John 20:19-29 Jesus confronts Thomas
It was just an ordinary day back in Maybole, Scotland. I had been making house calls in the village of Dunure, which was about 9 miles away from the manse. I was heading home and thinking about what Evelyn might be making for my dinner. The sun was shining and the sea looked beautiful as I coasted my way back home.
When I got to the manse, I expected Lynsey and Lauren to come out to meet me, but they didn’t. I walked through the back door and met Evelyn in the kitchen. I could see in her eyes that something was wrong.
“John, I’ve got some bad news,” she said quietly. “Your Mom is dead.”
I was stunned. I knew that my mom was ill and had been for years, but this was sudden and completely unexpected. I obviously couldn’t take it in, so I think Evelyn told me again. I was quiet and couldn’t think of anything to say. Within thirty minutes, I was ready to head up to Glasgow to be with my family, to be with my Dad.
All this happened about seventeen years ago, but it was so much of a shock to my system that I can’t really remember what happened over the next couple of weeks. I can recall being with my Dad down at the police station to be with him when a detective inspector interviewed him. Because my mother’s death was so sudden and happened when she was alone, my Dad had to be questioned. The whole interview was surrealistic and it suddenly dawned on me that they were interviewing my Dad to rule out murder. It was an awful feeling and it seemed so unfair at the time because my Dad was still shocked by mom’s death. He had left her on her own to go and select some library books. When he returned twenty minutes later, he found her slumped over in her chair. She was gone and there was absolutely nothing he could do. The coroner who did the autopsy said that she died instantly from a massive heart attack, so even if Dad had been there, he never could have saved her. She was only 57 years old.
As I said before, my memory of the whole event, funeral, and family gathering after it is all fuzzy. I can hardly remember any of it, and even today it all seems so unreal.
Sudden death can do that to people. John House, who is great psychologist, has probably had to deal with this on many occasions. Today, in this passage from John’s Gospel, we see something similar happening to Thomas. He has been emotionally stunned by Christ’s death. He has been totally shocked by how fast things happened during the week in Jerusalem. One day, Christ and His disciples are being welcomed into the Holy City and within less than a week, Jesus is arrested, tortured, put on trial, humiliated, and crucified.
Thomas, who ran away with the rest of the disciples, cannot cope with what has happened. All his hopes and dreams of being a major player in Christ’s triumphant ministry have been shattered and destroyed. He has nothing left spiritually or emotionally. He is empty and insecure, totally depressed and fearful for his life.
This has been the greatest shock to his system that Thomas has ever experienced, and he just wants to get away from everyone and everything. He just wants to forget about the last three years he has followed Jesus. He just wants to get his life back in order. He just wants to go home.
But he can’t go home because people will recognize him, and he may get arrested by the authorities. So for a couple of days, Thomas is on the lam. He must have hid outside of Jerusalem and got lost in the Passover crowds who were returning home. He was lonely and frightened, possibly angry and sick within himself. He must have felt abandoned and hunted at the same time.
Eventually, the other disciples find Thomas. He must have been surprised to see them happy and delighted. He thought that they should have been dejected and depressed, panic stricken and anxious. Instead, they are delirious with delight and full of joy.
But when they explain to Thomas that Christ is not dead, that he has risen, it’s all too much for the disciple. He can’t believe what he is hearing, so he thinks that they are all crazy with grief and totally insane. But they keep insisting that Christ is alive until Thomas finally shouts out: “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.”
Today is the 76th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic. She was the first woman to do this, in a time when men were getting all the credit for being heroes of the sky. When she was given the opportunity to do this, the usual Doubting Thomases said that it couldn’t be done. To fly solo across the Atlantic required intellect and skill, focus and determination, energy and strength. A mere woman could not endure such a flight, and anyone who decided to attempt this must be a lunatic. But Amelia proved her critics wrong.
