May 21 – Beyond Doubt to Hope (Thomas)

The twelve apostles included “Thomas” (Matt. 10:3).

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Jesus can replace your doubts with hope.

When Jesus was crucified, Thomas was shattered. He loved Jesus deeply and wanted always to be with Him. He’d even been willing to die with Him, but now his greatest fear had been realized: Jesus was gone.

Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection. John 20:25 says, “The other disciples therefore were saying to [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” Thomas was emotionally spent and was unwilling to subject himself to any further pain. So he retreated behind a wall of empiricism, saying in effect, “I’m not going to believe this on your word alone. I need proof! I must see Jesus myself.”

Because of that, people have labeled him “Doubting Thomas,” but remember, none of the disciples believed the resurrection until Jesus appeared to them. Thomas wasn’t a compulsive doubter—he was a loving pessimist.

As it turned out, Thomas didn’t need as much proof as he thought. When Jesus finally appeared to him and invited him to touch His hands and side, Thomas didn’t do either. Instead he immediately cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28)—which is the greatest single confession of faith ever made.

Thomas struggled with doubt because he didn’t understand what Jesus had said about His own death and resurrection, and he wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. He failed to understand God’s Word and forsook the company of believers—two common mistakes that can lead to doubt.

Jesus doesn’t condemn you when you have doubts. Instead, He gives you His Spirit, His Word, and the fellowship of His people to encourage and strengthen you. So, commune with the Spirit in prayer, know the Word well, and never forsake the fellowship of believers. That’s how to change your doubts into hope!

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the presence of His Spirit, the power of His Word, and the fellowship of His people.

For Further Study: Read Luke 24:13–35. ✧ Why didn’t the two disciples recognize Jesus? ✧ How did Jesus change their doubts to hope?[1]


Thomas

Probably since the first century, Thomns has been known primarily, if not almost exclusively, for his doubt; and “doubting Thomas” has long been an epithet for skeptics. But a careful look at the gospel accounts reveals this disciple was a man of great faith and dedication.

As with several other apostles, all that is known of him besides his name is found in John’s gospel. While Jesus was ministering on the other side of the Jordan River near Jericho, the report came that Lazarus had died. On hearing the news, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him” (John 11:15). Even after witnessing so many miracles, including the raising of the dead, the twelve were still lacking in faith, and Jesus determined to perform this last great miracle for their benefit. He had already decided to go back to Judea, despite reminders by the disciples that it would cost His life (vv. 7–8). Because Bethany was a near suburb of Jerusalem, for Jesus to go there was almost as dangerous as His going into Jerusalem. Fully realizing the danger for all of them, “Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him’ ” (v. 16).

Thomas, and doubtlessly the other disciples as well, believed that, because of the hostility of the Jewish establishment, going to Jerusalem would be virtual suicide. But he took the initiative to encourage the twelve to go with Jesus and suffer the consequences with Him. He was obviously pessimistic about the outcome of the trip, but the pessimism makes his act all the more courageous. As a pessimist, he expected the worst possible consequences; yet he was willing to go. An optimist would have needed less courage, because he would have expected less danger. Thomas was willing to pay the ultimate price for the sake of His Lord.

Such unreserved willingness to die for Christ was hardly the mark of a doubter. Thomas was willing to die for Christ because he totally believed in Him. Thomas was perhaps equalled only by John in his utter and unwavering devotion to Jesus. He had such an intense love for the Lord that he could not endure existence without Him. If Jesus was determined to go to jerusalem and certain death, so was Thomas, because the alternative of living without Him was unthinkable.

Herbert Lockyet has commented: “Like those brave knights in attendance upon the blind King John of Bohemia who rode into the battle of Crécy with their bridles intertwined with that of their master, resolved to share his fate, whatever it might be … so Thomas, come life, come death, was resolved not to forsake his Lord, seeing he was bound to Him by a deep and enthusiastic love” (All the Apostles of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972], p. 178)

Thomas had no illusions. He saw the jaws of death and did not flinch. He would rather face death than face disloyalty to Christ.

