“Faith, Doubt and Doubting Thomas”

Pastor Rich Knight

Central Congregational Church

April 23, 2017

John 20:19-29

This passage, the story of “Doubting Thomas” occurs on the very first Easter Sunday. Sunday is called here, “The first day of the week.” In ancient days it was. People worked 6 days and then rested on Saturday. Sunday was the start of a new week. Our calendars still reflect this. Sunday begins the row. Let’s take a look:

John 20:19-29

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Rembrandt, 1634

Question: Does Thomas get a bum rap?

  • How many feel it’s not a big deal & we should definitely drop his nickname?
  • How many feel it was a fairly big deal? He doubted the word of his best friends.

(the show of hands was about half & half)

I’ve often thought of Doubting Thomas as the Bill Buckner of Christianity. In the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner made one little mistake – one little ground ball goes through his leg (and one of those legs was badly hurt and he shouldn’t have even been in there that late in the game!). Buckner had an outstanding career going up until that one fateful moment. And ever since then nothing else he ever did has mattered. He’s been known for that one error.

But is it really fair to judge someone based on one incident? Doubting Thomas & Bill Buckner could have a good discussion about that question. “Doubting Thomas” of course gets his nickname from one incident, and really from one sentence that he spoke on that occasion.

Think about what it’s like when Thomas greets people in heaven. 

“Hi, I’m Thomas. I was one of the 12 Disciples.” 

“You’re Doubting Thomas!!!   Look, Honey, it’s Doubting Thomas!!!”

“I prefer just ‘Thomas.’”

Poor guy, for all eternity he’s known for that one moment. (Hopefully our sins are “remembered no more” in heaven.)

Well, let’s think about “Just Thomas” this morning and see what we can learn from him.

The incident is recorded for us in John 20. On that first Easter Sunday Jesus only appears to Mary Magdelene at the garden tomb. John and Peter were there at the Tomb but they did not see Jesus.  Mary did.

So it’s later that same day and the disciples are gathered together. Suddenly Jesus comes and stands among them. “Peace be with you,” he says. He senses that some of them are overwhelmed because don’t recognize him and some think they’re seeing a ghost. So he shows them his scars – where the nails had gone through him, where the spear had pierced his side.

Interesting that the Risen Christ still bears the scars. He has a perfect body, a “spiritual body” as St. Paul calls it. He can slip through walls and doors and cover great distances in seemingly no time. But he still has the scars. The Book of Revelation suggests that he may have those scars for all eternity. In Rev. 5:6 Jesus appears in heaven as a “lamb who was slain.”


Question: Why does Jesus still have the scars?

– a reminder of his sacrifice for all eternity, and of how much we are loved!!!

So the disciples meet the Risen Christ. But Thomas missed it. He wasn’t there with them.  He missed the meeting!!! He missed Easter!!!

Question: Anyone want to speculate why Thomas wasn’t with them?

(Best answer: “Maybe he was helping others cope with what had happened on Good Friday?”  – Judy B.)

Perhaps he was simply stunned and paralyzed from Good Friday and just needed to be alone. Perhaps he was just in too much pain. Of course, sometimes when we don’t want to be with other people, that’s when we need others the most.

So, the news hits him as too good to be true – “unless I see for myself – unless I see the mark of the nails and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” This is where Thomas gets his nickname from. He doesn’t believe at first. He has his doubts. He wants to know for sure.   Maybe we should call him, “Show-Me Thomas” or “Need-to-be-Sure Thomas.”

They must be gracious with him. I don’t think they shamed him for doubting, because a week later Thomas has rejoined the disciples. And it’s a good thing he did – because Jesus comes and stands among them again. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Here’s a beautiful thing – Jesus doesn’t scold him for his doubts, just as the disciples hadn’t scolded him. Thomas was welcome in the company of disciples, doubts and all!  And that’s good news for us, too!

So, let’s think for a few moments about doubt.

Philip Yancey wrote a great book entitled, “Reaching for the Invisible God: What can we expect to find?” It’s a book about faith and doubt, and how doubt is always a part of faith. That’s why it’s called faith!

Yancey says, “Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all? . . . God’s invisibility guarantees that I will experience times of doubt.”

This side of heaven there will always be mystery when it comes to God.  Our finite minds can never fully comprehending the Infinite One.

Flannery O’Connor said, “When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead.”

Question: Why is doubt a helpful thing?

(keeps us humble, honest and growing)

Emily Dickinson wrote, “We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.”    And that’s not such a bad thing.

Doubt is often how we learn and grow and go deeper in our faith. In John 14 Jesus tells the disciples he must leave them. Thomas is upset & confused, and so he speaks up. “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. We don’t know the way.”  Jesus replies, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Thomas’ questioning lead to a beautiful answer!

In the scriptures, doubt is not a skeleton to be kept in the closet of faith, doubt is brought out into the open and we see that it’s part of the faith experience, even in the Bible. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” a man said to Jesus. It’s the most honest prayer in all the scriptures.

The book of Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations are all filled with expressions of human doubt. – and they still put those books in the Bible. In effect, they canonized doubt! Shocking, but true!

Church History is filled with Saints, great men and women of faith, who openly acknowledged their doubts.

Martin Luther constantly battled depression and doubt. “For more than a week, Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy against God.”

The Puritan preacher Richard Baxter once wrote that his faith rested on “probabilities instead of full undoubted certainties.”    A Puritan wrote that!!!

The famous Puritan, Increase Mather, wrote entries into his diaries such as this one: “Greatly attacked by temptations to atheism.”

You probably read that Mother Teresa of Calcutta (who’s now “St. Teresa of Calcutta”)spent many years struggling in her faith. Her dark times of doubt were very persistent and more the norm for her than the spiritual highs she experienced as a young believer.

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite writers put it this way: “Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me?”

I want to close by calling to your attention to one of the Patriarchs of the Israelites, Jacob.  In Genesis 32, there’s a story about Jacob wrestling with some unknown person or spiritual being throughout the entire night. Jacob is able to hold his own. He doesn’t totally win, but he doesn’t lose either, he doesn’t get destroyed. He asks the man to bless him, and he gets his wish. The blessing comes with a name change.

“You shall no longer be called Jacob, but rather ‘Israel,’ for you have wrestled with God and humans and prevailed.”

Here’s the point – Jacob gets a new name, Israel. That name stuck, didn’t it? The descendants of Jacob are called “Israel” today. Do you know what the name “Israel” means? – “the one who wrestles with God.” So in the Bible, the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus, the people of God are called “Those who wrestle with God.”

According to the Bible, part of being a person of faith is struggling, doubting, believing, questioning, wrestling. I find that to be good news, don’t you?

Faith, doubt, questioning, & wrestling. These are the things of our religion, this side of heaven.

  • It was that way with the Israelites of old.
  • It was that way that first Easter week with “Just Thomas.”
  • And it’s often that way with us.

Think about it. Let’s pray about it.

Loving God, God of light and God of the shadows, God of wonder and mystery, thank you that just as you accepted Thomas that day, you accept us this day, just as we are. Help us to be an honest people, honest with our doubts and questions, that by sharing them with one another and even with you we might gain understanding, grace and growth. We ask this in the name Christ our Risen Savior. Amen.

Rembrandt, 1659

Jacob wrestles with the angel


Post a comment