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Believing Thomas

April 4, 2021 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons

Topic: Expository Passage: John 20:19-29


This morning, I want to consider a compelling story that began the day that Jesus rose from the dead, though it doesn’t end until a week later. When Resurrection day began, the Gospels emphasize that the disciples had no expectation of resurrection. They were grieving Jesus’ death, and they assumed that all their hopes had died with him.

Therefore, when several women went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning, they didn’t go to see if Jesus was alive but to put burial spices on his body. But Jesus wasn’t there, just an angel, who told them that Jesus was alive! They ran and told the disciples, and Peter and John went to the tomb themselves, and yes, it was really empty.

But Jesus didn’t choose Peter and John to see him first. Instead, 20:11–18 state that Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to be the first one to see him alive. Afterwards, she told the disciples that she had seen the Lord! But I think we can all understand why they remained skeptical. Their world was crushed on Friday, and, again, they had no expectation of a resurrection. You’d probably be skeptical too.

Later that day, Luke 24:13–32 tells us that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus talked with them until evening, and then revealed that he was Jesus. The men were so excited. Jesus really was alive! They had to go tell the 11 (Luke 24:33–35). Imagine the stir. It sounds too good to be true, but the stories are starting to pile up. While they are still talking, v. 36 states, “Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them.” They saw him with their own eyes!

Today, I’d like to consider John’s account of what followed, both that night and the following Sunday (John 20:19–31). This is a fascinating account on so many levels. I especially want to focus on vv. 24–29 and on Jesus’ return visit a week later. But to appreciate the 2nd visit, we first need to reflect on his 1st visit in vv. 19–23.

I.  Jesus’ First Appearance (vv. 19–23)

The Proof (vv. 19–20a): Notice the context for this appearance of Christ. Again, it’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It is the best day in human history. It’s a day to celebrate in the streets and be happy.

But where are the disciples? They were locked in a secluded room scared for their lives. Of course, we can understand why they were afraid. The Jews had just cruelly executed their Master on Friday. Yes, there were now several eyewitness reports that Jesus was alive, but they weren’t convinced.

But suddenly, Jesus was standing in the middle of the room. The locked door was no problem to him at all. Wow! But they still weren’t convinced. Luke tells us that they were “terrified and frightened and supposed they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:37).

But Jesus graciously states, “Peace be with you.” On one level, Jesus is simply saying, “It’s okay, don’t be afraid.” But considering the significance of the Hebrew concept of peace or shalom, Jesus is clearly saying more. He’s saying, “Yes, Thursday night and Friday were horrible. I was arrested, tortured, and killed. But it’s okay. The work is finished! So I come in peace.”

Then Jesus invited the disciples to see the scares in his hands from the massive nails and to see what had to be an awful scar in his side from the spear that had been driven through him.

Those were significant proofs of the resurrection, because the Romans crucified a lot of people, and they knew what they were doing. Nobody was walking around with crucifixion scares, because they were all dead.

But not Jesus. He really was the man who had been crucified and who was clearly dead when the soldiers drove that spear in his side. But now he was alive! There was no denying this fact.

The Response (v. 20b): Therefore, notice the disciples’ response in v. 20b. What an incredible moment for these men. All the reports that they had heard throughout the day were really true. They believed, and they rejoiced.

The Commission (vv. 21–23): Verses 21–23 follow with John’s version of the Great Commission. Jesus commissions the disciples to preach the gospel to the nations.

And he predicts that they will soon receive the Holy Spirit, who will enable them to walk in godliness and fulfill their ministry. There’s a lot going on in these verses, and a lot of important applications to be made, but for today, we’re going to bypass all of that.

In sum, Jesus proved his resurrection to the disciples that first Easter. He showed them his wounds, and Luke adds that he ate with them to prove that he was not a ghost but that he had experienced bodily resurrection.

What a life-transforming evening for the disciples. And then vv. 24–29 shift the focus specifically to Thomas and prepare the way for a 2nd appearance of Christ to his disciples.

II.  Jesus’ Second Appearance (vv. 24–29)

The Doubt (vv. 24–25): Verse 24 tells us Thomas was not with the disciples, when Jesus appeared to them. It doesn’t tell us why, and there’s no point in speculating about it, because it doesn’t matter to the story.

