Sermon: ‘Doubting Thomas’ given by Rev Vincent Gardner on 11 April 2010

Flannery O’Connor, has posed the question, “why doesn’t God send us a sign to dispel all our doubts, such as a message in the sky, written by the rearrangement of the universe, with suns and moons to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, so that the night sky would read, “I Am God! I Really Do Exist!!!!” Woody Allen has said that he would believe in God if God would send him a sign – such as making a large deposit in a Bank Account under the name, “Woody Allen.” There is nothing new about this desire to have a sign from God. We want confirmation for the things we believe.

Jesus recognized this and said in the fourth chapter of John, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” (John 4:48) It is this type of thinking we see in Thomas in our New Testament lesson.

In a Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is talking with Lucy as they walk home on the last day of school. Charlie Brown says to Lucy: “Lucy, I got straight A’s. isn’t that great!” Lucy in her typical fashion shoots down poor Charlie Brown and says: I don’t believe you Charlie Brown. Unless you show me your report card, I cannot believe you.”  Can you relate to Lucy? Seeing is believing, isn’t it? Most people have to see something before they can believe it. My Father, a good sceptic, always used to tell me: don’t believe everything that you hear and only half of what you see. This is often how we describe the apostle Thomas but is this really accurate?

Let me ask you a few questions:
Have you ever felt like you missed something big that everyone else seemed tocatch? Have you ever felt like you were not spiritual enough because of your past failures?
Have you ever felt like you could really believe even more in Jesus if you could just catch a glimpse of Him?
If you have ever felt this or anything like this you would be in good company with Thomas.

Thomas has been given a fairly difficult stereotype through the centuries because he so often is referred to as doubting Thomas but I do not believe that the title truly fits this man. So let’s take a few moments to clear the air and see what we really know about Thomas

What do we know about Thomas?
1. Thomas was likely a fisherman (John 21:2)
Thomas may have been a fisherman by trade, John includes Thomas with several other disciples who join Peter fishing all night. Now this was no casual fishing trip but rather it was a means of trade and income. In other words, it was work.

2. Thomas was a follower of Jesus (Luke 6:13-16)
Thomas was a disciple of Jesus from the earliest days of Jesus’ public ministry. We know this because it was one of the qualities used to replace Judas as an apostle in the book of Acts. Thomas had made a choice to follow Jesus and invested his life into seeking more about Him.

3. Thomas was an apostle (Luke 6:13-16)
Thomas was chosen by Jesus to be one of twelve leaders within the larger body of disciples. Thomas had become one of the core leaders and spent a great deal of time with Jesus.

4. Thomas was loyal and committed (John 11:16)
Jesus was facing increasing hostility from the religious leadership and as He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead there was great concern that there might be an attempt to kill Jesus. Look at the words Thomas uses when he talks with the other disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” These do not sound like the words of a sceptic.

5. Thomas was confused (John 14:5)
As Jesus was preparing the disciples for His coming death and resurrection He told them that He was going to prepare a place for them and that they would know the way to where they were going. Thomas very clearly shows that he does not always understand what Jesus was teaching them. Look at what he says: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

If Thomas was such a loyal follower of Jesus what happened to him? How did he go from follower to famous sceptic?

I. Thomas was in a downward spiral ( Can we relate to that feeling?)
Thomas had deserted Jesus
On the night that Jesus was arrested, all of the apostles ran and deserted Him. Thomas was no exception. He ran and Jesus died. Can you imagine the kinds of emotions that Thomas was experiencing? He was afraid, confused, ashamed, dismayed and distressed. Thomas had followed Jesus for years and now it all came crashing down around him.

