Do We Doubt?

“Do We Doubt?”

John 20:24-31 (20:27) – April 11, 2021

            As a trained chaplain, I am sadly familiar with deep shocks and devastating emotions. Yes, I have come alongside of many in the hospital, in care centers, and at funeral homes, and sat with them as they experienced all kinds of massive trauma and shock.

            I can hardly imagine what it was like for the disciples, for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the Crucifixion. But, knowing what I know about strong, sudden grief, the disciples probably had terrible trauma and horrible experiences of that last week, and especially that twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life.

            When the women disciples burst in, early on Easter Sunday morning, with amazing, great good news, that must have been yet another shock. What was that, again? The empty tomb? Did someone move the Rabbi’s body? But – wait – the women said angels testified that Jesus was no longer dead. He is alive! He has risen from the dead!

            But, what does that all mean, exactly?  

            When people go through significant trauma and massive shocks to their brains, nervous systems, and emotional and spiritual regulation, it takes a period of time before things register. Even when it is positive, good news, after so much, so many horrible experiences. Different people take in this kind of news at different speeds, too.

            Just between you and me, if I had been one of the women disciples, I am not sure how I would have reacted. Would I have doubted, like the other disciples? I honestly do not know.

            What about Thomas, anyhow? What was the deal with him? Let’s go back in the Gospel of John, and find out a few things about Thomas. Remember, he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (in John 14:5). I see Thomas as straightforward and up front. He really wanted to understand his Rabbi. Thomas was also the one who told Jesus – plainly – that He was foolish to go to Jerusalem where His enemies were out to get Him, and even wanted to kill Him. However, when Jesus insisted on going anyhow, Thomas insisted on going with Jesus – “Let us go and die with Him!” (John 11:7-16) Thomas was that loyal, and that earnest. [1]

            How many of us, today, could say the same? Would we be willing to walk into a sure trap, with our eyes open, showing our loyalty to our leader? Thomas was.

            Let’s fast forward to that Easter Sunday, after what we know is the Resurrection. But, most of the disciples don’t know that yet. Not until the women disciples return from the tomb. The large group of followers of Jesus are huddled in the large upper room. They are hiding out, hidden away, laying low. Plus, they have locked the doors because they are all afraid.

            Can you relate? I know during wars and uprisings, groups of believers have hidden themselves away, very much afraid. I cannot blame this group of disciples. That great fear is exactly why they were hiding in the locked room. Except – they were in for the biggest shock of their lives. Jesus showed up, and came right in the upper room, even though the door was locked.

I would like to point out that Jesus did not say, “What happened?  Where were you?  You screwed up!” No, instead He said, “Peace.”  In other words, “It’s okay. I understand. I forgive you.” Imagine how the rag-tag group of disciples felt when they heard that. [2]

Except, Thomas was not there, for some reason. Perhaps he was not even in Jerusalem. Thomas has gotten bad press over the years. In fact, over the centuries. But, he totally missed the first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Thomas was extremely hesitant to swallow a huge story, especially when he was not an eye-witness. Do you know people like that? They won’t believe a hard-to-believe thing until they can see it for themselves.

Thomas had honest questions. He really wanted to see for himself what the others had already seen. We want to encourage people to ask questions, and come and see! That is what Jesus offered to Thomas: come and see! Jesus held out His pierced wrists and showed Thomas the wound in His side. Jesus is not afraid of honest questions!

One reason I am hesitant to label Thomas a doubter is because of the negative connotations doubting can have. Remember, Jesus welcomed Thomas’ questions! [3] Jesus welcomes skeptics, agnostics, just plain curious people, and people who really want to know things, even if they need to be convinced.   

            Do you have questions for Jesus? Thomas was honest and straightforward – he realized this was the real deal when he was face to face with the risen Jesus. With each person – with each of us – coming to faith is an individual experience. Thomas saw, believed, and made the statement, “My Lord and my God!” That’s his testimony to us.

 I sense the disciple John, our Gospel writer, had his own path to belief. He came to believe in the risen Jesus immediately. Will we believe in the risen Jesus just as easily as John? Or, will we need some time, like Thomas?

            The bottom line? It’s different for different people. Everyone has questions, too. Each of us is a unique individual, and each of us has a unique encounter with Jesus. “Be a believing Thomas. Push as hard as you need to until you are awestruck and moved to proclaim with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’” [4]


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-second-sunday-of-easter-april-12.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-john-2019-31-12

Commentary, Jaime Clark-Soles, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Don’t Doubt—Believe!

John 20:19-31 (20:27) – April 23, 2017

Jesus and Thomas John 20-24

“Don’t Doubt—Believe!”

Being skeptical can be a positive thing. Just think of ice in winter, covering a lake. Am I right in being skeptical that the ice is hard enough to hold me (and my weight)? And, think about engineers and scientists. They are often naturally, honestly skeptical and analytical; they hold things at arms’ length and consider all sides of a situation. That can be positive and helpful, in many situations. Even necessary, at times.

