Devotional for April 8, 2018 based upon John 20: 19-31
Recently I came across a list of ten top reasons that people give for going to church. Number one on the list was – You just might miss out on something really important if you do not go. Thomas was not there on Easter Sunday evening when the disciples were gathered together, so he missed out on something really important. Jesus showed up. And the news that Jesus was alive and that Jesus had shown up – that news to Thomas was just too good to be true. He could not believe it.
Now I think that Thomas’ not being with the disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening shows the depth of his sorrow and the intensity of his disappointment. But Thomas was making a serious mistake in withdrawing from Christian fellowship. For there is strength in numbers. There is power in staying together. But Thomas was staying away. And because he stayed away, he missed out on the appearance of Jesus. We also miss out on so much if we stay away – if we separate ourselves from Christian fellowship.
It’s really too bad how some people, when facing grief and sorrow, stay away. They shut themselves off. They become like Thomas. But that is the time when they need God’s people the most. Just like that was the time when Thomas needed the other disciples the most.
You know, if Jesus had died on the cross and then had stayed dead, there would be absolutely no reason for us to gather together and to work together. If Jesus had stayed dead, then it would make more sense for us just to remember him with flowers on the altar once a week and then let it go at that. But since Jesus came out of the tomb, then any trivial issues that could sidetrack us become even more trivial compared with, How can we love Him?, How can we make Him known, and How can we be His people in our world today?
Thomas did get sidetracked for a while. He did leave the other believers just when he needed them the most. And so he found himself alone. Mourning over a dead Jesus, instead of being with the living Lord. And so I am so glad to see how the other disciples became concerned over Thomas’ absence. They sought him out. And when they found him, they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” They pleaded for his return. And we today need to be concerned for those who – for one reason or another – have separated themselves from Christian fellowship – just when they need it the most.
There are two things I really like about Thomas. For one thing, Thomas would not say he believed when he did not believe. I really like the uncompromising honesty of Thomas. Thomas would never just rattle off a creed without first understanding what it meant. Thomas wanted to be sure. I think there is more faith in the person who wants to be sure, than in the person who just glibly and casually repeats things, which he or she has never thought through, and which he or she does not really believe. What the church needs today is more people like Thomas, who honestly admit and work through their doubts.
And then the second thing I like about Thomas is that when he was sure, he went all the way. Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”
It is really interesting that of all the disciples, Thomas was the first one to call Jesus “God.” Others had already called Jesus Rabbi, Messiah, and even Son of God. But it was Thomas – so-called Doubting Thomas – who was the first one to call Jesus “God.”
There was nothing half-way about Thomas. One person said, “If we, like Thomas, fight our way through our doubts to the conviction that Jesus is God and Lord, then we will attain to a certainty that those who unthinkingly accept things will never be able to reach.” I would rather have a congregation full of Thomases, who refuse to unthinkingly sing the liturgies and recite the creeds and then live lives according to the world’s standards and priorities. I would rather have people who honestly face their questions and then work through those questions.
For Thomas at first the good news was too good to be true. But the fact that he believed with such difficulty in the end made him believe with such a fierce intensity once he was convinced. And in the end, it was not any argument that solved Thomas’ faith problems, but the presence of the Living Lord.
And so we can learn three things from Thomas –
1. Do not stay away from the company of other believers
2. Honestly admit and work through your doubts
3. Once you have worked through your doubts, give yourself completely to the Lord.
We do not know for sure what happened to Thomas. Early Christian tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up and went in different directions to preach the Gospel, so that every area could be covered. Thomas went to India. The Christians today in India and Pakistan trace their faith heritage back to Thomas.
Faith did not come easy for Thomas. He had to be sure. But once he was sure, he went all the way in terms of faith, commitment, and obedience. So did Thomas. And so should we.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE