For the Love of God, Volume 1/March 30
From Gospel Translations
Leviticus 1; John 20; Proverbs 17; Philippians 4
THOMAS GETS A LOT OF BAD PRESS—“Doubting Thomas,” we call him. Yet the reason he doubts that Jesus has risen from the dead may have more to do with the fact that he was not present when Jesus first appeared to the apostolic band (John 20:19-25). Is it entirely obvious that any of the others would have fared any better if they had been absent on the critical day?
Certainly Thomas does not lack courage. When Jesus purposes to return from Galilee to Judah to raise Lazarus from the dead, and the disciples, understanding the political climate, recognize how dangerous such a course of action will be, it is Thomas who quietly encourages his colleagues: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). On occasion Thomas articulates the question the entire band is wanting to ask. Thus, when Jesus insists he is going away, and that by now they really do know the way, Thomas is not just speaking for himself when he quietly protests, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:5).
But here in John 20, if he is the one caught out by his absence, at the second appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the apostolic band Thomas also triggers some dialogue of stellar importance. When Jesus shows up, through locked doors, he specifically turns to Thomas and displays the scars of his wounds: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (20:27). Thomas asks no further evidence. He erupts with one of the great christological confessions of the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).
Jesus responds with an utterance that illuminates the nature of Christian witness today: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Jesus here casts his shadow forward down the meadows of history, envisaging the countless millions who will trust him without ever having seen him in the flesh, without ever having traced out the scars on his hands, feet, and side. Their faith is not inferior. Indeed, in the peculiar providence of God, the report of Thomas’s experience is one of the things the Spirit of God will use to bring them to faith. Jesus graciously provides the visual and tangible evidence to the one, so that the written report of Thomas’s faith and confession will spur to conversion those who have access only to text. Both Thomas and his successors believe in Jesus and have life in his name (20:30-31).