While John has yet to encounter the risen Lord for himself, according to John 20:8 he was already convinced of the resurrection solely based upon the evidence he discovered in the empty tomb. John writes that he went into the tomb also and “saw and believed!”
Though the list of those who’ve encountered Jesus was growing rapidly, by Sunday evening keep in mind nine of the remaining eleven disciples are still skeptical about the resurrection.
When Mary and the other women bring a report to these men mid-morning Luke 24:11 recounts how “their words seemed like idle tales and they did not believe.” Even when the two disciples who’d encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus recount their experience in addition to Peter’s testimony, Mark 16:13 indicates these nine men still “did not believe.”
It’s with this backdrop that we picked up the narrative last Sunday beginning with verse 19 of John 20, “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
John 20:24-25, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’”
I think it’s a tragic mischaracterization that this particular disciple has been nicknamed by theologians since about the 5th century as Doubting Thomas! Personally, I don’t believe this is an accurate characterization of the man or for that matter a fair presentation of the text.
Consider how in John 11:16 we read that when facing the prospects of Jesus being in serious danger if He went to Jerusalem for Passover “Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’” You see Thomas (who is “called the Twin” likely because he bore a physical resemblance to Jesus) was not a doubter or shifty in his convictions. The man had come to Jerusalem prepared to die for Jesus!
For some unspecified reason John fails to provide Thomas inadvertently finds himself the lone disciple absent for this incredible supernatural appearance of Jesus. Thomas then returns to this room only to find “the other disciples” ecstatic as to what they’d just seen.
Honestly, that stinks! Have you ever been the one person who missed the moment or joke everyone is talking about? Not only is Thomas now the only disciple who’s yet to have a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus, but his friends won’t shut up about it!
In the Greek the tense we find in the statement, “The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord’” is active and continual. The idea being articulated in the text is that these men proceeded to go on and on about what Thomas has just missed!
It’s obvious when Thomas finally responds he is clearly frustrated. He says, “Unless I see His hands and put my finger into the print of the nails and His side, I will not believe!”
Again, there are those who are critical of Thomas’ outburst. And yet, what is he supposed to do — base his entire belief in Jesus’ resurrection off of an experience he didn’t have for himself? In fact, I don’t believe Thomas is doubting Jesus’ resurrection and I’m not so sure he’s even voicing a skepticism as to the testimony and experience of the others.
Instead, I’m convinced Thomas is actually making a declaration as to what his faith in Jesus’ resurrection actually necessitated. Thomas is articulating a desire to see Jesus for himself! He’s adamant his faith would not be based on the experiences of another — even trusted friends, but mandated his own personal encounter with the risen Lord!
The reason I believe it’s misguided to characterize Thomas as being a doubter centers on the simple fact his perspective is absolutely right! I hope you realize this morning your faith in Jesus cannot be based upon someone else’s encounter or relationship with Jesus?
Sadly, I’m afraid in the Bible-belt culture of the American South this point is lost on many. Please understand the faith of your parents cannot be bequeathed to you. You aren’t born into a faith nor is faith hereditary. Christian faith isn’t even passed through marital extension.
Growing up in a Christian home no more makes you a Christian than growing up in San Francisco automatically makes you a … than living in a garage makes you a car! Cultural Christianity is not Christianity at all! While the Islamic world may equate the “Red, White, and Blue” to Christianity, being a patriotic, freedom loving, flag toting, gun carrying, Fox News watching America will not automatically garner you passage through the pearly gates.
Thomas rightly understood a genuine faith willing to forsake all required a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus! Thomas was not willing to settle this point. He’s adamant and passionate. He needed to encounter the risen Jesus for himself to believe!
John 20:26-28, “And after eight days (this would be the following Sunday) His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them (you can imagine this has been a long week for poor Thomas). Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ (This is the identical message Jesus articulated a week earlier.)
Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving (“apistos” or faithless), but believing (“pistos” or persuaded).’ And Thomas answered (he responded to Jesus’ exhortation) and said to Him, ‘My Lord (“mou kyrios”) and my God (“mou theos”)!’”
