What Thomas Can Teach Us
After a few traumatic days and several vigorous years of ministry, the disciples found themselves gathered together “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” in John chapter twenty verse nineteen. This is the exact moment when Jesus made his grand appearance to them in his resurrected state. I can’t begin to conceive all that the disciples must have felt taking in their first glimpse of Jesus alive and well. Shock? Relief? Confusion? Well, the scripture makes one of the emotions very clear as it says in verse twenty that “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Of course, joy! After undergoing such emotional turmoil at the brutal loss of their Rabbi, Jesus was a sight for sore eyes and sore hearts.
John chapter twenty also intentionally points us to the fact that not all the disciples were there for this Christ sighting.
“24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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 20:24-25
Imagine being the only disciple who didn’t get to see Jesus.
What a splinter to the soul that must have been for Thomas. The moment of joy that the rest of the disciples experienced together has bitterly passed for him. He was left out.
My Sunday school days taught me to know Thomas as “doubting Thomas”. As a child, I often saw him as a sort of villain in this story. However, when I really reflect on what it would have been like for Thomas to be absent for the miraculous appearance of his Rabbi who was murdered just days before, I think the title “doubting Thomas” massively lacks empathy and understanding for the situation. Thomas was grieving. The other disciples had relief that their nightmare was over because they had seen with their own eyes that Jesus was alive! While they may have still had lingering questions, they no longer had reason to grieve at great depths. But Thomas is still deeply wounded at the loss of his Rabbi, and now a second wound is inflicted as he is the only one of his comrades to miss out on the joy of seeing the Risen Savior.
His words in verse twenty-five are not only a harsh resolve of a now conditional faith in his “I will not believe unless” statement, but they are dripping with woundedness and grief. His doubt is steeped in sorrow and rooted in the feeling of rejection. This doubt, that now colors our view of Thomas, is simply his measure of self-defense used to coat his very hurt heart. Sounds like an average human response to pain, doesn’t it?
I, like Thomas, have doubted God because I felt “left out”. I have denied His goodness and put conditions on my faith because of what He has done for others but not for me. Somehow their joy with Jesus translated to my hurt and loss. Like being pricked by a thorn on a rose in full bloom, there is something beautiful about their joy but also so hurtful about my lack. I wish it weren’t this way. Perhaps, it has been this way for you too.
So, what do we do in these moments of blistering bewilderment and human heartache? Let’s return to the story.
"26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” - John 20:26-29
A whole seven days later, Jesus appears to the disciples in much the same way as he had previously. The doors were locked, the disciples were together, and Jesus uses the same “Peace be with you” greeting. However, the notable difference is that Thomas was there for this Christ sighting and the interaction seems tailored for Thomas himself. Jesus, wasting no time, turns towards Thomas and addresses the doubt head on, but not before his greeting of “Peace be with you”. Could it be that Thomas needed to hear the word “peace” in his anguished soul just as much as the disciples did a week prior?
Start with peace.
When we lock the doors of our hearts just as the disciples locked the doors of that room, Jesus still shows up for us and speaks peace to our weary souls.
Peace be with you in your rejection.
Peace be with you in your loss.
Peace be with you when you’re overlooked.
Peace be with you when you’re withholding.
This receiving of peace is difficult in the midst of pain, but it is such a deep need in the human heart. We must receive His relief. We must choose His peace over our own armor.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27
“The Lord is Near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation with prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6
Now with the anchor of peace extended, Jesus offers Thomas to examine the very “unless I see” contingencies spelled out the week prior. However, Jesus leaves Thomas with a contingency of His own: “stop doubting and believe”.
It’s important that we recognize how we respond when we are hurt. We are all prone to doubt as our standard defense mechanism. Once we have been pained, doubt is an instinctive response to house our hearts from hurt. The problem is that doubt shields us from the wrong thing. It shields us from the blessing of the Lord but opens us to bitterness, resentment, and hardness of heart. We must find a better way.
We must stop doubting and BELIEVE. However, the only way to get to the belief is not to deny the pain, but to be honest about it. “Stop doubting” doesn’t mean that we simply set it aside and pretend it’s not there. Rather, we must move toward Jesus through the doubt. There is no need to try to sugar coat the distress and disappointments felt. Instead, we move courageously through our doubt and pain and bring every bit of resistance to Jesus with honesty and with vulnerability.
Being honest about the state of heart gives us the launching pad for faith even in the unseen. It opens us to remember who it is before us. Thomas needed to take off the grief goggles and remember who the Lord and God he had followed for year. In fact, his response to Jesus is layered with belief, “my Lord and my God!” A week of doubt couldn’t drown out the years of devotion once he looked in his Master’s eyes again. We must remember who it is that is before us. We have looked at our pain, now we must look again at Jesus himself and remember that He is our Lord and our God. Once you have been honest about the state of your heart, get the pain out of view for a moment. Look at Jesus.
When we look at Jesus, we also shouldn’t be surprised if He invites us to look not at what is seen but what is unseen. Jesus said to Thomas in verse twenty-nine, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith in the midst of the unseen is the hallmark of every spiritual hero in Scripture. Just read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews to stir the hunger for an increase of faith in your life. There is blessing in our belief. And the blessing goes two ways. There is blessing for us most certainly, but it also blesses our Lord and God’s heart when we put our trust and hope in Him.
”And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6
Faith when it doesn’t make sense, but peace will be with you. Believe before you see, but you’ll be built up in the process. This is not an easy prescription for a hurt spirit, but it’s the challenge Jesus put before Thomas and all believers.
Start with peace.
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Author’s Extra Note:
Looking for practical ways to increase your faith and be renewed day by day?
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” – Romans 10:17
In this season I have daily read, written, and memorized Scripture because the garden of my heart desperately needs tending to. I need resentment and unforgiveness to be uprooted. I need my doubts to be cut back. Even more, I need my faith to flourish, my confidence to be watered, my character to be pruned and my beauty to blossom.
Disclaimer: This is not at all an easy journey. It is like a detox to the soul, but I am believing someday for a great harvest in the planting of His word in my heart.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
Jen is a pastor, podcaster, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.