There’s a change that has been underway for some time among some who identify as followers of Jesus. The change emanates from a discussion about what is most important about Jesus and for us who follow Him. Are the teachings of Jesus what is most important to us or is the death and resurrection of Jesus most vital? The discussion is not new, it has been going on for a long time, but it does seem to be building steam the more unfamiliar we become with God’s Word.
Back in the 1980’s there was a group of 74 people, who were known as Bible scholars, that came together to form what was known as “The Jesus Seminar.” They would gather to discuss and determine what Jesus did and didn’t do and say. They concluded Jesus only said about 20% of what is reported being said by Him in the Gospels. They rejected the virgin birth and all of Jesus’ miracles. There were two things they determined about the resurrection of Jesus. First, it never happened. They said there is no historical evidence to prove Jesus rose from the dead. Secondly, they said it doesn’t matter. We can view Jesus’ resurrection as a metaphor for our own lives, our own series of deaths and resurrections, which can give us hope in this life. Needless to say, the participants in The Jesus’ Seminar got a lot of publicity and they are still heard from around Christmas and Easter each year as members of the media interview them to try and stir things up.
The baton, once carried by the members of the Jesus Seminar, has been passed on and today there are new voices speaking up and insisting that Jesus’ resurrection is really irrelevant, it is His teaching that is most important. Eric Alexander wrote an article for ProgressiveChristianity.org entitled, “Why I Don’t Believe in The Physical Resurrection of Jesus (and why I think it actually hinders Christianity).” That’s a mouthful. He believes the resurrection of Jesus is nothing more than mythology. He writes,
It is causing division and distraction from an otherwise amazing message (love others as I have loved you). The claim that most churches around the world will make on one of its biggest days that a dead corpse came back to life, walked around town, and flew up to heaven is causing people to discount the entire message and example of the life of Jesus. (Eric Alexander. “Why I Don’t Believe in The Physical Resurrection of Jesus (and why I think it actually hinders Christianity.” Progressivechristianity.org)
You need to know that what Eric Alexander believes is becoming more and more prevalent in our day as people has less and less understanding of God’s Word. A Palm Sunday poll was taken by the BBC and reported in The Telegraph on April 10 of this year. They found that nearly one in four Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. Fewere than one-in-three Christians in Great Britain believe “word-for-word” the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead, with another 41% believing some sections of the story shouldn’t be taken literally. Here’s the real shocker, 23% of those calling themselves Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at all. The number for Americans is higher at 66%, but that number dropped by 11% in just one year according to a Rasmussen poll.
How can this be? Well, it’s really not too hard to understand when you consider what is most important to these people. What’s most important is Jesus’ teaching about loving one another, caring for the poor, hungry, marginalized, widows, and orphans. There is a complete disconnect between the relationship of Jesus’ death and resurrection and these important teachings of Jesus.
In our Scripture for today I want to introduce you to a man who knew Jesus, he walked with Jesus, watching Jesus, heard every sermon Jesus ever taught, and yet he needed more. Turn with me to John 20:24-31 and let’s read together.
24 Now Thomas (called 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 it.” 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.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:24-31 NIVO)
For those of you who are somewhat familiar with the Bible, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear, “Thomas,” is “doubting.” Go ahead and admit it. It is almost like “doubting” is his first name, “doubting Thomas.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the only mention of Thomas is in the list of Jesus’ disciples, but in the Gospel of John we can gain some insight into who Thomas was.
The first appearance of Thomas, outside of listing him as a disciple of Jesus, is found in John 11:16. Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died and Jesus let His disciples know He planned on going to Bethany, which was near Jerusalem, to see about the situation. Now, things had not gone well for Jesus in Jerusalem, it was dangerous for Him to go anywhere near Jerusalem, so the disciples reminded Him of what happened the last time He was there. Then, in verse 16, Thomas spoke up,
16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16 NIVO)
Some hear Thomas’ words and conclude that he was a pessimist, but I read his words and am amazed at His commitment to Jesus and his courage. He’s going with Jesus no matter what the cost may be.
The next time we hear from Thomas is in the Upper Room. After Jesus had washed the feet of His disciples, shared the Passover with them, He told them, in the opening verses of John 14.
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIVO)
This is one of the most familiar and comforting passages in the entire Bible. The disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. “Going to prepare a place for you…?” “I will come back and take you to be with me…?” “You know the way to the place where I am going?” What does all of that mean? Yet, it was Thomas that spoke up. Look at John 14:5 with me.
