Apr 04, 2021
John 20:24-25

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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.’”

A few years ago Rasmussen released a comprehensive report that found nearly 1 in 5 American Christians or roughly 20% not only questioned the resurrection of Jesus as a fact of history but rejected the resurrection as being a central tenet of the Christian faith. 

Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can… You can refuse to believe Jesus rose from the dead but you cannot do so and still consider yourself to be a Christian! John MacArthur agrees writing, “The resurrection of Jesus is the single greatest event in the history of the world. It is so foundational to Christianity that no one who denies it can be a true Christian.”

To this point, since the very formation of Christianity, every major Christian creed has affirmed the resurrection of Jesus as being an essential core belief. The Apostles Creed states, “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.” The Nicene Creed, codified during the First Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD, stated, “Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again…” 

The Westminster Confession of Faith, established in 1646, articulated clearly, “The Lord Jesus was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered…” Even the updated Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, ratified in 1992, by Pope John Paul II, stresses the irrevocable importance of the risen Lord, presenting “the Resurrection of Jesus” as being “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ…”

As Theologian and Jesuit Priest Gerald O’Collins once wrote, “Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It’s not Christianity at all.” 

In fact, the Bible agrees! In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul affirmed how vain our faith in Jesus would be apart from the resurrection when he wrote to the believers in Corinth, “If Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”

If we’re being fair this morning, I can concede the idea that Jesus rose from the dead after spending three days in a tomb is a radical proposition. Predicting it would happen on three separate occasions is borderline crazy. I’m mean there is a reason no other religious or moral leader has ever dared make such an assertion or claim. And yet, I want you to know the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming! 

Of all the Biblical characters connected with the resurrection, I find Thomas to be most relatable. As you get to John 20:24, it’s important you understand what all has happened… 

The first appearance of the resurrected Jesus occurred in the garden when He has a loving exchange with Mary Magdalene. As soon as she leaves to inform Peter and John that Jesus had risen (in turn they run to the tomb to see for themselves), Jesus appears next to a group of women who’d been given news of His resurrection just a few minutes earlier. 

The harmonizing of accounts indicates Mary Magdalene catches up with these ladies and together they come and share the news with nine of the disciples, excluding Peter and John. In response to their report, in Mark 16:11, we’re told, “They did not believe.” Luke adds, “Their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.”

Following His appearance to Mary and this group of women, Jesus will then appear to two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus. While we have no details of the account, after this point, Jesus ends up having a private encounter with Peter somewhere in Jerusalem.

Even with these two disciples returning from Emmaus, the ladies earlier, John (who’d been convinced by the empty tomb itself), and now Simon Peter, Mark 16:13 indicates the nine remaining disciples still “did not believe” Jesus had risen from the dead. The stage is set.

John 20:19, “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.’” 

The way John describes this scene indicates the gathering was far from accidental. This word we have translated “assembled” is synagō the root by which we get the word synagogue. It seems Peter and John are concerned when they learn the other nine disciples were still skeptical of the resurrection so they call a formal meeting.

While we have no idea how long they met, John recounts how “Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” This word “came” is interesting for it literally means to come into being. The idea is Jesus simply materialized in the room. 

What must that moment have been like when they finally realize Jesus was “standing in the midst”? The construct of John’s description is that Jesus appeared among them — in the middle. How long did it take for them to notice an unexpected guest was chilling out? How long did it take to compute what it was they were seeing? Could that really be Jesus?

Jesus’ first recorded words to this group of men and women were “peace be with you!” If you take into account Luke says their initial reaction was one of “terror and fright” Jesus’ greeting makes sense. They were convinced they were seeing “a spirit” or a ghost. So in response, Jesus asks, “Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

John 20:20-23, “When He had said this, Jesus showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them 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.’”

I love the fact Jesus’ first words to a group of people completely freaked out was “peace!” Again, nine of the men in this room had not only abandoned Him in the garden but had remained skeptical of the reports He’d rose from the dead. I’m sure they’re expecting to be rebuked or at least called to account. How amazing it must have been for these guys, at that moment, when their eyes connected with Jesus’ to hear, “Shalom Y’all!” 

Contrary to the position of the legalist, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to condemn the world of sin but to save the world from sin! He didn’t conquer the grave only to then bury humanity under the weight of condemnation. Jesus rose to provide mankind peace with his Creator. I love the fact His first message for the masses was one of “grace and peace!”

Aside from this, concerned they were seeing a ghost of some kind, it’s amazing how Jesus assures them He had in fact physically risen from the dead. John records how Jesus “showed them His hands and His side.” In Luke’s account of this event, we read Jesus saying, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Luke then adds, “But while they still did not believe… Jesus said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.” 

To be fair, these men and women are witnessing something that has never happened in the history of humanity! I mean name, on one hand, the number of people who’d been dead for three days then rose to life on their own? A measure of skepticism was understandable.

And yet, Jesus had zero problems meeting their doubts with ample evidence. He didn’t rebuke their skepticism. Instead, He met them where they were at and revealed Himself. “Guys, it’s really me! I know it’s crazy — even hard to believe. But seriously, here I am! Touch me. In fact, give me something to eat so I can prove to you I’m not a spirit or a ghost.”

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 or for that matter a fair presentation of even the text. 

In John 11:16, we’re told that when facing the prospects of Jesus being in serious danger if He went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, “Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’” Scholars believe this repeated phrase that Thomas was “called the Twin” implies he bore a physical resemblance to Jesus. Not only do we know Thomas willing to go and die with Jesus, but he was at a greater risk being Jesus’ double. Thomas was not a doubter nor was he shifty in his convictions.

