Kids have a way of getting to the simple reality of things don’t they?
A father was driving with his young son. As they passed a cemetery the boy saw a freshly dug hole next to a mound of dirt. “Look Dad,” he said, “one got out!”
Another Dad was rehearsing the Easter story with his son on the way to church. After hearing that Jesus was alive, the boy asked, “Is he coming to church today?!”
The extraordinary reality of the Christian message is that Jesus is coming to church today.
The Christian faith is a resurrection faith. A faith that has power over death. According to polls the majority of Americans asked if they believe the resurrection still say yes.
For many of us, however, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. For many of us, it’s complicated.
This morning we are going to see the good news that Easter is for doubters.
Let’s turn to John chapter 20:19-31.
This morning we are going to learn about Resurrection faith through the eyes of a doubter.
1. Believing changes everything (19-23)
The resurrection changes everything, doesn’t it? A risen Jesus means that there is a love that cannot die. It means that there is life after shame and failure. It means that there is a center heavy enough to hold life together. It means that hope is alive. It means that the kingdom of God is among us.
The resurrection changes everything historically. But believing changes everything individually. It is faith that opens our lives to the reality of the resurrection. We see that in verses 19-23.
To believe is to receive peace. Verse 19 – “Peace be with you.” The Hebrew concept of peace is not just absence of conflict or absence of anxiety it is unqualified well-being. Wholeness, health and prosperity. To believe in Jesus is to receive a blessing of peace from God. The first word the twelve heard from the mouth of Jesus was peace.
To believe is to receive purpose. Verse 21 – “as the father has sent me, I am sending you.” The disciples’ faith in Jesus opened their lives to the extraordinary purposes of the kingdom of God on earth. Those ordinary people were swept up in a story of epic proportions – traveling the world, experiencing miracles and growing a spiritual foundation that would change the history of the world.
To believe is to receive presence. Verse 22 – “he breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit.” In Greek and Hebrew the words for breath and spirit are the same. Earlier in John (chapters 14-16), Jesus told the disciples that it was for their good that he was leaving them. How could that be good? Because if he left he would send the Holy Spirit to them. Jesus was with the disciples. The Holy Spirit would be in the disciples. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, those men received a constant companion in life. Wherever they went, they were never alone.
Peace, purpose, presence. Believing changes everything.
2. Believing isn’t always simple (24-25)
The disciples were glad. Luke tells us they struggled to understand what was happening because of the overwhelming joy and amazement. But one of them wasn’t in the room.
Thomas, wasn’t there.
Why not? We don’t know. Maybe the grief and shock of the crucifixion was too much to deal with in the presence of others. Maybe he was upset with the others over their actions during the arrest and execution of Jesus. Or the way they responded to their grief. Maybe he just couldn’t relate to the community of faith any more. We don’t know.
What we do know is the state of Thomas’ belief. Verse 25 – “Unless I see and touch him I will never believe.” The testimony of the others wasn’t enough for him. He did not believe.
Let’s look at the ingredients of doubt.
1. Emotional pain and disappointment.
Thomas had put all of his eggs in Jesus’ basket and then watched them all smashed on the cross. He watched his future die on the cross with Jesus.
His painful experience caused great heartache and contradicted his belief.
I have found that doubt is more often an emotional challenge than an intellectual one. This is the story of the person who begins in faith only to watch a loved one die despite hours of prayer. This was Thomas’ experience.
He was not willing to believe. He was not willing to risk the heartbreak of disappointment so soon.
In his isolation, Thomas gave up one of the essential ingredients for faith in difficult times – the fellowship of believers.
“We are always more likely to find him in the company of the faithful than in a lonely vigil.” -Bruce Milne
J.C. Ryle: ‘how much Christians may lose by not regularly attending gatherings of God’s people … The very sermon that we needlessly miss may contain the message our souls need. The very assembly for praise and prayer from which we stayed away may be the very gathering that would have cheered, established, and uplifted our hearts’
3. Personal disposition
There are two other places in John that give us insight into the character of Thomas.
In John 11, Thomas expresses a readiness to die with Jesus in Jerusalem.
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
In John 14, he expresses a practical nature.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
We can guess that Thomas was a man of commitment, he was committed to truth and ready to die for truth. He was a practical man – truth is practical.
In light of previous statements recorded in John we might paint a picture of a personality that was prepared for the worst and not prone to easily accepting the simple and optimistic answer.
Thomas wanted it to be true. There is nothing he wanted more than to believe Jesus was alive, walking the streets of Jerusalem. But he couldn’t accept it just because he wanted it to be true.
Thomas continues in this state for a week.
Thomas spends 8 days in an agonizing state of unbelief while his friends shared the joy and amazement of belief. He spent a week struggling alone while everyone else shared common experience he had been left out of.
