As our tour comes to an end, we will watch one more story featuring an important discussion between Jesus and Thomas, the disciple who doubted. The disciples were the guys who walked with Jesus during his entire ministry on earth. They were exposed to some amazing things and were empowered by him to preach the gospel. They listened to him as he taught Scripture, and then watched him die. Even though Jesus prepared them for this moment, the tragic events of his crucifixion put their faith to the test. For Thomas, the crucifixion was so troubling that he did not believe Jesus had risen from the dead.
We live in a culture today that says, “Seeing is Believing.” This means people need evidence to prove the existence of something true. In our court systems, evidence produced can convict a person of an alleged crime, and lack of evidence can cause a case to be dismissed. Evidence gives us eyes to see the truth of something, which leads us to believe.
When we say “Believing is Seeing” this runs counter to our culture but is perhaps the foundation of faith. Now having faith in Christ is not a blind faith but is one where the evidence in favor of the resurrection events is staggering, as recorded in the scriptures. If you take the scriptures alone, there is no way one can conclude that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
We have come to know Thomas as the disciple who doubted. From our text, it’s safe to say that Thomas does not doubt the resurrection, he does not believe it. This is an event that many people in our world today struggle to believe. Let’s face it, no one has ever seen a person who has passed come alive a few days later. If we had, we might be a little freaked out. This is the reality for the disciples. Three days after his death, Jesus appears and interacts them. This is not normal, but Jesus is One who operates according to his plan even when his plan is not normal.
The Gospel of John records this interaction between Jesus and Thomas. As the screen comes to life, Thomas begins to tell his story of the day Jesus appeared to challenge his unbelief. This is his story.
A Disciple’s Journey to Believe the Resurrection
Who is Thomas? Thomas is one of the twelve disciples. Thomas is a twin, but we never know who his twin is. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23) Thomas was not present. Thomas was present with Jesus during his ministry and he experienced some amazing things. Thomas watched Jesus perform miracles and teach in the Temple. On one occasion, Thomas was so enthusiastic about following Jesus that he was willing to die for following him (John 11:16). When Jesus was teaching the disciples in the upper room the week before he was to die, it was Thomas who wanted to know where Jesus was going so he could be with him (John 14:1-6).
The events of the crucifixion truly affected Thomas. We know that after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden, the disciples fled. We don’t know if Thomas was at the crucifixion, but we do know that when the disciples were together after his death, Thomas was not present. His faith was damaged and needed to be restored. Jesus does not leave Thomas in this state but instead appears to him and restores his faith.
When Jesus first appeared to the disciples on the third day, they were stunned and excited (20:19-23). Thomas, however, was not present at the appearance of Jesus. After Jesus departed from them, the disciples went and found Thomas and confronted him with this truth, “we have seen the Lord.” While the disciples were excited, Thomas did not believe them at all. The disciples adamantly told Thomas that Jesus was alive.
Despite their passionate plea, Thomas wanted what many people today want, he wanted to see and touch Jesus himself before he would believe. Thomas needed the physical evidence before he would believe in the resurrection. The words of the other disciples were not enough for Thomas. Until he sees Jesus, he will not believe. This stance of Thomas is not a position of doubt, it is a position of unbelief. This is much deeper than having doubt. Fortunately for Thomas, Jesus is still present on the earth and in a few days will make himself known, not for the sake of the disciples, but for Thomas.
Pause for a moment and consider what is happening here as it connects with life today. When we share the gospel with people, we want them to understand that their sin is the reason Jesus died for them. While they may disagree with you about their sin, they will agree that Jesus died. When we share the gospel that Jesus’ death defeats our sin, we must continue in the gospel to show people that Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death. The scripture’s eyewitness accounts of the resurrection prove that Jesus is alive. The resurrection of Jesus is critical to the gospel and must be included in its presentation because it is the resurrection that promises us eternal life and gives us hope.
The Lord will have to open blind eyes to the truth of the resurrection, giving people the eyes of faith. The stories of the resurrection give us testimony that Jesus is alive. We must not only talk about the work of the cross we must also include the victory over death. Thomas is confronted by the disciples with the truth that Jesus is alive, and he does not believe. A week later, Thomas’ position will be challenged and changed.
