I think when we read these accounts of the resurrected Jesus encountering Mary, the disciples, and then Thomas; we forget just how preposterous they are. The one-in-a-billion odds that what Mary first described to them actually happened. Even with the added witness accounts of the rest of the disciples, it is still more likely to be a case of a collective delusion. We forget this because we read with expectations: we expect the risen Jesus, we expect things to work out in the end, and we expect good things. Even if we have been brought up outside ‘Church‘, we still know some of the imagery around Easter because of: School assemblies, or Social Media.
Yet, if we were to strip away our all preconceptions and assumptions and try to imagine being present during those horrid events of Easter: When a Jewish teacher was innocently tortured, and, murdered for not sticking to the status-quo by both the religious and state authorities. If we place ourselves in that moment, as one in the crowd looking on three crosses, maybe we start to grasp that was all it seemed to be. Three crosses on which one hung an innocent man among two thieves, who by his own apparent arrogance or foolishness ended up being crucified. The moment may have alarmed us, but there would have been no sense of God working or of anything supernatural. Just another victim of religious and state persecution.
Everything in these events goes against what is normative or expected. Mary did not go to the tomb expecting to find it empty; Peter and John did not run because Jesus had come back sooner than they expected; the disciples were not in a room expecting him to appear. The Cross was the most unexpected work of God, and yet the most significant. Rutledge reminds us of this when she writes:
“The peculiarity of this beginning for a world-transforming faith is not sufficiently acknowledged. Too often, today’s Christians are lulled into thinking of their own faith as one of the religions, without realizing that the central claim of Christianity is oddly irreligious at its core.” 1
Today, as we consider Thomas I think we need to remember the irreligious nature of the Cross, that it was the most unlikely (and yet significant) act of God. Thomas, I think sometimes get a hard-wrap, as if he does not get the obvious. Remember that a week has passed, the 9 other disciples and the women have seen Jesus, Thomas has had nothing! wonderfully through soon he would, soon his eyes would behold the incarnation of beauty, and soon he would see that “the cross of Jesus is an unrepeatable event that calls all religion into question and establishes an altogether new foundation for faith, life, and a human future.” 2
As we consider the end of Chapter 20, I think it is important for us to wrestle with the significance of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus, and the lessons it implies for true disciples. Then, we will look at what Jesus speaks to us and all those generations who follow Thomas: why does it mean to be ‘blessed?’ Finally, we will consider John’s summary purpose for why he wrote this Gospel and what that means for us today.
1 – Thomas Encounters the Risen Jesus (24-28)
‘”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.”‘ – John 20:24-27 NIV
As we read, these verses, we need to remember that in the space of a few letters a week has passed in terms of the events being recorded. What a week it would have been for those who had been there the first time, you can imagine them trying to process their memories and wrestle with their emotions. I am sure they even wondered: “Did that Actually Happen?” I often find myself wondering as I read this passage what would you even do during that week: Did they stay in the room, or did they go a bit more confident that if Jesus is back from the dead, then maybe we will be okay?.
The Door Was Still Locked
There is such encouragement as we find ourselves in an almost identical scene for the second appearance of Jesus. This time to address Thomas, who in his pessimism or doubt, refuses to acknowledge what the others have witnessed. I do find it interesting the perception we build around Thomas in this encounter: ‘The Doubter,’ especially when you consider all that has just happened. Sometimes we do not seem to notice that the disciples who did witness Jesus are not portrayed that positively either – the door is still locked. Meaning although they believe he has risen they still fear for their lives. They have just witnessed the most miraculous events as he who was dead appeared amongst them as they feared their own death! An appearance that declared him sovereign over life and death.
Moreover, he appeared to them through a walls and locked doors, almost suggesting that there was nothing manmade that could stop him, you would think that having witnessed such power and authority that the one place the disciples would not be is in a locked room trying to convince Thomas that he has risen. That instead they would be out on the streets declaring: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’ and that that ministry and confidence would be proof enough for Thomas. Yet, they are not – they are right where Jesus left them. A reminder to us that the work of Christ in us takes time; that journeying with Jesus takes time, and we do not become the finished article the minute we encounter the resurrected Christ. This is the work of sanctification. However, most wonderfully, this passage is not about us, it is about Jesus who is patient to work at the pace we need to go at, and loving enough to meet us there.
The doors are locked because the disciples are still ruled by fear, they might now know the risen saviour, but they are still weighted down by a worldly fear. While there is no mention of a specific fear of the Jewish leaders, their shadow still hangs over the locked room. We see with the disciples and Thomas that the work of God in us through the Holy Spirit will take time. As we read this passage (and any biblical passage) let us remember the humanity of those who are being written about. Let us not hold them up as Superhuman or Super-Spiritual people we can learn from, but never compete with. Let us remember that all present in that room where just normal people – chosen not because there was something special about them, but because of they were the exact opposite of that – they where the bog-standard of society. They were just like you and me. At every moment we see the logic of the Kingdom of God at work.