That’s a hard week. Can you relate? I think some of us can.
3. Believing is always personal (26-29)
A week later John takes us back inside a home on a Sunday. This time Thomas is there. The testimony of the others wasn’t enough to get him to believe, but it was enough to get him in the room.
The details are almost identical to the previous Sunday. They are inside. The doors are locked. Jesus appears and gives a blessing of peace. Jesus shows his hands and his side.
What is that communicating?
Doesn’t that communicate that Jesus cares about the individual? Jesus is not willing for one to be left behind. So he comes again and repeats the experience for the benefit one man – hurting, struggling, unbelieving Thomas.
The first thing Jesus says to him, shows an intimate knowledge of Thomas’ situation. “Put your finger here.” It’s like opening Instagram to find an ad for the sneakers you were just talking about with your friend. It’s like “someone is listening”.
“It is to the great encouragement of those who experience such agony of faith that Jesus does not dismiss Thomas. Indeed, this further appearance would seem to be essentially for his benefit. Doubt is not sin. Further, Jesus so clearly knows exactly what has been passing through Thomas’ mind. He knows our doubts in all their detail and circumstance.”
“The ‘other world’ of the Spirit is not beyond earshot.” -Bruce Milne
I think there is more to the scars.
Isn’t it interesting that the resurrected body of Jesus retained the scars of his execution? When you think about getting a new body, wouldn’t you want to get rid of the blemishes?
Not everyone would.
Scars tell stories. (and people with scars tell stories, don’t they?) Scars are reminders. The scars of Jesus are eternal reminders.
They will tell the eternal story of how far God is willing to go to show his love to sinful and undeserving people. They will tell the story of victory of the Savior over the grave, the triumph of hope over death. The scars of Jesus are Jesus “credentials to the suffering race of human beings.”
Edward Shillito after World War 1:
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
John doesn’t tell us if Thomas actually reaches out to place his finger in the hands or his hand in the side of Jesus. But he does tell us what comes out of Thomas’ mouth – one of the most beautiful and important professions of belief in the whole Bible “my Lord and my God.”
In that moment Thomas undergoes a total transformation in his perspective. It wasn’t all lost! It was all real! It was more real than I could ever have imagined. All of the teaching, all of the shared experience, all of the hope! It was all true! The truest thing of all was the love of Jesus, the Lord and God, who became a man and gave his hands and his side to the sharp steel of the Roman executioners.
Man, what an experience. Thomas’ genuine belief in Jesus went through a furnace of doubt and came out the other side unbreakable.
The most resistant skeptic gave us the most profound confession of faith in the gospels.
This is often the case. One of the most famous and well-respected Christians in the last 100 years was C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia and many other helpful books on the Christian faith.
Lewis was not always a believer.
As a university professor and linguistic scholar, Lewis was an atheist until he had an inescapable experience of faith through a conversation with his friend JRR Tolkien.
David Bennet was an atheist and activist pursuing social causes that set him against Christianity as an enemy. He describes an experience in an Australian café with a friend who offered to pray for him – the result was a supernatural encounter that turned his life upside down. Bennet is now a writer and speaker who travels the world telling the story of his encounter with Jesus and defending the Christian faith.
The most stubborn skeptics often become the most committed defenders of faith.
Christian tradition tells us that Thomas went on to travel throughout the East proclaiming the gospel and starting new churches. One of the oldest churches in the world is in Kerala, India. They trace their history back to Thomas.
Jesus replies in verse 29, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It seems that he graciously receives Thomas’ renewed faith that came from seeing, but gives a special honor to a different kind of faith. The faith that does not see and yet believes.
Who is Jesus talking about?
Surely he is talking about all of the believers who would respond to the testimony of the disciples. Two thousand years later millions continue to believe the message of the Resurrected Jesus with joy and hope, despite never having a chance to see the holes in the body ourselves.
The disciple Peter wrote about that kind of faith to believers throughout the middle east who had never seen Jesus, yet accepted the disciples message.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
1 Peter 1:8
There is a blessing that follows unseeing faith. (Not unthinking, but unseeing.)
Some of us don’t really go through a process of doubting and requiring evidence. Some of us just hear the message of the gospel and it hits home with the force of truth and we are ready to take it at face value. If that’s you, there is a blessing in that kind of faith. You may not have loads of knowledge and proofs to offer about your faith. That’s not important to Jesus.
To those who are more like Thomas, the time and attention Jesus gave to one doubting person is good news. Don’t you think Jesus could have arrived on a night when Thomas was there? Why go through the extra trouble of having to repeat the experience? Maybe it’s because God wanted to give a gift to all of the wounded doubters who would go through their own weeks of unbelief.
Conclusion: Are you ready to believe? (30-31)
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown