Did you ever have a nickname? As a teacher I was known as “Mr T” obviously after my striking resemblance to the actor who played B.A. Barracus in “The A Team”. A number of the Apostles had nicknames. James and John were the Sons of Thunder. Simon was given the name Peter, Petros in Greek, or Cephas in Aramaic which means Rocky – the Rock. John modestly refers to himself throughout his Gospel as “the disciple Jesus loved” and since later editors did not change that we can assume that is how he was known in the Early Church. Judas was known as the traitor and we still refer to a traitor as “a Judas”.
The apostle Thomas was known in Greek as Didymus, “the Twin”. But through the history of the church he has been known by another nickname. “Doubting Thomas.” But that might not actually be accurate.
Back in John 11 Jesus had been informed that his dear friend Lazarus had died.
John 11:11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Some people are naturally lively and bouncy. They are the life and soul of the party all the time. Some people are not like that. Some people are naturally thoughtful – some people might even describe them as morose or gloomy. The donkey Eeyore. Marvin in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Toby Zeigler on the West Wing. I prefer to think that the apostle Thomas was like that. Thoughtful.
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas wasn’t being pessimistic but realistic. He knew and accepted that when Jesus returned to Jerusalem it would be for the last time. Thomas knew that opposition from the Pharisees was increasing and that they would plot to kill Jesus. Jesus had been warning his disciples of that fact – but perhaps only Thomas had been listening.
(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark :31-32)
Going to Jerusalem would be a death sentence for Jesus. And Thomas realised that when Jesus went up to Jerusalem, those who were travelling with him would also be in danger. Jesus would tell the disciples as much only a few weeks later.
john 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
So Thomas was not being cynical or deliberately negative when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” He was being a realist. He knew exactly what going up to Jerusalem would cost Jesus, And Thomas already recognised what the other disciples were soon to discover, just how much being a disciple of Jesus would cost them all!
God doesn’t want superficial enthusiasm. God wants us to be honest. To tell it like it is. And God wants us to think deeply about things and to think things through, just as Thomas did. Like when Jesus makes wonderful promises to his disciples about the happy certainty of heaven.
14 “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.”
This all sounds very nice to us who are Christians today. We can look back on Jesus’s death and resurrection and see how Jesus has opened the door of heaven for all of us believers. But listen to these words again and imagine you are one of the disciples hearing them for the first time – while Jesus is still alive and with them.
2 In my Father’s house are many rooms;
Very nice – but where exactly is “My Father’s House” – that wasnt a name the Jews in Jesus’s time would have used for heaven. The Jews were too much in awe of God to even use his Name. Only Jesus dared refer to God as “my Father”. So “my Father’s house” wouldn’t mean anything to Jews. And “God’s house” or the “Lord’s house” would have only one meaning – the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus himself uses the word house in that sense when he is driving the money-changers out of the temple.
Matt 21:13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’ ”
The only other time Jesus used the phrase “My Father’s house” it was as a boy when Mary and Joseph lost track of him and found young Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. And then “my Father’s house” definitely referred to the Temple.
Luke 2:49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
So here in the Upper Room, we find Jesus talking about his Father’s house, and all the disciples are just sitting listening quite probably not understanding a word of what Jesus was saying.
And Jesus goes on, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
OK – a place in the Father’s House – a room each in the Temple?? Sounds weird. But carrying on,
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.
So Jesus is going to travel somewhere and arrange somewhere with a dozen rooms or so for all of the disciples to be together and stay with him. Then he will come back and take us to this place. Fine, no problem. We don’t need to know where this place in “his Father’s House” is because Jesus will come and take us there. And then Jesus says,
4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
One or two of the disciples might have been looking a bit puzzled at this point. Most were probably still politely nodding their heads pretending to look wise, not wanting to let on that they really hadn’t a clue what Jesus was talking about. That is the point at which Thomas pipes up.
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Hang on a minute Jesus. You’ve lost me. Your Father’s House. Where’s that? The Temple in Jerusalem. Somewhere else? What on earth are you going on about??
I don’t think Thomas was being awkward or obtuse or especially thick here. I think he was the only disciple brave enough to ask the question which was on everybody else’s lips as well. Because he really wanted to understand. He wanted this vital truth spelled out. Just exactly where was Jesus going? What was this place Jesus would take them to so they could be with him? And out of that question comes one of the most significant and profound statements in the whole of Scripture. If Thomas had not asked, we would never have heard the wonderful answer.
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.
His Father’s house Jesus is talking about is not the Temple. It isn’t a physical place at all. To be in the Father’s House is to be in the very presence of God. And Jesus Himself is the way there, the truth and the life and the only way any one of us can come to God – through Jesus. It’s a good job for us Thomas asked his question!
It is OK with God if we want to understand things. Even if everybody else in the room is nodding as if they all understand every word. Even if everybody else does understand, if you don’t it’s ok to be the one to ask the awkward questions. It’s ok to demand answers.
