The apostle Thomas has been noted for his skeptical attitude. In fact, we refer to a skeptic as a "doubting Thomas." In this message from John 20, we consider four ways Thomas was able to rise up from doubt and become a joyful follower of Jesus.
"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" John 20:31.
Believe:879 is an epic journey through the book of John led by Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque. As we explore each of the 879 verses of this gospel, we'll grow in grace and in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. From His pre-incarnate existence, to His public ministry, through His death and His resurrection we'll traverse familiar territory and embark on new adventures of faith.
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Publications referenced: Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell; Time Magazine
Figures referenced: Clark Pinnock
Cross references: John 11:16; John 14:5; John 18:38; John 20:19-20
Keywords: Thomas, doubting, resurrection
Would you turn in your Bibles this morning to John chapter 20. I'll tell you I was thinking how good the Lord is. We've been going through the gospel of John and we don't have to miss a beat. We can go right on through and where we land this morning as a perfect message for this Resurrection Sunday, John chapter 20. Would you join with me in prayer? Lord, I am struck by the truth that you love deeply every single one of us, that you know us, as David said you've searched us. So there's not a thought that goes through our gray matter but you knew it was coming before we got it. You know the struggles we face. You know our anxieties - what makes us wake up at night, the things we worry about - in terms of our own family or budgets, our future. And how you want us to enter in to an assurance and have a hope that transcends anything that we are dealing with. And I pray that for your people, that as we gather today you would inspire hope that has been there perhaps dormant. Resurrect that hope. And I pray Lord for those who don't yet have the real hope of a personal relationship that comes from knowing your son. I pray Lord that they would enter into that today, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Somebody once described a pessimist as a person who's always sea sick on the voyage of life. Two pessimists met at a party one evening and instead of shaking hands they just shook heads. There was a farmer who was always happy. He was always optimistic about life, yet he had a neighbor who was exactly the opposite, he was that pessimist, everything was always bad. So when the optimist would say, "What a beautiful day filled with sunshine", the pessimist would counter by saying, "It's going to scourge our crops and they'll die". And then on a day when it would rain, the optimist would say, "Isn't God good for watering the corn?" And the pessimist would counter with something like, "If it keeps raining it's going to flood". So one day the optimist decided, "I'm going to get this guy and show him something that he can't even gripe about". They went duck hunting; and they were in the boat and they both had their shotguns and ducks flew over and they both pulled the trigger and a few fell into the lake and the optimist smiled big and said to his dog gleaming his eye, "Go get them". His dog got out of the boat, ran on top of the water retrieved the ducks and brought them back to the boat. The optimist elbowed the guy saying, "What do you think about that?" The pessimist sneered and said, "He can't swim, can he?"
All of that reminds me of somebody in the New Testament that is similar to that named Thomas. I call him the apostle from Missouri. My dad lived there so I can say that, the show-me state, I won't believe until I see it. Thomas wasn't there the first Sunday evening when Jesus appeared first to his men. He missed the whole event. And for Thomas the cross was the end of the road, it was that. There was nothing after that, nothing left. We usually associate Thomas with doubt, we call somebody who is skeptic, we typically call them a Doubting Thomas. As if Thomas is the patron saint of all skeptics. In looking at the Bible, we'll discover that in coming across stories about Thomas, whenever he says something, it sounds to us negative or at least on the dark side. If it were in musical terms, I would say Thomas is the guy who always sings in the minor key. But something happens to him on this day that will change his life and will change his life forever.
We're on John chapter 20. We're going to begin at verse 24 and we're going to look at four ways, since our theme is "Rise Up", four ways that we can rise up today. Number one, "We can rise up and be honest". Be honest, Thomas was. Verse 24, now Thomas called the twin, tuck that away in your mind, one of the 12 was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord!" How do you think they said that? Do you think they said, "We have seen the Lord." Do you think they shouted that, like they were so excited after seeing him? And so he, Thomas said to them, get this, "Unless I see his hands, the print of his nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe".
Thomas was listening to these guys say, "We have seen the Lord", and he's probably thinking, "I'm not as weak as they are. They're the emotional type. They're the mystical type. I've been down this road. I see no evidence no proof." And he probably shrugged it off. My early days as a believer were in college. And because of my chosen major and profession, my professors, the scientific type, were typically agnostic or atheist they can be very down on my belief system. And I was challenged daily by skeptics, and it put me in a really tough situation. It was a dark season, but it got me thinking and looking for, searching for honest authentic evidence for Jesus Christ, which I found. But back to Thomas. Let me give you a little snapshot of this guy. You hear what he said here. If you went back a couple of years when Jesus was going to go up to Jerusalem - Again, listen to Thomas, Jesus says, "We're going up to Jerusalem". The other disciples said, "Not a good idea; they want to kill you there". Jesus says, "We're going none the less". Here's Thomas' contribution, "Let us go that we may die with him". What's up with that? I mean, how positive is that – Let's go we'll all die.
