I wonder how many sermons can you remember? There's a story about a preacher who became so animated as he spoke that his false teeth flew out of his mouth, but he deftly caught them, put them back and carried on preaching! Now that's a sermon you would always remember wouldn't you! And I remember years ago preaching a series of sermons on the twelve disciples. But as far as I recall nothing out of the ordinary took place and I kept my teeth!
In terms of character studies Simon Peter is very much like us and we can easily identify ourselves with him. But the most difficult character study is that of Judas Iscariot. I found him the most challenging person to speak about. But of the Twelve, I think that the most interesting is Thomas, usually known as 'Doubting Thomas'. But if you examine what's said about him in John's gospel that is an unfair title. Yes, he may have had his doubts, but he was much more an honest and courageous person. A man of faith and commitment. And legend and tradition tell us much more about him. That Thomas was the first to take the good news to Persia, then to India, and perhaps also to China. Certainly from the 4th century (if not earlier) there was a church in Kerala in south-west India, called the Mar Thoma church, and which still exists today.
Today we are going to look at Thomas called Didymus (that is Thomas the Twin), and also to consider the relationship between seeing and believing. Though we can't see Jesus with our eyes, or hear Jesus with our ears, we can believe in him in our hearts.
1 Seeing and believing
On that first Easter Day the risen Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. In the resurrection appearances the role of the women must not be overlooked. They were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb. In the words of Augustine, they were 'the first preachers of the resurrection', and in the words of Calvin, they were 'the teachers of the Apostles'. So then the role of these women as preachers and teachers was highly significant.
But what of the men? Out and about? In the Temple courts? In the market? NO! They were hidden away behind locked doors! Uncertain about the future. Uncertain as to what might happen to them. They feared arrest, imprisonment, and perhaps crucifixion. So when Jesus appeared to them, his words were just what they needed to hear. He said vv.19, 21, 26:
'Shalom' or 'Peace' – 'my peace be with you'
Now this was not just like saying 'good-morning, how are you today?' – but the greeting was to reassure them, that Jesus was with them. He was alongside them. He knew their turmoil, their fear and their anxiety. For troubled, fearful, hearts his words were just what they needed to hear. To be assured by his words and by his presence. That he who had died was now risen from the dead!
So for the disciples peace in their hearts and confirmation with their eyes. Jesus showed them his hands and his side. His hands pierced by nails. His side pierced by a sword. And they heard the sound of his familiar voice. Here was proof indeed of the resurrection - visible wounds, an audible voice, and the sight of his resurrection body. This was a joyful confirmation of Mary's words v.18:
'I have seen the Lord!'
Their joy was overwhelming. They too had seen him! He who had died was truly risen from the dead!
Is that what you need to hear today? To troubled hearts Jesus says 'My peace be with you!' To those who are finding life hard and faith difficult, Jesus says 'My peace be with you!' Take your doubts and uncertainties to the risen Lord and may you know his peace in your heart. And notice the importance of both seeing and believing. When Peter and John had run to the tomb, Simon Peter had seen but not yet believed; but yet the reflective John v.8:
'saw and believed'
And for yourself – are you more of a Peter or a John? An impetuous Peter who rushes in without thinking? Or a John who spends more time in reflection and thinking? And though they were very different, they both came to faith in Christ.
At first Mary Magdalene did not recognise Jesus. She thought that he was the gardener. But when Jesus said her name 'Mary' she recognised him from the sound of his voice. She saw and believed, and returned to the ten disciples with the news v.18:
'I have seen the Lord!'
When this disclosure took place, Thomas the Twin was absent. We are not told why this was. Perhaps he was more fearful than the rest? Perhaps he was more grief stricken than the rest? Perhaps he preferred his own company and wanted to reflect alone on what had happened?
Sometimes it's good for us to be alone, but we also need to be in the company of other Christians. Here Thomas missed out on being present when the risen Jesus appeared to them. On those occasions when we deliberately absent ourselves from Christian fellowship and we too miss out. We constantly need to have the support and encouragement of our fellow believers - and not to suffer alone, or walk alone, or feel isolated and rejected.
A week later when Thomas was with them they told him that they had seen and believed. They were overjoyed! The Lord had risen! But their joy and their testimony was not enough for Thomas. Before he believed he wanted to see for himself. He wanted to see the wounds of the crucified Jesus before he could believe in him risen from the dead. Now that's understandable, isn't it? Thomas didn't want to rely upon second-hand testimony. He could have believed what his friends told him, but he wanted to see and believe for himself. He wanted to be convinced that Jesus was truly risen from the dead.
And what of you? Is your faith dependent upon what others say, or are you convinced yourself? Is your faith rooted and grounded in Jesus – who had been crucified but is now risen from the dead? Of course at first the testimony of other people may challenge us to come to faith in Christ. But in the end, it's our individual response that counts. I need to come to the Saviour. To put my trust in him. To confess my sin. To believe in my heart that Jesus died for me on a cross and is risen from the dead! Is that what you believe? Or are you like an unbelieving Victor Meldrew, 'I don't believe it!' or 'I won't believe it!'
2 Personal testimony
The following week the eleven were together again. They were still scared. Locked away behind closed doors. Though Christ had risen, they were still uncertain about the mood in the city. They could still be arrested, imprisoned and crucified. And once again the risen Lord Jesus appeared v26:
'Shalom' he said 'my peace be with you'
They still needed to be assured both of his presence and the reliability of his words.
Peace to meet their fears. Peace in place of uncertainty. Peace to assure them of the truth of the resurrection. That he who had truly died on the cross, had truly risen from the dead! This time Thomas was with them, and Jesus spoke directly to him. This personal encounter was very much like his meeting with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
Jesus said to Thomas v.27 :
'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side'.