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5 NIVO)
That’s not doubt. That’s not pessimism. That’s being honest and wanting to know. It is because of Thomas’ honest question that we have one of the most powerful statements of the uniqueness of Jesus. It is because of Thomas’ honest question that you and I have the answer to the question, “How can I know God?” Jesus said,
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIVO)
So, it is because of the stories John tells us about Thomas that we can learn a little more about his personality and his devotion to Jesus. This leads us to our Scripture for this morning. Take another look and let’s see what we can learn.
First, we learn Thomas was called, “Didymus.” “Thomas” comes from the Hebrew, or Aramaic language, and means “the twin. “Didymus” is a Greek word with the same meaning, so we learn that Thomas had a twin brother, but we know nothing about his brother.
Secondly, we learn that Thomas was “one of the Twelve,” one of Jesus’ disciples. If you will remember our study from last week, Jesus appeared to His disciples when they were locked behind doors and showed them the scars of His hands and side. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to them and he wasn’t going to take their word for it. Where was Thomas? Why wasn’t he with the others when Jesus appeared to them? Well, there are all kinds of theories we could consider. Was he feeling sorry for himself. He had given three years of his life to following Jesus, he believed Jesus, and now Jesus was dead. Could that be it? Could the skeptics be right? Thomas was “Eeyore” before A. A. Milne ever created the gloomy, pessimistic friend of Winnie the Pooh. When Jesus died on the cross Thomas knew it was all too good to be true so he just waddled back to the drudgery of his miserable life. Is that why he wasn’t with the other disciples? Could it be that Thomas felt betrayed, forsaken, all alone, and he just wanted to be by himself? Could be. I don’t know the reason Thomas wasn’t with them, but I do know this, they went and found him. Those who did believe didn’t shun him, they went and found him. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Those in the Reformed, or Calvinistic, tradition sometimes give the impression that, because people are hopelessly lost in sin and only God can save them, there is little or nothing we can do. Consequently, when a person will not believe or will not even come naturally into a fellowship of Christians where the gospel is preached and Christ is likely to make himself known, we tend to give up. We say, ‘There is nothing we can do now. It is up to God.’ Well, in a sense it is up to God; it is always up to God even when results are forthcoming. But the fact that men and women are lost in unbelief and that only God can save them is no excuse for us to do nothing. On the contrary, we must do as these early disciples did. We must seek out the one who is missing. (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John, Volume 5. pg. 1607-1608.)
The disciples sought out Thomas. They brought him in. He didn’t believe them, but they didn’t shun him and neither should we shun those the Lord has led into our lives that don’t believe. In verse 25 we can listen in to the conversation they had with Thomas about seeing Jesus. Read along with me.
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 it.” (John 20:25 NIVO)
It is this response to the disciples that has earned Thomas the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” Before we point a long finger of condemnation at Thomas for having such little faith, we should remember that all of the disciples doubted at some point. In Mark 16, we learn the first person who saw Jesus after He had been resurrected from the dead was Mary Magdalene. She was told to go and tell the disciples, so Mary Magdalene did what she was told. If you will turn with me to Mark 16:10-13, we can learn what happened next.
10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:10-13 NIVO)
So, “doubting Andrew” didn’t believe. Neither did “doubting Peter.” And neither did “doubting Bartholomew.” Not even John, the author of this Gospel that we’ve been studying for the past few years, believed Mary Magdalene when she told him that Jesus was alive. All of the disciples were doubters, and is it any wonder, dead men don’t live. Yet, Jesus was alive! The only reason any of them believed was because eventually they would see Jesus for themselves.
One week after the other disciples became believers, Jesus appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was with them. Let’s read John 20:26-27 again.
