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The Man Who Called A Spade A Spade

John 20:24-31

It’s a terrible name to give a man! Yet for 2,000 years the name has been repeated so frequently that it almost seems to be his first and last name. I refer to the one who is called “Doubting Thomas.” But is that an accurate description of the man? I think not. Call him a hard-eyed realist, yes. Call him a straightforward, no-nonsense thinker, by all means. Or call him what I call him: “The man who called a spade a spade.” But for heaven’s sake, let’s stop calling him “Doubting Thomas.”

You see, Thomas was a rugged realist. He was a man in touch with reality. He was not satisfied with easy words and glib phrases. He was not given to flights of foolish fancy, nor was he a sucker for sticky-sweet sentimentalism. He was not the first to say: “Jesus is risen.” He waited. He was determined to be sure for himself. He put Jesus Christ to the test. He said: “Prove to me that Jesus Christ is alive. I am not going to believe it unless I see the scars myself.”

Eight days after the resurrection, the disciples, including Thomas, were in the Upper Room, behind locked doors. An amazing thing happened—something which makes the whole Gospel message so clear that no one can miss it. Jesus came to that room looking for Thomas. He passed right by the others and went straight to Thomas and said: “All right, my friend, here I am. Now here’s my hand. Put your finger right in the scar. Give me your hand. Feel the scar on my side.” What would you have said then? What would you have done other than simply to look at Him and to catch the warmth of those eyes and to feel the tenderness of His spirit? What else was there to say but to cry out in faith: “My Lord and my God.” That’s what Thomas did—and by so doing, he taught us much about the basic elements of faith. I’ll show you what I mean…

The first thing we learn from Thomas is that faith is having a conviction about Jesus Christ.

Faith is not blind, emotional, irrational assent to something. It’s not like falling in a dark hole. It’s not like stumbling along a shadowed alley. Faith begins by taking hold of something objective, something tangible, something definite. When Thomas reached out and touched the scars in the Master’s hand, that was definite—that was concrete—that was certain. And out of the certainty came the conviction.

The Gospels were written to give us the same sense of certainty. John, in this passage, says that he has written his Gospel in order that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ. He says: “I’ve written twenty chapters in order to build this conviction in you. I have shown you Jesus in public and in private. I have shown Him in good times and in bad times. I’ve shown you His miracles. I’ve recorded His teachings. I’ve shown you how He lived and how He died. Every word He said, every deed He did, every relationship He established was God-motivated. He was not a fake. He really did live as described. No one else can make that claim. Therefore, believe.”

I remember talking with a university professor whose intellectual brilliance had turned him away from faith. He said to me: “Why believe in Christ, one 30-year-old man, 2,000 years ago, when there are so many other ideas and faith systems in the world?” I said to him: “If you were to take every professor from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, if you were to take every member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and if you were to place them all in the same room and give them a year to work, could they come up with the Sermon on the Mount? Could they write a prayer like the Lord’s Prayer? Could they compose a parable like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan? In other words, in all of the wisdom of our twentieth century, do we have the uniqueness of that simple Galilean carpenter?

“Or,” I said, “take all of the great leaders of our day—the political leaders, the business leaders, the military leaders, the whole works—and put them in a room where they are about to face their death. Do you really think that you could find someone today who would die like Jesus Christ—with His courage, His commitment, His obedience and His love? In other words, can you find anyone who has ever lived or died as Jesus did? Has anyone appeared with as profound a contact with God and with as consistent an exhibition of love as Jesus?”

Now I have done a lot of looking in my life, and I’m not through looking yet. I have read untold numbers of books and I have been open to anything or anyone with conflicting testimony. And I’m going to keep on looking. But the fact is that after all these years of searching, I haven’t found anyone to compare to Jesus. I haven’t found anyone whose grasp of God and the issues of life, whose understanding of what’s important and what we are to seek first in life, can begin to compare with Jesus. Oh, He doesn’t tell me more than anybody about geography, or science, or history. He’s not really my expert on literature. But He is my expert on life and what life is all about and how best to live and how best to die. There has never been anyone to compare with Him, and the people who got close to Him knew that. They knew He was out of their league. They knew that He was completely beyond them.

And that’s where faith begins. It says: “I have looked at His life. I have seen and heard. I have examined it closely. I have read it line by line. That life was unique upon the face of the earth. There is no explanation for that save that He was the Son of God. He came here as God’s Messiah. No other explanation fits.” If you look at the life of Jesus with any intellectual honesty at all, that is the conviction which will build within you. And that is the beginning of faith. That’s what happened to Thomas.

But the second thing we learn from Thomas is that faith is having a confidence in Jesus Christ.

You see, anyone can acknowledge that He was unique. Even the devil can do that, for heaven’s sake! So faith involves more than assent—it involves trust. In addition to conceding that Jesus Christ is uniquely the Son of God, we must also believe in Him. Literally, the preposition could be translated, “we believe upon Him”—that is to say, the facts about Jesus become the foundation upon which we are willing to build our lives. Now we begin to say: “Well, if He was like that, then why don’t I take my bearings in life from Him? Why don’t I begin to take seriously His claim upon my life? Why don’t I begin to bet on Him to lead me into the future? If He was in fact the Son of God, if He was in fact unique in every way, how can I not have confidence in Him?”

