March 16, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 8 - Thomas, the Disciple with the Bad Rap

Thomas has become a modern day proverb. Any time someone seems skeptical or incredulous, we are prone to call him a ‘doubting Thomas.’ Why? Well because of this apostle who, after his ministry partners had reported seeing Jesus risen from the tomb said famously: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails … I will not believe” (John 20.25). So yes, Thomas deserves the nickname. But is that all we can say about him? ‘Thomas? O, he was the disciple who didn’t believe Jesus had risen until he saw Him with his own two eyes.’ I believe that, when we think of Thomas only in terms of his doubting, we miss a couple of important points; a couple of reasons to be thankful …

First, we need to remind ourselves that the other apostles also believed because they had seen Jesus. In fact, Thomas’s infamous remark came in response to the others saying to Him (John 20.25): “We have seen the Lord!”. Imagine … if Thomas had been in the original group who saw the Lord … and, say, Peter had been the one who was on another errand that particular day … how do we know that Peter, or John, or Matthew might not have said the same thing: “Unless I see … the nail prints”? And what about us? Might we have found ourselves echoing Thomas’s doubts? Or is it that we are mighty oaks of never-doubting faith?

Don’t miss my point. Thomas definitely should have believed. He deserved the rebuke Jesus gave him (v.27). And he deserves the nickname. All I am saying is that, had you or I been in Thomas’s shoes that day, who’s to say that the proverb might not be about ‘doubting Kurt’ or ‘doubting [fill in your name here]’?

The other positive thing we can say about Thomas is: ‘Thank God he wasn’t afraid to ask questions, say what he really thought, and reveal his ignorance.’ Some of our greatest theological pillar texts come from the mouth of Jesus and as a result of Thomas’s candid, though skeptical, words. Remember John 14.6 … where Jesus said, famously: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Do you know what prompted Jesus to say that? Doubting Thomas’s candid question in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” Thomas didn’t get it. He didn’t understand Jesus’ heavenly mission and home. But probably neither did the other disciples! So thank God Thomas opened his mouth … even if doing so did show off his ignorance. We have one of our great evangelistic texts … the classic text, in fact, on the exclusivity of Jesus … as a result of Thomas’s candor.

And what about the most famous of Thomas’s cynical remarks? “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails … and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20.25). Did that waffling produce any fruit? Absolutely! For Jesus showed up not too long after Thomas’s remarks, and showed Thomas just what he had asked to see … prompting Thomas to respond (v.28): “My Lord and my God.” And why is that so important? Because Jesus, after being called “Lord” and “God”, congratulates Thomas (v.29) for believing; for getting it right. In other words, John 20.28-29 is one of the clearest examples of Jesus acknowledging His own deity. It’s one of the places we turn when trying to win over our Muslim, Jewish, and Jehovah’s Witness friends. It’s the passage to which we turn when someone says: ‘O yes, maybe Paul called Jesus God … but I don’t know that Jesus ever accepted that title for Himself. Do you see? John 20.28-29 is one of the most important texts in the Bible. And we wouldn’t have it without Thomas’s honest and open doubts back in verse 25!

So what am I saying? My encouragement is not that you be like Thomas (unless of course you are going to imitate his later life, pack up your bags, and go to India with the good news!). Please don’t doubt like Thomas. But don’t belittle him either. Thank God that he was just candid enough to speak up … and draw out of Jesus some of the truths which we, who have not seen, hold most dear.

No comments: