This morning, I want to draw our attention to Thomas’s reaction to the risen Christ.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:24-29)
The resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by Mary and others. But Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, had not seen Jesus. A week later, Thomas still hadn’t seen resurrected Jesus. He had been told by other disciples that they saw resurrected Jesus. But, he says, he will not believe unless he sees the mark of the nails in his hands, and puts his fingers in the mark of the nails and his hands in his side, himself. Jesus appears to Thomas and says to him exactly what he said he needed in order to believe. Jesus tells Thomas to see and to touch. But Thomas does not touch Jesus. Upon seeing Jesus, he says, “My Lord and my God!” Why does the Gospel of John end with this story? John writes that there were many other signs that Jesus did but they are not written in the Gospel. So, what is the importance of Thomas’ story?
We can learn from today’s scripture reading three things:
- Faith is a gift, impossible for us to attain on our own.
- Faith is faith in Jesus Christ, a person, a wounded God.
- Faith is unconditional.
The three things we learn about faith leads to the conclusion that if you believe in Jesus, Jesus is and must be the foundation of everything in our lives.
What do you notice first about the scripture passage? Thomas doubts. It seems like Thomas is the weak link. Of the twelve disciples, he is the one who has not seen the resurrected Jesus and the one who does not believe that Jesus was resurrected. When Jesus meets Thomas, did he rebuke Thomas? Did Jesus say, “Thomas how dare you not believe that I was resurrected? I told you I would rise from the dead. And your fellow disciples told you they saw me, yet you still do not believe.” No. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, his first words to Thomas were exactly what Thomas said he needed in order to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus tells Thomas, see and touch my hands and my side. Then Jesus commands Thomas not to doubt but believe.
Could Thomas have decided to believe on his own? If he could have, why didn’t he? He heard of witness accounts of his trusted fellow disciples. But he still could not believe. There was nothing he could do. Only Jesus could make him believe. Faith is not something we can create on our own. We can’t decide on our own one day to believe in Jesus. We simply can’t do it. Faith is a gift from God. God gives us faith. Thomas could not believe on his own. So Jesus appeared to Thomas. Jesus appeared so that Thomas would believe and also so that he, along with eleven other disciples, could be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Faith is possible only through the grace of God.
Faith, which is a gift from God, is faith in a person, a wounded God: in other words, to have faith is to have a relationship with Jesus as a person and see that he is a wounded God. Not only does God enable us to believe, but also, to each person Jesus appeared in a different way according to their needs because Jesus knew each person personally.
Remember Mary who found Jesus’ tomb empty? She stood there weeping outside the tomb. When she looked in the tomb, she saw two angels inside the tomb. She told them why she was weeping. Then she turned around and saw Jesus. But she did not recognize him until Jesus called her by her name. When Jesus said, “Mary!” she recognized him and said, “Rabbouni!” (which means teacher). Mary needed Jesus calling her by her name to recognize him and to realize that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus provides Mary what she needs in order for her to believe. Jesus called Mary by her name and Mary believed.
Peter and the other disciple ran into the tomb too and saw the tomb empty. Each person that Jesus appears to after resurrection has a different experience that made them believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Peter and the disciple saw the linen wrappings rolled up in a place by itself. They saw and believed although they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Mary needed to hear Jesus call her by name. Peter and one of the disciples needed to see the linen lying by itself on the empty tomb. Jesus cares about each person: he appeared to each person in the way the individual person needed to see or hear Jesus in order to believe.
Thomas needed to see Jesus. He thought he needed to touch Jesus too. Jesus appears to Thomas so that he could believe and be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection like the other disciples. But when Thomas sees Jesus, he does not touch Jesus because when he sees Jesus, he saw Jesus’ wounds. And immediately Thomas believed. He said, “My Lord, My God!” Although most people associate Thomas with doubting, Thomas also had great faith, he alone professed his faith in Jesus not only that he was Lord and God, but that Jesus was his Lord and his God. To Mary, to Peter and the disciple, and to Thomas, Jesus appeared to each of them in the way they needed for each person to believe in his resurrection.
Faith is impossible for us to attain on our own and having faith in Jesus is to have a relationship with the person of Jesus, a wounded God. God came from heaven and took on human flesh so that he could die for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God and have eternal life with God. But to do this, Jesus was crucified. He had nail marks on his hands and his sides were pierced with a spear. Thomas saw Jesus with his wounds. Thomas only had to see to believe. He didn’t need to touch Jesus. Thomas saw the wounds on Jesus’ body and believed in Jesus, God who was wounded for our sake. The resurrected Christ Thomas saw and could believe in was one who still bears the wounds of his trauma. But how did Thomas know? Why couldn’t he imagine a resurrected Christ who bore no signs of his wounding? Was that a failure of imagination?