She even flew through a terrifying mid-Atlantic storm, which surrounded her with dark clouds that almost petrified her. “When daylight came,” she later said, “I could see on my wings traces of the ice which had gathered—droplets of water and very small frozen particles. Probably, if I had been able to see what was happening on the outside during the night, I would have had heart failure then and there; but, as I could not see, I carried on.”
Even in the midst of fearful circumstances, she never doubted her ability to complete the journey. When she was interviewed after her achievement, she stated that “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
When Thomas refused to believe the others, there was nothing on earth that they could do to convince him of the truth. I imagine that all week long, he was in a sultry, sour mood because the rest of the disciples wouldn’t stop talking about Christ’s resurrection. It must have almost driven him crazy, but there was nowhere else he could go.
His fears were more than paper tigers; they were causing him sleepless nights and moments of high anxiety. He was in a crazy situation, amongst crazy people, and he couldn’t escape. He was so emotionally paralyzed with shock and fear that he could not decide what to do.
And then Christ came back into Thomas’ life, just as suddenly as he had left him. One moment, all the disciples were in the Upper Room praying together on their own; the very next moment, Christ was in the center of the room.
Now if Thomas had been initially shocked by Christ arrest and crucifixion, this supernatural appearance must have almost caused him heart failure. Jesus was standing before him, just as the others had said. And before Thomas could drop to his knees and ask for mercy, Jesus called to him and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
I can picture Thomas with his mouth wide open and his eyes as large as the moon. For the second time in a week, he cannot believe what is happening. Slowly, he reaches out his fingers to touch the nail prints in Christ’s hands and even to touch the wound in His side. All of a sudden, it is too much for Thomas, and he falls to his knees, crying out, “My Lord and my God!”
This is the most important passage from the Gospels about the resurrection for our people today. And I’ll tell you why. In recent years, there has been interest in the so called Gospel of Thomas, which many people falsely believe has secrets about Jesus that the Church wants to be kept hidden. This Gospel was written by a group of people called the Gnostics, who believed that Jesus wasn’t crucified because God had taken Him up to heaven and that it was a ghostly image or a specter, or what we would call a hologram that seemed to be crucified on the Cross. In other words, Christ’s physical body was never there, so He didn’t suffer any physical torment, excruciating pain, or death itself. This has led many people to believe that the resurrection of Christ was only a spiritual one.
This Gnostic garbage was prevalent in North Africa during the 4th – 7th centuries AD. So when Muhammad started to write down the Koran, he was influenced by the false teachings of Gnosticism, so that to this day the Muslims believe that Christ never actually suffered on the Cross. And, as Mark Twain delighted in saying, “Bunkum! Absolute bunkum!”
And this is further compounded by the fact that even in the PCUSA, we have idiotic pastors who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but insist that the Gospel of Thomas should be researched, studied, and read in church in order to bring us closer to the real Historical Jesus who, as one of these pastors recently said, died and His body has decomposed and turned to dust in a forgotten cave somewhere in Palestine.
When Thomas touches Christ, he is touching a real body that has been miraculously resurrected by God. This whole passage refutes any belief in a spiritual resurrection of Christ.
And I would say to you, and anyone in the world, that if you do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you are not a Christian. You can be a modern Gnostic, you can be Muslim, or you can be a skeptic, but what you cannot be is a Christian. And where do I get this conclusion from? It comes none other from Jesus Christ Himself, who finally says to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Those words are meant for us, two thousand years in the future. We have not seen the resurrected Christ and yet we believe in Him. We have not yet touched Him, and yet we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s what makes us Christians in the first place, and distinguishes us from other religions. Jesus is our Risen Lord and He is also the God of all creation. He is no paper tiger, or spiritual phantom. Christ is no figment of the true Gospel writers or an apparition of a bunch of hysterical disciples. Jesus is the Resurrected Christ, whose wounded, dead body was raised by the power of Almighty God, whom we worship, adore, and serve, both now and forevermore. Amen.