Belief, Not Doubt

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Someone calls you, unsolicited, offering you a product they know you cannot live without or asking you to give money to a charity. How much information do you need the caller to provide to confirm for you what they have been telling you?

What does it take for you to believe someone? 

What are the prerequisites, the checklist in your mind you need completed before you will believe someone?

Everyday we put our faith in things we have yet to receive signs confirming that we should believe what we are trusting. How many of us have ever verified Arlington’s water treatment facility or water treatment techniques? Yet, we still trust that the water coming out of our kitchen sink and shower heads is safe to use. I have not seen the water quality reports and everyday I gargle, rinse, bathe, and cook with water I believe to be safe.

Photo by  Marina Vitale  on  Unsplash

Many of us who travel believe traveling by airplane or train is safe, so we continue to book business and vacation trips. Just this week I boarded a train bound for NYC and another one returning to Union Station and I did not verify the safety inspections done on the tracks or the engineer’s credentials. They only sign we have confirming the faith we have in our choice is that the last plane landing or train arriving in the station before our’s departs arrived safely. 

We believe certain things in this life, the things we have not verified on our own because for one reason or another we have placed faith in other people to confirm a part or the whole of what we believe. We use other people as signs to confirm that which have been told and have not confirmed on our own.

Our scripture reading places us a day and then a week after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus, after being arrested, tried, tortured, and killed has overcome the grave and is now revealing just what happened to the ones who had been traveling with them throughout his ministry. Having seen what they had seen - the arrest trial, torture, and death of Jesus - it is no wonder the disciples were hiding behind a locked door in a non-descript building.

The disciples saw what happened to Jesus.

They saw the nails.

They heard his cries.

They heard the whip cutting through his skin and the rod crack against his head.

Would they be next?

Would they face a similar fate for their association? 

Would they see the nails in their own hands? 

Would their cries echo throughout Jerusalem? 

Would the whip cut through their skin or the rod crack against this heads? 

Remember, they had traveled alongside the troublemaking Rabbi for three years. They were all-in on what Jesus was preaching and doing. They were the ones who knew Jesus’ ministry of grace and mercy better than anyone one else.

So they huddled behind closed doors, minus Judas and Thomas.

They huddled and waited, not sure of what was going to come or happen next.

Thomas finally arrives to be with his friends. The gospel writer does not tell us where he was or what he was doing. Then Thomas is told about what happened.

“Thomas, it happened! He said it would and it did!”

“What happened? Who did what?”

“Jesus is alive. We saw him. He came to us. He knew exactly where we were. He walked right through that door. The same door you walked through.”

“He came through that door.”

“Wait, he came through the door? You mean he came through the doorway, right?”

“No Thomas, listen to us. Jesus walked through the door. He showed us the wounds on his side and the holes in his hands. Then, then he breathed on us, he said it was the Holy Spirit, and he has sent us out. We are continuing the work he began!”

I can imagine the excitement of the other disciples threw Thomas for a loop. 

“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.”

“Thomas, did you hear anything we just told you? Jesus is back, just like he promised he would be. Were you not listening?”

We like to imagine Thomas standing on one side of the room, perhaps closest to the door where the amazing sign took place, and the rest of the disciples across from him. Thomas on one side and the believers on the other. Thomas has his arms crossed. He is closed-off to what his friends and travel companions for the past three years had just told him.

He’s “Doubting Thomas” after all. He’s the one who just said, “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.” He said it, not me.

For centuries artists have portrayed Thomas in this moment as a doubter. If i were to ask you or you were to ask someone on the street about Thomas the disciple - more often than not you would hear, “Thomas, yeah he was the disciple who doubted.” 

For centuries, preachers had used “Doubting Thomas” as a sermon illustration to convince their congregations not to doubt the resurrection and instead to have faith in the promise of the resurrection.

Kids will be told “Don’t be a doubting Thomas” in Sunday school or during children’s messages in churches around the world this morning.

“Doubting Thomas” - the one who needed to see and touch the resurrected Messiah.

“Doubting Thomas” - the one who did not believe.

