Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have written all things for our learning. So today cause us to view the Apostle Thomas with some sympathy, to see our actions in his, and to learn from him and You exactly how to approach and deal with our own bouts of disbelief as well. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR RISEN SAVIOR!
TEXT: John 20: 24-31
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Engineers speak of something called the “Q Factor.” It has to deal with oscillating energy waves and the peak where those waves can be sustained. Today I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, let’s look at our lesson of “Doubting Thomas” under the general heading: The Thomas Factor.
Lest you think that Thomas was always a skeptic who had an oscillating faith, I take you back to John 11 where Jesus gets news of Lazarus’ impending death. After discussing this with them, Jesus tells them plainly: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” In the larger context, the Apostles were fearful of the Jews stoning Christ to death. They didn’t want him to go to Bethany as it was so close to Jerusalem. Thomas addresses this after Christ makes up His mind. And Thomas is willing to go and die with his Savior! So, obviously he had a strong, courageous faith at this point in time.
But then comes the Passion, the death, and finally news of Christ’s resurrection. The disciples go from euphoria to despair to bewilderment which eventually builds back up to fearlessness. On Easter evening they are with each other, minus Thomas, in the upper room when Christ miraculously appears in their midst and announces the totality of His ministry with those words: “Peace be with you!” Indeed, the Prince of Peace had accomplished His work. He had made eternal peace between God and human beings by dying for all sin on the cross and then rising to life to solidify that truth to us. We’re told the disciples were “overjoyed” when they saw the Lord. Wouldn’t you be?
But Thomas wasn’t there. Apparently he was off sulking and wallowing in self-pity–alone. That shows the first aspect of the Thomas Factor. That is Christians sometimes backslide into emotional funks when their faith is severely tested. It could be a dire medical diagnosis. It could be the untimely death of a loved one. It could be a financial collapse. Maybe it’s not as soul-wrenching as Thomas seeing his Lord die, but if it’s you, it’s very real. And just like Thomas we revert to our shell. We curl up and live in our pain. Like Thomas we avoid our fellow believers. And like him, we also hold onto our hurts and refuse to be comforted.
We see all that played out in the next few sentences of our text. I’ll grant you that Thomas has finally been located by the others and didn’t push them away. He knew they loved him and in his own way, he loved them. But “when the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, ‘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.”
Now the 2nd aspect of the Thomas Factor which afflicts all hurting believers is revealed. Thomas doesn’t want to admit his error so he ups the ante. He refuses to accept their words even though they are obviously convinced of their truthfulness. Thomas knows these men. He knows they didn’t lie to him. And yet, out of stubbornness he still clings to his disbelief and makes those outlandish conditions to any future acceptance.
After 34 years in the ministry I’ve seen this time and again with people who stray from the Savior’s flock. Something occurs which shakes them to the core. They become fearful. And then they hide their fear behind a façade of toughness and bravado to avoid admitting and confronting their mistake. It’s a variation of the: “Lord, if you really love me, You wouldn’t have let this or that happen to me. So, to gain my good graces You’ll just have to do something stupendous to regain my trust.” That’s Thomas in a nutshell. And sometimes it’s us, too. Remember when Elijah fought the prophets and Baal and won his great triumph on Mt. Carmel? Remember how at the zenith of his power he heard they were coming to kill him? What happened next? Elijah ran away! Like Thomas! He hide out all alone in the cave in Beersheba. God sought him out and came to him to restore and uplift him, too. But not as Elijah expected. God didn’t come in the earthquake or the whirlwind or the fire. No, God came in the gentle breeze.—Exactly what the prophet least expected. The Thomas Factor is to expect the unexpected when it comes to God. Do you?
The 3rd aspect of the Thomas Factor now occurs. A week later all the disciples are in the Upper Room and again Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. Again, He says to them: Peace be with you!”—Those words announce peace and also convey that Godly gift to all who hear them.—Just as Christ did in today’s absolution. Immediately, Jesus singles out Thomas, quoting his exact words back at him and bidding him to put his finger into the nail wounds and his hand into His side. Then Jesus adds those fateful words: “Stop doubting and believe!”
The unexpected presence of Christ coupled with His unexpected words broke through Thomas’ veneer of unbelief. “My Lord and My God!” is all he can say in response. So, the 3rd aspect of the Thomas Factor is: repentance. And repentance breeds confidence and trust.
Finally, Jesus adds some words which should set every modern day believer’s ears on fire and stoke a bonfire of courage within: “Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” When Jesus uttered those word He wasn’t just addressing Thomas, He was thinking about you and me and talking to you and me. God’s favor and His peace come only to those who find solace in the resurrection and cling to its comforting truth.
The Thomas Factor applies to every Christian. Like that struggling man we all have moments, perhaps extended moments of doubt and uncertainty as to God’s love for us. So, it’s a good thing that Christ is never uncertain! His love for us, His forgiveness for our sins isn’t dependent on our feelings but upon His cross and His empty tomb. It’s dependent on His huge loving heart. That’s the truth of this lesson. Bank your soul on it and you, too, will have “life in his name”! Amen