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“Stop Doubting and Believe”

John 20:24-31
Bob DeGray
April 18, 2004

Key Sentence

Even without first hand experience, belief in Jesus rests on compelling evidence.


I. Doubt that Seeks (John 24:24-25)
II. Faith that Comes by Seeing (John 20:26-28)
III. Faith that Comes by the Word (John 20:29-31)


        “Seeing is believing”. How many times have you heard that? Sometimes it’s useful, as when I used to promise to come for dinner, and my grandmother would say ‘seeing is believing’. I recommend the phrase if someone offers you a million dollars or an all expense paid trip to Disney World. But ‘seeing is believing’ isn’t always helpful, because seeing is not always the evidence on which we should base our convictions. There are many things we cannot see that we believe in. I believe in China, though I’ve never been there, I believe in the duck-billed platypus, though I’ve only seen pictures, and pictures are notoriously unreliable, especially in this digital age.

        There are a lot of things you’ve never seen, but on the basis of evidence you’ve been given and your own experiences, you believe in them. You believe in air, even though you can’t see it, because you’ve felt the wind and smelled the rain. Most of us believe in a round earth, because we’ve seen countless pictures, and we’ve seen the space station go over just when and where round earth math says it will. In the same way, you’ve never seen electrons, but you believe the lights will turn on when you flip the switch. You’ve never seen radio waves, but you listen to the traffic reports they bring to your car, and you watch the programs they transmit from space. So we believe in many things we have not seen, but for which we have been given compelling evidence and where our experience fits the evidence.

        The same is true, or ought to be, in the realm of moral and spiritual experience. There are many things in this area that are never seen, but which are none the less true and real, and for which compelling evidence exists. In the famous passage we’re about to study, Thomas doubted because he wanted a ‘seeing is believing’ experience. Jesus doesn’t dispute his need for this evidence, but commends those who will believe based on other kinds of evidence that are abundantly available. And John adds that this book we’ve been studying is one of the best of those other evidences. Even without first hand experience, belief is Jesus rests on compelling evidence.

I. Doubt that Seeks (John 24:24-25)

        Let’s begin with the doubts of Thomas. John 20, verses 24 and 25: Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." Thomas is his Hebrew name. It means ‘the Twin’. Didymus is his Greek name - it means ‘the twin’ or ‘the other one’. I’ve often wondered what his brother’s name was, and why he isn’t in the Gospels. A few years ago I did a sunrise service about Thomas and speculated that his brother Alphaeus had somehow died as a youth, leading to Thomas’ skepticism and doubt. But there’s no real data - we just meet the one twin.

        We’ve met him twice before in this Gospel. In chapter 11, Jesus was getting ready to go up to Bethany to raise Lazarus, thus exposing himself to great danger. Thomas was the one who made the faithful but fatalistic statement “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Later in chapter 14 it was Thomas who realized that Jesus was talking about going somewhere, and he said to Jesus “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” These two brief episodes reveal Thomas not so much as a doubter but a follower who is a little bit resistant to trust: he doesn’t trust that if Jesus goes up to Jerusalem, it will really be alright. He doesn’t trust that if Jesus goes a certain direction, he’ll be shown where to go. And here, he doesn’t trust the report of the other disciples. They may be eye-witnesses to the risen Lord, but that’s not enough for Thomas. He has to see for himself.

        John doesn’t tell us why Thomas was missing the day Jesus rose. Perhaps his personal grief was so great that he couldn’t find solace even in the presence of those with whom he has followed Jesus. On the other hand, his absence was God-ordained in that it gave rise to one of the greatest affirmations of Jesus found in Scripture.

        When told what his brothers had seen that Sunday, Thomas remained unconvinced. He tells them that for him ‘seeing is believing’, or actually, ‘touching is believing’. Faith, as he understands it, not only requires sight, but in this case actual physical contact: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thomas wants personal and concrete evidence that the person whom he knew had been killed in a specific fashion had indeed been raised from the dead. As we said last week, the nail marks in his hands would show him to have been crucified, and the spear mark in his side would set him apart from any other crucified person. Thus it would have to be Jesus. Is this unreasonable? Not really - Jesus had voluntary given that proof to the others. In some ways Thomas is just a common-sense kind of guy, aware of how the imagination can play tricks on a person. On the other hand, it seems a bit callous to disregard the eye-witness testimony of ten people he has been close to for years. Jesus had had some pretty hard words for those who would not believe without seeing miraculous sign, and Thomas is placing himself into that category.