I'll tell you one thing, that's loyal and that's courageous and that's very honest. Here's another time, upper room, Last Supper. Jesus says "Where I'm going, you know and the way, you know". Jesus has been talking about heaven and a lot of things and he says, "Where I'm going you know, and the way you know". Everybody sitting around the table probably going like this, "Yeah". Thomas speaks up, he goes, "Uh, excuse me. We don't know where you're going so how can we know the way?" I've always loved that.
Here's a guy who will speak up when he doesn't get it, he doesn't understand it. Thomas rose up and was honest.
A Sunday school teacher was teaching her class about the good Samaritan, how a man was left by the side of the road dying. And so the teacher asked her class, "What would you do if you saw a man bleeding, beaten and dying by the side of the road?" One little thoughtful girl rose her hand up and said, "I think I'd throw up." She was honest. Thomas could have been that student. He was honest, he wasn't faking it. Cynical, yes; hard-boiled, perhaps but honest.
At this point in the game, the disciples, including Thomas, needed a rational, reasonable explanation for them to believe. And here's why, they've been with Jesus, they put all their faith in him, they've heard all of his stories, all of the cool miracles he did, and then he died on the cross. It's over, it's over. Thomas hadn't seen the resurrected Lord, it's over. Whatever that was that we saw that was so cool the last few years, it is over now. At this point there's nothing substantive to substantiate believing in Jesus anymore or the claims that he made, until the resurrection, until Thomas actually sees the Lord. That restores the reason for him to believe.
Why is this important? It's important because Christianity has always appealed to historical fact and rational belief. You see we say that the heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false. God is never asking anyone to take a leap into the darkness. "Oh, he's going to take a leap of faith. It's just a leap into the dark." No it's not, it's a leap into the light and its rational. One skeptic who became a believer wrote these words, "I took the evidence that I could gather and put it on two scales". The scales tip the way of Jesus being the son of God and resurrected from the dead. It was so overwhelmingly leaning to Christ that when I became a Christian, it was a leap into the light, rather than a leap into the darkness. But the first step is for you to be honest. If you have doubts that's okay, voice them, be honest about them. But then also, be honest about your life. Do you sense that in your life, all of the status, all of the education, all of the materialism or lack thereof isn't enough to satisfy you? Then be honest about them. Be honest about your past. You're not perfect. Wouldn't you love to know that you're forgiven of anything and everything?
Be honest about that, be honest about your desires, about what you want. Do you ever feel like there could be - you hope there is something more than what you've already experienced in life? And be honest about your sin. Call it what it is, it's called confession in the Bible and bring that to the Lord. Rise up and be honest, Thomas was.
Number two, rise up and be amazed. Look at the next verse, verse 26. After eight days, his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being shot and stood in the midst and said, "Peace to you". What was Thomas' reaction at that point? Okay, I'm going to guess. "Wow, I didn't expect that to happen". He's just been mouthing off, "I'm going to believe until I see", "Hi, peace to you", "Wow". Now there's a little couple words you may have missed, I did the first time read them. Notice the phrase, "after eight days". You mean the disciples had to put up with Thomas for 8 days, they had to listen for 8 days. "I don't believe that. He didn't show up today either". And then the third day, "Didn't show up today either" and then "He's not coming, not going to happen. I will not believe until I can touch and see".
And I bet, a couple of those other disciples started feeling maybe a little bit like Thomas on the doubting side but after 8 days, guess who shows up for dinner. Jesus pops in the room, Thomas saw, and it changed everything for him. Do you know what - Thomas is like so many people who live their lives without Christ and thus without hope.
Life without God becomes an exercise in focusing on oneself and discovering the lack of meaning and lack of purpose. Life is meaningless, more and more people without God are discovering. I want to read something to you; I hope it really gets to your heart like it did to mine. This was posted on an atheist website by a young woman who frequented that website and she left her comments. And I quote, she writes, "I'm confused. I've always believed that science would be the cure-all for my problems but I don't know if I can keep living without eternal life. I guess I'll just have to find a way myself to make it through this meaningless existence. I just wish I knew of someone who could show me the path to eternal life. If science can't provide the answers though, then who or what can? And then she writes, "[Sigh], Doesn't it seem like there's a higher power that gives our life purpose? Well, science says there isn't and so, there isn't."
