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Series B
Thomas, an Honest Doubter: Gospel Analysis

 EASTER 2 A, B, C     John 20:19-31

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 330-331. 

The Gospel of John: John's Story of the Resurrection

The Gospel of John is the only gospel in which we have a full description of the resurrection stories. The other three gospels are more fragmented in their telling of the resurrection story, but John’s gospel gives us his complete version of these events.

Earlier in this course, we have consistently said that John was a reliable and credible eyewitness who gave us numerous juicy historical details of events in Jesus’ life e.g. Jesus walking in the portico in the temple in the season of winter or the detailed description of a bowl of full of vinegar near the foot of the cross on Good Friday.

John, “the other disciple,” “the beloved disciple,” was the only disciple at the crucifixion to report to us the lurid details of that event; he was also present on Sunday morning to give us the fascinating details of the resurrection stories. It was as if we had a reporter on the scene for both Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning. That reporter’s name was John.

Since John gives us the only running narrative of the resurrection stories, we will study his account as one unit.

All the following stories come from the Gospel of John. We are going to study all of John’s stories together and sequentially.

#352. The Women at the Tomb (only John’s version)  

John 20:1-13

-Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. As was said earlier, the primary person in John’s story is Mary Magdalene who was the first person to see the Risen Christ. As John tells the story about that first Easter morning, it seems that Mary Magdalene was all alone, but on careful reading of the next verse, we discover that she had unnamed women friends with her.

Mary Magdalene’s name is mentioned in Luke 8:2 as a person who had seven demons. She is mentioned again in the crucifixion and resurrection stories. All other innuendoes about Mary Magdalene’s personality (e.g. a prostitute, Jesus' lover, etc) are based on hypothetical conjecture with no Biblical support nor support from any other first century literature. .

-So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, In the resurrection stories, several women run to tell the news; in the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene specifically ran to tell Peter and John. Once again, John is not named but is the “beloved disciple,” the disciple whom Jesus loved.  

-And said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Mary knew that the tomb was empty and she assumed that someone had taken the body. Perhaps it was the Jewish guards. Perhaps it was the gardener. Perhaps it was the Jewish leaders who were trying to play some kind of perverse trick.  Perhaps it was some unidentified grave robbers who stole the body and created one of the greatest hoaxes in human history.

Unobtrusively, Mary calls Jesus, “Lord.” During his lifetime, the disciples called Jesus “Lord.” During the resurrection stories, we will hear that title often. The Apostle John wants us to call Jesus “our Lord” as well.

-Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, Peter and John set out immediately to find out what was going on, only knowing that the tomb was empty and perhaps someone had stolen the body. Soon, if not immediately, the two of them were running. You can feel the intensity of adrenalin within them as the two of them ran towards the tomb, not knowing what to expect. Again, the Gospel of John gives us juicy little details e.g. both John and Peter were running together. John remembered that moment when he was running with Peter to the tomb and then told us about it. This personal story feels like an "eye witness" account.

-But the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. This is a nice detail that John gives us. According to tradition, John was the youngest disciple and outran the older fisherman, Simon Peter. John got there first.

-He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  The story is consistent in all the versions about the disciples “stooping” to look in. That is, the disciples had to stoop or bend down to look into the tomb.

In most of the modern pictures of Jesus’ tomb today, there is a tall, normal doorway that people walk into, but the Scriptures are consistent that the disciples had to stoop to get into Jesus’ grave.

Raymond Brown’s commentary tells us that archeological studies of gravesites reveal a three-foot high door into a cave-like tomb.

John saw the linen wrappings. Some people suggest those linen wrappings were none other than the famous Shroud of Turin.

-Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  Like always, Peter took the initiative and boldly entered the tomb. He entered before young John.

