Encounters with Christ – A Skeptic Sees

Grace For The Journey

Most of us know Thomas as, “Doubting Thomas.”  That is how he is often described, the one who doubted that Jesus had risen from the grave.  Doubting Thomas.  And he is often depicted in contemporary preaching as a gloomy sort of fellow, a bit of a pessimist, a “Glass half-empty” type of person.  When I first studied Thomas, I thought he came across a bit like Eeyore, the sad donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh books.  He seems, at times, to come across as a bit negative, like in John 11 where Jesus is going down to raise Lazarus from the dead and the disciples warn Jesus that the unbelieving Jews will be there and they might try to stone Him, and Thomas says, “Let’s go with Him so that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).  You could read it that way and it sounds kind of negative, expecting the worst!  A pessimist.  Someone said a pessimist is a person who feels bad when he feels good for fear he will feel worse when he feels better.  A pessimist slows down for the green lights expecting them to turn red!

But . . .

I now think of Thomas as not so much a pessimist,

But

As the guy who says out loud what others are thinking.

There are some people who are actually good to have around because they say things that others won’t say themselves.  If they do not understand something, they will ask. Many of my school teachers used to say, “The only dumb question is the one that isn’t asked,” but I was still kind of afraid to ask anyway so I was always grateful for the guy who had less pride and just piped-up all the time.  I think of Thomas that way.

Like in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel.  Jesus is speaking of His approaching death. Jesus says, “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”  And Jesus goes on to say to His disciples, “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  And I am guessing many of the disciples were scratching their heads, but afraid to say anything, so Thomas pipes-up.  He says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going and how can we know the way?”

You know I am really glad Thomas asked that question!  Because Jesus answers in the next verse, that classic verse that so many of us love and cherish, that theological precise verse, John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  If you like that verse, you have Thomas largely to thank for it!  He is the guy who says out loud what everyone else is thinking.

So, in the 20th chapter here he is again thinking, questioning, and considering what he has heard about the risen Christ Jesus.  What he does not know is that Jesus is preparing for a very special up-close-and personal encounter with Thomas.

I shaped my thinking of this passage around three words.  Each word serves as a picture or illustration of Thomas’ actions.  So, let’s study the verses using these three pictures and then I’d like to give a few take-home truths by way of application.

First, let’s check out these pictures . . .

The first word is isolation. Thomas illustrates what I call:

Spiritual Isolation – Verse 24.

What I mean by that is verse 24 tells us Thomas is absent.  He is not with the others when Jesus appears to them that Sunday evening.  Verse 24 says, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”  As I thought about these words I asked, “Where was Thomas?  Why was he not there?  Isn’t it odd that everyone else was gathered together, but not Thomas?”  Was it sorrow?  Was he depressed?  Things had not seemed to turn out the way he had envisioned, what with Jesus’ death upon the cross.  And while the Bible does not tell us precisely why Thomas is absent, his isolation serves as a bit of a warning to us of what may happen when we withdraw from fellowship.

God created us for relationship with others.  The gathered church is the gathering together of brothers and sisters in a family of faith.  The Christian faith is a “one another” faith.  Christians love one another, serve one another, encourage one another, and pray for one another.

When we withdraw from the fellowship of others, we miss the blessing of being with one another.  And if we are, in fact, shouldering a burden or struggling with something, our isolation may lead us to fall into even deeper despair.

The next word is hesitation.

Spiritual Hesitation – Verses 25-27.

Thomas is not ready to believe what he is being told about the risen Lord.  Verse 25 states, “The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” 

From this verse it is probably more correct to identify Thomas not as “Doubting Thomas,” but simply as, “Unbelieving Thomas.”  Thomas is simply an unbeliever.  He will not believe.  He will not accept as true the testimony of believers.

Incidentally, Thomas’ hesitation to believe illustrates that the disciples were not a bunch of gullible men who were easily tricked into believing fanciful notions of the supernatural.  They were not foolish people willing to believe just anything.  They were like you and me.  They were serious, sober, and thoughtful people.

Thomas’s problem was that he was not there when Jesus had appeared.  And when the others told him about seeing Jesus, he just refused to believe their testimony.  He was a classic unbeliever.  He lays out the conditions that must be met before he commits.  He says, “Unless I see His hands myself, and the print of the nails, and not just that – but I want to put my finger into the print of the nails and, put my hand into His side where the sword had pierced Him – unless this happens I will not believe.”  It’s a strong statement. In the original the grammar is a double negative, something like, “No, I will not believe,” No way, José!