        You’ve probably known someone like Thomas. 18th and 19th century scientific thought bred this kind of sceptic in abundance, and their descendants are still around today. As the second ‘Humanist Manifesto’ said in 1973 “Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so. We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race. As non_theists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity” Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan and a host of others are the kind of skeptics who have said over and over, there is no compelling evidence for God. Perhaps you know someone like this.

II. Faith that Comes by Seeing (John 20:26-28)

        If Thomas had been alive today, he might have been this kind of doubter. He may even want the resurrection to be true, but he is looking for a very dramatic and specific kind of evidence before he will believe. He’s really ‘seeing is believing’ Thomas, but he just happens to be there at the moment in history when ‘seeing’ is most possible - and Jesus graciously hears his condition and grants his request. Verse 26 to 28: A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

        Despite several encounters with the risen Christ, and despite Jesus’ assurances and his promise of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are still living in fear of the Jewish leaders, meeting behind locked doors. It had been a full week since Jesus came to them, which makes it the first Sunday after the resurrection Sunday. Once again, Jesus comes and stands among them despite the locked door. The body of the risen Lord, while physically the same body that died, appears to have been transformed and given some amazing capabilities. We’d be entirely mystified by this if the Apostle Paul hadn’t given us some critical insight in 1st Corinthians 15. The body, he says, “is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” And he says “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” It is this immortal, imperishable, spiritual, powerful, glorious body that Christ, as the first-fruits from the dead possessed after his resurrection - and yet as we said last week, with scars.

        So Jesus comes and stands among them and says the same thing he had the week before: ‘Peace be with you!’ His resurrection is our guarantee that his promise of peace is real. It’s not peace that the world gives, but it is peace that he alone gives, and which he can only give because he is the victor over sin and death. Did you ever notice that in world history, peace between nations is often the result of victory? The peace we enjoy with Germany and Japan, our mortal enemies in World War II is more than anything else the result of victory, especially over the leaders that had driven them to war. Likewise we have peace with God because he defeated sin and Satan and death in Jesus Christ, and so he has won the right to declare peace with us and to give peace to us through our relationship with him.

        Having greeted all the disciples, Jesus now turns his attention to Thomas, and offers him what he had been seeking. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”

        By taking up Thomas’ challenge, Jesus proves first that he hears his disciples even when not physically present. He had promised to be with them even after he went to the Father, in the person of the Holy Spirit. And at his ascension, in Matthew, he says ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Paul will later write ‘who can separate us from the love of Christ?’ and his answer will be ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This shows that though Jesus has become a man, and remains a man in a glorified transformed body, he has not lost any of the characteristics of God, including omniscience and omnipresence.

        The other thing Jesus does here is to graciously remove Thomas’ grounds for disbelief. He shows him his hands and his side and says ‘stop doubting and begin believing’. Jesus isn’t opposed to using the evidence of our senses to provoke faith. Think of it this way: every single one of his resurrection appearances is a thread in a very clear tapestry of eye-witness evidence, a stone in a structure of evidence that ought to speak to us with power even across a gap of two thousand years. We’ve already seen in John his contact with Mary Magdalene, and the other gospels remind us that other women saw him as well. We’ve seen contact with the disciples. We know from Luke of his resurrection Sunday walk to Emmaus with two of his followers. Paul speaks to all this by saying that “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Clearly seeing, as one of the things that convinces people to believe, is a big part of what Jesus was doing in the weeks immediately following the resurrection.

        We have that eye-witness testimony, but we have to remember that even seeing did not always result in believing. One of the most interesting post-resurrection verses is at the end of Matthew, where the diciples go to a mountain Jesus had selected, and Matthew says “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Even seeing the risen Christ did not assuage the doubts of some of his followers. They were literally in two minds about Jesus even while seeing him.