How sad is that? That is the cry of the human heart. Life is without any purpose or meaning. So I've got to find, figure out, navigate something to make it worth living another day. What the resurrection did though for Thomas, is rekindle hope - Wow, wonder, amazement. Thomas rose up and was amazed. Hey, get this – Did you know that there are many churches who don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead? They deny the resurrection. I don't know what they do on Easter. "Hi, what do we do? I don't know – what we always do". They don't believe in resurrection, so what exactly do they believe in? There's a number of fallacies they hold to. They will say number one, "That Jesus is risen in spirit". What does that mean? Is that like my grandma? We say when somebody dies, "They're up in heaven looking down, there with us in spirit". Is that all? Is that what Jesus is, risen in spirit. If that's true, let's go golfing instead of being here it's a nice day. Why are we here if he has risen in spirit? Others will say, "He has risen in our hearts", that's what the resurrection is, Jesus is alive in our hearts. We have the Christ consciousness. We have the Christ concept. We have the Christ Spirit. Oh go away, how hopeless. That's jibber jabber.
Another explanation by some so-called Christians and this comes from Time magazine always a reliable source of credible information, that Jesus is risen in the sense that his teachings live on. He didn't really rise physically, bodily, literally but his teachings live on like Buddha or Gandhi. Because we have his words and we keep saying his words, he keeps getting back up. What a joke. Jesus is not some creed or some concept. He's a person who's alive today and forevermore and without that we got nothing. And you have to understand something, this day is so special us because this teaching of the resurrection is the pivotal point of everything, it is the heart of everything we are about. With no resurrection, there's no hope and we might agree to disagree in a number of things but not the resurrection. If Jesus did not bodily, physically rise from the dead, then Jesus Christ is a liar, because he said he would die and rise again. He said that and if he didn't do it, he's a liar.
Number two, if he didn't bodily physically rise from the dead there is no forgiveness of our sins. There is no salvation and there's no hope. And so Thomas was right in being utterly hopeless until he rose up and was honest and rose up and was amazed at seeing the risen Lord. There is something to notice before we move on to the third point quickly. It says in what we read, Thomas was with them when Jesus showed up Thomas was with them because if Thomas wasn't with them the first time Jesus showed up, go back to verse 19 and notice. This is the first time now, "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 their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you". When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side and the disciples were glad, overjoyed, rejoicing is the term when they saw the Lord. Okay stop, Thomas wasn't there that first time. He missed that. He was out of fellowship, you might say. He missed that. He missed the appearance, the presence of Jesus, the commission of Jesus, the joy that everybody shared. He missed-out on all of that, and I bet when Jesus showed up, one of the apostles were thinking, "I wish Tom were here".
Don't you wish Tom could see this? This should be so good for Tom. Ever say that, when you're at church and you hear something and you go, "I wish Jack could hear this or I wish Shelly were here to hear this". I bet they were saying that about Thomas, but Thomas was absent. Thomas was an isolated, out of fellowship Christian. You might call him a believer but not 'belonger'. And people who are isolationists, they don't stay in regular fellowship, become pessimistic like Thomas over time, brittle, hardened, hard-boiled. They miss-out on so much.
Here's the third thing, "Rise up and be diligent". What do I mean? Well, you can read and see for yourself. Then he, Jesus said to Thomas, "reach your finger here and look at my hands and reach your hand here and put it into my side". You know what we call this, we call this 'Busted'. Thomas mouthing off, "I'm only going to believe if Jesus shows up here" uh-oh. When I was in highschool, this is what this reminds me of. I had a similar example or incident. It was PE class, afternoon, I was senior in highschool and there was this kid on the team that didn't get along with me. I didn't get along with him. And I was mouthing off about he wasn't a good athlete, he wasn't a good runner, he wasn't this, he's that. He was standing right behind me the whole time I'm mouthing off. And were it not for the coach standing there, I would have got decked, because he was superior to me in all the ways that I was ditching him on.
What Thomas' experience is like that - a hundredfold, because Jesus shows up and says, "Peace to you Thomas, by the way reach forth and touch and see that it is me". I love this about Jesus, he condescend so graciously to Thomas' doubt and he invites Thomas, "Okay Tommy boy, Mr. empirical, Mr. I won't believe unless it's science, touch, see, feel". I challenge you to do the same, if you want evidence of the Christian experience there's plenty of it but be honest and be diligent and be ready to be amazed. Because you'll discover that Christianity, that Jesus Christ has three basic credentials. And as you examine three lines of evidence, you'll be amazed but be diligent.