In the Upper Room following the Last Supper, Jesus urged the disciples not to be troubled in heart and assured them that He was going to prepare a heavenly place for them and would come again and receive them to Himself, in order that they might forever be with Him. He then said, “And you know the way where I am going” (John 14:1–4). Puzzled at this, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (v. 5).

Only a few days earlier Thomas had declared his determination to die with Christ if necessary. His devotion to Christ was unqualified, but like the other disciples he had almost no understanding of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, for which his Master had been preparing him for three years. Thomas had little comprehension of what Jesus had just said, apparently assuming Jesus was only talking about taking a long journey to a distant country. He was bewildered, saddened, and anxious. Again the disciple’s pessimism and also his love are revealed. His pessimism made him fear that he might somehow be permanently separated from his Lord, and his love for his Lord made that fear unbearable. Understanding Thomas’s heart as well as his words, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (v. 6). “If you know Me,” Jesus was saying, “you know the way. And if you are in Me, you are in the way. Your only concern is to be with Me, and I will take you wherever I go.”

The third text in which John tells us about Thomas is by far the best known. When Jesus was crucified and buried, all of Thomas’s worst fears had seemed to come true. Jesus had been killed, but the disciples were spared. Their Master was gone, and they were left alone, leaderless and helpless. For Thomas it was worse than death, which he had been perfectly willing to accept. He felt forsaken, rejected, and probably even betrayed. From his perspective, his worst pessimism had been vindicated. Jesus’ promises had been empty-sincere and well meaning, no doubt, but nevertheless empty. Because he loved Jesus so much, the feeling of rejection was all the more deep and painful. The deepest hurt is potentiated by the greatest love.

When the other disciples told Thomas they had seen the Lord, he probably felt like salt had been poured into his wounds. He was in no mood for fantasies about His departed Lord. It was unbearably painful trying to adjust to Jesus’ death, and he had no desire to be shattered by more false hopes. When Thomas heard that Jesus was raised from the dead and alive, he declared, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

A person who is depressed, especially if he is naturally pessimistic, is hard to convince that anything will ever be right again. Because he is convinced his plight is permanent, the idea of improvement not only seems unrealistic but can be very irritating. To the person confirmed in hopelessness, even the idea of hope can be an offense.

But Thomas’s attitude was basically no different from that of the other disciples. They, too, were incredulous when first told of Jesus’ resurrection. When Peter and John ran to the tomb and found it empty as Mary had said, “as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9). Even with evidence of the resurrection, they did not search for a risen Lord but went back home (v. 10). When Christ appeared to the ten disciples (Judas was dead, and Thomas was elsewhere), who huddled behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews,” they were not certain that it was the flesh and blood Jesus until after He “showed them both His hands and His side” (vv. 19–20). Nor had the two disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the Emmaus road believed the reports of His resurrection (Luke 24:21–24). None of the disciples believed Jesus was alive until they saw Him in person.

Because they all doubted His promise to rise on the third day, Jesus allowed Thomas to remain in his doubt for another eight days. When He then appeared again to the disciples, He singled out this dear soul who loved him enough to die for Him and who was now utterly shattered in spirit. “Reach here your finger, and see My hands,” He said to Thomas, “and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:26–27). In one of the greatest confessions ever made, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Now all doubt was gone and he knew with full certainty that Jesus was God, that Jesus was Lord, and that Jesus was alive! The Lord then gently rebuked Thomas, saying, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (vv. 28–29). But His rebuke was fully as much of the other disciples as of Thomas, because his doubt, though openly declared, had been no greater than theirs.

If Jesus is not God and is not alive, the gospel is a foolish and futile deception, the furthest thing from good news. “If Christ has not been raised,” Paul told the Corinthian skeptics, “your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins … If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17, 19).

Tradition holds that Thomas preached as far away as India, and the Mar Thoma Church, which still exists in southwest India and bears his name, traces its origin to him. He is said to have had died from a spear being thrust through him, a fitting death for the one who insisted on placing his hand in the spear wound of his Lord.)[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 154). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 10:3). Chicago: Moody Press.

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