Thomas knew correctly that his faith needed a personal encounter with Jesus as its foundation. And most notably Jesus was more than willing to oblige! Not only does He appear to Thomas along with the others, but Jesus repeated his words right back to him. “Thomas, a week ago you said you needed to touch and feel — that you needed a personal encounter to believe. I heard you and here I am. Is this enough to convince you?”
For Thomas the appearance of the risen Jesus and the invitation to “reach and look” was more than enough for him. Case in point, we have no record of Thomas actually touching Jesus’ hands or His side. He didn’t need too! His faith was secure and he declared for all to hear that Jesus was both his “Lord” and his “God!” It was now personal for Thomas!
Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner once wrote, “It hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since.” Thomas knew a personal encounter with Jesus was essential and the moment it happened his life and its trajectory changed forever.
According to the testimony of several of the early church fathers the evidence suggests that around 52 AD during the first wave of Christian persecution (recorded in Acts 8) Thomas would leave Jerusalem and sail East beyond the reach of Rome into India with the message of the Gospel. Then after some 20 years of faithfulness on July 3, 72 AD Thomas would be martyred for his faith by being thrust through with a spear — citing Foxs’ Book of Martyrs.
Thomas’ faith was rightly founded upon a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus and therefore it would never waiver. Not only does he leave behind a powerful legacy during his own day, but in India today there are still a group of believers known as the Saint Thomas Christians who trace their origins all the way back to the initial work started by this man.
This morning if your friends have been constantly telling you about their own personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus and your response has been similar to that of Thomas, “That’s great for you, but until I encounter Jesus for myself I can’t believe the way you do!” there are a few things from this man’s experience I want you to consider for a moment.
First, this reaction to your Christian friends that you have to encounter Jesus for yourself to believe is completely reasonable. In truth, I’d say it’s totally responsible, logical, and Biblical. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.”
Atheist Richard Dawkins once quipped, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” The irony of this statement is that in Hebrews 11:1 the very concept of faith is defined as being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There is no question Dawkins didn’t consult the Bible for his definition of faith.
You see never once will the Spirit demand from you a blind or unfounded faith. Never once will Jesus command you to just believe! According to the very Bible itself there are two foundational components necessary for genuine faith: “substance” and “evidence!”
The core issue when it comes to faith in Jesus is often not a lack of evidence or a substance to the belief; rather, the issue eventually boils down to desire. More often than not the skepticism of one’s mind is nothing more than the masking of the hardness of one’s heart. The key with Thomas was he wanted to believe. The first question is do you?
The second point I want to make is that if you sincerely want to encounter the resurrected Jesus for yourself, in much the same way as Thomas, let me encourage you to keep hanging around those friends who’ve already encountered Him! Did you notice from the text how this radicle moment that would change Thomas’ life forever began? John writes, “And after eight days Jesus’ disciples were again inside and Thomas with them!”
Think about it… Thomas ends up having a personal encounter with Jesus — one he longed to have — on Sunday as he’s hanging out with his believing friends! Honestly, do you think this is an accident or a coincidence? Thomas hung out with people who had what he wanted!
I have found one of the best places for a genuine seeker to encounter the risen Jesus for the first time tends to be at church, with believers, on Sunday! Here’s why this is the case… Even though we can’t see Jesus, anytime His disciples are gathered together He is always spiritually “standing in the midst.” In his vision of His present activity, in Revelation 1 John sees Jesus walking “in the midst” of the seven churches or golden lampstands.
If there was any question Jesus was with them even though He wasn’t seen by them, all doubt was removed when He quotes back almost verbatim to Thomas what he’d said one week earlier. My point is rather simple… It’s only logical that if you want to encounter Jesus you should go where He tends to be and hang out with those He’s often with!
Let me add one sub-point to this… If you are a believer ministering to a seeker, it is for this very reason you should never underestimate the power of bringing that person with you to church on Sunday. Yes, God’s work is not restricted to one specific day and a church facility, but it’s a good place to start. Thomas was “with” believers on Sunday and Jesus broke through the void and revealed Himself to the one man who needed it most!
