Of all of the characters in the New Testament, the most reviled is Judas Iscariot. After all, he was the one who, for thirty pieces of silver, betrayed our Lord with a kiss and gave him into the hands of Roman soldiers. Even now, twenty centuries later, we find his actions disgusting. How could anyone hand over their friend to be crucified on a cross? How could any decent human being do that to anyone? We understand that Judas’ actions are to be despised.
The second most reviled person in the New Testament is probably Thomas Didymus. We’re going to hear his story this morning from John 20:24-29 (NIV):
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.”
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!” 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.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You remember those words: “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.” (John 20:25) Because of that one statement, Thomas has become known as Doubting Thomas. He has been depicted as the one disciple who doubted the resurrection of Jesus. When all of the others believed, he refused to until he had the proof that he desired.
I remember that Thomas was not exactly the kind of person I was taught to emulate as a child. I was told that I was not to doubt as Thomas did. I was taught that there were some things that I just had to accept on faith and that was the end of it. Doubting Thomas was held up as an example of what not to be like. And, as an eleven year old, I believed it.
Fifty-five years later, I don’t see things in quite the same light. I don’t think that Thomas was such a bad guy. I believe that Thomas has been given a bad rap by theologians over the years. In fact, rather than reviling the guy, I think that we actually could learn a lot from his behaviour. In many ways, in fact, we should learn to be just like him. Let me explain what I mean.
RECOGNIZING A NEED
Jesus first appeared to the disciples in John 20:19-23. They were together in a locked room for fear of the Jewish authorities. It was in that room that Jesus appeared to them. He showed them his hands and his side. Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The only one of the Apostles who was not in the room that day was Thomas. We don’t know why he wasn’t there. Maybe he was running an errand. Maybe he was fishing. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well. We don’t know. We just know that he wasn’t there.
Can you imagine his reaction when he finally arrived and heard the other disciples talking about their encounter with the Risen Lord? How would you respond if someone told you that your friend whom you saw crucified on a cross and placed in a tomb was alive and well and walking around? Would you believe them? Of course you wouldn’t. That’s because your common sense would tell you that stuff like that doesn’t happen. People don’t survive crucifiction and even if they did they’d be in no shape to walk around three days later. It would take them months to recover from that kind of physical abuse.
Who can blame Thomas for thinking that his friends were guilty of either overactive imaginations, wishful thinking or too much wine? Be honest, if you had been in Thomas’ shoes, do you really think you would have acted any differently? I don’t think I would have believed their stories either. They were just way too incredible.
It was at that time that Thomas uttered his now famous words in John 20:25: (NIV) which says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
This is significant not because it points to Thomas’ doubt but rather that he realizes that he has a need. If he is going to believe that Jesus has risen, if he is going to get past his doubts then he has to see the evidence with his own two eyes. He has to see the nail marks and the scars. He has to see Jesus standing in front of him the same way that the others Apostles saw him.
What can we learn from Thomas words? Perhaps the most important thing that we can learn is that there are times when we need things. We are not perfect. We cannot be all things to all people. We are not unwavering in our faith. We are fallible, mortal, sometimes feeble human beings. Sometimes we doubt. Sometimes we wander from the path that God wants us to walk. Sometimes we fall into sin. Sometimes we need re-assurance and comfort.
One of the biggest challenges we face is the challenge to realize that we are just human. Our world tells us that that is not good enough. We should all be super-human. Men should be perfect husbands, father and gentlemen, who always looked after their families and know what they are supposed to do in any and every situation. Women are supposed to be supermoms and successful career women while keeping the house clean and their hair and make up perfect at all times.
But sometimes, in our furious attempts to be all things to all people, we fail to look after our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Sometimes we get our needs met by other people. But sometimes the only way to get our needs met is to go straight to God. In Matthew 11:28 (NIV) Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Basically, Jesus says, “Come to me when you have need something. I can look after it.” That’s what he said and I think he meant it.
Thomas finds himself in that situation. He knows that he needs proof that Jesus is alive. He knows that the testimony of the other disciples will not suffice. He acknowledges his need and he expresses it. “I can’t believe if I don’t see!” Thomas is not superman. He’s human – just like us – and we need to give him a break. Thomas’ plea is simply an honest cry of a man whose heart was broken after losing his friend. It is also the first step in getting past his doubt. He is realizes his need.
ASKING FOR WHAT WE NEED
Thomas recognizes his need. The second thing he does is to find the courage to ask for what he needs. Again he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Above all things, Thomas is reasonable. He wants some evidence that the resurrected Christ is real. Otherwise, how can anyone expect him to believe that which seems so unbelievable? And please note this. He is not asking anything weird. All he wants is what the others already have. It is a reasonable, measured request and the most important thing is that he finds the courage to ask for it.
