the first human, Adam, lay lifeless on the ground.  Then God the Holy Spirit breathed life into the body.  In the same way, Jesus breathed new life into the disciples through the Holy Spirit.

One feature of Jesus commission is his empowering of the disciples.  God not only sent His Son, but God also empowered Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit came down upon Jesus at His baptism (John 1:29-34).

John the Baptist testified about Jesus:  John 1:33–34 (NLT) “I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

Jesus is known as the One to whom God has given the Spirit without measure (John 6:27).  Now Jesus was sharing this same Spirit with His followers.  To be commissioned, to advance the work of God as God’s agents of the Kingdom, means being empowered as Jesus was empowered – by the same Spirit, just as Jesus was anointed and as Jesus had promised.  Christians who bear in them the Spirit of Christ, continue the work of Christ in the world through the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus Christ.

All the other apostles were present with the exception of Thomas.  He heard the accounts of each brother’s interaction with the risen Lord.  (v. 23)

Scene 2. Jesus appears to the disciples with Thomas (20:24-29)

The report of the disciples: “We have seen the Lord!”

But Thomas complained, “Unless I see His hands, feel the wounds of the nails, and put my hand in His side, I won’t believe what you are saying.”  He remained skeptical and obstinate.  He demands evidence.

A quick condemnation of Thomas overlooks the strength of his contention.  Claims of resurrection should not have been easily believed.  Suspicions that the other disciples had been overtaken by their own wishful thinking, or that they had merely been visited by Jesus’ spirit, should have arisen (especially in the light of the failure of the disciples to understand the teaching of Jesus and the OT about the resurrection, John 20:9).  Since the disciples claimed that Jesus had been physically resurrected from the dead, it is difficult to fault Thomas for asking to verify it by physical means.

The following account takes pains to remind us that Thomas’ experience is much like that of the other disciples.  They were again alone in the Upper Room with the door locked and barred, only now Thomas was present.  It was a week after Easter (Resurrection) Sunday.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them as before saying, “Peace be with you.” (v. 26)

He drew close to Thomas and said, “Reach out and touch Me.  See the punctures in My hands; reach out your hand and put it to My side; leave behind your faithlessness and believe.”

Jesus had heard Thomas’ challenge.  The evidence that he demands – to see and touch Jesus’ wounds – is now provided.  Not only can Thomas see that Jesus is really alive, really risen from the dead.  But in addition he can touch the mark of the nails and the wound of the spear.

“Stop doubting and believe!”  Thomas is being challenged to change, to become like the others who, upon seeing Jesus, embrace Him with faith.

Thomas filled with emotion, falls to his knees in worship, and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”

We are not told that Thomas acts on Jesus’ invitation to touch Him.  It is Thomas’ seeing that is credited with his faith (v. 29).

Thomas, the most outrageous skeptic and doubter of the resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of the Lord who rose from the dead.

Jesus responded, “Thomas, you have faith because you have seen Me.  Blessed are all those who never see Me and yet still believe.”

Thomas’ faith is anchored in his sight.  Jesus utters a blessing not on those who see and believe (those who lived in the apostolic age), but He offers a blessing on those who believe but have not seen.  Jesus points beyond Thomas to those who in the future will read these same words in the Gospel of John, beyond the apostles, to the world of the church, to believers who come to faith through the testimony of the apostles.

Jesus has in mind people like us.  Those who are now reading the Gospel and have not had the opportunity like Thomas to see the wounds of Christ and touch them.  John has provided a record of the signs that can serve for us a similar capacity.  John has given us a written testimony of these eyewitnesses to the risen Christ.

 

John’s purpose:  These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Anointed One (the Messiah, the Christ), the Son of God, because believing grants you the abundant life He came to share.  (v. 31)

John is telling us about the reality of the resurrection.  Threaded through each story is some aspect of power and certainty of Jesus’ life from death.  This is no illusion, no vision or fantasy that serves to inspire the disciples in the midst of their distress following Good Friday.  The tomb is still empty.  When Thomas meets Jesus, he is no ghost, but a genuine human being with a physical, tangible body.

John’s account of the resurrection is an affirmation that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a true historical event that happened on Easter Sunday.  This is the reason we are given so many details about the empty tomb and the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body.  John is trying to affirm that this Jesus is not a fantasy, but a real resurrected human being who can talk and be touched despite the fact that He has been transformed by the power of His resurrection.  Thomas is an ancient skeptic, arguing that divine events do not happen in history and he will not believe until he sees with his own eyes.

For John, the reality of the resurrection plays a critical role in validating the truth of Jesus Christ.  John tells us his purpose from the beginning in writing this Gospel:  These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because believing grants you the abundant life He came to share.  (v. 31)

The spotlight in this passage is on Thomas.  We are challenged to believe like Thomas.  He refuses to believe until he has all the evidence.  When he is given an objective basis for faith, he makes a confession of faith that everyone who believes in Christ must make.  He falls to his knees in worship proclaiming, “My Lord and My God!”

 

 

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