Friday, April 24, 2020

Doubt with Thomas


Did you know that after Jesus rose from the grave, He appeared twice to the disciples in the upper room?  The two events happened a week apart.  If you pay attention and cross-reference the Gospels, you might notice that there are a few similarities.  There are also a few glaring differences.  One of the most significant differences between the first upper room meeting and the second was that not every disciple was present.  Two were missing from that first meeting… We know that Judas wasn't there because he was hanging out in the trees, but there was another.  Reading from John 20:24-29, we discovered the one missing.  

His name is Thomas.  His friends know him as the “twin.”  However, we know him Doubting Thomas.  Two things always bother me about Thomas.  One thing that bothers me about Thomas is that we can assume that he is a twin, but we know nothing about his other half.  The other part that troubles me about Thomas is his nickname.  Why he of all of the apostles got one, I will never know.  Others could have gotten a nickname for a slip-up.  Peter, for example, denied Jesus three times, and we do not call him “Petey Three-Times" or "Sinking Peter.”  Even Judas escapes life and history without being shackled with the burden of being known as “Betraying Judas.”    

Thomas was not present in the upper room when Jesus first appeared (see Luke 24:36-42 or John 20:19-23). Where was Tom?  Maybe he was getting some beer and pizza, or perhaps he was stuck in traffic or helping his kids with a last-minute science project.  We cannot say for sure, and Scripture gives us no hints, but we do see that there is no condemnation for his absence.  No one scolds him for not being there that night.  So, it is safe to assume that this was an excused absence.  

When Tom comes back around, the others let him know what he has missed.   They tell him that they have seen the Risen Jesus.  Upon hearing this news, seeing the excitement in their eyes, Tom does NOT believe.   He snubs the testimony of Peter, James, and  John.  In fact, he refuses to believe.  What is his hang-up?  Why can he not just believe?  It might be that Tom is resentful and experiencing a giant-sized serving of FOMO regret.  It might be that Tom is a full-on skeptic and will not trust anyone's opinion about anything.   Yet, Tom tells us what he needs is evidence.   Thomas is just like us and wants proof or cold hard facts.  He wants to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.  Tom, just like us, wants to see the scientific, double-blind, peer-reviewed, published papers.  He wants not only to see the proof; he needs to put his fingers in the holes on Jesus' hands and put his hand into the wound on Jesus' side.  It is not just some little doubt, but Thomas emphatically states that without proof, he will never believe (John 20:25).  This is where I feel that we may have gotten his nickname wrong.  Thomas didn't just doubt; he refused to believe.  

For eight long days, Thomas was forced to listen to the stories of the others seeing Jesus.  The passing time did nothing to grow faith in Thomas.  The Gospel of John then tells us that after these 8 days pass, the disciples are back in the upper room, and the door is again locked.  (It seems that the passing of time did nothing to grow the faith in the others either.)  In this doubt-filled room, Jesus suddenly appears.  He does not show up and slap Thomas for not believing.  Our Lord does not look and wave a disappointed finger at Peter for again locking the door.  He does not hang His head in frustration.  Instead, Jesus announces, "Peace be with you!"   Then in the most amazing, gentle act of compassion, Jesus holds out His nailed scarred hands.  Looking directly into the doubt-filled eyes of Thomas, He speaks,  "Take your finger and put it here, Thomas.  Look, and see my wounds.  Take your hand and put it into my side.  Stop unbelieving...and believe."  Thomas' eyes are finally open, and he proclaims…"My Lord and my God!!"

In our current time, there is so much frustration that for some, the doubt is beginning to boil.   This reveals the harsh reality that we are more like Thomas than we want to admit.  We are doubters and all we have to do is look at the media to prove it.  We question everything and wonder if we are being told the truth or listening to fake news.  Many people desperately need cold hard facts, scientific evidence, and proof.  We protest that we have the right to know the truth and long answers and when the answers do not come, our doubts slowly begin to turn into skepticism and unbelief. 

Our doubts are not just confined to what is going on in the media.  We doubt our faith, the future, and even God Himself.  We ask questions like "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving… Why are there people getting sick?  Why won’t this pandemic go away?”  Our doubt originates from the poisonous question the snake asked in the garden.  And despite years of teaching, Bible Studies, and Scripture reading, this same question lingers in our hearts. “Does God really love me?” “Can He really forgive me for that?” and “Is God really who He says He is in the Bible?”  "Can I trust Him?"

In this little story, we see Jesus step into all of the doubt, disbelief, worry, and confusion in Thomas' life.  Jesus does not allow Thomas to drown in an ocean of uncertainty, nor does He leave Thomas to wallow in his own doubt.  Jesus comes and meets Thomas, who had not only locked the door to the upper room, but also his heart. He holds out His nail-scarred hands and takes hold of Thomas's burden of doubt.  This is something that Jesus still does.  Jesus walks into our locked quarantine "upper rooms" and the "closed doors" of our hearts and reminds us that He is who He said He is.  Jesus holds out those same nail-scarred hands and takes all of our fears, doubts, concerns, shortcomings, and sins.  And then He blesses us with all of His faith, peace, joy, hope, and glory!  Whenever this happens, our hearts cry out with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"  

It is nothing short of amazing!!  So, agonize about your doubts if you want.  Lock your doors, and social distance, it will not keep Jesus from coming.  And when He does. there will be no condemnation.  There will be no finger-wagging, no disappointed sigh.   His words will be "Peace be with you!"  Look at His hands, take your fingers, and put them in the holes and BELIEVE that HE IS GOD!!

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