By Bryan Watson “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” – a desperate father
Thomas. The Apostle Thomas. Doubting Thomas. I don’t think that there’s anyone else in the Bible who’s gotten such an undeserved bum rap from the Church through the ages.
For my own self, I find it easier to identify with Thomas and Peter than with James or John. Men whose foibles and flaws are displayed for all of history to witness, for all of us to see and analyze through the ages. For all of us to pass judgment on.
Look, here’s the deal: we’ve been living comfortably with the Resurrection for close to two thousand years now, and by golly, we’ve just gotten too used to the idea. We look at Peter when he denied knowing Christ and think I’d have stood up for Him. We see Thomas, standing firm in his unbelief at the news of their risen Master and think I’d have believed them. After seeing Jesus do all the things that He did, I’d believe that He’d come back. We’re all more than confident these days that Jesus could come bodily back from the dead; we don’t want to trust Him with our finances, our jobs, our children, our relationships, or many other aspects of our day to day lives, but by golly, He is risen!
Let’s look at it from Thomas’s perspective for just a moment. He’s just spent the better part of three years following this guy around. A fella who’s proven himself more powerful than disease, wiser than the most learned religious authorities, and who seems to regard physics only circumstantially. He becomes more than a man to them, he becomes: Him.
I’ve grown up capitalizing my pronouns in regards to the Godhead. I know of some Christians who don’t understand why, who don’t get it, some with some pretty good reasons as to why it’s not really necessary, but I keep doing it. Why? I suppose that to me it’s one more confession to the world about who Christ is. It’s a subtle way that I can claim in this age of skepticism that Jesus is in fact . . . well, actually, I’m getting ahead of myself here. We’re talking about Thomas. I promise I’ll finish this thought, though, just bear with me.
In one of the made-for-TV movies about Jesus that came out a few years ago, Thomas was portrayed as a skeptical man, a man whose mouth was always set somewhere between mild anger and annoyance. He was unconvinced about following this Jesus guy until Jesus healed a man in front of him. Of course, even then, he seemed to be hanging around just to finally be able to say “Aha!” when something finally, inevitably went wrong. In reality, we know very little about most of the Apostles from the actual Scriptures. Tradition and some semi-reliable apocryphal sources hold more information, but the Inspired Word of God is sparing with its information. But we do see one thing, one little thing, that I believe gives us a valuable insight into Thomas’s character, and it’s well before the Resurrection.
When Jesus was told that His friend Lazarus was sick He stayed where He was for two days, then told His apostles that they were going back to Judea. They pointed out to Him, quite prudently as far as they were concerned, I’m sure, that the last time they’d been there, the Jews tried to stone Jesus. Just a little thing. Yeah, sure, Big Guy, you can turn water to wine and make blind men see, but c’mon, you’ve got bad P.R. in Judea.
All of them except for one. “Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’” (John 11:16 NKJV)
I tend to think that Thomas was a pragmatist. That somewhere along the line of following Jesus he came to the conclusion that this guy was the One that they’d been waiting for. Not that he was the only one who had come to this conclusion (Luke 9:20), but nevertheless, he had come to believe it. And then, a wrench was thrown into the works: Jesus was dead.
So how would a pragmatic man deal with this sort of thing? I think Thomas came more or less to the conclusion that he’d simply backed the wrong guy. I mean, healing people and is a neat trick, and it’d probably be easy enough to apply the technique to one’s self, but you probably need to be alive to do it. And so now what?
Hope is a funny thing. All of us can carry it about in our hearts if we so choose. It carries us through the hard times and it always bounces back from injury. Always. It just comes down to this: are we going to pick it back up and put it in our hearts again? If we do, it can just be ripped out again. Thomas, still smarting from his recent injury, hears the words of his friends that the Master is alive and reacts, well, pragmatically.
The man was dead; Thomas, like many of the others, knew that. They’d seen him die, they’d seen the body. They’d buried him. Hope if you want to, but I won’t believe it unless I know that it’s really Him.
There’s really a lot that the Bible doesn’t tell us, but as far as we know the other Apostles never told Jesus what Thomas’s criteria were for his belief, yet nevertheless “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put itinto My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’” (John 20:27 NKJV)
At church last night we talked about this passage as I told some friends of what I was planning to write about for this article. They both disagreed with me about what happened next, and I guess we won’t know until we can meet Thomas and ask him for ourselves, but I like to think that Thomas never did put his hand in the wounds. That the the Man he saw standing before him, telling Thomas things that by all rights He shouldn’t know, was enough when you came right down to it. But what we do know is what Thomas did next, and it was something that none of the other Apostles had ever done before. And it was quite pragmatic, really.
“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:28 NKJV)
Sure, people had respected Jesus; Peter had even acknowledged that He’d been sent byGod, but no one, no one, save for Jesus Himself (John 8:58), had ever actually said that Jesuswas God before. That was blasphemy. Unless, of course, it was true.
We serve a living Savior! Thanks be to God for that, for a dead miracle man does no more good, but a risen Messiah has conquered death—and since He’s promised to take us with Him, what other response could we have? There can then be only one proper answer when they say to us “He is risen!”
He is risen, indeed!