John 20:24-29 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas was a commercial fisherman who grew up around the Sea of Galilee and Jesus called him to be a disciple. For three years Thomas followed Jesus.
I think Thomas may have been a late bloomer and a pessimist. I believe some of Jesus’ followers rejoiced and saw the glass half full, but Thomas saw it as half empty. He was full courage, yet possessed a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples heard about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas commented darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.
Later in the story, Thomas’ world fell apart. He ran for his life in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. On Good Friday he watched at a distance as they nailed Jesus to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. And as Jesus’ life drained away, so did Thomas’s hope and belief.
Thomas’ belief was about a relationship. His relationship with Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, so too did his relationship with Thomas. Thomas believed Jesus, he gave him his heart and his hope, and that belief couldn’t live beyond the grave. Unless, that is, Jesus lived beyond the grave, and that is so hard to fathom, that Thomas wanted proof before he handed his heart over to be burned again.
I believe Thomas spent Saturday in shock and then on Sunday (Easter) he spent the day away from his friends. If I can imagine seeing Thomas, I think he was feeling disillusioned, dazed, hurt, bitter — and probably lashing out. Finally on Monday morning, the disciples went looking for Thomas so they could share with him what had happened in his absence.
Here is what we all know happens next:
“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We lock the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. ‘Peace, Shalom,’ he says. Then he shows us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulls back his tunic and shows us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn’t weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!”
“I don’t believe it,” barks Thomas. “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. But he’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!”
Peter pleads with him. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”
Thomas is cold, with an edge in his voice that cuts like ice. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
But Thomas’s anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks — “Shalom, peace be with you.”
All the blood drains from Thomas’ face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of rancor or sarcasm, “Put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas recoils. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.
Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” as he is sometimes called, is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. “Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.
Jesus replies, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What happens to him? Doubting Thomas does not stay a doubter. When he sees the risen Jesus, all that Jesus has taught over the years now clicks in, and to his death Thomas is an outspoken advocate for his Lord. Church tradition tells us that he preaches in ancient Babylon, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where Iraq is today. He travels to Persia, present-day Iran, and continues to win disciples to the Christian faith. Finally, Thomas travels to the east coast of India, preaching relentlessly. He is killed near Mylapore about 72 AD, near present-day Madras. Tradition tells us that he is thrown into a pit, then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin.
He who had so fervently proclaimed his unbelief carried the Christian message of love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth in his generation.
Thomas clearly had fears and doubts. We all have doubts from time to time, that’s a normal part of living the life of faith, we shouldn’t begrudge Thomas for doubting. What Jesus longs for in this post-resurrection encounter with Thomas is that we all might believe in him by handing over our hearts and our hopes that he might bring them to the fullness of joy. That’s what living an Easter life is all about. That’s what Thomas wanted, he just needed to see it, touch it, experience it before he was willing to risk relationship again.
If we can live this Easter message then we can truly live with the glass half full.