For some unspecified reason, Thomas inadvertently finds himself the lone disciple absent for this incredible, supernatural appearance of Jesus. We don’t know how long he was gone or what he was doing. And yet, at some point, Thomas returns to this room only to find “the other disciples” overwhelmed and 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 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 is these men proceeded to go on and on and on about what Thomas has just missed! “Bro, you should have been here!” It’s obvious when Thomas finally responds that he’s 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’s outburst. And yet, what is he supposed to do — base his entire belief in Jesus’ resurrection on 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 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. He’s articulating a desire to see Jesus for himself! Thomas is adamant his faith would not be based on the experiences of another — even trusted friends. Thomas had to have his own personal encounter with the risen Lord!

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. Understand, the faith of your parents cannot be passed along to you. You aren’t born into the faith nor is faith hereditary. Christian faith isn’t even transferable to another through marriage! While it’s true Mowgli was raised in a family of wolves, he always remained a human being.

Beyond this, you need to know attending church no more makes you a Christian than going to the gym once a week means you’re automatically skinny! You see Cultural Christianity is not Christianity at all! For example, while the Islamic world may equate the Red, White, and Blue to Christianity, being a patriotic America does not automatically garner your passage through the pearly gates of heaven. 

Thomas rightly understood a genuine faith that would be willing to forsake all required a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus! On this, he was not willing to settle. Thomas is adamant and passionate. “Unless I encounter Jesus for myself how can I believe?”

John 20:26-29, “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 the odd man out). Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ (This is the identical message Jesus articulated to them 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” — be persuaded).’ And Thomas answered (so he responded to Jesus’ invitation to believe) and said to Him, ‘My Lord (“mou kyrios”) and my God (“mou theos”)!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

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. Case in point, we have no record of Thomas actually touching Jesus’ hands or His side. He didn’t need to! His faith was secure and so 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 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 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 had been founded upon the rock — a relationship 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, 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 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 before leaving.

First, this reaction to your Christian friends that you have to encounter Jesus for yourself in order to believe is completely reasonable. In truth, I’d go so far as to say it’s totally responsible, logical, and Biblical. As it’s been said, “It’s only appropriate that what a person believes in their heart must also make sense in their head.”

Atheist Richard Dawkins once said, “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, God defines faith as being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

You see the Holy Spirit will never demand from you a blind or unfounded faith. Never once has Jesus command a person 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 really nothing more than the masking of the hardness of one’s heart. The key with Thomas was he wanted to believe. 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 began… John writes, “And after eight days Jesus’ disciples were again inside and Thomas with them!” Think about that… In spite of the fact everyone refused to shut up about seeing the resurrected Jesus, Thomas doesn’t go anywhere. The scene opens with Thomas hanging out with his believing friends on Sunday! Do you think this is an accident or a coincidence? Thomas wisely decided to hang around people who had what he wanted — a personal relationship with Jesus!

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… In his vision of Jesus’ present activity, in Revelation 1, John sees Jesus walking “in the midst” of the seven churches or golden lampstands! Even though we can’t see Jesus, anytime His disciples are gathered together, He is always spiritually “standing in the midst.”

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 or 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!

According to a study published by Barna, “50% of all decisions to come to Christ were driven by someone with a close personal relationship with the individual – a relative or friend.” Your own experience likely proves this is true! And yet, it’s sad the same study also discovered only 39% of Christians believe evangelism is their responsibility. 

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 encourage you to get ready! The reason I can say this with complete confidence is that no one genuinely seeking Jesus has ever failed to find Him, because Jesus is terrible at hide-and-seek! He wants to be found!

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 wanted 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!

It’s been observed, “The issue with Jesus isn’t that He was nowhere to be seen, it’s that He was seen, alive; He was seen, dead; and He was seen alive, once more.” As a fact of history, beginning with Mary Magdalene in the garden and progressing down throughout the centuries, an innumerable amount of people from all types of ethnicities and walks of life across the globe have claimed to have personally encountered the resurrected Jesus. You can include me and the majority of those in this room in that great cloud of witnesses.

That said… The profound nature of the resurrection of Jesus is not that it presents some keen new idea, philosophy, theology, moral framework, or code to live by. The power of the resurrection is found in the revelation of a single person — Jesus the Christ! 

You see the very public and physical resurrection revealed to the world the reality Jesus was no longer dead! The resurrection was the proof He’d crossed that grand divide, successfully conquering sin. His physical return and presentation to humanity validates the important reality that our death is not the end of our existence. Friend, the only way you can be sure there is an afterlife is because Jesus came back alive after dying! 

If you’re skeptical of the resurrected Jesus, that’s completely ok. I understand and respect the fact the testimonies of your friends cannot replace a personal encounter. It shouldn’t! Thomas was in the same boat and declared, “Unless I…” And yet, please understand, making such a statement also rings forth an important question, “Unless I” — what? 

Thomas had a personal encounter with Jesus that changed his life forever. Jesus appeared through the void and invited him to embark on a crazy journey. But never forget Thomas actually wanted to believe — do you really? We know Thomas wanted to believe because he hung around those who did — are you? 

In the end, while Thomas may have been seeking, it didn’t take long for Jesus to reveal Himself. In Luke 11:9-10 Jesus promised, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”


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