So a week goes by.  And give Thomas credit because this time he is gathered together with the other disciples.  He had learned from his isolation.  He was not going to miss this time. Verse 26 says, “And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!

So here they are the following Sunday and Jesus appears again.  The doors had been shut, but there He is!  Whether He passed through the doors or the doors unlocked for Him as He entered the place, the text does not say.  But there He is!  And He says the same thing to them that He had said the previous Sunday, “Peace to you!”

Now notice what verse 27 points out, “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’”  Did you notice that Jesus spoke to Thomas the same words that Thomas had spoken to the disciples?  Thomas had said, “Unless I see His hand and put my finger there and reach into HIs side,” and here is Jesus saying, “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; reach your hand here, and put it into my side.”

Jesus had heard what Thomas had said.  The previous week when Thomas missed Jesus and started laying out the conditions for his believing, “Unless I see his hands,” and so on, Jesus was not there but He had heard what Thomas said.  You see Jesus is all-knowing and everywhere present.  He is all-knowing (omniscient) and He is all-present (omnipresent).  The reason of course is because Jesus is God, He is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere present).  God in Christ.  Jesus addresses Thomas’ spiritual hesitation.  He says at the end of verse 27, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Isolation. Hesitation. And now: Transformation:

Spiritual Transformation – Verse 28-29).

Verse 28 says, “And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”  We may have expected Thomas to make personal examination as Jesus invited him to do, but he does not.  He simply says, “My Lord and my God!”  Maybe you have seen that fantastic painting by Caravaggio, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” where Thomas is, in fact, sticking his finger into the side of Jesus as he confirms what he sees.  But the Bible indicates Thomas needed no such confirmation.  

This is one of the greatest and grandest

Confessions of faith in the Gospels.

This declaration by Thomas, “My Lord and My God” show us that Thomas is no longer unbelieving, but believing.  He does not say, “The Lord and God,” but, “My Lord and my God!”  It’s personal.  He has changed.  This is transformation. 

And note that Jesus accepts these divine titles.  He does not reprimand Thomas and tell him, “Don’t call Me Lord and God!”  Why not?  Because He is Lord and God.

Verse 29 states, “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”  Jesus says, “You have seen Me and that is why you believe. But those who have not seen Me and yet have believed – they are blessed.”  Peter echoes this thinking in 1 Peter 1:8, where Peter refers to Jesus Christ as the One “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,”

Isolation. Hesitation. Transformation.  The skeptic who would not see, now sees.

There are at least four take-aways from this passage, four take-home truths that surface from a straightforward study of these verses. The first is . . .

1) Confessing Christ is our Greatest Need.

John’s entire purpose in writing this gospel is that all readers come to confess Jesus as their Lord and God in the same way that Thomas did.  Look at the two verses that follow the narrative, verses 30 and 31 there at the end – John writes, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John’s entire Gospel was written with that aim in mind, that people would confess Him as Lord and Savior, as the very Son of God.  You see this throughout the Book.

  • Chapter 1, John the Baptist says in John 1:34, “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
  • And Nathanael says to Jesus in John 1:49, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!”
  • Chapter 6, Peter says to Jesus in John 6:69, “We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Chapter 9, Jesus asks the blind man, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” and he replies in John 9:38, “Lord, I believe!” and he worshiped Him.
  • Chapter 11, Martha says to Jesus in John 11:27, “Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
  • And again Thomas here in verse 28, “My Lord and my God!”

John stresses that confessing Christ is our greatest need in life.  

  • Far more important than whom you will date or marry is whether you are wed to Christ.
  •  Far more important than your career or worldly success is whether you are saved.
  • Far more important than anything else you will do in this lifetime is whether you confess Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, God over your life.

Can you say with Thomas, “My Lord,” not the Lord, but “My Lord and my God?”  Is Jesus Christ “Number One” of your life?  Confessing Christ is your greatest need.

And confessing Christ is the greatest need of our family, and our friends, and our neighbors.  Is your family saved?  Is everyone a believer?  What of your friends and co-workers?  If we really believe – along with John – that confessing Christ is our greatest need and the greatest need of others, then we will talk to others about Him this week.

Studies have revealed that people are most likely to respond to a personal invitation . . . That should encourage you!  Invite someone … Because confessing Christ is our greatest need.