How many times do you know that you need something but lack the courage to ask for it? Maybe you’re afraid that you will appear weak or stupid or less than perfect. Maybe asking for help will make you feel vulnerable and you really don’t like being vulnerable.
I want everyone here to know that it’s okay to ask for something if you need it. It’s okay for children to ask their parents for help with homework. It’s okay to ask your boss for a raise. It’s okay to ask the sales staff where the screws are at the Canadian Tire store because, otherwise, you’ll never find them. Men, it really is okay to ask for directions. Women, it’s okay to ask for some attention from your husband. It’s okay to ask each other for the things that we need and it’s okay to ask God for the stuff that only God can provide.
James 1:5 (NIV) says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” Ask. Matthew 7:7 (NIV) says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Ask. In John 14:14 (NIV) it says, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Ask. Are you getting it? I hope so.
Thomas’ statement is really a plea for help: “I need to have the evidence that Jesus really is alive. I need to see the nail marks. I need to put my finger in the holes. I need to see the scar in his side. Otherwise, how do you expect me to believe?” Not only does Thomas realize that he has a need, he also has the courage to ask for what he needs, trusting God to provide.
And the really interesting thing is that he is so very specific about what he needs. He needs to see the holes. He needs to place his finger where the nails were. He needs to place his hand in Jesus side. He knows what he needs and he isn’t afraid to ask for it.
Like Thomas, we sometimes need to be specific when we make a request to God. Someone might offer a prayer like this: “O God, I’m not feeling very good about things right now. Could you please help me?” Maybe a more productive prayer might be something like this: “O God, I’m feeling poorly about things right now about this whole pandemic thing. I’m sick of it. I’m tired of the constantly changing rules and guidelines. And I’m afraid for my family, especially for those who are risk. So please help me to keep a proper perspective and help me to be diligent about doing the things I need to do to keep me and my family safe. Don’t let my frustrations get the better of me doing the right things. And so I lay my burdens at your feet knowing that you will be faithful to meet all of my needs.”
We don’t need to be timid about our prayers. We should make them as specific as we can because God has an amazing ability to answer our prayers. And sometimes the main reason why our prayers often go unanswered is because too many of our prayers are left unsaid. Let God know what you need and trust him to provide.
There must come a point in the lives of all Christians where we realize that it’s okay to come before God with our needs and our requests. When we do, God is faithful and just and will supply our needs out of his infinite resources and grace.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is simply, “No.” But when that happens, it happens for a reason. God knows what the future holds. God knows the outcomes of our actions. God knows the direction of our desires. When God says, “No,” we have to trust that the one who sees the bigger picture has something better in store for us than we could ever imagine.
Was there anything wrong with Thomas asking God for what he needed? No. If fact, it is the second step in getting past his doubts.
ACCEPTING WHAT WE GET
The first thing that Thomas does is recognize his need. The second thing he does is to find the courage to take his need before God and ask for what is needed. The final thing that Thomas does is that he has the wisdom to recognize when his need is met. Sometimes, that’s the toughest task of all.
A week after Thomas made his request, the disciples are together once again. Note that it has been a whole week since Thomas made his request known. He was patient and waited for his prayer to be answered. He had to wait on God’s timing for this. But when the time is right, Jesus stands amongst them once again. Just as Thomas requested, Jesus shows him his hands and his side. Then in John 20:27 (NIV) he says, “Stop doubting and believe.”
It’s interesting that at that time, Thomas is so overwhelmed that he doesn’t even do what he said he would do. He doesn’t have to touch the nail marks. He doesn’t have to put his hand in the hole in Jesus’ side. Immediately upon simply seeing Jesus, he proclaims by faith in John 20:28 (NIV) by exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas’ needs have been met. He doesn’t need to touch Jesus. His presence and his words are more than enough. Thomas recognizes them for what they are, an answer to prayer, and he proclaims his love for Jesus and his belief in the resurrection.
It’s one thing to receive an answer to prayer. It’s quite something else to recognize it for what it is. Too often we are tempted to see answers to prayers as coincidences or happenstance. You ask God to calm our hearts made heavy by Covid-19 and it happens. Is that coincidence? Maybe you just finally put things into perspective and realize that there’s no sense worrying about something that you can’t do anything about? Or maybe, just maybe God has a hand in this and his Holy Spirit is reaching down into the dark places of your soul to give you peace. Please don’t discount the possibility. We need to be willing to recognize when God’s hand is at work answering our prayers and meeting our needs.