Before he had told Mary Magdalene not to hold onto him. But now Jesus told Thomas to touch him, to convince him that he was not dead but alive! Jesus said to Thomas v.27:
'Stop doubting and believe'.
The evidence stands before you – open your eyes and believe in your heart! That challenge was just what Thomas needed to hear. To move from uncertainty to conviction. From unbelief to assurance. From a second-hand faith to a personal faith.
Is that something that you need to hear? To'stop doubting and believe'! Stop sitting on the fence! Stop pussy footing around! You've heard the good news. You've heard it many times before. You've heard evangelistic sermons and been challenged to respond but have never yet committed your life to Christ. To you Jesus says, 'Stop doubting and believe. Put your trust in me. Don't be an unbeliever, but a believer!'
Perhaps you've been on a Christianity Explored course. You've been impressed with the material. You've heard the testimony of those who believe. But you haven't yet made a response. You've not yet committed your life to Christ. To you Jesus says, 'Stop doubting and believe'. Put your trust in me. Don't be an unbeliever, but a believer!
Perhaps you lack assurance that you are a Christian believer. You have some interest in the Christian faith, but it is not a confident faith. You may believe in your head but are yet to be assured in your heart. You need to move from a 'maybe' to a confident 'yes'. To you Jesus says, 'Stop doubting and believe'. Put your trust in me. Don't be an unbeliever, but a believer!
Jesus spoke directly to Thomas and he believed. His confession was short and sweet v28:
'My Lord, and my God!'
What a change! What a transformation! No longer the doubter of v.25, but the believer of v.28. And what was at the heart of Thomas' response? His confession 'My Lord and my God!' was an affirmation that the one who was born of Mary was truly the Son of God. That the incarnate one was divine. This echoes what John had written at the beginning of his gospel John 1:1-2, 14:
'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us, and we have seen his glory'.
The incarnate one, the crucified one, the risen one, the soon to be ascended one – was Jesus, God's own Son.
The words of Thomas anticipate the later creeds. The faith of the individual is the faith of the church. That's why in the baptism service it says:
'This is the faith of the church. This is our faith. We believe and trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'
In Romans 10 we read Romans 10.9:
'That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.'
Like the confession of Thomas, here is the Christian testimony – that I truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. And the promise is that: In believing I will be saved. In believing we will be saved! So then here is the challenge to each one of us. What is the substance of my faith? And does it in any way echo the testimony of Thomas, 'My Lord, and my God'?
3 Believing without seeing
But you may well be thinking, 'That's all very well for Thomas, but what about me?' Thomas was present in that locked room. He wanted proof that Jesus was risen. It's all very well for Thomas to see Jesus, but what about me, 2,000 years later? I can't see the risen Christ. If that is you, then look with me at what Jesus said after Thomas' confession v 29:
Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed'.
Of whom then, is Jesus speaking? To those who have not seen but have believed. Who is that? It's you and me!
If it was necessary for Thomas to have confirmation that Jesus was alive, it's necessary for us too. But though we cannot see Jesus with our eyes, we can believe in Jesus in our hearts. Elsewhere in the New Testament we read that 2 Corinthians 5:7:
'We live by faith, not by sight',
and 1 Peter 1:8-9:
'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 inexpressible and glorious joy,'
May I suggest to you that believing without seeing is similar to believing without hearing? How do we hear God's voice? In the OT men like Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the prophets heard with their ears the voice of God. But generally speaking today, we don't hear God speaking to us like that. (Though of course there's nothing to stop him doing so if he wanted to). Now we don't hear an audible voice. Our encounter with God is through scripture as 'God's Word written'. In other words, we hear God speaking to us as he addresses us from his word. In other words, the Bible is God preaching to us. And as he speaks to us, the Holy Spirit makes real to us his word in our hearts. He confirms what is said to be true.
Similarly with 'seeing and believing' we don't see with our eyes the risen Saviour, but by faith we believe in our hearts. In v.31 John wrote:
'these things are written that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.'
These words were written that you may come to faith, and that you may continue in the faith. That you may believe and to continue to believe. These words are both evangelistic to bring people to a living faith in Christ, and also these words are to encourage us to continue in the faith and to be built up in the faith. To grow in Christ and to become more like Jesus. The words in v.31 are addressed to each one of us. John is not speaking to those who were there at the time, but to subsequent generations, including you and me. 'The scriptures (that is the OT and the NT) were written that you may believe (and to continue to believe) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God'. Here then is the challenge for each of us to trust the Word of God, to believe that its personally addressed to each one of us.
So may I ask: Do you believe the scriptures to be true? And in reading them are you convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? But if you are still uncertain and find it heard to believe, then pray to God and look to his promises, and believe. Put your trust in him! Believe his word and obey! Come to faith in him! And v.31 ends:
'And that by believing you may have life in his name.'
Here believing that Jesus is the Son of God is linked with new life in Christ. New life, resurrection life, comes to all who believe and come to faith in the living Lord Jesus.
On what we call Good Friday, Jesus took our sin upon himself. He bore the punishment we so justly deserve. Through his death he has reconciled us to God and made it possible for us to receive forgiveness of our sin and new life in Christ. Easter Day was the Father's 'yes' to the events of Good Friday. He who died on the cross was raised again from the dead.
Thomas the Twin is an interesting character isn't he? A man who moved from doubt to conviction. A man who came to a living faith in the risen Christ. A man who saw and believed.
And so for you today: Do you walk by faith? Do you trust God's word? Do you believe in your heart? Do you confess with your lips? Do you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and God? And for you, today, hear again these words of comfort and assurance v29:
'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'