Seeing is Believing

John 20:19-31
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Theme: Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.

During the past 40 years we have witnessed many miraculous inventions. Technology has increased, our understanding has increased, and our thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. Yet this mystery called the gospel of Jesus Christ has never changed. Will we be as Thomas and only believe what we have seen, or will our faith enable us to believe without touching the nail scars in His hands. Join us as we discover how our faith is not something that can be held in our hands, but something we hold in our hearts.

Last week was Easter Sunday. We celebrated our risen Lord with song, with praise. Some of us got up early to attend the sunrise service, others slept in. Some of us bought new clothes, some of us celebrated with a feast of food. For those of us who gave up a certain food or practice for Lent, Easter Sunday was a day to renew our love affair with whatever we missed during the past 46 days.

But Easter is not over. For 50 days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost we celebrate not only the resurrection of our Savior, but the resurrection of faith, first for the Apostles, and then for each one of us.

Today’s scripture focuses on Thomas. There are very few references to Thomas in the Bible. What we know about Thomas comes primarily from the Gospel of John. Thomas, whose Greek name Didymus means twin, is a bit of a mystery. Was his twin a boy or girl, identical or fraternal, living or dead? Or was it as some speculate that Thomas did not have an earthly twin at all, but was so much like Jesus that Jesus considered him His spiritual twin.

These things we know: We know he was a fisherman from Galilee and one of the original 12 Apostles.
We know when Jesus said where he was going his disciples would follow, Thomas asked how could they follow since they did not know where Jesus was going. Funny: no one called him Doubting Thomas then.

When Jesus set out to go to Judea to perform the miracle resurrection for Lazarus, the other disciples tried to dissuade Jesus from going because there was the threat of death. But Thomas said’ Let us go with Him that we might die, too.” Why is he not known as Courageous Thomas or Brave Thomas? After all, he was willing to die with Jesus.

Thomas had one moment that defined him, and it was the moment that He failed to accept the risen Lord because he was not in the room when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. From that moment he was no longer Thomas the Twin, or Thomas the Fisherman, or Brave Thomas. From that moment he became Doubting Thomas, but is he really so different from many of us today? If we had been there and had a choice between believing in a Jesus we could not see and seeing a Jesus in whom we can believe, wouldn’t most of us choose the latter?

Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter doubted and had Jesus not reached out to save him, his doubt would have killed him. Yet Peter is the Rock, not the doubter. I would propose that Thomas did not have less faith than the other apostles. In fact, there were many doubters in the Bible prior to Thomas. Thomas heard of the miracle of the resurrection. The other apostles saw the evidence of the resurrection. Of course they believed. They could reach out and touch Jesus which is all Thomas wanted to do. It’s when we must live by faith instead of by sight that problems can sometimes occur.

But here is a question I have been rolling over in my brain. Could it be that Jesus knew Thomas would not be present when He appeared before the other followers. Jesus knew Thomas’ nature. He could have predicted instead of being with his spiritual brothers, Thomas would be grieving alone. Perhaps Jesus used this moment to teach us something about doubt and about faith, and even community.

In William Barclays Commentary of John he says this about Thomas:
There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure than in the man who glibly repeats things which he has never thought out, and which he may not really believe. It is doubt like that which in the end arrives at certainty.

Do you get what Barclay is saying. When we repeat the Apostles’ Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about what we are saying, without meaning what we are saying, that is worse than doubting. You see, Thomas’ doubt was not grounded in a lack of faith but instead the desire to prove his faith.

My music teacher at Central was Lois Jean Raymond. When trying to get us to sing out, she would say to put our courage in our hot little hands and sing. Well, it would be great if we could put our faith in our hot little hands and believe. But faith cannot be held in our hands, it must be held in our hearts.

Why was Jesus being raised from the dead so hard for Thomas to believe? Wasn’t he present when Lazarus was raised from the dead?

Thomas had lost hope. Jesus raised Lazarus–if Jesus was dead how does a dead man raise himself? He doesn’t. Jesus believed in and relied upon the Holy Spirit to breathe life into a lifeless body.

How would we have remembered Thomas if he had responded, Where is Jesus?? I must go find him!!! Would we have called him Thomas the Inquisitive or Thomas the Loyal instead of Doubting Thomas?

After Thomas plunged his hand into Jesus’s side he made the greatest statement of faith that he could have made–my Lord and my God! The man who could not envision the Resurrection would go on to travel the farthest than all of the Apostles, going all the way to India, to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tradition has it that Doubting Thomas was killed by the spear of a soldier while preaching about the Risen Lord.

Seeing is indeed believing, and it is when we are able to see with our spiritual eyes that our faith grows. If we must doubt let it be as Thomas doubted so that our faith may grow within our hearts.

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