- He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth/napkin that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. The details are so specific, and we are accustomed to that from John. There have been numerous occasions in the Gospel of John where John has been our reporter at the scene and has given us the juicy little details. Like a detective, John gives us a detailed report about the presence of the empty shroud. The shroud was a long sheet of linen that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body. Also present was the linen napkin that had been covering his face.The detective- author records for us still another precise detail: the linen napkin that had covered Jesus’ face was rolled up and sitting neatly in a place by itself. It is as if John was a “still life” portrait painter and he painted for us this sacred scene inside the tomb where Jesus’ dead body had been laid. It was as if miraculously, Jesus had gotten up and lifted the linen napkin off from his face and then neatly rolled that linen cloth up into a roll like a rolled napkin on a dinner table. As with many scenes from John’s gospel, John was like a sharp-eyed detective or an observant artist in his minute descriptions.

Or else he was conning us by giving us all these juicy historical details to create the appearance and illusion of historical authenticity. If that is true, then John was a deceptive liar who was bent on tricking the world into believing Jesus had been raised from the dead.

It seems that the reader has a choice: either John the Apostle was accurately reporting the detailed events of Jesus’ life, Good Friday and Easter or he was a deceptive fabricator of historical details in order to create the illusion of historical authenticity.

-Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; John saw and believed. This is the first instance of a person believing in the Risen Christ. Sixty five times in John’s gospel, we invited to believe in Christ. The number one quality of a disciple is to believe in Christ. Throughout the gospel and the story of Jesus, John wants us to believe in this Jesus who turns water into wine and heals the sick. But this is the first story about the Risen Christ where a person comes to believe. And the person who firsts believes is none other than John himself. Without seeing the Risen Christ, without seeing his risen body or the nail prints in his hands or the cut in his side, John believed.

-For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. John believed even before the disciples remembered and understood what Jesus had said about himself that he was going to be raised from the dead by the powers of God.

-Then the disciples returned to their homes. We don’t know where their homes were. Luke had told us that Peter went home after seeing the linen cloths and was amazed at what he saw. It was as if the linen clothes were clues that something really big had happened and they were just about to discover what it was.

#353. The Women at the Tomb (John’s version)    

John 20:14-18

-But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. This is Mary Magdalene and we can easily imagine that she was weeping. Not only had her Lord been brutally beaten, scourged and crucified, but now she thought that someone had stolen his body. Mary would have been numb and devastated by the unfolding painful events of the past few days.

-As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; Once again, she bent over to look into the grave. She was crying, with a deep sorrow that swept through her inner heart. It must have been too much for her, seeing the execution of Jesus and then thinking that someone had stolen the body.  That day, things had gone from bad to awful, from awful to worse than awful. Some days are like that.

-And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. At this point in the story, there is no mention of the linen clothing neatly lying there, but rather the focus is on two angels, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. Again, the description is very detailed. That is, one angel was sitting where Jesus’ head had been; another angel was seated at his feet.

-They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ That is always an important question to all human beings who grieve at the death of their loved ones. Why are we weeping at the death of our mother, father, child or spouse? Are we weeping for the deceased? For the family? For ourselves?

-She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Mary assumes that someone has stolen the body and she doesn’t know who it was. The “they” seems be the chief priests and others who had plotted Jesus’ execution. Such people, Mary may have assumed, would have stolen his body away as well.

She calls Jesus “my Lord” and her Lord’s body was gone, presumably stolen. Circle the word, “my” and focus on that simple word. We are going to see the little word, “my,” three times in John’s resurrection stories. “Your Father and my Father.”  “You are my Lord and my God.” Mary Magdalene had this close relationship to Jesus in that she simply called him “my Lord” and John wants us to call Jesus “my Lord” as well.

-When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Why did she not recognize Jesus? We do not know. But we are often in the same situation: Jesus is standing near us and we do not recognize him. We will find the same theme later in the Gospel of John during Jesus’ third resurrection appearance on the Sea of Tiberias when the disciples did not immediately recognize the true identity of Jesus. This same theme also occurs in the Gospel of Luke when the men on the road to Emmaus also did not recognize the true identity of Jesus.

-Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ The Risen Christ, unknown to Mary, asks two important questions for Mary Magdalene and for us as well. Why are you weeping, _______? And you insert your own name. For me personally, “Why are you weeping, Edward? Why are you weeping at the grave of your mother, your father, your cousin, your good friend?” Jesus asks all of us the same questions.

