For a thousand years, we’ve labeled you. We’ve called you “The Doubter,” been amazed at your lack of faith. And to be fair, your buddy John didn’t exactly paint you in the best of light. His story says you refused to believe until you could see and touch, and that’s all we seem to remember about you. But I think even John would say we’ve terribly misunderstood you. Maybe we can work on setting the record straight.
The first time we hear Thomas speak is in John chapter 11. The disciples and Jesus had been in Judea previously and encountered opposition. Okay, to be clear, it was more than that. They encountered death threats in Judea. The people in Judea did not like Jesus or his disciples, and they wanted to stone them. Why? I’m glad you asked. The last time Jesus was in Judea, he claimed he was God’s Son. He offered as proof that he did miracles in God’s name:
“37 By all means, do not believe in Me, if I am not doing the things of the Father. 38 But examine My actions, and you will see that My work is the work of the Father. Regardless of whether you believe in Me—believe the miracles. Then you will know that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.”
They were so angry, filled with righteous rage at his blasphemy. “Who is he to claim that God is his father? How dare he?”
So Jesus and his friends turned tail and got out of there. The Judeans would eventually get their wish and satisfy their bloodlust, but not yet. It wasn’t time yet.
A while later, Jesus heard his friend Lazarus had died. When he told the disciples it was time to go back to Judea, they weren’t too excited about the idea. “Um, Jesus? Do you remember what happened last time we were there? Are you sure?”
But not Thomas. Thomas said, “Let’s go so we can die with Him.”
Now, there are so many ways to read that.
You can read it as sincere, balls to the wall, unadulterated loyalty. Thomas could have been saying, “Jesus is going, so I’m going too. And we’re probably going to die, but that’s what we’re doing.”
It could be read with a voice of resignation, “Jesus is not going to be talked out of this, so we might as well go and get it over with. And get ready, because we’re probably going to die.”
But the voice that has often been used here when I hear it preached is sarcasm. “Sure, Jesus. We’ll go to Judea, and we’ll be just as dead as Lazarus. What good will that do?” And of course that is always in the context of the reminder that Thomas was the resurrection denier, so he couldn’t be saying this in any kind of courageous way. No, he was being rude. Had to be.
And then there’s the conversation at the Passover. Jesus has been so. patiently. explaining who he is, what’s about to happen, what they’re supposed to do next, etc. The comment Thomas makes in the conversation is “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the path?” And by itself, that might seem like a doubting kind of statement. But for the sake of context, let’s look at what all the other disciples said in that same conversation:
Simon Peter: 36 Lord, where are You going?
Jesus: Peter, you cannot come with Me now, but later you will join Me.
Peter: 37 Why can’t I go now? I’ll give my life for You!
(Peter is so whiny)
Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.
(I need this one thing. That’s it. I just want to see the Father.)
The Other Judas: 22 Lord, why will You reveal Yourself to us, but not to the world?
(Dude. The whole point is that you will testify to the revelation you have been given, and the Holy Spirit will reveal to the hearers as you testify. But since you don’t really know how the Holy Spirit works yet, I’ll give you a pass.)
Some of His Disciples: 17 What does He mean? “I’ll be here, and then I won’t be here, because I’ll be with the Father”?
(They still. don’t. get it.)
Other Disciples: 18 What is He saying? “A little while”? We don’t understand.
Disciples: 29 We hear You speaking clearly and not in metaphors. How could we misunderstand? 30 We see now that You are aware of everything and You reveal things at the proper time. So we do not need to question You, because we believe You have come from God.
(Um. NOW you don’t need to question? Of course not, because you’ve asked all the questions already.)
In light of the rest of the group, Thomas’ question seems pretty benign. I can relate. Any time there’s a plan, I want ALLLLL the details. How are we getting there? How much is it going to cost? What’s the weather like? What’s the itinerary? Thomas just wants to know the best way to follow Jesus. Don’t we all?
That brings us to the moment Thomas is most famous for. When faced with the news that Jesus was alive, Thomas said,
“Until I see His hands, feel the wounds of the nails, and put my hand to His side, I won’t believe what you are saying.”
Again, we need to look at the other disciples’ reactions. Mary was convinced someone had stolen the body, and until Jesus himself called her by name (SO MUCH I WANT TO WRITE THERE), she wasn’t convinced. The other disciples ran to the tomb to see what happened after Mary told them the body had been stolen. They weren’t going at first to see that he had been raised because no one had seen him yet (according to John’s Gospel, anyway). John says that he and Peter began to believe there, but that really seems like someone recalling the best of themselves (My friend Brent addresses this here). And then Jesus appeared to everyone EXCEPT Thomas. Why? Why wasn’t Thomas with the rest of them? Why did Jesus reveal himself then? SO MANY QUESTIONS!
My point is that no one else had the opportunity to be told and not shown yet. Thomas is the only one who heard that Jesus was raised before he had seen it with his own eyes, and he had a completely natural reaction. And yet, his statement is the one that defines him here, rather than his next one.
A little over a week later, they gathered again. Again, they were behind locked doors, afraid of the Jews and afraid of what might happen next. Here, Jesus appears.
He comes close to Thomas and invites him to touch his hands and his side, place his hands there. But Thomas doesn’t need to touch him at this point. He falls on his knees and confesses, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas believes. And I think this is the moment that defines him as he confesses for the first time that Jesus is God and Lord of all.
Why does it matter? Who cares if we look at Thomas as Doubter or as Confessor?
I think it matters. We who believe can’t understand those who don’t. “It’s plain as day, Jesus is who he said he was! He died for your sins and rose again on the third day! How can you not see this?” We don’t get it. But Thomas gets it.
In the story, Jesus says,
“Thomas, you have faith because you have seen Me. Blessed are all those who never see Me and yet they still believe.”
We who believe have seen. We know who Jesus is. We’ve seen him. We’ve been changed by him. We’ve touched him. We have faith because we’ve seen in so many ways who Jesus is. Jesus has revealed himself to us so clearly that we can’t deny it. And Jesus says, “That’s great, but blessed are those who never see Me and yet they still believe.”
The one who struggles with addiction and can’t seem to kick it. The one who longs to hear from God but wonders if he’s crying out to the ceiling. The mother whose arms are empty as she grieves her loss, angrily asking where God is. The one who doubts but still believes. Jesus says they’re blessed.
Church, let’s stop pretending that Jesus reveals himself to all of us the same way and at the same time. How many times have we said to the doubter, “Open your eyes and you’ll see how God is working in your life!” Or, “It takes time with God to hear that still small voice.” Or my favorite, “If you aren’t blessed by that, there’s something wrong.”
Sometimes, it’s enough to believe even when we don’t see.