Thomas sees the evidence before him and he believes. But let’s be clear about something. He doesn’t have to believe. He could decide to respond differently. He could decide that he has seen a ghost or that his mind is playing tricks on him or that he has been drinking too much wine. He could put it down to illusion or an overactive imagination or even coincidence. But he doesn’t. He sees and he believes.
I should tell, you by the way, that I believe that the word ‘coincidence’ should be struck from the Christian lexicon. There are no coincidences for people who put their faith and their trust in Jesus Christ. There is only the actions of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In Romans 8:28 (NIV) it says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I believe that to be true. I believe that God is working through all things to bring about the abundant lives that he promised. You should believe it too. There are no coincidences for people of faith. And even if there were, I have always found it amazing how many so called coincidences happen after we present our needs to God in prayer.
Is Thomas able to overcome his doubt? You bet he is. In fact, he goes on to become one of the most dedicated of all the disciples. Most people don’t know this because they forget that Jesus’ followers did things that don’t appear in the Bible but are recorded elsewhere. Did you know that Thomas was the Apostle who, after Jesus was taken up into heaven, left the Holy Land and journeyed to India where he shared the Good News in a strange and foreign land? There he planted a Church and shared the Gospel of Christ. Can you imagine the surprise in the minds of the Catholic Jesuit missionaries in the early 16th century when they arrived in India to share the Gospel only to discover that someone had beat them to it? After establishing the Church on the west coast of India, Thomas then went to east coast. Unfortunately, he was martyred by a fanatic in 72 A.D. and buried in a tomb near Madras. That tomb is venerated to this day.
The Church that Thomas planted almost 2,000 years ago continues to live on in India. As the Church of St. Thomas, it serves as the spiritual home of 100,000’s of Christians in India. Hardly the work of a mere doubter.
Thomas learned a lesson in the room with the other Apostles that night. In realizing his need, in finding the courage to make his request before God, and in having the wisdom to recognize the answer to his prayer when it came, Thomas showed amazing faith which could only have grown more throughout the years. By realizing our own needs, by taking our requests before God and by recognizing the answers to our prayers when they come our way, we can learn to be just like him. And that would not be a bad thing to do. In fact, we could hardly do better than to seek to be just like Thomas.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, in this season of resurrection. We await the newness of life that you promise to us every day. How great you are and worthy to be praised. We your children come to you just as we are with all of our faults and foibles knowing that your love is unconditional. Speak to our hearts as we lift our prayers to you. Keep us mindful of those around us who need the blessing of your special touch.
We pray for the elected officials who govern our nation, whether they be at the local, provincial or federal level especially in this pandemic era. Public office is certainly very public but it can also be a very thankless job. Help us to support those who offer themselves for public office. May we be fair with them. May they be wise and discerning in their decisions for all of us.
We lift up in prayer the people of our congregation and community who are sick this week, either at home or in the hospital. We remember Gary, Richard, Angela, Mark, Pattie and Joan. Give them strength and purpose. Touch all of us with a special measure of you Healing and Holy Spirit.
Bless us with your Spirit. Clothe us in your truth. Bind us together by the power of your Spirit that we may walk as your people to share your Good News with every nation. We pray these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 11, 2021 / Easter 2
Psalm 133; John 20:19-31; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2
CALL TO WORSHIP
How wonderful it is when God’s people live in peace.
God’s love is like the anointing of a precious and holy oil.
It is like the fresh dew on an early morning hillside.
May God bless us in our worship.
May the Lord be glorified in our praise.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
We come to you, O God, in this season of resurrection. We await the newness of life that your promise to us every day. How great you are and worthy to be praised. We your children seek you presence in a new and refreshing way. Come fill our world. Come fill our lives. Come take our hands. Come walk with us. Fill us anew with your refreshing Spirit to renew and enliven our lives and ministries. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, creation shouts its praise for we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are renewed by the power of your love and lifted above the depths of our sinfulness. Forgive us when we fail to fully appreciate this most precious gift. Forgive us when we forget about you and what you have done for us. We hurt our neighbours. We destroy our enemies. We take from those who have less that we do and still complain that we do not have enough. Lift us above our self serving attitudes that we may give to others without counting the cost, the same way that you give to us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
There is no need to wallow in sin. By true and honest repentance, our sins are forgiven and we are blessed with the gift of life both here and forevermore.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
As you anoint our lives, O God, we ask you to anoint our offerings. There is so much that needs to be done and hardly enough to do it. By your hand, all things are possible. Bless our gifts in Jesus’ name. Amen.
New life bursts forth from the tomb. New hope springs eternal. We are blessed with new hopes and possibilities through faith in Christ. As we leave, let us remember that the Spirit is with us wherever we go. We are never alone. Thanks be to God.