Some people talk about “Blind faith”. For some people faith means “believing things you know aren’t true.” But that concept of faith is mistaken. Faith simply means trusting God. Putting our trust in God’s love and justice and almighty power. Relying on God not to deceive us or let us down. That kind of confidence in God is never “blind faith”. Faith is allowed to ask questions. Faith is allowed to demand answers. Faith is allowed to ask for evidence. Faith is even allowed to ask for proof!
So we come to the passage from which Thomas the Twin got his reputation as a doubter. Jesus had been crucified. And then He had risen from the dead! He had appeared to Mary in the Garden. And then he had appeared to the all of the disciples in the Upper Room – well not all of them because one was missing.
John 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
It doesn’t surprise me that Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared the first time. They were finding comfort in each other’s company. I am sure Thomas preferred to be alone with his own thoughts as he struggled to make sense of all that had happened.
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas 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.”
This was not the kind of “stubborn refusal to believe” which God criticised the Israelites for time and again in the Old Testament. This was honest questioning. And before we get too hard on Thomas, remember how all the other disciples had reacted when Mary Magdalene told them that Jesus had appeared alive to her on the first Easter morning. None of them had believed Mary until Jesus had appeared to them in the Upper Room on that evening.
Some people talk about “taking things on faith” or “taking a leap of faith” or “taking a leap into faith”. This is what Thomas refused to do! Because the story of Jesus being alive again, Jesus rising from the dead, Jesus appearing to the disciples, was just too incredible, literally too unbelievable! Even the testimony of Mary and of the other apostles wasn’t enough to convince Thomas that Jesus was alive. Even though he had been travelling around as one of the twelve for three years, their word wasn’t enough for him. They had all watched Jesus being nailed to a cross. They had seen the spear pierce his side and the water and the blood gush out. I am sure they had been watching from a distance as Jesus’s dead body was laid in the tomb and the stone rolled over the entrance. The idea of Jesus being alive again was totally impossible! So Thomas needed proof! Thomas demanded proof! And it is a demonstration of the grace of God that the Risen Jesus appears to his disciples one again just to give Thomas the proof he needs.
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.”
Thomas had his questions – and Jesus answered them. We aren’t told whether Thomas actually did out his finger in the holes in Jesus’s hands or his hand into Jesus’s side. It’s my guess that he didn’t need to. It was enough for Thomas to see Jesus with his own eyes and hear him with his own ears.
And then it is Thomas who is the very first disciple who puts all the pieces together and reaches the inevitable conclusion. It is the questioner Thomas who first makes this amazing declaration of faith.
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
The purpose of questions is to find answers. And after Thomas had asked all his questions he found all the answers he needed – and much much more. It was Thomas who first realised the incredible implication of the resurrection of Jesus – that the one who had died and then rose again was more than just a poet and a peasant and the son of a carpenter. If Jesus was alive again, that means that Jesus is indeed Lord of all. The resurrection was the proof that Jesus was not only the Son of God but truly God himself. Jesus had been telling the truth when he said, “I and the Father are One”. (John 10:30)
It is ok to ask questions. We need to remember that when we have questions ourselves. When the simple answers we once believed don’t satisfy us any more we need to allow ourselves to look for better answers. We shouldn’t feel guilt or failure if there are things we don’t understand. We should press on to find and prove for ourselves the truths which other people may be happy to accept on faith. And we need to give each other the freedom to ask questions. After sermons and especially in Bible Study or Draw Near to God we need to explore our faith and stretch our faith. We need to encourage each other rather than criticise each other if somebody feels the need to ask awkward questions.
God isn’t afraid of our questions. He has the answers – even though there are some answers we will never be able to understand in this life or even in eternity. God welcomes our questions. And we need to remember that especially as we share our faith with others who are not yet Christians. Things which we take for granted about Jesus and the resurrection and the fact that He was truly God as well as completely human. We believe these things but we must never forget that they are not obvious to everybody. Thomas couldn’t believe in the resurrection even when the disciples all told him. He demanded proof.
And we should be ready to explain the proof we have for the resurrection. Proof like the empty tomb – nobody ever found Jesus’s body. Proof like the eyewitness testimony of all the apostles and others, most of whom went to horrible deaths as martyrs for preaching that Jesus was risen from the dead. As they faced the cross or the stake or the fire, not one of them changed their story and said, “ok – it was a lie – we made it up.” The proof of the changed lives of those apostles, and countless millions of believers since. Proof in the difference Jesus makes in the lives of people today – even people like you and me.
But we should also expect that many people will need more proof than we can ever give them. Some, like Thomas, will demand to meet the risen Jesus for themselves.
“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.”
And that is fine. Because God welcomes our honest questions. And if anybody is sincere about wanting to encounter Jesus Christ and experience the difference Jesus makes for themselves, God will deal with that. God won’t let them down!
“Doubting Thomas” – no, that’s not correct. Thomas the disciple with honest questions – yes.
John 20 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.’
John 20 continues, 30 Jesus performed many other 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 Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
God wants us to have confidence in what we believe. He wants us to be as certain as Thomas was that Jesus is risen from the dead. God wants us to know just as much as Thomas knew that Jesus is indeed Lord and God. MY Lord and MY God.