        But for Thomas, this seeing made all the difference. Whether he actually took Jesus up on his challenge and touched the marks of the wounds in his hands and side we are not told. The impression given is that the sight itself proved sufficient. Thomas was so overcome with awe and reverence that he immediately uttered his outstanding confession ‘My Lord and my God.’ What did Thomas mean when he said this? Some have argued that it was merely an exclamation, something like, if you’ll excuse me, ‘Oh my God’. That’s nonsense - it’s far to deliberate on Thomas’ part and given too much prominence in John’s narrative for it to be just a verbal habit. No, this is a profession of faith. Jesus had said ‘stop doubting and believe’ and Thomas is saying both that he believes and what he believes.

        This, the last episode in this Gospel except for the epilogue, confirms what we heard in the very first verse of the Gospel, that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was God. Both ‘my Lord’ and ‘my God’ are ascriptions of deity. In a purely Greek context the word ‘Lord’ was used as a form of polite address - ‘master’ or ‘sir’. But hundreds of years of Bible reading had made it something very different for Jews. In Hebrew they had taken the word ‘adonai’, lord or master, and substituted it for God’s name, Yahweh, so that to this day when a Jewish person reads Scripture he sees ‘Yahweh’ and read ‘Adonai’. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word used in those places was ‘kyrios’, the word Thomas utters here. So his word carries the Biblical weight of the word ‘Lord’. Then of course, he uses the Greek word for God, the same word used throughout the Greek Old and New Testaments. Jehovah’s witnesses and others have tried to diminish this statement, to say that Thomas was not attributing deity to Jesus, but simply seeing in this man God like qualities. But it seems to me this is as clear a statement as anyone could make.

        Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God. But that’s not the only thing Thomas is saying. This is not just theology but personal confession: Thomas says ‘my Lord and my God’. He is taking Jesus as his own, submitting himself to this risen Savior, recognizing that as God he is my sovereign creator and as Lord he has the right to tell me what to do. Do you remember, from the prologue, what John said about receiving Jesus? It was that those who received him, those who believed on his name were given the right to become children of God. Thomas has now confessed his faith in the greatest of all Jesus’ names. He has stopped doubting, and begun believing. And for you as well it is by believing that Jesus did what he said he would do - die for our sins and rise from the dead - and by acknowledging him as your Lord and your God that you are transformed from the darkness of sin to the light of life.

III. Faith that Comes by the Word (John 20:29-31)

        So for Thomas, seeing was believing. But Jesus knows that he will soon ascend to his Father, and then faith will not come through such sight, but instead through the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit speaks them to our hearts, and allows us to experience them in our lives, and uses the words and lives of God’s people to communicate God’s truth. Verses 29 to 31 29Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

        Some have said that Jesus is rebuking Thomas for insisting on sight rather than believing on the basis of testimony. But there’s no evidence in the Greek text that this is a rebuke. Rather, this is an affirmation of Thomas’s faith, but one that looks forward to the faith of those who won’t have the same kind of evidence available to them. Jesus says “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” - Seeing is believing in Thomas’ case, but “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

        This is a beatitude, just like those found in the Sermon on the Mount, The word ‘markarios’, blessed, does not simply declare that those who heed the admonition are ‘happy’, but that they are blessed by God, accepted by God, because without this same evidence, they have the same faith. Like most beatitudes this carries a hint of an admonition: you be like this, believe without the ‘seeing Thomas required.

        Notice how Jesus, and John as he selects his material, has gradually re-elevated the word ‘faith’ in salvation. The previous peak was at the resurrection of Lazarus where Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” But now this Gospel’s cry of ‘believe, have faith, trust’ reaches a new crescendo, as the author hears this blessing from the lips of Jesus and pauses to say ‘Hey this is why I wrote the book.’ Verse 30: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

        Jesus extols a faith that does not require seeing the evidence he showed Thomas. John breaks in to tell us how we can get that faith. First he says, I admit the evidence I’ve given in these twenty chapters is not exhaustive. John has shown us a number of Jesus’ ‘signs’ and told us what they signified, but Jesus did many things John didn’t include. Some of those are recorded in the other Gospels. Many more are apparently not recorded anywhere. At the end of the next chapter, which is really the epilogue to the Gospel, John says “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” This isn’t an exhaustive account.

