Friday, April 28, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - In Defense of Thomas

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, April 23, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Now, if I were to mention the names of some of the more recognizable disciples to you and then ask you to write down the first word that comes to mind, I think it’s pretty unlikely that y’all would come up with the same words for each person. Let me tell you what I’m talking about. 

For example, suppose I were to say “Peter.”  I imagine that some of y’all would write down the word “faith,” but not all of y’all. I’m sure somebody would write something like “Simon” or “rock” or “denial,” maybe even “pope.” Or suppose I were to mention the names of James and John, some of you would write down the phrase “Sons of Zebedee,” but I’ll tell you, just as many would write “brothers” or “disciples.” I’ll tell you, somebody might even come up with “Sons of Thunder." But again, it wouldn’t be unanimous. And even if I were to throw out to you the name Judas, I believe many, maybe even most of y’all would write down the word “betrayer” but I bet not everyone. Somebody might say “Iscariot.” You see what I mean? When we think about each of these disciples, there are at least several different words that come to mind. 

But of course I think most of us would probably agree that there’s one exception to this rule; because let’s face it, if I said the name Thomas, I think we all know what almost everyone here this morning would write down. It would be the word “doubting,” right? I mean, dah! Good night, Thomas is so connected with that particular word, it’s sort of become part of his name: “Doubting Thomas.” And you don’t have to be Christian to know this.

And you know, because of, well, this title, along with, Judas, Thomas has become the disciple no one wants to be, right? And I know exactly what I’m talking about. On my first Easter in Indianapolis, the ministers in my area put on sort of a passion play, and guess who got stuck with Thomas? The new guy. Man, if I’d gotten “Peter” or even “Judas,” who knows what direction my career would have taken. But Thomas, give me a break. I’ll tell you, poor, old Thomas has become an example of what faith and trust and discipleship isn’t about. I mean, he’s certainly not the kind of follower we want our children to grow up to be. And why not? That’s simple; Thomas doubted, and doubting, well, that’s just not a good thing for Christians to do, especially when you’re talking about something as important as the resurrection.

But you know, before we just slap on that label on him and head off, I think we should pause for just a minute, because, to tell you the truth, I think he’s been the victim of some really bad press over the last two thousand years. And you know, for that reason, this morning, we’re going to take another look at Thomas, because I think if we do, we might not be so negative, so judgmental when we think about him. 

I mean, just remember what happened in the story. According to John, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came. Now the other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I might see the nail marks in his hands and might put my finger in the nail marks and put my hand in his side, then I will absolutely not believe.’ And eight days later, the disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. And Jesus came, though the doors had been shut, and he was in the midst of them and he said, ‘Peace to you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and put your hand and place it into my side, and don’t become unfaithful, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed is the one who doesn’t see and believes.’” [John 20:24-29] 

Now that’s what happened, and that’s the reason he got the label of Doubting Thomas. But I’ll tell you, I don’t think it’s a bad as it seems, at least it wasn’t for Jesus. I mean, just think about it; first, even though Thomas questioned, Jesus never condemned him. Now I think that’s important. Jesus never put him down, and Jesus never suggested that his uncertainty was a sign of sin or evil, which, when you think about it, is a good thing for us. My gosh, let’s get really, from time to time we all doubt; therefore, I think it’s nice to know that a moment of doubt doesn’t lead to eternal punishment. In fact, not only did he not punish him, Jesus did just the opposite. Without any fuss or muss, he did exactly what Thomas wanted him to do; he showed his hands, feet and side. You see, Jesus didn’t judge him. And that’s one thing I think we can say in defense of Thomas.

And second, as soon as he saw, Thomas made what may be the most powerful and complete confession in the entire Bible. My goodness, just look at what he said. He didn’t say Jesus was a good teacher or a great Lord or even the Messiah, all of which would have been fine, but not perfect and certainly not personal. No sir, “Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God.’” I’ll tell you, this is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. And it was said with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just like 2 + 2 = 4 and like the sun is in the sky and like the Browns won’t make it to the Super Bowl this year, Jesus was his Lord and his God! Now, I think that says something incredibly positive about Thomas,  and the second point we might want to consider in his defense.

And third, and in my opinion, this one is huge, when we consider what Thomas was working with and remember what he didn’t have, you know, what he hadn’t received, well, let’s just say, compared to the other guys and frankly to us, Thomas was really flying blind after the resurrection. Man, he was lacking two things that make it a whole lot easier for us to understand exactly who Jesus is and why he came, two advantages that he hadn’t received. 