While it’s safe to assume cultural trends have likely worsened over the last 15 years, back in 2003 Dr. Thom Rainer published some groundbreaking research in a book titled, “The Unchurched Next Door.” Two realities of church life and evangelism were highlighted.
First, his research found that nearly “82% percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.” Secondly, Rainer found that “98% of church members never invite an unchurched person to church.” A recent report by LifeWay even discovered a direct link between how often a person attends and how likely they are to extend an invitation.
According to a recent study published by George Barna founder of the Barna Group about “50% of all decisions to come to Christ were driven by someone with a close personal relationship with the individual – a relative or friend.” What’s sad is the same study also discovered only 39% of Christians feel as though evangelism is even their responsibility.
Barna noted, “Fewer churches emphasize and equip people for evangelism these days, and the results are obvious and undeniable. The implications of ignoring gospel outreach are enormous. All the ‘church growth’ strategies in the world cannot compensate for the absence of an authentic transmission of the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for humanity.”
In light of all of this let me ask… Who are you currently witnessing to or sharing your faith with? Anyone? How many people at your job actually know you are a Christian? When was the last time you invited someone to attend a Sunday service with you? Guys, the Great Commission was not a grand suggestion! It’s our calling — our purpose — our mission!
Finally, if you’re here this morning and if like Thomas you’re sincere in your desire to encounter Jesus personally, may I exhort you to prepare yourself to meet Him soon. The reason I can say this with complete confidence is that no one seeking Jesus has ever failed to find Him because Jesus is terrible at hide-and-seek!
Think about it this way… When you play hide-and-seek with little kids who really finds who — the seeker or the person they’re seeking? Sure, while it’s your responsibility to seek them out, because kids experience more joy when they’re discovered they’ll do everything they possibly can to be found. In fact, the only way they aren’t discovered is if you fail to seek!
In much the same way Thomas was seeking after Jesus. He genuinely want to encounter the resurrected Jesus for himself which is why he stayed connected with those who had. What I find amazing is that in the end it was Jesus who appeared to a seeking Thomas. Again, no one seeking Jesus has ever failed to find Him because Jesus loves to be found!
John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
In order to understand what Jesus is saying here it’s important you first keep in mind neither Thomas nor the other disciples — who’s belief in Jesus had manifested from an encounter with Him in the physical realm — were being rebuked or diminished by Jesus in any way.
Instead, Jesus is simply pointing out that those who “believe” in Him through an encounter not dependent upon physically “seeing Him” will end up having a greater blessing.
In Thomas’ situation — as with all the other disciples present for His appearances — their encounter with a resurrected Jesus occurred in the physical realm. They could literally see Jesus with their eyes and hear His voice with their ears. And yet, Jesus is saying there would be a far greater “blessing” for those who place their faith in Him without such an experience.
Let me explain why this is the case… It’s true the conditions of one’s first experience with something often establishes the parameters for that experience moving forward. So much so that when a condition is missing the experience itself is hardly the same.
For example… Let’s say your dad takes you to see the Atlanta Braves in person as a young child. I mean you can remember everything about that first trip. You remember where you sat — the sights and sounds — the smells — the taste of crackerjacks, hot dogs, and ice cold Coca-Cola. Every year you and your dad would make an annual trip to the ball park.
Well, eventually your dad passes away and you go to catch a game. Everything is the same — same seats, same sights, same sounds, same refreshments; and yet, nothing is the same! Because the presence of dad was an essential condition to your first experience, now that he’s gone the truth is no Braves game will ever quite feel the same. Dad is gone and this leaves a particular void you’ll never really be able to shake.
Understand, for the folks who came to faith because they had seen the risen Jesus, once He ascended to heaven something would always be missing from their lives. Sure, these men and women had the Holy Spirit as well as everything you and I have today; and yet, an essential condition tied to their first experience was no longer available. Jesus was gone!
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” the word “blessed” is literally happier — “Happier are those!” You see the first believers who came to faith by encountering a physical Jesus would always miss what they could no longer see.
