Encounters With Jesus: Thomas

How many of you ever had a nickname at some point in your life – maybe in high school?  I don’t know why but we seemed to have a nickname for everyone.  We had a kid named Bird.  Another named E-man.  We had Richwine, Ned, Spaghetti-man. The Goose.  I don’t think she liked that nickname.

If you did have a nickname at some point in your life, you – like all of these friends of mine – didn’t get to choose it.  Something happened and someone along the way tabbed you as – from hence forth you shall be called “The Toad”.  Oh Great.

Want to know my nickname in high school?  Yeah right!  I know you people you will never stop.  Anyone ever had a nickname they don’t want anyone to about?

This morning we are going to read about a bible character who got a nickname that I think is one of those things that maybe we decide we aren’t going to perpetuate.  It’s kind of unfair to the guy, because the guys name is Thomas.  And you might know his nickname as Doubting Thomas.

This morning we continue our series we are calling “Encounters with Jesus” and this morning we are going to read about Thomas – who was a very rational man.  And he is informed by his friends that they have seen the risen Jesus, and Thomas says, yeah right.  I will not believe it until I see it with my own eyes!

We often say that Journey is a church for skeptics and cynics – well, i that’s you then good news – today we are going to read about the patron saint of skeptics.

I hope that we will walk away understanding the important role that doubt plays in our walk with God.  I think doubt gets a bad rap.

My goal is to redeem doubt this morning and show that it can be useful if handled properly.  Doubt is amoral.  It’s a thing.  It – like money – can either be used for good or for bad.

So let’s jump in and read from the book of John.  Chapter 20.  It’s the last story in the book of John.

There are only four books in the Bible that detail the life and ministry of Jesus – Matthew Mark Luke and John.  We call them the Gospels – which means Good news.  Of the four gospels – three of them end with stories about people doubting.  Interesting.

Here in John, we pick up the story shortly after Jesus showed himself to the other disciples.  We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t there, but he rejoins the disciples and hears this report…

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

I seriously like this guy already.  He’s having none of it.  Last week we talked about the completely rational manner that Mary displayed at the tomb when she saw it empty.  The idea of a resurrected Jesus had not even entered her mind.

Thomas is no different.  He walks into the room with a few bags of groceries and his friends are there all amped up – “You just missed Jesus!  He was just here talking with us!”   Thomas was like, “Uh-huh.”

If you are skeptical about the claims of Jesus – then you should know you are starting at the same place Thomas started.  You are where he once was.  You are skeptical for good reason.  I mean, here’s Thomas who actually walked with Jesus for three years – and he hears that Jesus is alive and he says – probably not.

How much harder is it for you and me to come to faith?

Which is why, spoiler alert – Jesus is going to show up, and Thomas is going to believe, but here’s the last words of Jesus that John records for us in his gospel,

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The last thing Jesus does in the book of John is give a nod to the skeptics.  He understands it is difficult to believe.  Blessed is the one who makes that call.  Props to the person who makes that call.

Why would Jesus say that? Because it’s normal to have doubts.  Even after we believe.  I mean, we live in a world full of evil and brokenness – and we are asked to believe in a god we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands.

Everyone doubts at times.  The Bible is filled with heroes of the faith who had to deal with doubt at some point in their faith journey…

The oldest book, most likely the first book written that is included in the bible is the book of Job.  And what IS the book of Job?  Job is about a man struggling with his doubts!

He doubts God’s character – “God has wronged me” he says in 19:6.  He doubts God’s goodness.  “God is shooting me with poison arrows!” He doubts God’s presence.  “I cry out to you but you remain silent”.  The oldest, most likely first book written about God is about a man struggling with Doubt.

And you know what is really interesting about Job?  Job is going to be surrounded by four friends, and his four friends – none of them have any doubts whats0ever.  All of them really have God figured out.

Yet when God shows up in Job chapter 42, who does God chide?  And who does God defend?

God chastises NOT the doubter- but the guys who think they have God all figured out.  “You have not spoken what is right of me, as has my servant Job.”

God is not offended by people who doubt.  Moses deals with doubt all the time.  David deals with doubt – just read his psalms.  Mary dealt with Doubt, Thomas.

But here’s the important thing.  They all had doubts but never allowed their doubts to derail their walk.  They persisted – and worked through their doubts.

Doubt is part of the human condition and it can either lead to good things or bad things.  Doubt alerts our soul that it has a question that is yet unanswered.  And so doubt to me is like this…

Ever drive down the road and hear a noise that jus doesn’t sound right coming from under the hood?  The engine is making some kind of whirr – something – you aren’t a mechanic but – well, what do you do about it?

Many people pretend they don’t hear it.  Raise your hands – how many just pretend you don’t hear anything?  Because you don’t really want to deal with it, and so you hope that if you ignore it the sound will go away.

How many of you would open the hood to investigate yourself?  And if you can’t fix it, then take it to someone to find out the problem?

Well Doubt is the knocking and pinging sound in your soul – alerting you that something isn’t quite right.  And you have two options.

You can ignore it at your own peril.  And you can ignore it, just like you ignore your engine noise.  And you might get around for a while but, more likely than not, something’s about to go wrong!

Doubts can become debilitating if we are afraid to voice them.  Unspoken doubts become a heavier and heavier burden.

Maybe we’re afraid that others will think less of us, like we’re spiritually immature for thinking that way.  Maybe we’re afraid someone will laugh at our lack of understanding – or maybe we are afraid someone will rebuke us as unspiritual, or a heretic! Or maybe we are afraid someone will tell us, “You can’t be a follower of Jesus and doubt those things!”

I remember someone telling me once they got kicked out of Confirmation classes for asking too many questions.

Listen, you never ever ever have to think you are asking me a dumb question.  There are no dumb questions.  There are only unanswered questions.  And unasked questions.

Squishing our doubt down and ignoring them is like ignoring the sound coming from your engine.  It’s not going to end well.

The bottom line is that doubts should prompt us to investigate.

And much can be done through self study – and I can even recommend some reliable trustworthy websites, because generally speaking the internet is a digital septic tank full of misleading information.

There are a few websites that I think are solid.  Gotquestions.org is a decent place.

But sometimes you can’t quite get the issue settled on your own – so call me.  Or Jim.  Or Neil or Kyle – we actually love it.  We love talking about this stuff.  Love it Love it!

Doubts should prompt us to investigate the truth.  As followers of Jesus we are called to be truth seekers.  Jesus says in John 8:32 that  “”If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Do you know that one of Jesus’ favorite phrases in the gospels is the phrase, “I tell you the truth.”  Do you know that Jesus uses that phrase almost 6 dozen times?

Six dozen times he says, “Listen gang, I’m telling you the truth.”  If we are going to be followers of Jesus, then we are required to pursue the truth wherever it leads us.

Because when we pursue the truth it always leads us to God.

Doubt serves a purpose.  It alerts us that our soul wants answers.  It wants the truth.  So embrace your doubts and allow it to provoke you to deeper answers…

By the way, this is true if you are an agnostic or atheist as well.  Or if you are in another religion – listen to the banging noise in the engine of your soul and be willing to investigate.  And be willing to accept an answer that might fall outside of your current theological thought structure.

Thomas was a doubter, but he left room to be wrong.  And I think it’s important we all carry that same mentality to leave room to be wrong.

Let’s turn back to John and see what happened.

Verse 25  – But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Let’s keep reading –

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. 

You know what I like about Thomas?  Eight days later, Thomas is still hanging out with them though.  He is willing to wait and see.  He didn’t bolt.

So, despite his doubts, he is willing to investigate.  To stick around.

You know what I like about the other disciples?  For eight days Thomas has been sitting there as an unbeliever – and the disciples aren’t upset that he isn’t ready to believe yet.

They don’t kick him out.  They don’t look down on him for his unbelief.  He is still welcome.  They allowed him to belong to their group before he came around to believing.

I hope that Journey is that kind of place.  A place where we can have a room full of folks who, like Thomas, can feel freedom to investigate the faith without fear of being strong armed into believing something they aren’t yet ready to believe.

We want you to believe, and we are glad you are here, and we will do all we can to convince you that there is a God who loves you.  You are welcome to be here, how ever long it takes for you to have your questions answered….

it only took a week for Thomas, but we must admit his situation was unusual…

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

I think we can say that Jesus kind of turbo-charged the process by actually showing up – in grace he actually shows up on Thomas terms and allows him to touch his wounds…

And maybe you are the skeptic who is like, “That’s what I want!  I want Jesus himself to show up!”

I remember one time a friend said – “All I want is for God to send an angel to appear at the foot of my bed one night to give me the answer I’m looking for.”

And I’d say – first of all – you better be careful what you wish for.  If an angel actually did show up at the foot of your bed, you might have to buy new sheets and shorts the next day.

We have to remember which one of you is God in the scenario.  God is not a genie that we summons to do our bidding.

So sometimes God will reveal himself but it might come differently than you expect.  God has a way of sneaking up on people, and if you keep your eyes open for him at work in your life, He will show up.

This is part of the tension.  We humans demand clarity and answers.  God demands faith.  It is by displaying faith that we are saved.  And if God answered all of our questions with emails or phone calls, would there really be any need for faith?

I think, personally, that Thomas was really pushing his luck.  He had ten close friends that he has been traveling with for three years.  Their testimony should have been enough for him to believe.  But Jesus graciously goes above and beyond for Thomas.

The result?

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

We talk about making a decision to cross the line of faith at Journey.  Well, this is what it looks like to cross that line of faith.  Thomas crosses over from cynical to saved.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

So are you dealing with doubt in your life today?  Here’s three quick thoughts to help you work through your doubts.

  1. Pray. Pray the doubters prayer.

The first is a passage in Mark that I will say utters for us the doubters prayer.

It’s about a man with a son who is ill and he fights his way through a large crowd to get close to Jesus, and this is what he says to Jesus…

“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

This is the doubters prayer.  Lord, to the extent I can, I believe, and Lord, please help me overcome my unbelief…

  1. Pursue. Pursue an answer.  Which means first having to clearly identify the doubt.  What exactly are you doubting, and then work towards finding a resolution.
  2. Persist. Keep walking forward. Don’t allow your doubts to sideline you.  Jesus doesn’t call us to a faith without doubts.  It’s faith with doubts.

And I’m going to read a passage here that is going to blow your mind.

Matthew 28:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Oh Phil, that didn’t blow my mind – that’s the great commission – Jesus gathered his disciples together and sent them out to change the world.

Okay, Urkle!   You’re right – you nerd.  But that’s not the verse that is going to explode your brain cells…  Here it comes, ready?

17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

Jesus has gathered his disciples all together – he has risen from the dead.  He is about to ascend back into heaven.  He has been resurrected now for 40 days.  And Matthew lets us in on a secret – some of the disciples were still struggling with doubt.

And Jesus says to those doubters – get on your horse and go save the world.  Get the word out.

Jesus sends them, with their doubts, and what do they do?  They turn the world upside down!

Doubt does not disqualify you from becoming a disciple of Jesus.  You will always have a measure of doubt within you.   But it doesn’t have to paralyze you.  It can nourish you along the way as it pokes and prods and provokes us to discover the truth.

And the truth will always set us free.  The truth will set the world free!

 

 

 

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