Sunday, April 3, 2016
Witnesses ~ Thomas
While we don’t know very much about Thomas, unlike many of the disciples, we do hear Thomas speak a few times and what he says gives us some insight into his personality and character. Thomas is first heard when Jesus said he was going to Bethany after the death of Lazarus. Bethany was a dangerous place for Jesus because the last time he had been there the religious leaders wanted to kill him. The disciples reminded Jesus of this danger, but he insisted that he was going, to which Thomas replied, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).
Thomas seems to be a bit of a pessimist here, always seeing the negative, but maybe he just has a hard time seeing who Jesus really is and what the power of Jesus can really do. All Thomas could see by returning to Bethany was disaster, but to give him credit – he did go and he was there when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb
The next time we hear from Thomas is in John 14:4-7. Again, it is Thomas who speaks up and said what the rest of the disciples were probably thinking which was that he doesn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Thomas couldn’t see this home in heaven and so he couldn’t see the way to that home. While Thomas is often described as a doubter, I’m not sure he struggled with doubt as much as he lacked vision. Thomas had a hard time seeing beyond what his eyes told him. He couldn’t see a home in heaven, he couldn’t see how Jesus could be victorious in Bethany and he couldn’t see how Jesus rose from the dead even though all his closest friends told him.
On the day that Jesus rose from the grave He visited his disciples in the upper room and they all got to see him, all but Thomas. We don’t know where Thomas was at that moment. Like the rest of the disciples, Thomas had fled when Jesus was arrested but we don’t know if he regrouped with the rest of the disciples during those long three days Jesus was in the tomb or if Thomas had really run away, but he wasn’t there when Jesus chose to return. And Jesus did choose the moment he returned to the disciples. He could have chosen a time when all the disciples were together, but he didn’t and maybe Jesus choose the moment he did to give a word of blessing and encouragement to all those who would follow him in the future.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus returned but he was with the disciples that next week and he refused to believe that Jesus was alive no matter what the rest of the disciples said. Again, Thomas had a hard time being able to see that Jesus had risen from the dead because all Thomas could see was what his eyes had told him. He saw Jesus betrayed, beaten, crucified and buried. He saw Jesus die and so he couldn’t see any way possible for Jesus to now be alive. I don’t know if it is a lack of faith as much as it is a lack of vision that keeps Thomas from believing.
Like Thomas, it may also be a lack of vision more than a lack of faith that keeps us from believing. Too often we are bound by what we have seen and experienced in life and so it’s hard for us to think that Jesus is alive or that the power of his resurrection is with us so we often say things very similar to Thomas. Unless I can see Jesus, I am not going to believe. Or maybe we have said, unless I get some kind of sign from God – I am not going to believe. Unless I get some kind of clear message from God I am not going to move forward and follow. We may not go to the extreme that Thomas did and say that we need to see the wounds of Jesus and place our hands in those wounds, but we can be just as stubborn as Thomas and just as blind.
While Thomas struggled to see and believe, what’s important for us to learn from Thomas is that he didn’t give up on Jesus or the disciples. Even with his doubts, fears and frustrations, Thomas was still with the disciples a week later when Jesus appeared again. The lesson for us is that God will speak to us and reassure us and strengthen our faith but we need to be willing to wait for God and we need to be willing to wait with the people of God. It is important to keep meeting together in worship and in Bible Study so that we can see Jesus. It is important to continue to spend time together in fellowship and service because the times we spend together are often those times when Jesus will show up. In fact, the promise Jesus makes is: where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you. (Matthew 18:20)
As much as Thomas may have struggled to believe something that every other disciple got to see – he stayed with them and in time Jesus showed up again and revealed himself specifically to Thomas and when Thomas witnessed the living Jesus – everything changed. John’s description of what happens here is pretty brief, but it is profound. First of all, Jesus knew exactly what Thomas said he needed in order to believe which means that Jesus knows everything we need in order to believe. Then Jesus invites Thomas to reach out and touch his wounds which tells us Jesus gives us what we need in order to believe but what’s interesting is that there is no record of Thomas touching Jesus. Maybe Thomas didn’t need to touch Jesus in order to believe because the vision of Jesus alive replaced the vision of Jesus dead and in that moment Thomas believed.
Thomas response to seeing Jesus alive was to say, My Lord and my God. The witness of the risen Jesus changed everything for Thomas. No longer was Jesus just his earthly master or lord, he was now also his God. The witness of the living Jesus moves Thomas to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the very fullness of God. Thomas has not just seen the risen Jesus he is looking at Jesus who was and always had been – God in the flesh. For Thomas, all the teaching and actions of Jesus takes on new meaning. Jesus had told Thomas, I am the way and the truth and the life and now Thomas clearly sees that Jesus being fully God is indeed the only way and that Jesus is the divine truth and the author of life itself. It is a profound moment for Thomas that changes everything.
But it is also a profound moment for you and me because Jesus response to Thomas includes a blessing for us. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29) This is a blessing for us because we are the ones who have not seen Jesus the way Thomas did and yet we have come to believe. After Jesus ascended into heave people were not going to see him the way Thomas did, instead God was going to open their eyes and hearts through the witness of others. This blessing is for all who have come to believe in Jesus as their Lord and God without physically seeing him. We have been blessed by God and it all came about because Thomas was missing the first time Jesus appeared, maybe Jesus planned it that way so he could bless us.
So Thomas witnessed Jesus alive because he was willing to wait with the disciples. Even with all his doubts and questions and fears, Thomas was willing to wait and so he was able to be a witness. When we are willing to wait we will also witness the risen Jesus in ways that will change our hearts and lives. But Thomas wasn’t just a witness of the risen Jesus he was also a witness to the risen Jesus. After being willing to wait with the disciples, Thomas was then willing to go and share what he has seen.
While the Bible doesn’t tell us anything more about Thomas and his ministry, history and tradition helps fill in some of the details. We believe that Thomas travelled east into what we know today as India and that he shared with people his witness of the risen Jesus. Thomas told people about Jesus’ teaching and he told them about his death and then he told them about his resurrection. Thomas told people that Jesus was not just a good teacher and master but that he was God in the flesh and so his teaching was truth and his way of living and loving was what leads to life and life eternal. Thomas gave witness to the risen Jesus being the way, the truth and the life.
The reason we believe Thomas travelled to India is because when the western world finally made voyages into India and missionaries took the gospel to the people they were amazed to find Christian Churches had already been established. These churches didn’t know a lot about the teaching of Paul and they didn’t have the gospels as we know them but they did know about Thomas and many of the churches and people had taken his name.
While the rest of the disciples headed west to Rome, Thomas went east. After not having a vision of how the risen Jesus could change his life, Thomas now had a vision for how the risen Jesus could change the world. Thomas saw an opportunity to go in a direction no one else was going and he knew that there was power in his witness of the risen Jesus because of the blessing of God. Thomas knew that those who heard his testimony would be able to believe without actually seeing Jesus because that is what Jesus had said.
Thomas was willing to go where he saw a need and an opportunity to share the vision of God. Are we? Are we willing to go when we see an opportunity to share the love of God? Are we willing to go when we see a need? Are we willing to go and share what we know and what we have experienced of Jesus? Thomas didn’t have all the answers; he just went and shared what he had witnessed. He shared that Jesus, who once was dead, is now alive. He shared that Jesus was God in the flesh and so He was the way and the truth and the life.
What I love about Thomas is that his vision of Jesus alive was so powerful that it gave him a vision of the world that he worked to fulfill. Our witness of Jesus can also fuel a vision for our lives and our world if we will allow it to. If we will open our eyes and more importantly our hearts to the power of the risen Jesus then we will see needs and opportunities to share this witness with others. God can give us a vision of how our lives can be used to change our families, and community and the world in which we live. Like Thomas, we all have the power to be the kind of witness that can make a difference. We can be a witness that can change someone’s heart and life. We can be a witness that can change the direction of a community. Our witness might even be the one that will begin a movement of spiritual renewal or revival that will change the world, but it comes by first being willing to witness Jesus for ourselves.
If we need to be able to see Jesus alive for our faith to come alive, then today are we willing to wait? Are we willing to wait and stay connected to God’s people so that we can be blessed by God and witness the fullness of God when God reveals himself to us? And then when God comes – and God will come to us, will we be willing to go – go and meet the needs that we see and take advantage of the opportunities we see in a world that still needs to hear the witness of the risen Jesus.
Witnesses ~ Thomas
1. At first Thomas did not see the risen Jesus, but he was willing to wait with the disciples.
• In what ways do you need to “wait” until God appears to you? How can you wait with God’s disciples?
• What can you do to…
o Wait in worship?
o Wait through prayer and study?
o Wait through service and mission?
2. Once Thomas had a vision of the risen Jesus to replace the vision of the betrayed, beaten and buried Jesus, he saw hope and possibility.
• How has a vision of defeat defined your life?
• Where do you need a vision of Jesus to bring you hope and possibility?
o Family, job, finances, purpose in life…
• Identify a time and place where you have had a vision of Jesus in the past that gave you hope and possibility?
3. Fueled with a vision of the risen Jesus, Thomas was willing to go and be a witness of this miracle.
• Where is God calling you to go?
• What opportunity has God revealed to you?
• What message of hope and possibility has God given you to share?
4 Identify one way you have witnessed the power of the risen Jesus.