There are many things we do not know about the apostle Thomas. Things like where was he on that Easter Sunday evening? Why wasn’t he with the rest? What happened to him in later life? Where did he go? What did he see? What did he do? These are questions we will have to wait to ask him directly when we see him in heaven. But there are a few things we can figure out about this fellow Thomas from the few times we see him in the scriptures.
Thomas is the kind of fellow who would have told you that he is a realist. He’s a student of the real world. He sees it like it is and isn’t afraid to tell you why. He’s not negative, just pragmatic. Others might call him pessimistic. That’s not to say that he isn’t devoted to Jesus. He’s the one that suggests that if Jesus must go to Jerusalem then they all aught to go and die along with Him. (Since anyone can see this is what must happen.)
When Jesus tells His disciples that He is going on ahead to prepare a place for them it is Thomas who’s listening closely enough to realize that they haven’t been given any such map yet. No directions written down, how could they know where He might go? And then finally on this Sunday after Easter, when the others tell him they have seen their dead and buried Lord in the living flesh it is Thomas the realist, Thomas the pragmatist who declares that such ranting is purely ridiculous! The dead don’t come back to life … and just because you wish really hard for something to happen doesn’t mean it will.
4Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to 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.”
Yet Thomas is not truly being realistic here is he? Not pragmatic either! There is overwhelming evidence in the eye-witness testimony of the 10, the women from the tomb, and the Emmaus disciples who all in different ways and in different circumstances each saw the same thing. There is the word of Christ Himself, and the others whom Thomas had personally witnessed coming back from the dead by His hand. Yet unbelief is and always will be unreasonable. Consider its pride, its arrogance … unbelief will lay down the criterion of its own choosing. Unbelief will have what it demands before it will be swayed. It will hold tenaciously to its secret stubborn determination not to be moved – no matter what.
Thomas had a lot in common with Gideon from our Old Testament reading. Thomas is like so many people you know even today. Good people. Normal people. You and me kind of people. People who demand evidence, but who simultaneously ignore it all around them. People who make demands of God. Do this to prove your love. Do that to show your omnipotence. Answer this if you truly are so great. Unbelief exists not because of a lack of evidence, but because of firmly held, tenaciously held, stubbornly held, doubts that individuals are unwilling to give up easily.
So what then are we to take from the Apostle Thomas so like us in so many ways? Sometimes pessimistic, often stubbornly refusing to give up our secretly held doubts. We take the example and the warning to make our application. Consider the words of the hymn we will sing in just a few minutes:
We walk by faith and not by sight, No gracious words we hear
from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. [LSB #720]
26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus comes Thomas our worldly realist and does something totally unrealistic. He grants him the evidence he demanded, but didn’t really believe he could receive. And Jesus does it to bring Thomas peace and His blessing, not simply to shut him up or teach him a lesson. The words of Jesus are gracious words for one trapped in the “real world.” And while Jesus may never come to us in that same physical way we firmly believe that He is just as near to us as He was to Thomas … and here for the same gracious reasons – to free us from the unreasonableness of unbelief.
We may not touch His hands and side, Nor follow where He trod;
But in His promise we rejoice And cry “My Lord and God!”
All that Jesus went to Jerusalem to bear (with Thomas pessimistically following behind) … All that He died upon the cross to repay … All that He suffered in crucifixion and dying … all that was yours and mine. And all that His resurrection brought back to life … all that His victory over sin death and the devil claimed … all that preparation that He put in place by going ahead of us … all that yours too! That’s God’s promise. It has been since the very beginning. He is your Lord and your God! The sweetest words of promise and praise you will ever proclaim. My Lord and My God! Words that can be shouted only by faith in Him who did all these things for you.
Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; And may our faith abound
To call on You when You are near And seek where You are found.
Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief! It is the heartfelt cry of Thomas, Gideon, and the faithful of every generation. It is the daily struggle of the old pessimist and the new saint. Devoted, sincere followers who can’t always give up their doubts so easily. Wanting to find God at work when and where the doubts demand, rather than trusting in Him to be where He has promised. As near as He has promised. Believers who want to see first and believe after.
29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
For You, O resurrected Lord, Are found in means divine:
Beneath the water and the Word, Beneath the bread and wine.
Through God’s Word we have communion with our Lord; in the Word He comes to us with promises that remove all doubts. In the water we are washed by the Word and the Spirit, in the bread and wine we taste the Word in flesh and blood. Thus we have His full blessing. “He that wishes to know what we should believe, let him hear what Thomas believes, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord of life, who will help us out of sins and death unto life and righteousness. Such trust and hope, in the face of all doubting, is the true faith. And where there is such faith and trust, there is salvation, and not even our sins will not hinder us; for by faith they are forgiven.”
In the end, God did a mighty thing through reluctant and fearful Gideon. In the end there was blessing and acceptance for stubbornly doubting Thomas. Today, He will do the same for you and me, teaching us to walk by faith and not by sight. Teaching us to pray Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Helping us in faith to proclaim with the joy of Thomas “My Lord and My God!”
Lord, when our life of faith is done, In realms of clearer light
We may behold You as You are, With full and endless sight.