Monday, October 31, 2011

#21 Believing Thomas

     When one hears the name "Thomas", he easily associates it with the Biblical disciple named Thomas. Unfortunately for those named Thomas, people also associate a consistent adjective with the name--"doubting". Just as Judas and Benedict Arnold have become synonymous with "traitor" and are used as substitute nouns for that word, and "good" is forever linked with "Samaritan", so "doubting Thomas" has become a noun in itself. It is my hope that by reading this "song", you may see that disciple Thomas gave us much more than the notion of doubting and realize that we are the richer for having known this disciple and his relationship with Jesus.
     I have a son named "Thomas", but I gave him that name for several reasons, none of which is its association with "doubting."  First, we named him after our pastor at the time of Thomas' birth, Thomas Nesbitt. Tom counseled us and provided the spiritual leadership that has continued to sustain and guide me even at this point in my life, despite his position as my church home pastor for only three years. His influence helped to change my life for the better, and I am grateful for Tom's investment in our lives.
     Secondly, my Thomas was named after my grandfather, Thomas F. Glover, who was a respected County Attorney all the years I was growing up and who represented the stabilizing force on my dad's side of the family. When things fell apart, he was the glue that put them back together. Although many of his actions served to enable my father's drinking and addictive behaviors, my grandfather was motivated by love. He consistently stayed devoted to his family in spite of having sons that disappointed him, and he never abandoned his responsibilities of husband, father, and community leader. Thirty-five years after his passing, my grandfather is still remembered in his community as a respectable and honorable man.
     Finally, I named my son after the disciple Thomas, not because the disciple doubted, but because he was a loyal follower of Jesus, believed in the Lord Jesus, and went on to be a leader in spreading the gospel of Christ. 
     Thomas was not present when Christ appeared to the rest of the disciples after His resurrection in John 20:19-23. Jesus spoke peace to them, "showed them his hands and his side," commissioned them to spread the gospel, and breathed on them to "receive the Holy Spirit." Thomas missed out on that important visit and the gifts that were given there. But, Jesus loved Thomas enough to return at another time and to give Thomas an opportunity to believe in Him.
     Those who were present at Christ's appearing went to tell Thomas that they had "seen the Lord" (John 20:25), but Thomas replied, "Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!" Thomas was probably just as scared as the rest of the disciples had been after Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, and he too was most likely disappointed and confused. He relied on what he could see and feel to believe. Without seeing for himself, he decided he would not believe. His eight days of disappointment and loss of faith were probably agonizing for him. Jesus could have left Thomas in that unbelieving state, but He did not. He did not have to schedule a repeat visit with the disciples to convince them of His resurrection or to give them the Holy Spirit or to reiterate His plan of sending them out to preach. However, He did return, and He came back for Thomas.

     "Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, 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 examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe." Thomas replied to him, " My Lord and my God!"" John 20:26-28

     Jesus cared enough about Thomas that He planned a special visit to him, appeared amidst the disciples even though the doors were locked, and went straight to Thomas and showed him the scars of the wounds that were given Him on the cross.  This was evidence that demanded a verdict. When Jesus asked Thomas to believe, he responded by calling Jesus both his Lord and his God:  "My Lord and my God!" More than believing that Christ was God, Thomas was saying to Jesus, "You are now also Lord of my life."

"What a divine revelation doubting Thomas had been given! He went instantly from disbelief in a resurrected Savior to certain knowledge that Jesus was not only alive but that He was also Lord and God. When confronted with the living truth, all doubts fled. The darkness of the tomb gave way to the Light of the World!"(1)    

     Thomas had already demonstrated his loyalty to Christ in John 11 when Jesus decided to return to Judea because He had heard that His friend Lazarus was sick. The disciples warned Jesus that He was in danger of being stoned if He returned to Judea, but Jesus decided to go anyway. Thomas replied, "Let us go too, so that we may die with him" (v. 16), indicating his loyalty to Jesus and his willingness to die with his friend rather than to be apart from him. Thomas was being a leader among the disciples and stepping up both to obey Jesus (Who had said, "Let us go to him") and to stand with Him in difficult circumstances. Jesus faced both grief, having told the disciples that his friend Lazarus had just died (v. 14), and possible death, having previously been threatened with death in Judea.
     In John 14:1-8 Jesus tells us that He is "going away to make ready a place for you." Thomas had already demonstrated that he was willing to face death to be with Jesus, and he didn't understand where Jesus was "going."  Thomas asked, "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus responded in a way that not only answered Thomas' question but also speaks to us and to every other person who seeks to know God. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too." (v 6-7) Jesus made it clear to Thomas and makes it clear for us today that He is the only way to reach God.
     So many of us are like Thomas --fiercely loyal to the things we can see and prove with our senses, or by the "scientific method." Yet, when faced with difficult circumstances, we sometimes doubt God and wonder if He is still there, still in control of the world, still worthy of our devotion. Thomas must have been grieving deeply over the death of Jesus and the betrayal of his friend and fellow disciple Judas after Christ's death on the cross. Whom could he trust after these losses? Why should he believe the word of his fellow disciples after they claimed to have seen Jesus? Tenderhearted, loyal Thomas was not about to be be hurt or betrayed again. So, Christ took the time to appear to Thomas personally. Because of what Christ did for Thomas, we can surmise that He takes a personal interest in each one of us as well. We have Thomas to thank for showing us loyalty to Christ and leadership among frightened friends, for asking questions of Jesus when he didn't understand, for believing in the resurrection of Christ, and for then following Him and making Him Lord of his life.
   Thomas went on to demonstrate his submission to Christ by obeying His commission to preach the gospel in other places.

"Jesus did not hold Thomas' doubts against him. Instead He addressed those doubts and proved Himself to be faithful to the man He had called as one of His chosen. Christ then empowered Thomas to accomplish the tasks He set before him. Thomas is believed to have become the only apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach and teach the gospel. He also crossed the largest area which included Persia and India. Tradition tells us that he was a Martyr and was killed by a group of sages near Mylapore about 72 AD when he was thrown into a pit and pierced by a spear." (2)


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