Jesus asks another question of us, “Whom are you looking for?” Whom are you looking for, ______? And you insert your own name in that blank. That also is a question that Jesus often asks of us:  “Who are we looking for? What are we looking for?” So often in life, we seem to be driven by some inner forces. Jesus makes up stop and asks of each one of us, “What are you really looking for?”

-Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Mary assumes that perhaps Jesus was the gardener of this new garden and perhaps the gardener may have taken the body of Jesus and laid it someplace else.

Centuries later, as we consider what happened to the body of Jesus, many people have conjectures about what possibly may have happened to the stolen body. They think to themselves:

  • Maybe it was the gardener who stole the body away?
  • Maybe the Jewish soldiers?
  • Maybe the high priests or their accomplices?
  • Maybe the other disciples?
  • Maybe the women?
  • Maybe the gardener?
  • Maybe some grave robbers?

Sometimes in our lives of doubting and questioning, we become detectives who wonder perhaps if someone stole the body from the grave. “The gardener” is one possible answer.

-Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ The Risen Christ calls Mary by her personal name. She freezes with recognition. Someday, the Risen Christ will call us by our personal name, and we will hear his voice and we too will be stunned with elation…that all these beliefs about eternal life and the resurrection and immortality are true. There is that day when God will call us by name and we will know for sure that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life and that whoever lives and believes in him will never die.

-She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Teacher. She called him, “Teacher.” Jesus had been teaching Mary her whole life. Teaching about the kingdom. Teaching about the abundant life. Teaching about eternal life. Teaching about love of God and neighbor. Teaching about the Father and we are his children. Teaching that he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day. There was so much that Mary had learned from Jesus, the Teacher.

-Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. Mary was not to hold onto the Risen Christ. We are not sure why. In the next story, doubting Thomas will be asked to touch Jesus’ hands and side. It seems that Mary wanted to embrace and hold on to the Risen Christ who had been through so much suffering. It seems that Mary Magdalene wanted to hold on to that special occasion with the Risen Christ, to prolong that sacred event and bask in that heavenly moment of resurrection.

The Greek word for “hold on to” is “aptesthai” which means “to hold, grasp, or cling.” (Brown, V. 2, p. 992). That Greek word was used in Luke 7:14 which is the story about the raising of the widow’s son from the dead. Jesus “touched” the coffin and said to the young man, “Young man, get up.” Jesus touched or held onto the coffin of the widow’s son.

For centuries, scholars have argued about the inconsistency of the Risen Christ telling Mary Magdalene not to “hold on to” him and in the next resurrection appearance, the Risen Christ telling Thomas to “touch” him and his wounds. Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary, mentions “twelve different types of explanation.” (Brown, JOHN, V. 2, p. 992) None of those explanations are satisfactory or make sense to the reader.

I would like to offer the thirteenth interpretation of this event.

As a pastoral interpreter of this incident, it seems to me that Mary Magdalene wanted to hold on to the Risen Christ, to hold on to that sacred moment, to prolong this resurrection bliss. Jesus said to her, “Don’t hang on to me. I have more work that needs to be done. Don’t constrain me. I need to appear to the other disciples, to give the Holy Spirit and send out the disciples, to appear to Thomas, and ascend to the Father.” It seems as if Mary Magdalene wanted to hold on to her sacred moment with the Risen Christ and prolong her heavenly joy. Jesus gently chided her and said, “Don’t hold me. Don’t confine me. I have more work that needs to be done.”

In Jesus’ second resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John, (the appearance to Mary Magdalene being the first), the Risen Christ next appeared to his ten disciples without Thomas and then to the eleven disciples with Thomas. The primary issue in this second resurrection appearance was doubt. It was good old fashioned, basic human doubt, and the disciples had plenty of it.  It wasn’t that the disciples wanted to prolong their heavenly resurrection ecstasy like Mary Magdalene did because these doubting disciples were not sure if Jesus was real in the first place. Mary Magdalene had not been wrestling with such “gut level” doubt as the other disciples were. The other disciples needed to see, touch and feel the reality of Jesus’ body and flesh, that the Risen Christ was not a vision or a hallucination. So Jesus addressed the disciples’ real needs and had his disciples touch, see and feel his wounds. Mary didn’t have those deepest doubts that the disciples did. She did not need to see, feel and touch in order to be convinced that Jesus was alive and real.

