By Micheal Malanga
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, 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 in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, 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; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed.” John 20:24-29 [ESV]
History tends not to be kind to Thomas – “Doubting Thomas” he is called. But it is unfair to stick that label on him. It’s unfair because in John 11, when Jesus declared His intention to visit the tomb of his friend Lazarus in the town of Bethany, the other apostles warn Jesus that if he goes there the Jews will stone Him. The only one of the twelve who shows any courage is Thomas. While the others warn Jesus not to go, Thomas stands up and says, “Let us also go with Him that we may die with Him.”
Now I ask you: Is that the kind of statement made by a man who is prone to doubt? Is that the kind of reckless courage you’d expect from a doubting man? More likely as not, a man given to doubt is the last one willing to step up and risk his life when no one else will.
Yes, Thomas and the rest of the 11 did all run away when Jesus when he was arrested. They were scattered. But if you remember, they all ran away so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. The Shepherd will be struck down and the sheep will scatter. The desertion of Jesus by Thomas and the rest had more to do with the fulfillment of biblical prophecy than any cowardice on their part. When push came to shove Thomas was willing to die with Jesus.
So what do we make of Thomas’s declaration, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Is that an ultimatum spoken by a man wracked with doubt? Or is that the statement of a man who is still in the grip of grief?
Judging by his willingness to die with Jesus in Bethany, Thomas was a passionate man. Passionate people grieve passionately. And when passionate people grieve passionately they say passionate things. They say things like “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Passionate people say passionate things because they are passionate. And Thomas is a passionate man.
Thomas wants to believe Jesus is alive. More than anything he wants to believe what his friends are saying is true. And yet, why did He appear to them and not to Thomas? Was he being punished because he was not with the others when Jesus came? Grief and pain can make a person believe things that are not true. But as we will soon find out, things are not what they seem.
And this begs this question: What would it take for you to believe Jesus is risen from the dead?
It’s very likely that most of you reading this accept as fact Jesus is risen from the dead. No explanation is required. No proof is needed. You believe the testimony of the apostles. You believe the Bible when it says Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
So then what do we do with Thomas? What do we do with a man walked with Jesus, who labored with Jesus, and who followed Jesus for three years? What do we make of a man who is as passionate, as devoted and as willing to die for Jesus as was Thomas? What do we make of a man who wants to believe yet declares, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Remember: Thomas is no late-comer to faith. He is a Christ follower. He is a believer. Still, he lays down these very specific terms. Just as curious is how no one among the disciples stood up to correct Thomas. No one accused him of not having faith. No one criticized him for issuing his ultimatum. No one reprimanded him for his impudence. Perhaps no one said anything because they recognized his words were motivated more by grief than by doubt.
No explanation is given for it, but it is worth noting that eight days pass between the time Thomas makes his comment I will never believe and Jesus appears a second time to the apostles and to Thomas. Eight days. And when Jesus appeared, He did so in the exact same manner as He appeared to them on that first Easter Sunday, “The doors being locked and Jesus came and stood among them,” (John 20.19, 26b).
What do you imagine was going through Thomas’ mind at that moment? Here is Jesus just as he demanded. Just as he insisted. Just as he ordered. Do you think he was afraid of Jesus? Do you think he was preparing to be scolded by Jesus? Do you think he feared Jesus would smite him for his impudence? Whatever fear Thomas may have had, Jesus put him immediately at ease by His greeting: “Peace be with you.” Jesus greeted him simply, calmly, lovingly, graciously.
And then Jesus did something incredible. He looked straight at Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see My hands and put your hand and place it in My side. Do not continue disbelieving, let’s start believing and keep on believing.”
This is grace. Jesus agreed to Thomas’s terms. He agreed to Thomas’s conditions. He agreed to Thomas’ demands. Jesus submitted Himself to Thomas’ ultimatum! Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails and place my hand into His side I will never believe.” And here is Jesus saying, “All right Thomas. Here I am. Put your finger here and see My hands. Put your hand and place it in My side. Stop disbelieving and start believing and keep on believing.” This is grace.
John does not tell us how Jesus knew the exact terms of Thomas’ ultimatum, nor does he tells us whether or not Thomas indeed put his finger into the mark of the nails or placed his hand into his side. All we know is the moment Jesus appeared to Thomas, he was overwhelmed by grace. And the only response he could make was to confess his trust/obedience in Jesus Christ and call Him “My Lord and my God!” Notice here, too, grace at work. Jesus does not rebuke; does not reprove; does not correct. He receives Thomas’ worship. Disbelieving Thomas is now Believing Thomas.
So what will it take you to believe? What will it take for you to believe? What are your terms for believing Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? What demands must He meet before you will believe He died to rescue from your sins? What conditions must He meet in order for to make the same confession as Thomas?
Some of you have established your terms not because you doubt, not because you question the validity of whether Jesus is risen or not, not because you question the sincerity of your good friend who talks so passionately Jesus. On the contrary, maybe the reason you want Jesus to prove Himself is because somewhere in your past God or someone you trust let you down. And it hurt. And you got angry and you’ve stayed angry all these years.
If that’s you, here is good news. Jesus is alive. And He says, “Peace be with you.” The war between you and God ended on Good Friday. It ended when Jesus died on a cross that was placed on a hill overlooking the town garbage dump. It ended with the death of the Son of God and the sign and seal of that truce, the evidence of that treaty, the proof of that covenant of love and faithfulness and loyalty and of peace, is Jesus Christ who died then three days later was raised from the dead..
Jesus responded to Thomas’ anguish by meeting with him on his terms. And He extends the same invitation to you. He does so lovingly, compassionately, peacefully and with grace. “Make your examination. Poke. Prod. Test. It really is Me. I AM real. I AM genuine. I AM true. Stop disbelieving, and start believing and keep on believing.” I AM as Thomas confessed. I AM your Lord and God.
Immediately after Thomas makes his confession Jesus says something very puzzling:
“Have you believed,” he asks Thomas, “because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
There is an old saying: “The ground is level at the foot of the cross,” meaning that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Well in the same way, “The ground is level at the foot of the empty tomb.” Everyone who believes Jesus is risen from the dead is blessed. Everyone who puts their trust/obedience in Jesus is blessed. Everyone who relies and depends on Jesus to rescue them is blessed. Those who saw Jesus immediately after His resurrection are no more blessed than we who believe but have not seen Him with our eyes or placed our hands in His wounds.
We do not have to see Jesus Christ to believe He is risen. We do not have to see Jesus Christ to know He is alive. We do not have to see Jesus to be blessed by Him. History may give Thomas the label, Doubting Thomas, but we know better. And even if he did doubt, well there is grace for that, too. In fact, you might even say, Blessed are those who doubt for they will receive grace to believe.
You think about that.
Michael Malanga lives in Bowling Green, Ohio. He and his wife, Jill, have three children: Matthew, Lizabeth and Jeffrey. Michael earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, S. Hamilton, MA. He is the pastor of Bowling Green Covenant Church since March 2003. He contributed an article on The Four Loves for the C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, Bruce L. Edwards, ed. His hobbies include baseball, golf and writing. Michael also blogs at www.thetravelersadvisory.