Number one, "Jesus' impact upon human history unlike anybody else". The impact that Christ has made upon human history is unique, singular, unparalleled. Number two, "The claims that Jesus made about himself". Number three, "A bodily resurrection". Nobody ever claimed, no other religious leader, a bodily resurrection for themselves. Only Jesus claimed, there would be an empty tomb and there was. And his followers went to the death believing that. Not one broke.
Aristotle said, "Everyone desires to know truth". That is true. Everybody wants to know truth. We all have a fundamental conviction that we build our lives upon truth, whatever we really believe is true, we form everything from that basis. And so, the day Pilate said to Jesus, "What is truth?" On one hand it was a cynical question on the other hand it was the deep yearning of his heart. "Please, is there anybody out there to show me truth?" and then Pilate walked out of the room as if to say, "I don't think that anybody could do it, it's not possible".
A friend of mine is a teacher. True story, he does this frequently but on one occasion, he put a jar of marbles on his desk and he asked the students, "Guess how many marbles are on the jar?" One student said, "168"; another student, "221", another student, "250". There were actually announced 188 marbles in the jar. Then the teacher asked, "Which of all the answers so far was the closest to being right?" and everybody agreed, it was 168, that was the answer that was closest to 188. He goes, "Okay, that's provable, that's an objective truth. We can count the marbles and see that, 188 marbles".
Then the teacher passed out those little starburst candies, different flavors to all the students, different flavors to each student. And then the teacher asked the students this question, "Which flavor is the right flavor?" and the students looked back like, "What, that didn't make any sense. What do you mean what's the right flavor?" The right flavor is whatever you personally prefer as the right flavor. Some might like orange. I don't know anybody who likes orange. Most people like red or yellow or whatever. Then the teacher said, "Okay, when it comes to religious claims, spiritual claims – Are spiritual claims like the marbles in the jar or the candies I passed out?" You know, most of the students said, it's like the candies you passed out. One might prefer this belief, one might prefer that belief, one might prefer red or nobody orange or green or yellow. They said it's a personal preference, whatever road you choose and belief system and the teacher, my friend, said, "That's wrong, when it comes to Christianity, Christianity is based on objective, historical fact of the resurrection. Either that tomb was empty or it was not empty". And that's what we have to examine.
I'm encouraging you to make whatever belief system you're going to get into not based upon your personal bias or your prejudice disposition or philosophical outlook but actually look at the facts. Thomas was confronted with that. He rose up and was honest, he rose up and was amazed, he rose up and by the beckoning of Jesus was diligent to examine the evidence.
Fourth and finally, "Rise up and believe". Verse 27, at the very end of that verse, "Do not be unbelieving but believing". And Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God", Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed". A better translation, "Oh, how happy", my translation, "Totally stoked are those who have not seen and yet have believed". And then John adds this postscript to the story, "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".
Isn't it amazing how just a few verses ago, Thomas said, "I will not believe". And here he is doing what? Believing, because he was honest, he was diligent, he was amazed, he believed. He was so adamant that he wouldn't believe, that's it's a strong phrase. "I positively will not believe". And hearing that for 8 days, he kind of believed it himself. Aren't people funny? You can tell a man that there are 735,688,000,000 stars out there and he'll say, "I believe that". Show that same man a sign that says, "Wet paint", and he feels like he has to stop and personally investigate it.
So Thomas was there to personally investigate it, and it was a good thing that he did because he believed. Thomas rises from the lowest depths of despair and disbelief to the highest pinnacle of faith. He says, "My Lord", that's the typical way to address Jesus, "and my God", that's his deity name, "You are my Lord and you are my God". Oh what joy must have flooded Thomas' soul. Because just as the others, it says, "they were glad when they saw the Lord" but Thomas wasn't there. Now Thomas is there and he too was glad.
Now I asked you to tuck something away in your mind at the beginning of this message and so I close with this. Thomas has given another title, did you notice in verse 24? Now, Thomas called the twin, you know that Thomas typically, when he's mentioned in the Bible they always say Thomas the twin. Did you ever wonder who his twin was? Well, we don't know that. And I'm not bringing that up to frustrate you. Great if they would tell us the answers. I don't know who his twin is, just the other guy. He is called the twin, but I have a hunch that there are even some of you sitting here today who could be Thomas' twin, you think like Thomas and you pride at yourself in the fact that you think like Thomas. That's okay, maybe you're Thomas' twin.