Consider Thomas. He missed the big event, the first time that the resurrected Lord Jesus came back to the rest of the disciples. Let’s look at this event from Thomas’s side. For some reason (we are not told the reason), Thomas missed the weekend gathering of the eleven disciples, plus some others who also were traveling with Jesus. Perhaps they were gathering for regular prayer, or for a worship service. Maybe to have a meal together. Maybe all of the above.

The gathering was secretive. Remember, the Roman and Jewish authorities were disgruntled and angry. The body of Jesus had disappeared completely, even though the tomb had been guarded by Roman soldiers. Therefore, the authorities were looking for a really high-profile body, and it was unbelievable to them that there was no trace of the Rabbi Jesus’s remains, anywhere. Of course the authorities would seek out this upstart Rabbi’s close companions, and keep them under surveillance, just in case any of them knew where the body was.

Whatever the reason, Thomas was not there the previous week. And, he—and the other disciples—had good reason to be jumpy, and cautious. Even, skeptical, as we will see.

Reading from our Gospel passage, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas 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.”

This passage comes to us from the Gospel of John. Throughout John’s Gospel, this writer has an understanding of believing that is active. To John, believing in Jesus is not just an intellectual exercise. No! Belief to John is very much an action verb.

Believing in Jesus is having a relationship with Jesus. As Jesus Himself said earlier in the Gospel of John, “I abide in you and you abide in Me.”  So, for this Gospel writer to say that skeptical Thomas was having trouble believing is not quite the same thing as making light of Thomas for doubting. Thomas had just seen his Rabbi and leader die on the cross, be executed by an extreme and cruel form of suffering and agony. I suspect Thomas’s relationship with his Rabbi was pretty close to being extinguished. Sure, Thomas was skeptical.

Are there times when you or I are skeptical, too? I mean, times of sincere questioning of our faith? When we might think, with Elijah, that the heavens are all closed up, and nothing can penetrate, not even a desperate prayer? If we were honest with ourselves, I suspect in almost every person’s life there are difficult times, challenging times, times when we  come to the end of ourselves and have no more hope, no more tears, no more swear words to say.

Desperate times, indeed. Who can blame Thomas for being skeptical? As Father Rick mentioned on a sermon preparation site I follow, how crushed Thomas must have been. Perhaps, to keep his heart safe, he refuses to believe… it hurts too much to believe. [1] Can you hear pain, and fear, and maybe stubbornness in his response?

Here is a slightly different translation of Thomas’s dramatic statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and shove my finger into the mark of the nails, and shove my hand into his side, I absolutely will not believe” (20:25, translation by Jaime Clark-Soles). Here, we look at the verb from a slightly different angle. The Greek verb ‘believe’ is a forceful one (ballo), as is the emphatic negative (ou me). “I absolutely will not believe.” Not a simple, “I’ll believe it when I see it” —Thomas has a lot of conditions;” [2] conditions that he speaks out of a dark place of anger and grief and anxiety, and conditions that will only be met by the resurrected Jesus.

But, what happens next?

Now, this is not resolved right away. Thomas is left doubting—rather, being skeptical, for a week. Reading from our Gospel passage: “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!”

What would that do to your faith? If your faith were wavering, and you were faint of heart, perhaps doubting, maybe even skeptical—what would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” Would that cause people to believe in Jesus? Let’s find out.

“Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

If Jesus appeared among us and said those things to us, would that cause you and me to have the kind of belief that John is talking about here—where we start or cement a deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead? What did those words do for Thomas?

28 Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Did you hear? Thomas just made an earthshaking confession of faith as well as a crystal clear statement of belief.

(And, remember, we are using John’s definition of belief. A deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus!) Praise God, this is a confession that Jesus is our Lord, He is our God. As John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel, He is the Word made flesh, come into this world to make His dwelling among us. To abide in us as we abide in Him. All this Thomas confesses in this statement of faith. This confession is made all the more powerful because skeptical, discouraged, frightened Thomas has made it.

I ask all of us, again. What would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” What would we do if Jesus showed us the nail scars and where the spear went into His side? Oh, no! some might say. Jesus would never do that. Not here, not now. Perhaps in bible times, but not today.

Here we have a clear invitation to the skeptics, to the doubters, to those who are not sure about their faith any longer. This Gospel reading is also for those who have been hurt by the church, and perhaps are not sure there is Anyone up there listening to them any longer. This passage is for you, too.

Praise God, Jesus has conquered death, and He will be with us when we walk through fiery trials and dark places in our lives. Using John’s definition of belief, we all can have a true, deep relationship with Jesus as our Lord and our God, just like Thomas.

Have you heard? Do you know that Jesus has risen from the dead? This is not only Good News, it’s the best news ever shared, in the history of ever. It is much more than just the dry words from the Apostles Creed, written on a page. Jesus holds out His hands, shows us His side. Christ is risen, indeed!

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm Posted by Rick+ in Reno, March 31, 2016.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222  Jaime Clark-Soles

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Seeing is Believing!

“Seeing is Believing”

Jesus and Thomas illustration John 20-24

John 20:24-29 – April 12, 2015

Seeing is believing! Or . . . is it?