So as we read, let us not think too harshly of Thomas or the disciples, let us instead see the wonder of Jesus and what it means to follow him. Our journey with Jesus takes time, we are not called to be the finished article simple to trust him and by the power of the Holy Spirit in us seek to live our lives with him.
The Saviour Still Appears
The door may have been locked, but Jesus still appears! The scene has again been set, as verse 25 tells us of the disciples’ attempt to convince Thomas what they have seen:
“We have seen the Lord!”
Thomas, however, is having none of it! I think his response summarises how most of us would react at that moment (if we are honest!). It is a response that portrays doubt but is also based in the cold hard reality of all that this man has endured. Think about the emotional turmoil of the two weeks this one man has had as he watched his mentor and friend go through: a sham trial, mocked by religious and secular authorities, beatings, torture. Then to top it all off – the crucifixion, the most gruesome and cruel of deaths that humanity could come up with. Would you be so easily swayed by the declarations of your friends, even if you loved and trusted them? Think of all that they are asking him to set aside as they tried to convince him.
Would you believe them? I think I would want to (who wouldn’t), but I do not think I could. I could not risk hoping again. When you consider all that Thomas had invested in Jesus over the years of following, the hope and trust, all of that (seemingly) lost as Jesus hung on a cross and life faded from him. Now, by declaring that Jesus has risen the disciples where asking Thomas to trust again, to hope in Christ. Thus, for me, Thomas responds in the way most of us would, he wants to be certain that his hope is not misplaced, he wants to be certain that it is Jesus. Thus, he declares:
“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.”
His demands soon meet their proof, as Jesus appears in a way that mirror’s his first appearance and speaks the same assurance: “Peace be with you!” Then turning his gaze to Thomas he responds to the evidential requirements of his reluctant disciples a he tells him to put his fingers into his scars, to gaze upon the marks on his hands. It is a “special word for Thomas, inviting him to exploit his sense of touch as well as sight, and incidentally revealing that he knew what Thomas had said to the others. Thomas’s resolute scepticism vanished; the evidence of eye and ear sufficed, and there was no need now to satisfy himself with probing fingers.” 3
Furthermore, It is a moment when we see yet more of the wonder of who Jesus is, and the grace he offers us as he calls us to follow him. Rather than rebuke Thomas for his stubbornness or doubt, he comes to him gently and in compassion. He meets him right where he is, to draw him where he wants him to be.
When you read through the Gospels, Thomas is presented as loyal, but somewhat stubborn or pessimistic. Jesus knows his disciples, and thus he speaks to his concerns (even though they were hyperbole) Jesus wants to assure Thomas that it is him. As if he is saying: “Thomas is okay to trust and hope in me again, I will never let you down .”
Jesus lovingly meets Thomas wherein all his glorious weakness, sin and doubt, as he implores him to: “Stop being faithless and believe!” (vs7 NLT). Words are spoken not in rebuke, but love. Wonderfully, what was true for Thomas and the disciples then is true for us today. Jesus reaches out to us; in all our doubt, sin and struggle and calls us to him! This is the wonder of confessing Jesus as Lord, we get to trust the one who defeated death and gives eternal life without life. We begin (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to grasp the beauty of his being sovereign over all things.
This peace that the disciples had glimpsed and would soon grasp (with the help of the Holy Spirit) is offered to all who come to Christ in need and knowledge of their sin and trust in him and the victory of the Cross. Thus, our question: what is our peace amid the storms of the world?
In this build-up to this moment, the disciples have been presented as stubborn and slow to believe ( v19 – 29). Thomas’ actions indicating the sheet effort Jesus had to use to convince his disciples. It is a reminder to us again of what Fleming Rutledge spoke of: “The peculiarity of this beginning.” The disciples where not men disposed to fake news or grand conspiracy theories. No, they where a group who would rather not believe. Yet, now despite their slowness to see they now believe, and soon will proclaim the hope of Christ crucified.
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”
– Tim Keller, The Reason For God.
2 – The Right Confession and Future Blessing (28-29)
“Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God! Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:28-29 NIV
Our passage (and perhaps this entire Gospel Account) now reaches it’s the climax, as Thomas is confronted with the resurrected King, who offers him all the evidence he sought (yet did not require). In a moment doubt is dispelled and hope found. Furthermore, Thomas displays a new courage, and renewed faith in his response:
“My Lord and My God.”