But imagine the scene when Thomas returns, whether it’s later that night or the next day. When he left, everyone was afraid and grieving, but when he returns, there is a palpable joy in the room. As soon as Thomas shuts the door, he was probably immediately surrounded. Verse 25 states, “The other disciples…” They are so excited to share the incredible, good news.

But Thomas doesn’t share their excitement. Instead, he famously replies, “Unless I see...” The word believe is key, because it is very important to the Gospel of John. Notice John’s purpose statement in v. 31. The whole point of this book is to inspire us to believe on Jesus. But v. 25 says that Thomas did not believe. So John wants us to focus on Thomas’s journey to belief, and he wants you to follow his example of believing on Jesus.

I also want to point out that for 2,000 years, Thomas has been criticized for this statement. We all know him as “Doubting Thomas.” But I don’t believe that’s fair. Afterall, the other 10 disciples didn’t initially believe Mary Magdalene or the 2 disciples on the Road to Emmaus either.

Thomas simply demands the same proof the other disciples received. And remember that Thomas had never been asked to believe someone else’s reports about Jesus. He had spent 3 years listening to Jesus with his own ears and seeing him with his own eyes. He was about to face a huge transition in his faith that was not going to be easy.

And John knew that most of the people who would read his Gospel, will do so on the other side of that transition. He recognizes it’s not easy to believe such important realities apart from personal experience. So, if you have a hard time with these things, know that God anticipated your struggle.

Therefore, this story has tremendous apologetic value within the Gospel of John. Specifically, John had probably heard people argue in his day like they do in ours that the resurrection didn’t really happen. Instead, people charged the disciples with making it all up. Have you heard that one?

But this story answers this charge. Namely, Thomas wasn’t trying to invent a fanciful tale; instead, he was resistant, even to the testimony of his closest friends. Thomas demanded proof.

Therefore, we should recognize that v. 29 does not to condemn a desire for evidence of the resurrection or our desire for a rational faith. Jesus is not saying that it is spiritually superior to take a blind leap of faith. No, John says to the skeptic, “We were skeptics too, until Christ proved that he was alive. Here’s the evidence that Jesus is alive.”

And I won’t get into this today, but I’ve been reading a little book on evidence that the Gospels are trustworthy. It’s really quite remarkable. The only reason critics doubt the Gospels is because they refuse to believe in the miraculous. Otherwise, the Gospels bear all the marks of historically accurate records. These things really happened, and John wants to prove this is so.

The Proof (vv. 26–27): Returning to the story, Thomas demanded proof. It never occurred to him that Jesus was listening to his demands, but he was. And Jesus answers “after 8 days.”

Based on how the Jews counted time, this would be the following Sunday, because a Jew would have counted the previous Sunday among the 8 days. The same logic explains why the Gospels say that Jesus rose on the 3rd They include Friday in how they count their days.

So, it’s the next Sunday, and the disciples are still in Jerusalem (as they observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread), and they are still locked in the room. The big difference is that Thomas is with the disciples this time.

Then suddenly, Jesus appeared in the room, just as he had done the week before. Again, he begins, “Peace be with you.” I imagine that Thomas’s mind is racing. He’s thinking, “Wow, there is he. He really is alive.” Then Jesus looks directly at Thomas and says, “Reach…” This was probably an awkward moment. “Wow, Jesus heard what I said a few days ago.”

But again, we shouldn’t read v. 27 or v. 29 as a harsh rebuke. No, Jesus saw the struggle in a man whom he loved. He was eager to answer his doubts, and in the process to help us with ours.

So, there he stood, and he invited Thomas to see the nail scars in his hands and the spear hole in his side. Jesus offered solid proof of his resurrection. And then he lovingly urged Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving but believing.” Jesus is calling Thomas to fully embrace everything Jesus has said about himself during their 3 years together.

And Jesus is extending the same appeal to us. He’s exhorting us, “Don’t be unbelieving. Don’t reject what I have told you about my character and work.” Instead, v. 31 urges you, “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and receive life in His name.” There is no more important question you will ever answer than what will you do with Jesus? Will you reject his claims, or will you believe?