In a whole different direction, Dan Brown has written an enormously popular novel entitled, THE DA VINCI CODE in which “an ancient secret” was finally revealed. What was the ancient secret? That Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers, that they were husband and wife, that they had a biological child, that Jesus Christ was not really divine but fully a human, that Mary Magdalene was the human foundation of the church and not Simon Peter, that the Church has been trying to squelch the primacy of Mary Magdalene, etc. etc. etc.  A good historian does not take this novel as a serious piece of historical research but understands what the book is: a finely crafted novel that keeps the reader in suspense for 600 pages. There is no historical credulity for Dan Brown’s implied assertions about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, that they were lovers, that they were husband and wife, and that Mary Magdalene wanted to physically embrace Jesus because of her deep emotional and physical love for him.

-But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Throughout his teachings during his lifetime, Jesus had taught that God was his Father and our Father, and this was one of the most seminal, creative, ingenious and revelatory teachings of Jesus. Some scholars say that Jesus’ teachings about “abba”, “papa,” and the nearness and intimacy with God as our heavenly Father are the primary teachings of Jesus. “My Father and your Father; my God and your God.” These are the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus foretold that he was ascending to his Father, from whom he came in the first place.

-Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. Whoa!!! Wow!!! Mary had seen the Risen Lord and knew it and believed it. She then found the disciples and told them what she had seen and heard. She reported the message that Jesus had spoken to her: that is, Jesus was going to ascend to the Father, to her Father and his Father.

Mary, a woman, was the first person to see the Risen Christ. In a world in which women were considered property and had no legal rights, in a world in which women were considered possessions, chattel, and material goods, the role of women was transformed by the attitudes and teachings of Jesus. The stories of the woman at the well and Mary and Martha reveal Jesus’ positive attitudes and actions to women. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the Risen Christ and she was a woman. A woman first saw the Risen Christ. In this significant and historically accurate gesture, the New Testament elevated the status of women. Shortly, we will study Luke’s account of the resurrection and that a group of women first experienced the empty tomb. We will remember that Luke’s gospel records several positive stories about women of faith. 


#356. Jesus Appears to his Disciples (Thomas being absent, focus on John’s version)    

The gospel text for this coming Sunday about doubting Thomas begins here:

John 20:19-23

In the Gospel of John, this encounter with the disciples is the second resurrection appearance. The first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene; the second was to the disciples (first without Thomas on Easter Sunday evening and then with Thomas a week later); the third will be to the seven disciples on the Sea of Tiberias (Lake Galilee.) The Apostle John was counting those resurrection appearances. In John 21:14, we hear “This was the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

-When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, On that Sunday evening, the disciples were sequestered in a house and the doors of that house were locked because of their fear of the Jews/Pharisees/chief priests who had planned, plotted and pushed through the execution of Jesus. None of the disciples had yet seen the Risen Christ. None of the disciples had seen, touched, felt or connected with the Risen Christ. The disciples had only heard the story of what Mary Magdalene had seen. They themselves had not had a “first hand encounter” with the Christ of glory.

-Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Whoa! There was the Risen Christ, standing right in the middle of the group. How did Jesus get here? How did Jesus get into the house? The doors were locked. The disciples thought that they were safe from their cunning adversaries. Suddenly, for the first time, the Risen Christ was among them and talking to them face to face. He said “Peace. Peace be with you.” The first word from the Risen Christ to his disciples was “peace.” In his life, teachings and resurrection, Jesus came to be known as the Prince of Peace. We remember that Jesus gives a quality of peace that the world does not give. In the Gospel of John, this was the first experience of resurrection for the disciples. It seems what the Risen Christ wanted more than anything else for his disciples to have peace.