DA Carson notes here that the speed of Thomas’ unbelief being transformed into joyful faith is consistent with the other witness accounts.4 Carson further notes that this is not some kind of blasphemous profanity directed towards Jesus in shock, akin to us saying: “OH MY GOODNESS!… HOW ARE YOU ALIVE?” It is a confession of true faith, he has seen the resurrected Messiah and now he believes. Thus, Jesus immediately praises Thomas, and affirms his declaration with His response: “because you have seen me, you have believed;” (29)5 This is not a retort from Jesus, it is an acknowledgement, and best read as: “because you have seen me. You have believed (rightly that I am Lord).” Thomas’ expression of faith goes beyond what the disciples had previously spoken, and it affirms what John declared in his prologue to this Gospel, “The Word was God.” 6
The Blessing to Come (29)
Thomas’ confession of Christ as Lord seems to be presented for us as a collective declaration on behalf of all who are in the room with him. It is a declaration that seems to spark a process of through in Jesus’s head, as upon hearing it he speaks one last beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Who is Jesus talking about? Those who have not seen the Resurrected Messiah in a physical sense, yet have seen him. Those who have heard his good news and confessed him as Lord. Those who have been confronted by his beauty and confessed their sin.
This is the blessing to come! Seeing the beauty of the Cross and knowing the beauty of what Jesus achieved on it. If today, we truly follow him then we must grasped how blessed we are, that same blessing given to the disciples is received by those who God has called to himself. It is a privilege to have been elected to follow Christ, one that we must grasp and then live out. Perhaps today, we have heard of this man, and all that he has done and have been confronted the reality of the Cross. Perhaps today you sense the call of Jesus for the first time. If that is you, then take the step of faith and confess your sin and need of him, then receive his peace and blessing.
Furthermore, we see the impact that this statement of blessing had on the disciples, as Peter wrote later in his ministry. Pointing out to the churches that even though they had not seen Jesus literally, they had seen him because it was evident in their love of him. Thus, they too received the blessing that comes from knowing and following Jesus:
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:8-9
Our faith is not secondary because we have not laid eyes on Jesus, nor does it reduce who we are in Christ. Jesus is stating the reality of faith for all who would come to know him personally as Lord and King, whether before or after his ascension. We are all blessed, not by our own efforts, but through faith in Jesus. Carson captures it perfectly when he writes:
“The witness theme in the book has not been lost to view; later believers come to faith through the word of the earlier believers (17:20). Blessed, then, are those who cannot share Thomas’ experience of sight, but who, in part, because they read of Thomas’ experiences, come to share Thomas’ faith. For us, [me and you] faith comes not by sight, but from what is heard (or read!), and what is heard comes by the word (i.e. the declaration) of Christ (Romans 10:17). Indeed, that is why John himself has written, as he proceeds to make explicit.” 7
3 – A Books Purpose: Our Purpose (30 – 31)
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31 NIV
I love those words that Carson writes, this is why John (the author of this Gospel) wore: to make explicit the good news of Jesus, and so that the generations yet to come can gaze upon what their eyes could not behold.
Everything created has a purpose behind it; an artist wishes to convey some interpretation of beauty, a journalist wants to expose the truth, an author share an experience. Even perpetrators of fake news write with purpose: the desire to confuse or create mistrust. Everything has a purpose. Thus, John explicitly and honestly (in case we somehow had not grasped it already) tells us why he is writing: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There is also a lesson in the placing of this purpose statement. It is set within earshot of Thomas’ confession and the events of the Cross to make explicit that the pinnacle of John’s writing is the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. Everything builds to the Cross, then everything builds from the Cross. To grasp the purpose of Johns writing is to believe in the victory of the Cross and the vindication of the tomb.
This is the purpose behind this Gospel and the other three: that those who read it might gaze upon and come to know Jesus as Lord. These are not aimless writings; Historical rather than history-altering. They have one purpose: to convince you of the Lordship of Jesus and that he is the source of true life. As John writes to convince, the question that we must ask is do we read the scriptures to see more of Jesus, and know more of his life, or for some other reason? Only one of those will count.
Conclusion & Application
Peace be Still
Today, we looked at the third and final appearance of Jesus, an encounter that reminds us that Jesus understands our concerns and fears and meets us there. The Jesus who is strong and tender, and concerned enough for us, too speak into our concerns. Jesus knew the ‘demands’ of Thomas, and as he appeared he offered to meet them. Not out of spite, or malice; but in compassion and tenderness. In the same way, Jesus seeks to meet our concerns and fears. If we let him.
Life is overwhelming in normal times, we are perpetually at war with worry: finances, friends, relationships, jobs, and our future. Today every worry has been amplified by the tyranny of Covid-19, as we wait in our houses we are worried: every time we go out of our house to the shop, we worry that we might just catch something and bring it home. Then as we start to see glimpses of our post-Covid-normal we find ourselves worrying about so much more.
