Christianity 201

November 27, 2020

Following Jesus, but with Reservations, Pessimism and Doubts

In one of the original pieces here six months ago, I re-classified the twelve apostles into some different categories, including “final week disappointments” consisting of “Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Thomas’ doubt.” We often hear sermons on the similarities and contrasts between the first two, but Thomas usually doesn’t get included in this grouping.

You know the story. Thomas misses out on that initial resurrection celebration because he just can’t take in the possibility.

At Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, Dr. Ralph Wilson notes

…Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he’s full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas comments darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.

Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope.

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence…

Thomas, at least in this moment in the narrative, is both a follower and a skeptic. And it’s safe to say his skepticism is winning the day on that Monday.

NIV.Jn.20.24 Now Thomas (also known as 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.”

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.”

He is basically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Does that remind you of a verse of scripture?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
 – Hebrews 11:1 NASB

or perhaps

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
 – Romans 8:24 NIV

We have to recognize that some of this is just the way Thomas is wired. It’s his temperament; his default setting; his basic character. The website for the Jesus Film Project notes that:

…At one point Jesus tells the disciples:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV)

Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?…

So was Thomas a “doubting Thomas?” The Enduring Word Bible Commentary says no. You’re thinking, wait? No?

…Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.

· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.

· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.

The same commentary, quoting McLaren’s Commentary notes:

Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.

And as a result, he misses out. He misses out on the “Peace be with you” blessing noted earlier in John 20, and he misses out on that moment when something bigger happens:

He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas imposes a lot of conditions on what it would take to believe. Enduring Word quotes Leon Morris:

[A]nother possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.

As we’ve seen above (vs. 26) he does see the risen Jesus. Eight. Days. Later.

Finally!

Then follows his confession; his affirmation; the statement that has major impact because it’s the words of someone who formerly did not believe:

NIV.Jn.20.28 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.”

Dr. Wilson says,

“Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

The Enduring Word commentary notes that the final part of verse 29, which begins “blessed are” is a beatitude, but then quotes Spurgeon on ways we can miss that blessing:

· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.

Are you a doubting Thomas? You may not think so, but if we’re honest, most of us, even on our best days, harbor misgivings about some aspect of the faith, or its relevance to our personal situation. We’re like parent who comes to Jesus with concern for a gravely ill son:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
 – Mark 9:24 NKJV

At those times our prayer should be

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 – Luke 17:5 NIV

or in the NLT

The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”