Here’s the second take-home truth . . .

2) We’re Blessed by Believing, Not Seeing.

We may think that being with Jesus as one of the 12 disciples would have been such a blessing!  And it would have.  I mean seeing the resurrected Christ 2,000 years ago must have really been something.  But I like the statement that Jesus makes in verse 29, “Thomas you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those (and the idea is, ‘More Blessed are those’) who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Believing in Jesus is far greater than actually seeing Jesus.

Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5?  He said in verse 7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”  We see with spiritual eyes, not physical eyes.  Our physical eyes will one day no longer be of use.  In fact, with each passing day, our physical eyes grow weaker.  I am at that point in life where I am struggling with both far and near vision!  And one day my physical eyes will completely be useless.  But our spiritual eyes are for eternity.  We see with spiritual eyes.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  

Jesus says, “Blessed are those,” – not, “Blessed are those who have seen Jesus physically today;” not, “Blessed are those who witness Jesus’ re-appearing to them today in a special way” not, “Blessed are those who have seen Jesus in a dream, or in the clouds, or who have seen an angel, or who have witnessed a miracle of some kind” – but simply, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We are blessed by believing, not seeing.  If you are demanding that Jesus perform some kind of special miracle for you before you surrender your life to Him, you are missing it.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  You will not be saved by some special extra revelation, some physical miracle that you demand to see.  In fact, Jesus warns in Matthew 24:24, “There will be false Christs and false prophets who with signs and wonders will deceive you.”  You already have the testimony of others in this book, in the Bible.  You must believe the record of the testimony of others in the Bible or you will not be saved.  As Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

If you are already a believer, remember you walk by faith.  We do not always know why things happen as they do.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.  As Charles Spurgeon said, “When we cannot trace God’s hand, we can trust God’s heart.”

Confessing Christ is our greatest need. We’re blessed by believing, not seeing. Thirdly . . .

3) An Encounter with Christ brings Peace.

I am struck by the fact that on both occasions in Chapter 20 where Jesus appears to the disciples that He greets them by saying, “Peace to you!”  It is not just a greeting, but a reminder that an encounter with Christ brings peace – peace with God and peace with others.

Paul says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Do you want peace with God?  Do you want your sins forgiven?  Do you want to experience real, lasting joy?  Do you want power to overcome and live?  Do you want heaven and Jesus too?!  Do you want peace with others – Peace in your family; peace in your marriage?  An encounter with Christ brings peace.

And what makes that peaceful encounter possible?  What is it that makes an encounter with God Himself possible?  The fourth and final truth tells us . . .

4) His Scars Make the Encounter Possible.

Unlike any other Gospel writer, the Apostle John writes about the scars of Christ.  He draws attention to the scars upon Jesus’ hands where the nails were driven through, and the scar on His side where a Roman soldier stabbed Him to verify He had died.  Though Jesus appears before the disciples in His resurrected and glorified body, He still has the scars.  And we may wonder why?

To best answer that question, let me share about an incident of a couple who were caught outside in a horrendous hailstorm.  It was one of those hailstorms where the hail was literally the size of baseballs.  This couple was caught in the hailstorm and there was nowhere to take shelter.  The husband, being the protector and provider, instinctively began to protect his wife.  He covered her with his own body, keeping the storm from falling upon her.  The hailstones were huge and the man just lay over his wife while the stones beat upon him.  After a few minutes of this, his ears started to bleed and there were spots on his head.  The man tried in vain to lead his wife to shelter, but the pounding of the storm kept him from moving and eventually all he could do was just collapse upon her, shielding her from the danger of the hailstones.

When the storm was over the man had scars from those hailstones.  The cuts and abrasions were lasting reminders of the day his wife was saved.  When his wife was asked how she felt about the experience she said, “Every time I look at those scars, on his head, on his neck, and on his ear, I love him more … I love him more because he sacrificed himself for me.”

Jesus Christ willingly placed Himself between God’s wrath and us.  He took upon Himself the beating, the punishment that you and I deserved for our sin.  In His love for us, He placed Himself over us, protecting us, and shielding us from all that wrath that He took upon Himself.

And on His body, Jesus bears the scars, the evidence of His love for us, the eternal reminders of what He did for you and me.  And every time we think about those scars – and one day when, like Thomas – we will see those scars up close and personal we will love Him all the more.  And we will love Him because He first loved us.

His scars make the encounter possible.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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