By Dave Urbanski.
This Sunday was our Easter service, and Pastor Scott focused our attention on the Apostle Thomas, who has been — perhaps unfairly — stuck with the nickname “Doubting Thomas” ever since that momentous Sunday about 2,000 years ago.
You know the story. Jesus appeared to his disciples on the third day, having risen from the dead just as he had promised. Problem is, Thomas wasn’t with them. Where was he? Pastor Scott posited that Thomas may have been doing something else at that moment. An errand? Well, given the disciples were heartbroken and bewildered that their Master could have succumbed to crucifixion after a triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a week prior — and terrified of Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders who were looking for them — Pastor Scott offered also that Thomas may have just needed to get away, that he “had enough of this.”
Naturally the disciples were overjoyed that Jesus was alive again, and they excitedly told Thomas about the miracle of all miracles when he joined them again. But Thomas wasn’t convinced, telling them “unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
And there you have it: “Doubting Thomas.”
Curiously, though, Thomas and his fellow disciples — and many other eyewitnesses — saw Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead just a few days before, on what we now call Palm Sunday. Wouldn’t you expect everybody’s “faith in Jesus” to sit securely on bedrock from that point on, having seen such an astounding sight?
It wasn’t enough for Thomas. To be fair, though, it seems there’s a strong possibility raising Lazarus may not have been enough for Jesus’ other friends and followers, either — until he showed up in their midst, alive again. At least Thomas possessed the honesty to express his feelings after the upheaval of Good Friday.
Pastor Scott emphasized that Thomas suffered from a malady we all share to some degree: As frail human beings, we often rely on our spiritual experiences to strengthen our faith in God. For example, the Lord brings you through a trial, and you’re full of faith due to what God has done in your life. But that only lasts so long — because when life gets hard again and another trial comes, we hope God will show up in the same way so our faith can stand strong again. Which led to Pastor Scott’s question: “How many more experiences do you need to finally have faith in the Lord?”
The answer — just one more! Truth is, we’ll never have enough experiences to shore up our faith, finally, once and for all, because the impact of experiences on our spiritual lives doesn’t last.
Instead, Jesus told those around him just before raising Lazarus that the key to living effective spiritual lives is to believe in Jesus. Just believe.
And wouldn’t you know that Jesus showed up again to the disciples? He appeared to them despite the locked door that keep them “safe” from the outside world, that kept them “safe” from the threats upon on their lives. And this time, Thomas was with them, too.
Jesus made a beeline to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Of course, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus knew where that was coming from: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Our reliance on experience — our insistence even to put our own fingers into Jesus’ nail and spear wounds before we “believe in him” once more — limits our relationship with God. Such a way of Christian living results in us possessing but a sliver of who God is instead of a much bigger, grander, and finally truthful picture of who he is.
Therefore, “do not disbelieve, but believe.” Just believe.