You could rise up and with honesty and diligence, you too like Thomas come to believe. If you're thinking, "Well, I'm just not that kind of person." Like coming on Easter Sunday, this is a lot of fun but I'm not that sort. I'm not the believing sort. I beg to differ with you. You can be an atheist this morning, you have faith, you believe something, you exercise faith in something. As an example, for you to get up and drive your car, that takes faith. I've seen some of your cars, takes a lot of faith. I've seen how some of you drive, lot more faith, plus you live in New Mexico. So you need a lot of faith to get out on the roads here. No, but honestly, you might know nothing about the combustion engine, but you believe if you put your key in that little hole and turn it that way. You're going to hear a noise and it's going to start. And if you'd grab that little stick and move it back – zoom, you go backwards, you believe that. You may not understand it but you believe it. You have faith.
It takes faith to go to a bank, especially these days. You've got this little paper in your hand. You go to the bank to get some cash for it. How do you know they'll give it to you? All that is, is a piece of paper. All that is, is a promise somebody made to you but you have faith that that promise is good at that institution. That takes faith. It takes faith to go to a restaurant, some restaurants more faith than others. If you believe that you're going to get nourished, that you're not going to get sick, or you're not going to die, that they prepared it the right way, that they follow all the rules and regulations. For you to go to the doctor, it takes faith. When the doctor says, "You're a bilateral blah-blah-blah", you go, "Okay cool, I have no idea what that is but I trust you totally doc." And, it takes faith to get you to heaven. But it's not a leap in the dark, it's a leap into the light.
But it takes faith, it takes active faith where you will say, "I recognize that Jesus is the one who can fulfill my life, that he is the savior. I'm willing to make a step and stand on that. I believe that. I also believe that I'm a sinner and that I need him, you have to believe that. And I'm willing to leave that behind and give my life to him and have him, make that transaction for me. That's active faith. And Easter is all about that. Easter is all about giving life, eternal life. And we want to invite some of you to make that step this morning.
Would you stand with me as we close in prayer? Father, this morning on this wonderful beautiful day that you have given, the most beautiful thing about it is the hope that continues to live in our lives daily, actively in reality, in time and space, because of the promise Jesus made that he would die and rise again and the evidence that shows he did - conquering death, giving us hope even in the face of our own mortality. Lord, I now pray for the hearts who have heard this message. A seed has been sewn into soil, may it bear fruit. May the good sunshine of your spirit warm that soil, breaking up the – ground, watering it and letting it blossom in our midst here this morning.
As we're bringing this Easter message to a close, you're about to go out, meet with family, friends or maybe not, maybe just alone, maybe it's going to be a lonely day for you. Maybe you're from another state and you just moved here and you don't know anybody. Or your family is broken up and there's pain in your life because of it. No matter who you are, no matter where you're from, no matter what your background, you need to know this. You can have hope. You can live in hope. And it doesn't have to be hope for one day. You're going to fix one day, and you hope it lasts a year. It can be every single day for you, as Jesus steps inside the cavern, the house of your heart and lives there is the king. He can make everything brand-new. But you have to let him in.
He's knocking at the door but you have the control to open or close it. You can close every word out and walk away or you can open your heart maybe for the first time. Some of you are simply religious people. You believe in the notion of gathering together and believing in a higher power. You like the ritual of it. Others of you who have trusted in your own goodness, you say, "You don't need religion". It has gotten you by without for a long time, you don't need anything else now. I agree with you, God doesn't like religion either. He has something infinitely better, a relationship with his Son. Maybe you made a commitment years ago to Christ as a younger person. You're not walking with him today, you would love to know that you can come back home, you can.
As we sing this final song, I'm going to ask many of you who don't know Jesus personally, who don't know your sins are forgiven, who aren't certain that if you were to die, you'd be in heaven. I want you to come and be sure. I want you to rise up and come forward and receive Christ as your Lord and savior. So as we sing this final song. I'm going to ask you to get up from where you are standing. Find the nearest isle. Stand right up here in front and allow me to lead you in a prayer to receive Christ into your life. So there's no doubt that you're a child of God, your sins are forgiven and you can live with hope as we sing, "You come, we'll wait for you" you should come right now.Here's what we're going to do now. I'm going to lead you in a prayer. I'm going to pray something out loud and I'm going to ask you to pray this out loud after me. Pray these words from your heart to the Lord. This is you asking Jesus to take control of you. Let's pray, Lord, I give you my life. I admit I'm a sinner. Forgive me. I believe that Jesus died for me and that he rose again for me. I turn from my sin; I turn to you as my savior. Help me to live for you as my Lord in Jesus' name, Amen, Amen.