This gospel is slowly growing into one of my favorite Bible accounts. It’s very moving to me that the living Christ would appear to His scared, lost, confused disciples and display to them His holy wounds — the very marks of His passion, the price He paid to atone for my sins, and the sins of the world. I can quite easily picture myself in that airless room, in the ring of disciples huddled around Christ, as their gloom and despair are lifted in an instant by overriding joy and abounding faith.
As I (hope I) pointed out in the sermon, things have not changed all that much for Christ’s own. We still get scared, lost, run-down, hopeless; but Christ still shows us His wounds and reassures us of His undying, unbreakable love. May you draw fresh joy and consolation from the wounds of love that Christ bears for you. By His wounds you are healed.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
26A 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!” 27Then 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.”
28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written 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 20:19-31 niv)
You can hardly blame people for wanting proof. Whether it’s a claim to have made a scientific breakthrough or to have broken a world record, you’re going to need a lot more than just your own say-so. When somebody makes a claim, we expect them to be able to back it up. In a day and age when pictures can be doctored with computers and even videos can be faked, people have grown increasingly more skeptical. It takes more to convince them. The same holds true for spiritual matters as well. Some people will believe anything you tell them. Others pride themselves on not believing anything, on subjecting all things to their reason. Of course, then they’re exalting faith in reason, but that’s a different topic for a different time. Proof, and how we get proof, will be the aim of our thoughts today. Thomas wants proof that Jesus is alive, and he gets all that he asked for – and more. Sometimes we want proof too. Jesus doesn’t get mad with us for wanting proof; he works with us. Jesus has also provided for us to have All the Proof We Need.
The disciples were slow to believe and catch on that Christ really was risen. They thought that the women who’d seen the empty tomb were just talking silly. They didn’t remember all the predictions Jesus had made about rising from the dead. They had been pretty slow to listen and understand all along, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Throw in the fear that made them lock themselves in an airless room and wait to be arrested, and the picture starts to look pretty familiar. It’s actually kind of comforting that Jesus’ disciples seemed so dense and afraid. It’s easier to see ourselves in them that way. There’s often so much that we don’t understand, but Jesus still allows us to be his followers. We too can get scared of the outside world and what the future holds. Jesus doesn’t turn us away or drop us for smarter and braver people. He sticks with us and helps us.
The disciples sure got it when Jesus appeared among them. Even though all the doors were locked, and they were closeted in an closed-in, stuffy room by themselves, Jesus still enters and stands among them. Now that he’s risen and can be present any way he wishes with his glorified body, little things like walls and locked doors don’t stop Jesus. Jesus gave them many convincing proofs that he really was alive. They spoke to him. They touched him. Luke tells us that Jesus let them handle him. Jesus ate some food in front of them, all to prove that he was no longer dead. They had all the proof that they needed, all the proof they wanted.
One disciple didn’t get to see the proof that first Easter evening – Thomas. Where was he? We don’t know. All it says that he was not present when Jesus appeared Easter evening. Maybe all the talk of resurrection earlier in the day was too much for him to swallow, so he got up and left before Jesus came. We don’t know. But we do know what his reaction was when the other disciples told him they had seen the Lord: yeah, right. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nail marks were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thomas had to see, and not only see. He had to touch, and not only touch. The word Thomas uses when he talks about touching the wound in Jesus’ side is not a light, hesitant touch. He’s not touching gingerly. He’s sticking his fingers in there and moving them around. It’s almost kind of gross. It’s pretty forceful. Jesus has to meet his conditions before he’ll let himself agree to believe.
Maybe Thomas fancies himself too smart to believe all the talk of resurrection right away, without having seen it. He’s not gullible. He’s not a sucker. Thomas wasn’t going to be anybody’s chump. He was going to hold out on believing until he was sure it was true. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s just the native unbelief that lives in all our hearts that makes him spout off. Blind human reason wants to have proof. We’ve got to see it before we think that it’s true. Unbelief does that. It sets conditions that must be met. It makes demands that God must meet before it will condescend to believe in him. I’ll believe if you do this or that for me, God.