I wonder what things come to mind when I mention the phrase, “Seeing is believing”? Or even, “I won’t believe it until I see it!” Sometimes, people can be really doubtful about things. I can just imagine several people I know folding their arms across their chests and saying, “Unless you show me . . . “

In the gospel account we read today, from John 20, the disciple Thomas had just that reaction. After the resurrection, the first time Jesus came to the disciples, Thomas was not there. We’re not told why, simply that he wasn’t there. Maybe he was scared, maybe he was away, or out of town. Maybe he was sick. We just aren’t told why he wasn’t there.

The ‘why’ is not the important part. The fact that Thomas wasn’t present is. Thomas had doubts. Sincere doubts. Truth to tell, the other disciples’ story was a little farfetched. I mean, how many people have you known who came back from the dead, and walked through walls into a locked room?

I wonder. I wonder if Thomas’ reaction strikes a chord with anyone here today. How many of us today are like Thomas? Doubting that Jesus has risen indeed from the dead? Or, completely missing Jesus, and doubting that Jesus is even here at all, today?

Let’s think some more about Thomas and his reaction. Thomas not only doubted, he also refused to believe! He not only doubted, he wanted concrete proof. Tangible proof, proof he could touch and feel and handle. Thomas wanted to put his hands in the nail marks on Jesus’ hands. That’s pretty concrete.

As I thought more about Thomas and his reaction and attitude toward Jesus and His first appearance to the disciples, I was reminded about my children. Generally, children have concrete thinking processes, especially smaller children. I have four children, and I’m accustomed to talking with them and communicating in more appropriate ways for their age groups. My children are just about grown up now. But when I used to explain something about God to my children, sometimes it was difficult for the younger ones to fully grasp the ideas I’m trying to explain. And they can ask some pretty hard questions. Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to explain things about God to anyone who asks!

Maybe Thomas needed more concrete explanations, too. We just aren’t sure. The Gospel of John isn’t clear at this point. We as readers don’t know why Thomas had difficulty believing. But the gospel account says he did.

How many of us today are like Thomas? Not sure? Not believing? Closed up behind the locked doors of feeble faith? Not believing that Jesus can make a difference in our lives today? Could Jesus come and reveal Himself to Thomas? Can He come and reveal Himself to those today who are fearful, doubting, and unbelieving? . . . Can He reveal Himself to me?

Perhaps Thomas even had difficulty finding something to believe in, since he had so recently seen his Master and Teacher arrested and crucified. Grief, fear, anger, dashed hopes, shattered dreams. I strongly suspect several, if not all of these, were operating in Thomas’ life at this time.

These strong feelings and emotions inside are intense, and raw. From what is known today about the stages of grief, Thomas could very well have been feeling awful, angry, fearful and upset. Thomas could have felt like his life was falling apart. But Jesus can break through all of that. Jesus could enter Thomas’ life with new hope, standing right in front of him. In the same way, Jesus Christ can enter through the closed doors of our hearts, and meet us where we are, with open arms.

Just as Jesus did not leave Thomas high and dry, to figure things out on his own, so Jesus will not leave us. Our Lord came to Thomas in the upper room, despite his doubts and unbelief, and Jesus also comes to us in our doubts, and in our unbelief.

Now, Thomas didn’t actually see Jesus, at first. He had just heard from others who had seen Jesus. But then, a second time, the risen Lord appeared to the disciples. Again, in the locked room, and this time, Thomas was there.

What were Jesus’ words 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.”

Thomas responded with that tremendous affirmation, “My Lord and my God!” Praise God for the sincere, heartfelt response of Thomas.

Jesus’ words to His doubting disciple serve as words of comfort and reassurance to me. I know I have doubts and fears, sometimes. And just as Jesus did not leave Thomas doubting, so too, Jesus will not leave me doubting, either. He will welcome me with open arms, coming through the locked doors of my fear, anger, doubt and unbelief.

Thomas saw Jesus. Seeing was believing, in Thomas’ case. Moreover, the risen Jesus continues with the statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” –here’s the best part of all. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

What was that Jesus just said? Did I read that correctly? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So–the Gospel of John says here that all who have not actually seen the risen Lord and yet have come to believe are indeed blessed.

That means Christians throughout the centuries are blessed, since they have come to believe in Jesus Christ and yet have not actually, physically seen Him as risen from the dead. That means you and I are blessed, since we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, too. How awesome is that? I am–you are–we all are blessed because the Lord Jesus says so!

Just as Jesus helped Thomas to believe, so the Gospel of John helps us to believe, too. This Gospel was not only written to bear witness so long ago, in the first century, some years after Jesus was raised from the dead. This Gospel was also written for the many generations which have come to believe throughout the centuries. And that includes us, too. Even though we may have doubts, and unbelief, and wonder whether, and why, or even why not, Jesus comes to us in our doubts and unbelief. Our Lord comes to us with reassurance and open arms and says “Do not doubt, but believe!”

Praise God that as we come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we can have life in His name. And Jesus can come to us, at any point in our walk with the Lord, no matter what the circumstance happens to be, no matter where we are in our lives. Thank God that Jesus will be there for us and with us, no matter what. May we all be able to affirm, with Thomas, that the risen Jesus is our Lord and our God.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)