What Shelly Rambo, a theologian and trauma theorist, says seems appropriate for the kind of resurrected Christ we are called to worship today: “As the wounds of history return, reappearing in the present, Christian theology might offer a vision of resurrection that addresses these wounds, precisely because the wounds return. In each of the gospel accounts, the wounds reappear. Jesus stands before the disciples, returning with the marks of death still visible. “Touch them,” he says” (Shelly Rambo, Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma).
What religion is founded on a God who is wounded? Only the Lord our God and Savior suffered on our behalf: dying on the cross, his hands nailed on the cross, and his sides pierced by a spear. Jesus sacrificed his life for us. Jesus was the sacrifice that atoned for our sins. By Jesus’ blood our sins are washed away. Salvation comes to us freely. It is a gift only God can give. Although it cost us nothing, it cost Jesus everything. To die for us, Jesus gave up equality with God and took on a form of human being, and died the most shameful death, death on a cross. Thomas could not just make himself believe. Jesus came to give him what he needed to believe. Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds and he believed.
Our faith in Jesus is unconditional. We cannot hold out conditions for God to fulfill in order for us to believe. To a God who gave up his life for us, can we say to him, if you do this and that I will believe in you? Imagine yourself going up to your parents and saying, “Mom, dad, if you give me what I really want, then I will believe that you are my mom and dad”? Whatever it is that you need from God in order to believe, why do you need that in order to believe in God? If you have conditions before God that you need to see happen before you believe in God, whether it be getting into the college of your choice, or marrying the man or woman of your dreams, it is that condition you want more than you want God. In other words, you love that object or person more than you love God. It’s just like the two brothers in the parable of the prodigal son. Both of them loved father’s things more than they loved the father.
If you believe in God, you have to believe without conditions. You not only believe the facts, but your faith in Jesus must be the foundation of everything else in your life. If you say you believe in Jesus, not just believe that he is the son of God, and that he died on the cross, was buried and rose again from the dead, but that he died for you, and that by having faith in him that you are saved, then that belief must make a difference in your life. If Jesus is the Lord our God and our Savior, wouldn’t we live life differently than before we knew that Jesus died for our sins?
What follows too then is that if you believe in Jesus, you accept him as your Lord your God and your Savior. God is in control. It’s up to God what happens in your life. God is the one who gives and who takes away. If something happens to us that we don’t like, even when what happens to us is really painful, if you love God more than anything else in life, if you believe in God, then as long as you have Jesus, even if everything else disappoints you, you can still rejoice. It’s difficult. But even if we lose all that we have, we still have Jesus and in that we can rejoice if we believe in Jesus.
Our faith in Jesus is faith in a person, a wounded God who died, was buried and rose again. The resurrection of Jesus matters. The wounds on the resurrected Jesus matters. If resurrection was not crucial to our faith, why was Jesus raised from the dead, why did he appear to his disciples bearing wounds, and why did he appear in such a personal way to each person to ensure that each person would believe in his resurrection? Some people say that they like Jesus as a teacher. They like what Jesus taught about how to live. But they don’t accept the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ life and his teachings only make sense in light of what he came to do and accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead, if Jesus isn’t God who came to die for our sins, and if at the end of our lives we won’t be reunited with God, what difference does it make how we live our lives?
If you don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection, if you don’t think Jesus’ death and resurrection reconciles you to God, then you are saying Jesus didn’t have to die for our sins, and that Jesus dying on the cross accomplished nothing. To say you don’t believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t having faith in Jesus. Having faith in Jesus is to have Jesus as the foundation on which your life is built. It means that it matters to us what pleases God. It matters to us what glorifies God. We follow God’s will because we love him. Remember the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son? He did what his father wanted him to do. But he did not have love in his heart for his father. He did not have a relationship with his father. Unlike the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, we don’t do things for God because we feel guilty or feel obligated. We follow Jesus because we love him.
Because God loved us first while we were sinners, because Jesus who knew no sin died for our sins so that we would have eternal life with him, because of what Jesus did for us out of his love for us, because we are reconciled to God, because of all these reasons, we love God. We follow the teachings of Jesus because we love Jesus, not because they are good moral teachings. We love God because God loves us and died for us. We follow God’s commands because we love God.
Doesn’t it make sense now that the Gospel of John includes Thomas’ encounter with Jesus? Thomas professes his faith in Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” Really, if the rest of the gospel doesn’t lead you to the conclusion that Jesus is the Lord your God and your Savior, what difference does it make how many hungry people were fed by Jesus? Do you have faith in Jesus? Is Jesus the Lord your God and your Savior? Are you more like Thomas before he saw Jesus or after he saw Jesus? As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
If Jesus is not your Lord your God and your Savior, do you want to know him better? What more do you need in order to believe in Jesus? What more do you need to believe that God loves you? God himself came down from heaven and he died on the cross for us. He gave his life so we could be reconciled to him. What more do you want? What more do you need? Ask Jesus to show you what you need to believe him. Then as Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe.”