We do the same thing. We might not ask to touch Jesus’ wounds, but we make demands in other ways. A lot of times this happens when we pray. We ask for something that God knows we shouldn’t have anyway, and then we’re disappointed when we don’t get it. We ask for signs, and then if God doesn’t meet the conditions we set we wonder what’s wrong with him. We plan out exactly what we want God to do for us, and we get frustrated if he doesn’t follow the plans we have – forgetting that what he ordains is always good, and he has plans better than what we can come up with in store for us. A lot of times we look at our lives, vainly searching for outward evidence of God’s love. Sometimes we do get the proof we’re looking for, if we can tell what it is. But a lot of times we don’t. If God loved me, wouldn’t I make more money – at least a little more? Wouldn’t I have found someone by now? Wouldn’t our church be bigger or more prestigious? Wouldn’t more visitors be coming here, and more of our own people showing more growth in their lives as Christians?
Those things are all worthy in and of themselves, but we have to understand that Thomas’ case was so special because he did get exactly what he asked for. Jesus gave Thomas such definite proof because he was one of the Twelve. He was one of the core group of men that Jesus sent out into the world whose testimony was to be the foundation for the church. Because of what Jesus was going to ask Thomas to do, Thomas necessarily needed a higher degree of proof. Of course, that can be small consolation to us when we hunger for proof and don’t always get what we’re looking for. When that happens, what do we do? Should we just give up? Should we accept that there are no definite visible answers right now? Should we not bother trying so hard to believe everything God tells us if no proof seems to be forthcoming? Obviously, that’s not the answer.
Jesus does give us proof. He doesn’t leave us twisting in the wind all by ourselves. Jesus works with us in a couple of ways. First, he is patient and gentle with us. That’s how Jesus always is with those who have doubts or whose faith is weak. Look at how gently he treats the disciples. He doesn’t storm into the room they’re in, demanding to know why they don’t believe in him more, what’s wrong with you people. He doesn’t yell at them or berate them or frighten them. He comes to them in a friendly, gentle way. He speaks kindly to them and accommodates himself to their desire for proof. He shows them his hands and side – the very places where he was wounded as part of his paying for all sins. Jesus takes the time to talk to them, to show them beyond any shadow of a doubt, that everything he says and does comes from love. Jesus does the same thing with us. He doesn’t cut us off or get rid of us when we struggle to believe in him. He isn’t going to toss us aside if we can’t honestly look in the mirror every single day and confess that we have perfect faith. Jesus still works with us. He deals with us gently. He still invites us to believe in him.
We get the same proof Thomas did. We too see Jesus’ wounds, and we know they were put there for us. We know that he let himself be nailed to the cross to take away our sins. We know that he let the Roman soldiers pierce his side with a spear to prove that he was really dead. We know Christ is alive again. Jesus, the Living One, still displays his wounds to us and asks us to believe in him. I did this for you. My love for you put these here. Everything wrong you’ve ever done is hidden in these wounds. You are cleansed by the blood and water that flows out of this side. My blood dissolves all your sins and carries them away. You were baptized with water, the water that came out of my side. You were washed, you were cleansed, you were sanctified. These marks of my passion are all the proof you need of my love for you.
Jesus also gives us his Word to provides all the proof that we need. Scripture confirms and strengthens our faith. John tells us he could have written a lot of other things down. Jesus did more things than are recorded in the Bible. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” These events, these sayings of Jesus, were selected by God to increase our faith. God didn’t give us his Word to predict the future. He didn’t give it to us as a good-luck charm or to teach us to raise our kids better or to be more loving spouses – although those things might also be products of the Word. He gave us his Word to forgive our sins, which would have dragged us down to hell – to absolve us. He gave it to us so that we would be willing to stake our lives and our souls on faith in Christ alone. He gave it to us so that we would listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, the one who rose from the dead, and thus be saved. We don’t always get to see right away. Thomas demanded to see before he would believe. Jesus gave us his Word so that we would believe, in order to see. If we trust in Jesus and all he has done for us, we will receive the reward of the faithful. Then what we have been waiting for will be real before our eyes. We will finally get to see Christ face to face, get to touch his wounds for ourselves, fall on our knees just like Thomas did before his Lord. One day, if we do not throw away our confidence, we will finally learn firsthand the full meaning of Jesus’ saying: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Amen.