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.” (John 20:26-27 NIVO)
Isn’t that the most powerful picture of the heart of Jesus? Jesus came and stood among the disciples. He made His way past Peter, nodded at James and John, but He was on a mission–Jesus went to Thomas, the one person in the room who did not believe and He said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John tells us what happened next,
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NIVO)
This is really the climax of the Gospel of John. It is the bookend that illustrates a truth that was shared with us in John 1:1-4. Take a look at it with me.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4 NIVO)
“And the Word was God.” Thomas sees Jesus and says, “My Lord and my God!” What was it that convinced Thomas of this truth is shared over and over again throughout the Gospels? It couldn’t have been the teaching of Jesus. Thomas had heard every sermon Jesus had ever preached. It couldn’t have been the miracles of turning water into wine, healing the blind man, or walking on the Sea of Galilee. Thomas had seen them all. The lessons of Jesus and the miracles of Jesus weren’t enough, but when Thomas saw Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, He believed. Tim Keller says,
There is a difference between teaching and the gospel. The teaching is about how you should live, but the gospel is about what He has done. The teaching, a philosophy, is about you, but the Gospel is about Him. Teaching says, “If we love one another, and if we obey God and serve Him and live like Jesus then we will know God, but the Gospel says a cleft has been opened in the walls of the world and God has come in. And this changes everything. John is saying that if you get rid of the resurrection you don’t just modernize Christianity, you disembowel it. (Keller, Tim. Thomas Meets Jesus.)
The validity and value of Christianity hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some say modern-day people are far too sophisticated and educated to believe that a dead man can live, but do you really believe that those in Jesus’ day were accustomed to seeing tombs once filled with their loved ones now empty? In every age, in every culture death is inescapable and permanent. That’s why the death of those we love produces such grief in our hearts and minds. If we decide to keep the wonderful teaching of Jesus, but dismiss the notion that He was dead and now lives then we might as well lock every church door and go to the lake on Sunday morning. Worse than that, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead then you and I are still in our sins and at odds with God. Paul wrote,
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17 NIVO)
Jesus told Thomas that he believed because he had seen Him, but those who believe and have never seen Him are blessed. You and I are no different than those in the first century after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. They didn’t “see” Jesus and yet they believed. You and I can’t “see” Jesus yet we believe. Since we can’t see Jesus like Thomas and the other disciples does that mean that our belief is based on nothing, nothing more than a wish that it is all true? Not at all, we have the Scriptures, the testimony of those who did see Jesus and wrote down their experiences with Him for you and me. We also have the presence of the Lord with us each moment of each day. The more we read God’s Word the more we will be aware of His presence with us, His provision for us, and His work going on within us.
Let me close by pointing out something which caught my attention this week. Remember how Thomas said, “I won’t believe it 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 it.” Did you notice what Jesus did when He entered the room and made His way to Thomas? He said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” How did Jesus know what Thomas had said? Was Jesus listening through the door? Had the disciples found Jesus somewhere and told Him what Thomas had said so He would be prepared once He ran into Thomas? I will assure you Thomas never once even considered that as a possibility. Thomas realized Jesus had been listening, more than that Jesus had been with him, even when he was struggling with what was happening. And the same is true for you my friend.
In the movie, “The Fisher King,” Robin Williams is a homeless man named Parry who is befriended by a man named Jack, played by Jeff Bridges. Jack learns that Parry is in love with this woman who works in the neighborhood where he hangs out all day. Nobody else is in love with her. She’s clumsy, not pretty, quirky, and extremely awkward but Parry, even though he has never met her, doesn’t even know her name, is infatuated with her. He knows her daily routine. He makes sure he’s in place when she goes on break so he can watch her. He loves Lydia.
Jack decides to clean Parry up and get him a date with Lydia. It was quite a feat to get the two of them together, but it happened and they have a great evening. Following dinner, Parry is walking Lydia back to her apartment and they were talking. Lydia let Parry know that she likes Parry, but she doesn’t want Parry to like her because then he will really get to know her and he won’t like her once he really gets to know her. Parry stops Lydia and says,
I’ve known you for a long time. I see you come out of work every day. I walk with you to lunch. I know what you order… I see you buy Baby Ruths before going back in…I know how you feel on certain days by whether or not you go into the bookstore…I know you hate your job and you don’t have many friends and you sometimes feel like you’re not as…as wonderful as everybody else and you’re a little uncoordinated… and feeling like you’re the only one who’s as separate and… alone as you are… and I love you. I love you. (The Fisher King.)
Once Lydia understood how much Parry knew her and still loved her, it set her free. My friend, if you can only understand how much Jesus knows you and loves you it will set you free as well. He gave His life so you and I could be reconciled, made right with God. Death could not hold Him, He lives, and because He lives we have the assurance that He is with us, will never leave us or forsake us. If you are not a believer, you say with Thomas, “I won’t believe until I have proof!” Then, know this, the proof is right before your eyes. Read God’s Word and learn about yourself, learn about Jesus and His love for you, and then you will say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 6, 2017