Jean’s Gospel: The Restoration of Thomas
“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)
Most of you are familiar with Thomas’ nickname, Doubting Thomas. That nickname is a bit of a misnomer, however, because on the Sunday following Easter, Thomas was no doubter, if by that term we mean: “uncertain” or “lacking conviction.” To the contrary, Thomas was in a state of stubborn unbelief.
To face his closest companions with the absurd challenge, “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”, Thomas was calling the other disciples a bunch of fools. His heart was so hard that Thomas would not believe the witness of ten other disciples, nor the women. He would not believe even if he saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes. The only thing that would satisfy Thomas, so he said, would be to grope around inside Jesus’ wounds.
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14)
The cross and Jesus bodily resurrection go together as two non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith. Paul puts them together succinctly: “[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) By raising Jesus from the dead, God vindicated the claims Jesus made about himself and declared His death on the cross to be atonement for the sins of the world. The Good News or Gospel of Jesus Christ is both the history of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death and resurrection and the application of the forgiveness of sins through its proclamation for you in the present.
The first gift the Gospel bestows is faith that Jesus died for your sins and was raised for your justification, through which God declares you to be righteous (or justified) in His sight. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no atonement and our faith would be in vain. On the other hand, without faith in the Gospel, Jesus’ atonement would not apply to us and we would remain in our sin. Therefore, we have both Jesus’ resurrection and faith side-by-side in the following confession: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)
“Then [Jesus] 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.’ ” (John 20:27)
Without faith in the risen Christ, Thomas was in real trouble. If Jesus had not rescued him, Thomas would have perished in unbelief and been condemned in his sin. But for our sake Jesus allowed these events to happen, so that through the testimony of John’s gospel we might believe that Jesus is a kind and forgiving Savior, who desires to bless us with faith in His resurrection, and through faith that we would join with Thomas and the whole Church who confess: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ ” (John 11:16)
As one of the original 12 disciples, Thomas witnessed the authoritative teaching and miraculous works of Jesus first hand. Thomas witnessed Jesus raise three people from the dead. When Jesus decided to return to Judea to raise Lazarus (despite prior threats to His life from there), it was Thomas who exhibited more courage and devotion to Jesus than any other disciple: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” What then happened to all his faith?
Jesus was arrested, mocked and spit upon, tried and condemned, flogged and crucified, died and was buried.
Thomas saw the great miracles that Jesus performed for others, but Jesus did not save himself. Could He not save himself? Thomas, along with the other disciples, did not yet understand that Jesus was giving His life as a ransom for many, but He would rise again, just as He prophesied: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17)
But there was the shock and cruelty of His crucifixion; there was the fear that Thomas, as one of Jesus’ disciples, might meet a similar end; and there was the passage of three days since he last saw Jesus alive. All these things appear to have sapped Thomas of his faith in Jesus. Similar to how the Israelites in the wilderness, who in times of testing quickly lost faith in the Lord despite His previous mighty works on their behalf, by our own strength we cannot believe in Christ and His resurrection. We are either too arrogant, like Pharaoh and Caiaphas, or we are too despondent like poor Thomas.
“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27b)
Everything depends on Christ. As Paul wrote (quoting from Exodus): “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:15) Jesus will come to Thomas to reveal His resurrection and give Thomas saving faith in Him: Thomas, “put your finger here….Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b)
Jesus had mercy on Thomas and restored his faith in Him. But in so doing, He spoke a word to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” There is a blessing for those who have not seen and yet believe. That blessing is the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the proclamation of God’s Word and Gospel, and in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and dwells in the hearts of all believers. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). The Holy Spirit gives us the saving faith to confess: Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” “[F]or he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) Amen.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so 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 20:30-31) Amen.