That said, for you and I not only do we not share such a dynamic, but the initial conditions for our faith never ever change! We encountered the resurrected Jesus through His written Word and then we find ourselves being changed, guided, and empowered through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. We have a unique and special blessing because while we may long to see Jesus this core desire is not from a position of loss like the early believers.
As he has often done throughout his Gospel John breaks from the narrative to say… John 20:30-31, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
In our introduction to this Gospel of Grace I noted how one of the main differences between this final Gospel and the three Synoptics before it was that while Matthew, Mark, and Luke set out to provide a written record of events, John writes with a particular intent.
You see unique to his Gospel John intends to provoke a decision from his audience. It’s a Gospel that demands a verdict — a decision one way or the other. In fact, everything John includes in his Gospel he does so for this singular reason. “And truly Jesus did many other signs… but these (referring ultimately to seven signs) are written that you may believe!”
Back in John 2:11 with Jesus’ transforming of the water into wine John refers to this miracle as the “beginning of signs.” Moving forward John will list at least six additional “signs” before concluding in chapter 20 with the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
In chapter 4 John records the second sign as being Jesus’ healing of the nobleman’s son. The third, documented in John 5, was His healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. The fourth (feeding the 5000) and fifth (Jesus walking on water) are laid out in John 6.
In John 9 you’ll find the sixth sign being the incredible healing of the man born blind, with the seventh being Jesus’ raising His friend Lazarus from the dead after four days — John 11.
What you should remember is that every one of these “signs” John includes intended to reveal to the reader more and more of the person of Jesus! John says, “These are written that you may believe” two important truths: That “Jesus is the Christ” — the long-awaited Savior of the world and that “Jesus is the Son of God” — God made flesh, God incarnate.
John is also upfront as to why he wants to convince us of these two things about Jesus. His hope is that “you may have life (presently) in His name!” John not only invites the seeker to believe in Jesus as both their Savior and their God — just like Thomas, but he wants you to know it is only through such a belief that you can experience everlasting life!
As we close chapter 20 but before we move into the final chapter of John’s Gospel it’s worth acknowledging how awkward and clunky the transition will feel. In many ways there is an undeniable sense as you read through his Gospel that John has already wrapped up and concluded his narrative in chapter 20 with this story of Thomas.
We’ll see this next week, but when you turn the page to chapter 21 the text comes across as if it were added at some later date. Personally, I believe it was and was done by John.
In 1881 a Greek language version of the New Testament was finally published after 28 years of tireless editing by Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort of the earliest manuscripts available. Both men were expert scholars and theologians and they were both fluent in ancient Greek.
Their ultimate conclusion concerning John 21 was that since the core style, grammar, and language was identical to the rest of the Gospel there was no question John was the author. Westcott’s theory was that John likely added the chapter after the fact, but before the final publication. Note: There is not one ancient manuscript of this Gospel that omits chapter 21.
With this in mind we should consider why John would feel the need to add one more chapter to his Gospel after it was done! First and foremost, there is no doubt by the pure substance of the text itself that John wrote hoping to put to bed a controversy that had been swirling throughout the church that Jesus had promised to return before he passed away. John will be crystal clear this was not the case and the rumor completely unfounded.
Aside from this intention, it’s also interesting that this appendix or postscript to the Gospel of John ends up centering itself on the Apostle Peter. John not only takes the time to record how Jesus had predicted his death by crucifixion, but also documents Peter’s restoration.
While we know Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written around the same time and that there is little question John pens after them, I believe it would be a mistake to date his Gospel towards the end of the first century as many do. Case in point… In John 5:1-2 John writes, “After this there was a feast and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.”
When John writes “there is in Jerusalem” he’s referring to this particular location in the present tense. What this means is that when he wrote the Temple and the city of Jerusalem had not been destroyed by Titus placing the date of authorship at least before 70 AD.
While no one can say for sure my thesis is that John likely completed the first 20 chapters of his Gospel much early than most believe and then following Peter’s death sometime around 66 AD John proceeds to add chapter 21 as a kind of eulogy for his dear friend. The chapter will actually begin with John telling a story about Peter not previously recorded.
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