Today there is a low credibility rating for our public figures. The President’s ratings have slipped drastically. Why? Because people feel that there may not be consistency between what is said and what is done. But the President is not alone. Polls indicate that confidence in Congress is down in the 20-30% range. Confidence in university presidents is quite low. Confidence in doctors is a little higher but not too high. Even confidence in ministers is rather low. And that lack of confidence is based upon the simple fact that there is not enough consistency between what those who lead us say and what they do.

But that isn’t true of Jesus Christ. There is not the slightest divergence between what He says and what He does. That day in the Upper Room, when Thomas put his fingers into the scars, he realized that that was true. So he cried out: “My Lord and my God.” In other words, Thomas had confidence in Him. Thomas was ready to wager his life and his future upon Jesus Christ. His confidence in the Master was firm.

Remember, please, that the future is the one thing we can never escape. We might say that “tomorrow is going to be exactly like yesterday.” We might say that “life goes on, it’s always the same; que sera, sera; what will be will be.” But that is not true. The future is full of surprises. We cannot imagine what tomorrow is going to bring. Therefore, the deepest question we can ask is: Whom are we going to trust? In whom are we going to have confidence? Are we going to face the future blindly? Or are we going to put our hand into His and walk together into God’s unknown? Like the old song says: “We’ve got to trust and obey.” We’ve got to build our lives upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ. That’s what Thomas did.

Then the third thing we learn from Thomas is that faith is making a commitment to Jesus Christ.

By that, I mean that we can have confidence in a lot of things, but commitment takes it all a crucial step forward. Commitment has in it not only the element of trust, but also the element of surrender. It has in it not only a favorable attitude toward Christ, but it has in it a willingness to submit to Christ. “My Lord and my God” says not only that “I will make Him mine”, but also “I will give Him complete control.”

I see so many people who seem to believe that faith in Jesus Christ is one of life’s little extras, another line for the resume’, a matter of convenience, a pleasant bit of lagniappe for life’s journey. I talk to so many people who say they want to have a balanced approach to life—they want to take all that we can learn from science, and sociology, all that we can learn from family and culture, all that we can learn from history and environment, and then add in a little dollop of what Christ can teach us—and they think that that is the answer to a balanced life.

Thomas knew better. He was a realist. He called a spade a spade. He pulled no punches. He knew life had a hard edge. And that day as Thomas stood there with his fingers touching the scars in Jesus’ hands, he said: “Lord, I am going to surrender myself completely to you. I am going to follow you through thick or thin.” Now I want to tell you that I believe that that was a great moment for Jesus. You see, during His ministry, many people had come to the conviction that He was unique. They had eaten His bread when He fed the 5,000. They had drunk deeply of the living waters of His teaching. They had confidence in Him and in His ability to deliver them. The Palm Sunday Hosanna was a chant of confidence: “You can do it, Jesus! You’re the one!” Then came the cross—and suddenly it was clear that the people who had a conviction about Jesus and a confidence in Jesus, had not made a commitment to Jesus. They had not said: “I will cling to Christ through thick and thin.” It was only: “I will go with Christ so long as He suits me.” You see, an appreciation for Christ and an attachment to Christ must go hand-in-hand. You have to burn all of your other bridges. You have to cross the Rubicon of the spirit. You have to be willing to say with Thomas: “I am going to live under orders. I am going to do what Jesus tells me to do in life. I am going to submit and surrender my will to His. He is my Lord and my God.”

Perhaps this story will say it for me…

Out of the history of the proud state of Georgia, there came a time, some years after the Civil War, when General John B. Gordon was a candidate for the Congress of the United States. In those days, representatives to Congress were elected, not by a public referendum, but by a vote of the State Legislature. On the appointed day, the legislators in the state of Georgia filed into the statehouse Assembly Room and there prepared to cast their votes on the appointment of General Gordon. One of the legislators was an old colleague of the General who had fought beside him during the war. However, for some reason, this particular legislator had come to a negative verdict and he had worked to line up enough votes against the General to cast the appointment in doubt. He was ready to vote against his brave leader and to encourage others to do the same. As they approached his name in the roll call and as he was preparing to cast his “No” vote, something happened. It was in the late afternoon and a shaft of sunlight suddenly came streaming through the window and fell directly upon the spot where General Gordon was seated. That sudden bright light, playing upon the face of General Gordon, revealed there a deep, jagged scar, mute testimony to the valor of the brave old soldier. When the legislator’s name was called, he stood and in a voice choked with emotion, he said: “I cannot vote against him. I had forgotten the scar.”

Do you see what happened? The scar was there for everybody to see. It meant that in battle, he did not flinch. It meant that in danger, he did not run. It meant that in tough times, he stood firm. It meant that he had shed blood in the service of his country. That legislator had a conviction about the General—he knew he had been a great leader in the war. And he had confidence in the General—he knew you could always depend on him. But that wasn’t enough. It took seeing the scar to lead him to make a commitment—to lead him to say: “I will say ‘yes’ to him even if it means saying ‘no’ to everybody else.”

In that incident, only at the human level, we begin to see a little bit of what it is like for us to be confronted with Jesus Christ, to see Him stretching out His hands to us, to see His life and His death and to realize what He has done for us—and in that moment, from the deepest places of our hearts, we remember Thomas and we whisper:

“I cannot vote against Him; I had forgotten the scar.”

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