Yet, in this weight of worry there is a peace which calms all our fears – Jesus. To Thomas, he offered his wounds and hands in kindness, and to us he offers the same, to see him as he is: the suffering Messiah who knows our every worry, ache, and pain! The one who defeated death and offers true life, to all who will confess his Lordship. The one who rules overall, and while today Jesus might not speak directly to whatever we face, he offers us the same eternal peace. A peace grounded in the assurance that death has no victory, and with Him, eternity is secured. A peace that gives perspective to all our worries and fears, when we truly grasp it. My pray today is that you come to him in faith, and know the peace that passes all understanding.
When We See Him: We Confess Him As Lord
Thomas’ fears were dispelled in a moment, when Jesus stood before him he could do nothing but confess him as Lord and God. Thomas models for us the way to Christ, as he who once declared: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:5). Now in a moment he found the way. As Thomas confessed Christ as Lord, so we are called to do as we come to him.
The Lordship of Christ is not just a one-time confession that solves our biggest problem (sin). Leaving us free to live life as we please, where perhaps if we are feeling up to it we humour our apparent confession by saying a prayer. Maybe lifting our bible when we need a spiritual pick-me-up. Then heading to church twelve times a year. This is not Christianity. It may look like it, but it is a pale imitation of it! It is like mistaking a manakin for a man, the closer you get to it the more you realise how lifeless it is. To truly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and God, means we truly desire to make Christ Lord over every aspect of our life. Not out of moral piety or duty, not to earn something – no, because it is the best thing for us. He must become the purpose and orientation of our life because he is life. Thus, as we live with Him and for Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make us more like him, our lives (should) display his Lordship. Christ’s rule should be visible in every area of our life: Personal and Private; Family and Friends; Sacred and Secular. There are no boundaries or areas in our life to which Christ does not claim, and demand our obedience and fruit. And, we glad response with obedience because we know it is the best thing for us, and we know that we have received far more from him than we can ever give. That is grace. Grasping grace means that we willingly and gracefully give ourselves to Christ and his cause. A mouth that declares him Lord, must be matched by a heart that beats to his authority, and a life that displays his Glory.
We Have A Purpose
A Purposeful Book
Finally, we remember our purpose. John wrote this Gospel with the purpose of allowing people to find life in Christ. To frame it another way: The purpose of Johns Gospel was to record the eye witness accounts of those who interacted with Jesus Christ, so the Jesus Christ would be made known to generations yet to come. The disciples’ lives, their memories of Jesus our are witness to Jesus, and how we know him. The disciples’ purpose was to make Christ known, they did that as they proclaimed him during their earthly lives. They still do that today through their written miniseries.
We All Have a Purpose
God call’s his children not just to save them but to use them for his purpose. What a marvellous purpose it is: to bring Glory to his name! The purpose of John’s Gospel – to make Jesus known and point to him as the source of true life. Think about the disciples after Thomas’ confession. These where men whose lives had one focus and goal – to make Jesus known and to preach the Cross of Christ. They have seen him, and they lived for him, in fact, most of them died in pursuit of that purpose. Now, every call is different – yet, every call is the same: if we truly follow Jesus, then we are called to make Him known. Their purpose is our purpose. It does mean that every Christians purpose is to be a preacher, it means however if we are a teacher, Shop Assistant or Nuclear scientist Jesus is the focus of our lives, and we live and work in a way that brings Glory to his name. Our lives should display our faith, and make people want to know more about him. This is the purpose of all who come to Jesus. We find life, then seek to make life known!
Fulfilling our Purpose Today
Today, even in lockdown let us take a moment to consider in what way we can live to this purpose. It might be taking a moment out of our day to pray for someone, or perhaps calling that person we know to be weighed down by worry to offer them the peace of Christ. Maybe, it means changing how we act on social media, to model that Christ is Lord of our lives and to offer our hope subtly to those struggling for hope. Perhaps, even we are the only Christian in a locked-down house and those we live with need to be reminded of our confident hope in the one who is Lord over life and death. Perhaps, it might simply be stopping what we are doing now, picking up God’s word and reading it with the intention to see Jesus afresh, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and challenge us in some way, and to increase the Lordship of Christ over our lives. Whatever it is today may we truly known our purpose in him, and above all seek to make him the purpose of our lives.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Can we say that we are one of those who although they have not seen, they are blessed?
- How Central are the Cross of Jesus Christ to our faith and our understanding of what it means to follow him?
- What are some of the fears and frustrations that keep us from trusting the Lordship of Christ in our lives?
- What would we say is the purpose of our life? Do people know we follow Jesus, or would we have to tell them?
- What are some of the ways we can live our purpose today?
- from “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge ↩
- from “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge. ↩
- Bruce, F.F… The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar Commentary Series), 658, 1991. ↩
- Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar Commentary Series), 659, 1991. ↩
- FF Bruce, The Gospel of John, 9738 of 11737, Kindle edition. ↩
- Carson, Gospel of John. 660 ↩