Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”John 20:29
The disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25). Thomas walks in, hears this, and shakes his head. “No, you didn’t. I will not believe unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side” (John 20:25). Thomas is a doubter. I mean, how can he believe? Would you believe? Yes, Jesus did tell the disciples how everything would happen. He did tell the disciples that he would rise again in three days, but did any of them have any context as to how that would happen? Did they know what it really meant to be risen? Though they may have heard the prophesy, they may still not have known what to expect. We heard last week that all the disciples did not believe when Mary Magdalene and the others came running to tell them, at least until Peter himself had gone to the tomb to see for himself. But all he saw was the empty tomb, until the Lord appeared to him and to others later that evening.
Let me put it another way. If you walked in to the kitchen in the morning and your wife or husband or kids or whoever exclaimed to you, “I have seen the Lord!” what would your initial reaction be? Would it be, “Could you say that again?” “Wait what did you say?” “What do you mean?” Would you believe that the risen Christ had literally appeared there in your house if you had not been there to see it? Would you be a skeptic too? Perhaps now we understand why Thomas was a doubter. He receives a lot of criticism by commentators and scholars, because as Jesus himself later says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29). We are all Thomas’s in that week following the resurrection. Thomas went around while all the disciples said how wonderful it was that they had seen the Lord, and Jesus made Thomas wait a whole week until he appeared to the disciples a second time. We wait longer than a week. How do we find solace in the Resurrection without a physically present risen Lord?
First, as we have already noted, doubt is not surprising. Even Thomas had doubt, and he knew Jesus pretty well. Even the closest disciples of Jesus had trouble believing at times what Jesus was saying to them. When we do not have a physically present Lord as Thomas and the rest of the disciples did, to resolve their doubt, it is understandable. We live in a world where we often say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” In this case, Jesus is asking us to believe it before we see it, and that is an example of faith. It is, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “taking the first step even when you do not see the whole staircase.” We can find solace in the Resurrection without a physically present Lord first by recognizing our circumstances, and giving ourselves a little grace when we find a little bit of Thomas in each of us.
Second, we can find our solace in the words that have been left behind for us to read. When we read history books, especially when they are written by primary sources, we do not usually doubt what they say. A primary source is a source that is written by an eyewitness of the event. Secondary sources are slightly less reliable because they are a story of the events written by someone who did not actually witness the event being talked about. In research projects, there is a significantly higher value placed on primary sources because there is a lot less opportunity for the story to be twisted or misunderstood. We still have access to many resources on the Civil War, for example, including many primary sources. None of us were witness to these events, but do any of us assume that the events were made up? The life and resurrection of Jesus are a little earlier than this of course, but it is the same idea. We have plenty of primary sources who wrote down the gospels. We are given these gospels, as well as the letters which were written to early churches, as primary resources to give us an increased understanding about the mission and meaning of Jesus. Even John ended his gospel by stating the purpose of his writing: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Even though the Lord may not seem physically present to us all the time, we can be comforted that these words were written to share with others and future generations such as ourselves, so that we might be able to come to believe, so that we might be able to decrease our doubt and increase our faith little by little. When you find yourself struggling in your faith, take some time to read the Bible. We are so blessed with the opportunity to have so many copies at our fingertips; a blessing that people in Jesus’ day did not have.
Third, in addition to the signs and wonders recorded for us in the Bible, we can also witness several signs and wonders today. Have you ever seen a sign or wonder from God? The works of God are all around us, in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, in the scenery of a national park, or just in the quiet of your backyard as you watch animals interact with each other. Whether or not you have asked God for a sign, God often places them in our paths. Through our own experiences of God’s wonder or God’s signs, we can affirm our faith in a Resurrected Lord. Perhaps you were praying about an opportunity before you and a friend then suggested you should take it. Maybe you were thinking about traveling to a particular place and a book you are reading just happens to mention it. Or maybe you have witnessed to the presence of Jesus yourself by being healed when you were not expected to be healed. Perhaps someone prayed over you as Jesus would, and as his disciples did, and you were healed. We do not all experience the same kind of wonder, and things do not always go the way we want, but we can all experience some kind of wonder as a testimony to Christ’s presence in our lives, whatever that wonder might be. If you do not receive one particular wonder, you may receive another as a testament to Christ’s presence in your life. We only need to be open to seeing some things as God’s sign, wonder, and work, and not always chalking things up to circumstance or coincidence.
You may not feel right now that you can tell someone else, “We have seen the Lord!” But consider: have you seen the Lord in the face of someone else? Can you see the face of Jesus in the face of a person who cares for you, who forgives you, or even who you feel called to help? As long as we bear the title Christian, we are the face of the Lord here on this earth to others. We are the physical presence of Christ today because Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20). Just like you are the face of the company if you go on a trip to represent the company elsewhere, we are the face of Jesus here representing the brand elsewhere. If you drive a truck or a car with your company logo on the side, you are also representing that business. We are doing the same thing as Christians as we brand that name “Christian.” Through our actions and our words, we can help someone else to say, “We Have Seen the Lord!” Hopefully that is in a positive way, not a negative way, because we are taking care to represent that face well. And in the same way, we can in our own way say that we have seen the Lord when we see other people around us representing the same faith for us, especially when we are the ones who need a helping hand or a little encouragement. When you are down, perhaps because you cannot feel the Lord as the disciples couldn’t for awhile and as Thomas still couldn’t for a week more, you can see the Lord in the patience that someone else gives you in that moment as they take the time to listen or to just be with you, or to lend you that word of encouragement or helping hand. I highly doubt that the other disciples taunted Thomas about seeing the Lord; they may have talked about it a lot but they still loved Thomas and I am sure that they understood his doubts, having just had them themselves. Therefore, while Thomas was still waiting to see the Lord, while he did not have confidence in the risen, physical Lord, they still helped him see the face of God by being kind to him and by showing him that they understood how he felt.
The early disciples are our model for good Christian living. The text of the Bible is crucial for this as well. We can feel comforted about the doubts that we read which they felt, and we can also feel encouraged by the work they are able to do to surpass those feelings and fears. If the disciples are able to surpass those feelings and fears even amid their doubts, that must mean that we can surpass those feelings and fears just as they did. As we read in Acts 5:29, as an example, we read about how “Peter and the apostles answered [the high priest giving them orders not to preach in the name of Jesus], “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” We too, first obey God. And to obey God confidently and consistently, we must address our own roadblocks which may include doubt, we must read the Bible which was written to help us believe, and we must be open to God’s action shown to us and by us in our own lives. These three things can give us solace in the Resurrection without a physically present Lord: qualify our doubts, read what was written to help us believe, and be open to God’s action to us and by us for others. Today, we have seen the faith and doubt of the disciples in the week immediately following the Resurrection. They did not believe until they saw the tomb themselves; last week we read about Peter physically going to the tomb before he believed the news that the women shared with them, and this week we read about Thomas not believing in the Resurrected Lord until he could touch the wounds in his side and hand. But when they saw, they believed. We are then told that we do not need to see to believe. We can have faith anyway. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet come to believe” (John 20:29). That “coming to believe” signifies that we are not expected to do it all at once, but that we are coming to believe: it is a work in progress throughout all of our Christian lives. We can use the experience of the disciples, and even have more faith in what we have seen than they did. Now that we have learned from the faith and doubt of the disciples, we can address our own belief when we find it a struggle during the always tumultuous times that we live in. We will move forward in this struggle next week, but first, meet this challenge this week: Discover a wonder in your life – a person, place, or thing – where you can see the face of the Lord, and where you can truly exclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” May all glory and honor be to God! Thanks be to God. Amen.
5:27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them,
5:28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.
5:30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
5:32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
150:1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
150:2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
150:3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
150:4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
150:5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
150:6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.