This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.
As this we are still in the Easter Season I chose to speak about the Apostle Thomas, often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.
John 20:19 – 29
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”24 Now Thomas (also known as 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.” 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.”
I am sure that many of you are old enough to remember the TV comedy programme “One foot in the grave” featuring the grumpy Victor Meldrew whose catch phrase was “I don’t believe it!”
Maybe you’ve had Victor Meldrew moments when all you can say it “I don’t believe it” either in astonishment at something that has happened or in sheer bewilderment at what is going on.
I was like that at school with “A” level maths. The “O” level was easy so I thought the next step up would be okay. But I was wrong.
To this day I have no clue about calculus despite my sons patiently trying to explain it.
I just didn’t get it and to be honest the teacher was more concerned about the lads who were destined for great things at Oxford or Cambridge. I just quietly sunk. Despite my failure to grasp quite a lot of mathematical ideas, I went on to work in banking.
People believe all sorts of things which are weird or wacky or just plain daft and yet when it comes to a known historical event such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ that first Easter Day, its beyond their understanding.
When I was in my teens, the books to read were by Erich von Däniken who said amongst other things that God was an alien who had visited earth in his spaceship and hence kick-started civilisation.
Or people happily go to spiritists or mediums to seek their guidance or to make sure that Granny is okay in heaven. Or slavishly follow their horoscopes in the newspapers or magazines.
Others quite happily apply feng shui to their house to improve the harmony in the home. Or they believe in the healing powers of crystals but they just cannot believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s a fairy tale to them.
I conducted a funeral for a lady who turned her back on Christianity and put her faith in magic crystals and the power of pyramids to heal her breast cancer. Much to her husband’s despair, she even travelled to Brazil to meet someone who used special healing crystals.
There are many things we find hard to believe. Some we just accept and others we just can’t cope with.
I remember my physics teacher telling me how in the 1930’s he had built a radio in his parents’ home in the Welsh valleys. When he switched it on and there was this man talking to the family gathered in the parlour, grandma could not believe that the voice was coming out of that box and rushed in to the kitchen to see where the man was hiding.
And yet here we are in 2016 taking such things as radios, TV, mobile phones, computers and space travel in our stride.
We don’t have to understand something to believe it.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who refuses to switch on an electric light because they don’t understand the intricacies of power generation and transmission. We just go and flick the switch.
God calls us to believe that his mighty power has overcome death and that Jesus the son of God has risen from the dead. He doesn’t call us to understand the mechanism of how it happened.
So what about Thomas?
His name is Aramaic and means “twin”. In Greek the name was Didymus. It is thought by some scholars that he was actually Judas Thomas.
We know that he was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
He seems to be a man who was honest in his doubts or lack of understanding.
In John 14:1 – 6 we read: “ 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“
Perhaps the others were wondering about Jesus saying “you know the way to the place where I am going.” But only Thomas says “”Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus’ words in reply are of course well known to many Christians “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Of course this is a saying of Jesus which is helpful when we are faced with people who claim that anyone can get to heaven no matter what faith they follow. Jesus is the way. No one else is the way.
We don’t know why Thomas was not with the other disciples on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to his followers. But we have to accept that he wasn’t there.
The disciples, according to Luke’s gospel had trouble believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.
This is what we find in Luke 24: 36 – 46 “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
So it’s not surprising that Thomas had a problem when the other disciples told him that Jesus is alive. John 20:25 “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 is something to believe that someone you have seen killed in a most barbaric fashion has come back to life after three days in the grave.
But as we know the next time Jesus appears to the disciples, he deals with Thomas’ disbelief, by allowing him to see and feel the wounds in his hands made by the nails and the wound in his side where he had been speared by the centurion present at the crucifixion.
Presented with this evidence, Thomas believes that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.
Jesus then makes this statement in John 20:29 “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
There are countless millions who like us, have believed with out seeing him.
Although it is not recorded in the Bible, church history tells us that Thomas eventually travelled to India where he preached the gospel The church he founded in 52AD is still present in modern day Karelia in India.
I doubt that any of us have physically seen the risen Jesus although many of us here know him and love him and follow him. So our job is to present Jesus to people, so that they too can believe in him.
All of us know and meet people that perhaps no on else here can reach. So we each have a responsibility to take the good news of Jesus wherever we go and through the power of the Holy Spirit help people turn their “I don’t believe it” into “I believe!”