        But John does tell us why he selected the material he did “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This is the purpose of this Gospel. Don Carson says that if you want to expound this verse you have to expound the whole book. We’ve already looked in the prologue at John’s initial emphasis on receiving and believing. As early as chapter 1, verse 41 we heard Andrew affirm that Jesus is the Christ, or the Messiah. And just a few verses later Nathanael introduces us to the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. These themes are developed throughout the book. As for the outcome of belief, Jesus repeatedly taught that if you believe you receive life - abundant life, eternal life, all kinds of life, as pictured by the provision of bread, and of flowing water, and of a shepherd’s care and the Spirit’s presence. And as for his name, Jesus commends those who believe in it, and teaches repeatedly that this abundant life comes by asking in his name, according to his purpose and character.

        So John has written for a purpose - we’ve seen it all along. He gives his own eye-witness testimony so that though we cannot see these things, we can believe.

        We can extend that to all Scripture. In a very real sense all Scripture is given so we can come to trust Jesus, come to faith. Peter says it this way “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Later he explains that though he and other disciples saw Jesus glorified, we have ‘the words of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.” Peter claims that Scripture is more certain than eyewitness testimony, and he’ll say that it’s because Scripture is testimony confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

        So what I think we’re seeing here is Jesus and John conspiring together, as John concludes his Gospel, to say ‘hey, you can believe’. Even without first hand experience, belief in Jesus rests on compelling evidence, the evidence of Scripture. You can get to know Jesus in Scripture. You can see what he has done for you in Scripture. You can learn what it means in Scripture. In fact I’ve said for many years that by the power of the Spirit the events of Scripture can become as real to you as the events of daily life, so that when Thomas puts sees Jesus’ scars, you see them as well, not with your eyes, but your heart. That’s what the Holy Spirit does through Scripture.

        Jacob de Shazer was sent as one of Jimmy Doolittle's raiders on the famous bombing attack on Japan in April 1942. He was an atheist, believing in no God. During the air attack his plan was hit by enemy anti_aircraft fire and he was forced to bail out. He was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese and thought certainly his life was approaching the end. He saw two of his companions shot by a firing squad and saw another die of slow starvation. During the long months of imprisonment de Shazer pondered the question of why the Japanese hated him and why he hated them. He began to recall some of the things he had heard about Christianity.

        Boldly, he asked his jailers if they could get him a Bible. At first they laughed at him like it was a joke and warned him to stop making a nuisance of himself. But he kept asking. A year and a half later, a guard finally brought him a Bible, flung it at him, and said, "Three weeks you have. Three weeks, and then I take away." True to his word, in three weeks the guard took the Bible away and de Shazer never saw it again. However, in those three weeks of intensive searching, meditating, and delving into humanity's ultimate destiny, de Shazer came to faith in Jesus. Later he was released from Japanese captivity and returned to the States. In 1948, de Shazer, his wife, and infant son were on their way back to Japan as missionaries.

        But most people don’t come to faith just through Scripture, though it can and does happen. But for most people the other facet is the evidence they see in the lives of believers that Jesus makes a difference. Jesus said ‘by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ and when people see our love, they see evidence that our faith is true. When they see our good works, Peter says, they will glorify our Father in heaven, and ask us to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

        So there is often a lot going on around and within you when God is drawing you. There is the evidence of Scripture, and this is combined with the experience of seeing God’s people loving each other, and combined further with the experience of seeing the Holy Spirit at work, whether that is in answering the prayers that God’s people pray for you, or in orchestrating circumstances that drive you to God, or in creating coincidences that bring God’s truth home to you at the exact right time.

        What I’m saying is no, you do not have Jesus here to touch his scars. But you still have evidence and experience that should give you every reason to believe. The evidence is contained in Scripture, the experience is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, and blessed is he who stops doubting and believes.