Jn 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
Today we come to the final accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels, that we will be looking at in this brief series, and for those we go to John’s Gospel. This particular episode is about Thomas who is not mentioned by the other three Gospels. We have previously commented how it is probable that John wrote much later than the other three and the simple explanation for the inclusion of this episode here is that Thomas had probably passed away by the time of John’s writing and therefore it would not be embarrassing to him to have it included here. It is a very significant episode in that it pushes the evidence on one stage further.
Thomas had obviously been with the others initially, for we have reference in the other Gospels to ‘the eleven’, but he presumably slipped out just before Jesus arrived. By the time he had returned Jesus had gone. Now before we consider Thomas’s reactions, we do need to face up to a mystery, because for the second part of this episode to be played out we have to note that it was a week later! “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!” (v.26). The mystery is what Jesus was doing during that time. We have no idea! It is an ongoing mystery because we are simply not told and we may speculate to our hearts content, but we still do not know! The Bible DOESN’T tell us everything we’d like to know, but it tells us SUFFICIENT for us to have faith and we need to learn to rest in that.
So Thomas comes back and the others tell him about Jesus’ visit. His response is very human and is one commonly found: unless I, me, personally, see the evidence I’m not going to believe you. Yesterday I spoke about the amount of evidence in the historical documents, in church history and in the lives or ordinary Christians today. Yet despite all this evidence there are still those who say I won’t believe until I see it myself! For those of us who do believe and have come to experience the risen Lord, it is difficult to understand. Non-believers, on the other hand, find it very difficult to cope with the certainty that Christians so often exhibit, a certainty that comes from knowing the tremendous wonder of having your life touched and transformed by God. The testimony of the blind man in John 9 is really frustrating for the unbeliever: “One thing I know. I was blind and now I can see.” (Jn 9:25). Thus when the Christian who has encountered God through Jesus Christ says, “All I know was that I was lost and now I am saved,” that is really frustrating to the Thomas’s of this world.
But the good news was that there was yet a further opportunity for Thomas to have his own encounter with Jesus for, as we saw above, Jesus came back to them a week later. For a week they have been huddling together, keeping out of sight of the authorities, then suddenly on this particular day, despite the fact that the door is locked, Jesus appears in the room. It seems he comes specifically to help Thomas: “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.” (v.27) In these words Jesus goes further than with the other disciples for he realises and understands Thomas’s limitations and he is there to help him. When he says “see my hands” and “Reach out your hand and put it into my side” he is saying, “See and feel the specific marks of my crucifixion. I am not a substitute, a look-alike, I am the one who you saw crucified and who died; it is me standing before your alive.” This completely does away with any idea of there being a substitute. It also does away with those who said it wasn’t Jesus who actually hung on the Cross (yes, it has been said!). Oh no, in this encounter Jesus is challenging the doubter and is bringing together the one who died on the Cross – their Master – with the one who was now alive and before them.
Again and again, it almost seems inadvertently, the Gospels cover all the bases, all the questions of the doubters, the sceptics and the heretics. Don’t come up with any critical, derogatory noises about John; everything about his Gospel and his letters and the book of Revelation say here was a man of great integrity, a man who wrote with great clarity and with obvious love of his Master. There is both a gentleness and a goodness about his writing, and with indications that here was one who had been on the inside, who knew his Master well and had himself been transformed by him. He is quite open about his beliefs and concludes the chapter with, “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.” (v.31). That’s why he includes the Thomas episode, because Thomas had struggled to believe and had been helped to overcome. When Thomas saw Jesus and presumably touched him as instructed, we find, “Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). Thomas understood as few of us do, the significance of who it was standing before him. If Jesus had died – and Thomas knew Jesus had died – and now is alive again, then that has the most profound of implications.
If you respond angrily (as some do) to these accounts, ask yourself why. Read again the meditations of this past week with their explanations, and ask yourself what is it in you that is so hostile to the reality of what is here, and be honest. If you are a wistful seeker (and I encounter them as well) and you say, “I’d like to believe, but just can’t,” then can I ask you to take one simple step. You can’t lose by doing this. If all I’ve said is make-believe, you won’t lose anything by doing this one thing: pretend! Pretend there is a God and talk to Him and ask Him to help you come to a place of ‘seeing’. All I know is that whenever people have done this with me, one of two things happen. First, as they pray, they suddenly realise that there IS someone there that they are talking to; they do become aware of The Presence. Second, if that doesn’t happen, then some way along the walk of their lives, in ways that cannot be foreseen, they get their answers, that enable them to believe. There is nothing about make-believe in this; it is about encountering God who IS there. If you are hostile – goodbye! If you are seeking, go on seeking and you WILL find.
These amazing accounts – amazing by what they say and how they say it, and by the fact that they exist – are basic evidence to help bring faith in the Son of God who came to earth, lived, died and rose again. We hope you’ll have found these nine meditations helpful. Oh, there is one more to come!