Since Jesus is God, he is aware of the conversation the other disciples have with Thomas and decides to make a personal appearance (20:26-27). One week after the resurrection and Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples in the upper room, we find the disciples together once again. They are behind locked doors and Thomas is present this time with the others, thus setting the stage for the dramatic events to follow.
While everyone is enjoying each other’s company, suddenly, Jesus shows up. John’s gospel does not indicate that any small talk took place. Jesus appears to get right to the point after his greeting. Jesus turns to Thomas and calls for Thomas to do the same thing the other disciples were required to do before Thomas would believe Jesus was alive. The text does not go into detail concerning the actual moment of Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds, but we assume he does. Jesus does not want Thomas to go on living life disbelieving the resurrection. Jesus wants Thomas to fully engage with the truth that Jesus is alive. This will be the message Thomas will proclaim to others following Jesus’ ascension.
Thomas had the awesome privilege of physically seeing the risen Lord. We do not have that same privilege today. I wonder, if people today did see the resurrected Christ, how many people would question whether he is really Jesus? The pages of Scripture and stories like Thomas’ are not simply placed in the Bible for good story telling, they are present to give us the evidence we need to have today so we can proclaim this singular truth: Jesus is alive. After some reflection, the conversation continues with Jesus making a significant and powerful point.
This is a dramatic moment for Thomas. Thomas had lost faith in the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah, because Jesus did not fulfill his political duties as king, and so Thomas struggled to believe. But when Jesus showed up to Thomas, he emphatically proclaimed, “My Lord and My God.” This is an all-encompassing statement that confirms the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. This is a powerful affirmation concerning the true nature of the divinity of Christ.
Yet, Jesus takes this interaction and affirmation even deeper. Jesus affirms that Thomas makes this statement only after physically seeing Jesus. Thomas was guilty of needing to see before he would believe. Jesus takes this moment and turns it upside down with this statement, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I think Jesus speaks of everyone that will put their faith in Jesus Christ without physically seeing him. When we put on the eyes of faith, we understand that believing gives us eyes to see. Because we believe without physically seeing and putting faith in Jesus, we are blessed.
As my wife and I sat in the last room on the Billy Graham Library tour, they showed Billy Graham at one of his many crusades preaching the gospel to a massive crowd. We listened intently as he shared the gospel—grounding this truth in the death and resurrection of Jesus which gives every person the opportunity for redemption and eternal life through faith.
What more fitting place to end could there be? We had journeyed through the life of a man committed to sharing the gospel and we ended by listening to him share the gospel. I wondered, as I sat in that room with about fifty people, how many people come to Christ in a venue like this, by visiting the Library and listening to Graham preach? What we know for certain, is that God knows.
We end our tour on the last day of our Lord. The eyewitness accounts prove to us that Jesus is alive. The Lord went to great lengths to record many post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, but the interaction we have studied in these final encounters are truly powerful moments.
As we finish, we need to remember and to contemplate the truth that Jesus defeated sin on the cross and conquered death in his resurrection. One act provides forgiveness and the later promises eternal life, but only through faith.
The truth we share is simple yet profound. Every person is a sinner punishable by death (eternal separation from God) which is his just punishment for rejecting Christ. However, God has chosen not to let people live in that state and because of his great love for us, sent Jesus, his Son, to die for our sin and rise again so we can have a relationship with a holy God.
The final step of the gospel requires a response. God has provided a way, he has extended an invitation, but you must reach out and accept the gift of salvation known as grace. We must confess our sin, seek his forgiveness, believe in the person and work of Jesus, who saves us, and make him Lord of our life. When a person gives their life to Christ, that life is instantly changed, and it is a life that will never be the same. When we believe, we see. If we are waiting to see we may never believe.
One day, Jesus came into a locked room with one purpose, to make himself known to a man who did not believe he was alive. Every time a person opens the Word of God, Jesus steps into the locked room of our lives with a message of hope. Perhaps as you read this today, he is calling you to stop disbelieving and believe in Jesus today.
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.