Faces About the Cross: The Disciple Thomas
It’s a terrible name to give to a man.
Yet for 2000 years now people have called him “Doubting Thomas”. But is that really an accurate description of the man? I think not. Thomas may have been many things, but doubter is not one of them. Rather, he was a man who was never satisfied with easy answers or glib phrases. Thomas was not given to flights of foolish fancy, nor was he a sucker for sticky, sweet sentimentalism. Rather, he was a hard-eyed realist and a no-nonsense thinker. Thomas was, above all else, a man of instinctive loyalty, incisive wisdom, and incredible courage. That’s why I regard him as the patron saint of all those who have come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Mind you, he did not lightly or casually say: “He is risen.” He did not simply accept the word of others that the resurrection had occurred. No, he waited until he could be absolutely sure for himself. In essence, Thomas put Jesus to the test. He was saying: “Prove to me that you are the Lord.” And the great Good News of the Easter story is that Jesus responded to what I would call “the Thomas test” in an incredibly powerful way—and I believe that Jesus will respond to us in the same manner. Now in order to explain what I mean by that, I want us to look at Thomas before Calvary and Easter, during Calvary and Easter, and then after Calvary and Easter.
First, before Calvary and Easter.
We get a clear picture of the real Thomas in John 11. Here is what happened. Jesus had antagonized the religious leaders in Jerusalem with His teachings about God and His claims to be God. As a result, they tried to stone Him to death. But the Bible says: “… He escaped from their hands.” It was then that Jesus took His disciples on the lam, down to the Jordan River region in order to let the temperature of the opposition cool a bit. Shortly thereafter, word came that Lazarus, one of Jesus’ closest and dearest friends, was dying in the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany. Jesus told the disciples that He was going to return to Jerusalem to minister to Lazarus. The disciples protested—all, that is, but one. “Master”, they said, “That’s madness. You can’t go back there. We were lucky to get out of there alive. Let’s just stay here. Lots of people responding to you here. Don’t go back to Jerusalem.” Only one voice was raised in support of Jesus—Thomas. He said: “Let us also go that we might die with Him.” What a courageous thing to say! Thomas knew that there was a terrible risk in returning to Jerusalem, but still he had courage enough to say: “I will follow where Jesus leads, no matter the cost.”
I don’t know about you, but I need to hear a call to that kind of courageous commitment to Christ, even if the cost is high. Let me tell you what is true. In this country and in this world in the years that are ahead, the cost of our commitment is going to rise. Mark it down. In the years ahead, it is going to take great courage to be a Christian. If you can’t see that the battle lines between the world’s faith systems are being drawn deeper and deeper, if you can’t see that more Christians are being killed for their faith now than ever before, if you can’t see that the secularists are engaged in a ruthless campaign to drive the values of faith out of our national life, then maybe you need to pray for the wisdom of Thomas. You see, he saw the strength and power of the opposition, but he was willing to risk even his life for the sake of his Savior. He had courage enough to say: “I will follow where Jesus leads, no matter the cost.” May his courage be ours as well.
Now let’s look at Thomas during Calvary and Easter.
Let me ask you. What do you do when you’ve said: “Lord, I will die with you?” And then you stand there and watch them drive in the nails, affixing the Lord to the cross—what do you do then? What do you do but ache inside with a hurt that’s so deep you can’t even cry it out? What do you do but withdraw into yourself away from everybody else to nurse that agonizing pain. Little wonder then that Thomas was not with the other disciples when they first realized that Jesus was alive again. Where was Thomas? Well, we don’t really know. The Bible simply says that Thomas was not there.
Can’t you imagine him walking gloomily through the dark streets of Jerusalem, muttering sadly to himself: “I should have known this wouldn’t work. It was just too good to be true. Now He’s gone. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. It was horrible. I saw the nails in His hands. I saw the spear pierce His side. I heard Him cry out: ‘It is finished. ’ And He was right. It is finished. It’s over. He is dead.” Yes, can’t you see Thomas brooding in solitude, tears running down his cheeks, wanting only to be alone? So when the Risen Christ first appeared to His disciples, Thomas was not there. Thomas missed out because he dropped out.