The desertion led to a delay ( What sort of delay?)
Thomas does not go back to be with the other apostles right away. We don’t know where Thomas was, what he was doing or why he stayed away. For whatever reason Thomas does not go back with the others. The result is that Thomas loses out on the fellowship of the apostles and he does not see Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

The delay led to a denial
When Thomas does return to the apostles he hears that Jesus was raised from the dead and Jesus appeared to them. The greatest event in all of history and Thomas missed it. Jesus was alive and Jesus knew that Thomas deserted the fellowship. Thomas doesn’t know what has taken place, how any of this took place, if Jesus will appear again or anything else about the resurrection. All he knows is that he missed it. Thomas begins to deny the testimony of the apostles because it was easier than facing the truth about himself. That he had missed something special out of fear.

The denial led to a demand
Thomas denies the testimony of the apostles and this leads him to demand proof. Thomas tells the others that he will not believe until he gets to see Jesus for himself. Then he goes a step further, he wants to touch Jesus, put his hands where the nails were and where the spear was put into Jesus’ side. Thomas was quickly caught in a dangerous, downward spiritual spiral. Like many of us. The fact is that he was slipping quickly and no one but Jesus could get him out.

II. Thomas was given a specific demonstration
A week goes by and there was no appearance of Jesus and we have no idea what Thomas was thinking but it could not have been a good week. Thomas was left to his lack of focus. Just when Thomas may have been ready to give up hope of seeing Jesus then Jesus finally appears.

When Jesus appears He greets the entire group and turns His attention on Thomas. At this point Thomas has to be thinking: ‘ here it comes Jesus is going to tell me bad and disloyal a friend I have been.’

Jesus knew the heart of Thomas because He offers exactly what he was asking for and Jesus gives him the proof he needed. It is important to note that Jesus was not offended or angered by the request Thomas made. Jesus responds with love and kindness Jesus then begins to speak to Thomas about the real issue and cuts right to the chase. Jesus tells Thomas to stop doubting and believe. What does it mean to doubt? There are two key definitions for doubt; the first means to be double minded or to have a lack of focus or commitment and the second means to have no faith at all. Jesus was telling Thomas that was he moving toward having a faithless life.
From the first category to the second.

There are times in life when doubt is healthy and reasonable. For instance, a few weeks ago I saw a tabloid with a story about Elvis being alive and in Belgium. Now I seriously doubt the reliability of that story because it is just not reasonable. There is more than enough reason to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus was crucified, He was dead and buried, the tomb was empty, He was seen by many people and the apostles were changed in radical ways after that first Easter.

Doubt is not negative until it leads you to choose not to believe, to lose hop and faith. This was exactly what Jesus was warning Thomas about. Literally, Jesus was saying: “Thomas, you are acting like a person who has no faith, stop it and believe.

Maybe this is God’s message to you this morning: The only way to survive your doubts is to believe. Now we don’t believe everything that comes our way like that story about Elvis but we are called to believe the account of the gospel and that Jesus is alive.

Believing means to put your complete trust in something or someone; even when we are unsure. To believe in Jesus means to depend totally on Jesus and place your trust in Him 100%.

Do you believe in Jesus? Have you put a complete trust in Him or just a partial trust?

What is the result? III. Thomas gave a dynamic declaration
Thomas falls before Jesus and proclaims that He is Lord and God. Thomas goes from demanding evidence to declaring truth. Thomas says that Jesus is the Lord of all things and the God of all creation. This is one of the greatest statements of faith in the entire New Testament. Given by Doubting Thomas! Thomas made a personal declaration of trust in Jesus. Where are you in that process? Have you made your declaration of Jesus being your Lord and your God?

Jesus tells Thomas that he believed because he saw and was convinced. Maybe you have been caught in a downward spiral and things have been slipping in your spiritual life. Maybe you have never made the claim to put your trust in Jesus. Maybe you are just waiting for the chance to see some proof. The proof is around you this morning. Doubt yes but hope also. Jesus is with us now by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He is here waiting for you to turn from your lack of focus and faith to proclaim Him as your Lord and your God.

I do not know what it is that you need this morning but He does. Just as He knew what Thomas needed so long ago, He knows today what you need and He is waiting to meet that need

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