I mean, think about it, Thomas didn’t have the Holy Spirit, and I’m talking about before all this doubting stuff. Just listen to what John wrote: “Now while it was still early evening on that day, the first day of the week, though the disciples were behind closed doors because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and was in the midst of them, and he said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ And after he said this, he showed his hands and side to them. Now the disciples filled with joy when they saw the Lord. Now he said to them again, ‘Peace to you. Just as the father has sent me, I also am sending you.’ And after he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you might forgive the sins of any, then they are forgiven them. If you might hold [the sins] of any, then they are held.’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” [John 21:19-24] 

Now, that’s what happened, and for me, that’s also a big deal. Thomas wasn’t there with the others; therefore, he didn’t receive the Spirit. And so no wonder he questioned. And right there’s a huge advantage for us, too, because you know something; we have. As we’ll talk about in June; you know, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on the church like tongues of fire, and in a very real way, Jesus has breathed on each one of us here this morning, giving us life just like God breathed on that little mud man and made it a living person. You see, unlike Thomas, we’ve received the Holy Spirit; therefore, we’re able to understanding stuff that he couldn’t. Remember Jesus said before the crucifixion, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you,” [John 14:26]. And I’ll tell you, that same advocate, that same Holy Spirit gives us the chance to understand and to accept things that puzzles the rest of the world, ideas that, according to Paul, are blasphemy to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, and I’m talking about insight that enables us to believe without seeing. The Holy Spirit offers us the ability to understand, but that’s not all. It also offers us peace. You know, I don’t think it’s any accident that in the passage we just read, the risen Christ said three times to his disciples, “Peace to you.” You see, peace is something else that comes from the Spirit. Again, it’s like Jesus said before he went to the cross: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” [John 14:27] You see, right now, we access to peace, peace like a river, peace from the Spirit. But again that’s not all, we also have power. Do you remember the first words Jesus said after breathing on the disciples? “And after he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you might forgive the sins of any, then they are forgiven them. If you might hold [the sins] of any, then they are held.’” Not only do we have understanding and peace, we also have power, power to do God’s work, power that Thomas didn’t know anything about. The Holy Spirit, that’s one thing we have that Thomas didn’t and so we can understand and can feel and can do a bunch of stuff Thomas couldn’t.

But that’s not the only thing, because we also have a book, the book, in Greek, the βιβλος, the Bible. John wrote, “Now there were other things and other signs Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, things which were not written in this book. But these things were written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and so that because you believe, you might have life in his name.” [John 20:30-31] You see, we have something tangible Thomas didn’t have: something that we can feel in our hands or see on our phones and pads and something that enables us to understand some things that Thomas just couldn’t know. We have the book; therefore, in a very real way, we were there at the wedding feast when Jesus turned the water into wine and when he healed the man who was born blind. And we heard him say to Nicodemas that God loved the world so much that he gave his only son and to the woman at the well that he offered living water. And we watched as they lifted him up on the cross and as Jesus spoke to Mary in the garden. And we were with those disciples and later with Thomas when Jesus appeared in a locked room. You see, because of the book, we were witnesses to all those signs; therefore, we have possibility of faith and life, eternal life springing from a faith that has a foundation and structure. But more than that, we also have direction and guidance, practical guidance that offers us direction as we try to live the life that Christ called us to live. And finally, we have a message, a message that’s so much more than pie in the sky, a message that’s a real as a wooden cross and an empty tomb. You see, unlike Thomas, we not only have the Holy Spirit, we also have a book of signs. I’ll tell you, no matter how you cut it, like the other disciples, we have some pretty big advantages over Thomas. And that’s the third thing I think we probably need to consider in his defense.

And you know, because of that, I think we should probably take it easy on Thomas. I mean, when you get right down to it, I think he did the best he could with what he had. Therefore, he had a good reason for wanting to see and feel before he’d believe; man, he hadn’t received the Spirit, and I’m talking about the presence that enables us to understanding truth and to feel peace and to know power, nor did he have the Book that offers us faith and guidance and a message to share. You see, speaking in defense of Thomas, given what Jesus didn’t say to him and what he said about Jesus and of course, the enormous advantages we have I really think we shouldn’t be throwing stones. In fact, maybe “doubt” shouldn’t be the first and only word that comes to mind when we hear his name. 


But you know, I just wonder, if we neglect what we have, I mean, if we don’t claim the Spirit that Christ has breathed into each one of us here and if we don’t read the book that God himself has given to us just so that we can have life, and if, because of that, we fail to become the church and the people that God has created us to be, do we have an excuse? And if we don’t, then what word will come to mind when people in the future mention our names.


No comments: