The Sunday after Easter is Doubting Thomas Sunday.
It’s true across multiple denominations, and it’s true whether you are on a one year lectionary or a three year lectionary. You may have heard Thomas’ story so many times you think you’ve heard it all.
Come with me anyway.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:19-20).
All of the disciples that is, except for Thomas.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20: 24).
Juxtapose this story with one that occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had just completed several miraculous healings and a second miraculous feeding – this time of 4,000 people with just 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. But these miracles weren’t enough of a sign. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side (Mark 8:11-13).
Well, then. If that is Jesus’ response to a demand for a sign, what do you think He does with Thomas? Thomas, one of his twelve closest friends who had travelled with Him for three years and personally witnessed countless miracles – what does Jesus do with him?
One might expect a little exasperation. One might expect Jesus to say, “If you don’t believe in me now, after all you’ve witnessed, then you’re hopeless! I’ve given you all the evidence you need!”
But Jesus doesn’t respond that way, does He?
Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:26-27).
Here we have two stories, both with people demanding further proof from Jesus, and yet two very different responses from Jesus. What was the difference?
The difference, I believe, is that Jesus knew the asker’s heart. Numerous times throughout the New Testament we read how the Pharisees asked Jesus things to test Him, to trap Him, or to ridicule Him. They did not come to Jesus with sincere doubt; they came to Jesus with self-righteousness and hidden agendas. One more sign would not bring them any closer to God.
Jesus walked away.
But to those who sincerely asked – for those who wanted to believe but struggled – Jesus had a very different response.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).
We know what happened next. Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
Did Thomas ever doubt again? I don’t know. Based on my own experiences, I would say probably. But based on my own experiences, I would also say that wrestling with those moments of doubt ultimately led him (again and again) to a deeper exclamation of faith.
Doubt, while seemingly so opposite of faith, is often a catalyst that draws us closer to God. Doubt is not something to shy away from. It is something to grip with two hands and shake. It is something to hold out to God and say, “Help!”
Sometimes in order to be genuine in our faith, we must first be genuine in our doubt. And that, to me, is the lesson from Doubting Thomas Sunday.
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).