Thomas’ request for a sign has marked him for centuries. Yet, Thomas was accustomed to receiving signs, along with the rest of the disciples, confirming Jesus’ messiahship and connectedness with G-d, the One who sent him.

For three years Thomas had heard Jesus talk about the promised resurrection. For three years Thomas had seen Jesus’ ministry pointing away from the shadow of the cross and towards the glory of the empty tomb.

Thomas for three years had witnessed the many signs confirming precisely who Jesus was.

Thomas was at the wedding in Cana when Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Thomas witnessed the healing of the royal official’s son (John 4:46-54) and the healing of the man who laid ill for 38 years by the healing pool at the Sheep Gate on the Sabbath (John 5:1-15).

Thomas was present when 5000+ people were fed and he along with the other disciples said it could not be done.

Thomas was in the boat when Jesus walked from the shore the meet his friends on the water.

Thomas had witnessed first hand the work Jesus had been engaged in and the gospel writer tells us early on that he and their other disciples believed.

Thomas believed enough to give up his life and follow Jesus, an itinerant rabbi, for three years and at every turn along the way signs were being performed to provide confirmation of who Jesus was to the disciples and to the world. 

Everyday, for three years, Thomas was alongside the other disciples and Jesus, witnessing Jesus’ ministry and hearing Jesus’ teachings all of which pointed to and revealed his glory (John 2:11).

So now, a week after the resurrection, Thomas needs another sign. A week removed from the resurrection, “Doubting Thomas,” we read, believed. 

Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Thanks to preachers and fresco artists, Thomas has carried a bad reputation for 2000 years.

Because of people like me using the doubter to convince you not doubt but to have faith, Thomas is known for something not entirely accurate to who he was or what he was doing in his moment of infamy. 

“Doubting Thomas” was simply asking for something he had been accustomed to receiving. Because the crucifixion itself was a sign - “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,” (John 17:1) - a sign confirming Jesus’ resurrection was/is not an unreasonable request from someone who had been receiving confirmation of what was being taught for the past three years.

The signs performed by Jesus - wine in Cana (my favorite), healings, feedings, walking on water - were confirmation of what Thomas along with the other disciples had been taught by Christ.

So Jesus offers to Thomas exactly what he needed, exactly what Jesus had been doing for the past three years, a sign confirming what Thomas already believed - Jesus to be his Lord. After Thomas received the sign he needed he added the confession connecting Jesus’ human-ness to the divinity of G-d - “My Lord and my G-d.”

We focus so much on “Doubting Thomas’” perceived lack of faith that we miss the confession he makes that the other disciples overlooked or neglected to make - “My Lord and my G-d.” 

In the midst of doubt or simply needing something that was customary for the group, the Peace of the Lord our G-d was still extended, making this a story more about Jesus’ faithfulness and less about “Doubting Thomas’” perceived lack of faith.

April Yamasaki, writing in The Christian Century, put it this way:

Peace to those who doubt.

Peace to those who have seen and believed.

Peace to those who have not seen and yet still come to belief.

The peace of Christ is the promise our risen Messiah to all of us, everyone.

Faith that comes from the peace of Christ is not something we do or attain on our own.  We see throughout Christ’s ministry, death, and now in the aftermath of the resurrection - in the light of the empty tomb - faithfulness in places where our own faithfulness falls short. Regardless of our demands for signs to subside our doubts the faithfulness of Christ provides us with the peace we need.

We are not saved by faith, rather we have been saved by Christ’s faithfulness on our behalf when we ourselves have not been faithful. In the Gospel we have been given everything we need to confess Jesus as our Lord and our God. Like Thomas, we confess Christ as Lord and we still do not have an answer to all of our questions, or our doubts.

Doubt is an odd place to end a Gospel. The writer adds, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.”

Those signs may have been helpful for us, 2000 years later who could use confirmation of what we have experienced. Those signs were omitted though because it is through the faithfulness of Christ that we have faith and then we serve as a sign pointing to the light of the empty tomb instead of being overcome by the shadow of the cross.

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