The Confession (v. 28): And in v. 28, Thomas sets a wonderful example for us of saving faith (v. 28). What’s so fascinating about this answer is that it takes us back to John 1:1, which states, “In the beginning was the Word (i.e., Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John began the book by declaring that Jesus is God, and in the final confession of faith in the book, Thomas declares his belief that Jesus is God.

I want to emphasize that there is no salvation apart from this fact. If Jesus was not fully God, then his death on the cross is just another unjust execution. But the fact that he is God, makes his death very different and uniquely powerful. Jesus’ deity is essential to the gospel, and you will never fully appreciate its message and never enjoy the salvation it offers, unless you believe with Thomas that Jesus is fully God.

And because he is God, he is also Lord. This term speaks to Jesus’ authority over us. Because Jesus is our creator and Savior, he is our authority, and we all are accountable to him.

Again, this truth is foundational to saving faith. If you see Jesus as just a buddy to help you pursue your agenda, you will never understand the gospel as it truly is. No, saving faith is founded in believing that Jesus is Lord.

And notice also how Thomas personally applies these truths. He confesses that Jesus is, “MY Lord and MY God.” He confesses that Jesus’ divinity and authority personally apply to him. Jesus is not merely the Lord in some faraway place. No, he rules over me. Thomas says, “You are my Master, and I will honor and obey you.”

That’s so basic, but it is so easy for us to ignore. Many people want Jesus to be a part of their lives, but they want to stay in the driver’s seat. That’s not how it works. Saving faith requires a fundamental shift over who rules my life. I will never be perfect this side of glory, but my heart is to submit to Christ’s lordship. He made me, and he rules over me. My job is to submit.

And praise the Lord that I don’t have to do so grudgingly. No, Thomas was full of joy as he uttered this confession. Over 3 years of living closely with Jesus, he had grown to love Jesus. In fact, in John 11, Thomas declares his willingness to die with Jesus. Thomas knows that Jesus is a loving master; therefore, he is glad to bow the knee to Jesus.

This is important perspective for us. As long as I try to be my own lord, I will always be restless. But when I submit to him and embrace the fact that he is the potter, and I am the clay, and that his every purpose is good, then I can have rest. So, I pray that all of us will follow Thomas’s example and embrace Jesus as “My Lord and my God.”

Notice how v. 31 builds on Thomas’s confession and describes saving faith (read). John says that saving faith is built on believing several truths about Jesus. One that we haven’t said much about is that he is “the Christ.”

The fact that Jesus is the Christ means that he came to save. Specifically, when Jesus died on the cross, he took every sin that I have committed against his lordship, and he paid the price for all of them. As a result, I don’t have to earn the favor of God or pay off his wrath. No, John says that that I can have “life in His name” simply by “believing.”

Maybe that’s what you need to do today. Maybe you’ve lived your whole life thinking you are in charge, and you have never confessed that Jesus is Lord. Or maybe you have been trusting in yourself to earn heaven instead of trusting wholly in Jesus.

He is saying to you, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” With Thomas, confess that Jesus is your Lord and your God, and that he fully paid for your sin on the cross. And cast yourself on his grace and his mercy as the only way of salvation.

If you do, God promises, you will have “life in His name.” You will enjoy his peace, rest, and power today, and for all eternity you will live with him in heaven. Please come to Jesus today and be saved. You can receive him there in your seat, and if you have questions, we’d love to speak with you afterwards.

The Blessing (v. 29): If you do, notice the blessing Jesus pronounces on you in v. 29. Again, we shouldn’t read this as a swipe at Thomas but simply as a compassionate word for those of us who don’t have the privilege of physically experiencing Jesus the way Thomas did.

Jesus understands that it’s not always easy for us to believe and to radically alter the course of our lives based on a 2,000-year-old testimony. But he stands behind the fact that these things really happened, and he has given us a sure, and trustworthy record of what happened. We can believe this message. Easter is not a fanciful myth. Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Therefore, we can believe, and Jesus pronounces a special blessing on us for our faith. Someday, our faith will become sight. If you are in Christ, you will see Jesus and his wounds just as Thomas did, and Jesus will bless our faith. What a glorious day that will be. So, today, with eyes of faith, believe in the resurrected Christ.

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