“Help Me Believe”–John 20: 19-31
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church—April 23, 2017
It must have been a tumultuous couple days for the Apostles. They had witnessed their Lord Jesus crucified and die on the cross, His body laid in the tomb, the largest stone they had ever seen rolled over the entrance to seal it. They had retreated into the darkness, for fear of the same fate coming to them—they who were followers of the revolutionary Jesus. As they sat in a small room—possibly the same upper room where they had shared the last Passover meal with Jesus—they grieved and mourned and talked in hushed and frenzied tones. What should they do next? Where was the hope, if any? What did Jesus’ words mean now—now that He was dead and gone?
And then, the women of the group shocked them all by declaring that the tomb was no longer filled with Jesus’ dead body, but instead empty. They told a crazy and unbelievable story about the stone rolled away, heavenly messengers, and a message of Good News. Mary Magdalene even made claims that she had talked with the risen Jesus!
Right when they had begun to fear for the sanity of their female friends, their suspicions were put to rest when Jesus appeared to them as well! Filling the dark and mournful room with glorious, joyful resurrection light, Jesus came and stood among them. He blessed them with “peace” and with the Holy Spirit, and showed them the proof of His crucifixion—the nail marks on His hands and feet, and the spear piercings on His side. He reassured them that they were still workers in the Kingdom, that they were still the chosen Twelve. And they were left with a new-found hope, joy, and vigor to follow Jesus and spread the news of their Messiah and Savior.
But, Thomas… When the women were gifted with the heavenly messengers, when the Apostles (minus one) were blessed with the resurrected Jesus, Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas missed out. When the Good News came to the rest of the disciples, to the rest of the followers of Jesus, it didn’t come to Thomas.
I can imagine how he must have felt coming into the room after Jesus’ appearance. The once cold and grim atmosphere would have been alive and active—all those present buzzing about the events that had just taken place. But the testimony that they shared with Thomas was just as unbelievable as the testimony of the women at the tomb. It sounded like wishful thinking of mournful disciples. And his heart couldn’t handle anymore wishful thinking. And so, with a determined, steely glare, he declared, “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.” (John 20:25)
Thomas is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. And I think that, throughout the years, he’s received a “bad rap” in our Christian circles and dialogues. We call him “Doubting Thomas”, and deride him for his lack of faith in not believing the Good News of the resurrection. But in reality, none of the Apostles believed the news of the resurrection when they first heard it! Luke 24:9-11 says, “When they [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the Apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
It took an encounter with the risen Christ for all of the disciples—the women and the Apostles—to believe that something as all-consuming as even death could not hold Jesus down. And once that encounter occurred, the faith of the witnesses exploded into an all-consuming passion to share the truth and joy of the resurrection with the world.
In verses 26-29 in our scripture for today, Thomas receives what he is so desperately seeking—a resurrection visitation from Christ. And as Thomas sees the proof of Jesus’ resurrected body, Jesus counsels him to “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20: 27). Jesus’ words to Thomas were not words to a man who had no belief, not words to a man who had no faith. If Thomas had no faith, he wouldn’t have been sitting in a room with the other disciples, waiting with baited breath to see a glimpse of the risen Christ—he would’ve been off living his life. If Thomas had no faith, he wouldn’t be willing to wait and struggle and watch and hope. But he is. He’s right there, right in the middle of it all, waiting for the Good News to be right, waiting for his hope to be made valid.
We get a feel for what Thomas’ faith looks like in the few other times that he’s mentioned in the Bible. In the story of Lazarus in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John, Jesus makes plans to go to His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ sides to be with them in their hour of need. But the disciples know that there is growing unrest in the area from the authorities about Jesus, and they feared that they might try to kill Him if He made an appearance. The disciples cautioned Jesus to stay out of harm’s way, and not travel to Bethany to visit His friends. Only Thomas speaks up with courage and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him!” (John 11:16). With more courage than the rest of the Twelve, he is willing to follow Jesus anywhere—even to death. Is this a man who has no faith?
We also see Thomas in chapter 14 of John. Jesus is comforting His disciples by teaching them that God’s house has many rooms, and He must go and prepare those rooms for them. “You know the way to the place where I am going” Jesus says (John 14:4). And Thomas speaks up, saying, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). His question is vital—he needs to know. He wants to be with Jesus, he wants to follow, and he needs to know the details. Is this a man who has no faith?
Thomas’ faith is an honest faith—it’s active and seeking. When the struggles and doubts come, Thomas takes them on and demands God work through them with him. Thomas’ faith is alive and active because he’s constantly working on it—it’s not stagnant or old. He is asking questions, seeking truth, and working through his doubt.
One of the nicknames for Thomas was “the twin”. I love that, because so many times, I feel like I’m Thomas’ twin. So many times I struggle with my own doubts, with my own questions. And in Thomas, we have a “twin”—someone who struggled just like us. Having doubts, asking questions, is the sign of an active faith. It’s the sign of growth and maturity. Thomas is our “twin” when we look at the scriptures and ask God to “show me Your truth for myself, Lord”. Thomas is our “twin” when we say, “Actually, I don’t know the answer. Tell me, Lord.”
This passage is the last that we hear about Thomas. He utters “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) and then goes silent through the rest of the New Testament. But really, after that statement, that’s all that he needed to say. “My Lord and my God” was his statement of faith, his statement of belief. It was his surprise and joy of answered prayers and questions.
Thomas may have been done talking, but Jesus wasn’t. He answered Thomas saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) It wasn’t a judgment on Thomas, but a statement of hope for us—us “Thomas twins” who struggle with doubt so often, and yet still cling to the truth of the resurrected Christ. It’s a statement of joy for us who stand with Thomas in our insistence on a visit from the resurrected Jesus—to make sure that the Jesus who was in that room was the same Jesus who died on that cross, to know that our Lord who was crucified was also resurrected, to believe that death is now defeated and our sins are forgiven. Jesus promised that when we believe, we will be blessed.
Today, we are being called to faith. We’re being called to step into that room with the Apostles, with Thomas. Look at Jesus’ hands and feet, touch the spear marks on His side. Know that He is, in fact, risen. And when you doubt—and doubt you will—know that Jesus will help you in your unbelief. And in your faith, I pray that you too will cry out with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!” Amen.