What about us? How many great spiritual moments have we missed out on because we weren’t in church? Thomas had dropped out. He was absent. He missed seeing the Risen Christ because he was not there. Let me say to you with all the feeling I have in my heart: Please don’t let that happen to you. Please don’t drop out. Don’t lose your church. Don’t cut yourself off from the roots of faith. If you’re here, please stay here. If you’ve somehow dropped out or slipped away, or just gotten out of the habit, please come back. Or if you’ve never really gotten into the church, if you’ve never really gotten yourself right with God there is no better time than right now. We want you. We welcome you with open arms. More than that, God wants you, and welcomes you with open arms. Don’t miss the resurrection power and glory the Risen Christ wants to bring to your life both here and now and hereafter.
Now, let’s take a look at Thomas after Calvary and Easter.
After that first Easter Sunday, Peter and John found Thomas in Jerusalem, and they said to him: “We have seen the Lord.” Listen to the way Thomas responded. He said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in His side, I will not believe.” Can you understand how Thomas felt? Have you ever had something or someone you love more than anything else in the world suddenly yanked out of your life? When that happens, it’s not easy to love and hope again. The fact of the matter is that there are some wounds time just does not heal. I can understand how Thomas felt. I can understand why he would say: “I will not give myself to anyone again unless I can touch the nail prints in His hands and the spear wound in His side.” There’s something else I understand here. With those words, Thomas put Jesus Christ to the test.
And then there were seven days—seven long, hard days—of waiting. You know when you throw down the gauntlet and no one picks it up for seven days, when you put the Lord to the test and no answer comes for seven days, that’s a long wait. A lesser person would have given up. Not Thomas. He didn’t give up. He didn’t quit. No. We know that because on the eighth day, the Sunday after Easter, Thomas joined the other disciples in the Upper Room. At that point an amazing thing happened- something that makes the resurrection message of the Gospel so clear that no one here today can miss it. Jesus came back for Thomas. Let me say that again. Jesus came back for Thomas! Jesus entered that room, passed right by the other disciples, went straight to Thomas and said: “All right, my friend. Here I am. Here’s my hand. Put your finger here. Here, touch my side.” What would you have said then? What else was there to say but “My Lord and My God?”
I want to know what it is that you use to test the Lord. What do you say to Him? Do you say, “Lord, if you would heal my marriage, then I’ll stop disbelieving…” or “Lord, if you will make my husband well, then you will have my faithful allegiance…” or “Lord, if you will remove the doubt from my mind and give me the gift of faith, then I will serve you the rest of my days…” or “Lord, if You will give me an opportunity for a new kind of job where I could really invest myself, then I will follow You to the death…” or “Lord, if you will help me to learn to live with the grief that I feel in losing the one I love, then you will have my heart, soul, body and mind.” What for you is your “Thomas test”? Whatever it is, hold it in your mind right now, and on behalf of my Risen Christ, I want to speak to all of you Thomases here. I want you to know that our resurrected Christ comes to you just as He came to Thomas. And this Jesus says to you: “All right, if those are your terms, then to the glory of God I will meet them.”
Do you see what I am asking you to do? It may seem strange. It may seem different. You may be recoiling just a bit because you’ve heard people say that we are never to put the Lord to the test. I don’t buy that. Not for a moment. You see, I believe in a great death-defying, death-defeating, death-destroying God. I believe in a God who can meet every test, who can answer every prayer, who can overcome every obstacle, who can defeat every enemy. And I want to share that Lord with you. So I dare you to test Him. I dare you to say: “Lord, if you will do this, then you will have me forever.” If you accept my dare, then some time this week, I want you to let me know what test it is that you have placed before the Lord. You can do that by calling me or writing me a note. And then you and I are going to begin to pray about that test, and we’re going to see if Jesus Christ will meet your test the way He met Thomas’ test. But I do want to warn you of something. There’s a risk involved. You see, if the Risen Christ meets your test, then you’re going to have to give your life to Him—not just a part of it, all of it. You’re going to have to cry out with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
On this great Easter day, I want to tell you as honestly as I know how that death strikes no terror in my heart. I do not know what death will be like. I do not want death to come any time soon. I want to live a long time, and I want to try every single day to live to the glory of the Risen Christ. But I am not afraid to die, and when my time comes, be it soon or late, I will be ready. I can say that and mean it for one simple reason. On the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Thomas believed that. I believe that. I want you to believe it too. For then, there is nothing left to say but, “Jesus, You are my Lord and You are my God!”