-(Luke’s only) They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. In his version of the event,Luke emphasizes that the disciples were startled, terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost or a spirit. His disciples were filled with doubts, especially since they thought they were seeing an apparition or a mental fantasy. To counter the disciple’s doubt, Jesus asked his disciples to touch his hands, feet and side and thereby prove that he was not a figment of their collective imagination.  To counter the disciples’ doubts, Jesus asked for something to eat and he ate a piece of boiled fish, thereby demonstrating that he was not a mental apparition. The theme of Jesus’ demonstrating to his disciples his actual presence is also found in John’s gospel.

In this resurrection appearance, notice that the body of Christ has wounds from the crucifixion. The wounds from the scourging are not emphasized in this gospel as they are in the movie, THE PASSION. In the Gospel of John, the wounds on Jesus’ hands and feet are emphasized. In the movie of THE PASSION, the sadistic whipping and stripping of Jesus’ body with thousands of riplets of blood are emphasized.  The scourging during the movie, THE PASSION, make for gripping, cruel drama that appeals to human sadistic impulses, but the intense whipping and scourging to Jesus’ body was not emphasized in the Biblical account on Good Friday nor in the Biblical accounts of the resurrection stories. 

-After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The first thing that the Risen Christ did with his disciples was to show them his hands and side. John’s gospel does the same thing as the Gospel of Luke was doing. That is, both the Gospels of John and Luke demonstrate that the Risen Christ was not a ghostly apparition or figment of their collective imagination. The disciples could actually see Jesus’ hands and his side.

-Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. It was then, when their minds were satisfied that he Jesus was not a ghost/spirit, the disciples rejoiced because they knew that they were seeing their Lord.

-Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When Jesus first came, he pronounced peace upon them and he did so a second time. The Risen Christ was the Prince of Peace and his disciples were to become people of peace.

He then laid down his mission plans: that the disciples were to be sent out into the world as he, himself, had been sent down to the earth by his heavenly Father. Christians are "sent" people. We are always sent out into our world around us to be servants of Christ to human need.

-When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. After he said this, he breathed on them or blew wind on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit came on the community at this moment in the story and not later as in the Pentecost story via the Book of Acts.

When the disciples received the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John, there was no emphasis about speaking boldly for Jesus Christ and becoming his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Instead, having received the Holy Spirit, the disciples were entrusted with the power to declare sins as either forgiven or retained.

-If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ This is the power of the keys that we studied earlier, the power to forgive or condemn sins. In the liturgy for Sunday morning worship in most mainline congregations, after the confession of sin, a pastor declares God’s forgiveness of sin. For centuries, pastors in the Church of Christ have echoed this continuing declaration of forgiveness. It is part of the office of the keys: “To the genuinely penitent, as an ordained pastor of Jesus Christ, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” But there is a negative side to that pronouncement. “And to those who are not penitent, I declare to you that your sins are not forgiven.” 

In the Gospel of John, the experience of this particular resurrection story has several highlights e.g.

  • It was Jesus’ first appearance to any of the disciples,
  • his invitation to peace,
  • his demonstration that he was not a ghost/spirit,
  • his invitation to his disciples to see his hands and sides,
  • his sending of his disciples out into the world,
  • his gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples,
  • his gift to his disciples of the declaration of forgiveness and condemnation.

#357. Jesus Appears to his Disciples (Thomas Being Present, only John)

John 20:24-29

-But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. This story is a continuation of the previous story. It is one longer story about the disciples’ first encounter with the Risen Christ, but the story comes with two parts: Jesus’ appearance to the disciples without Thomas and then his appearance to the disciples with Thomas. We discover that Thomas was a twin and was called that as a nickname. The Twin, Thomas, was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them.

-So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ The other ten disciples knew that they had seen the risen Lord.

-But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ This line spoken by Thomas has become famous and symbolic: “Unless I see with my own eyes the nailmarks in his hands and put my finger in his side so that the resurrection is proven to me, I will not believe.” Thomas has become a symbol of skepticism and doubt, twin hallmarks of the twentieth and twenty-first century minds. Thomas wanted proof, and skeptics of all centuries want proof rather than simple faith.

-A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. As in all intriguing stories, time passes. The disciples were together and Thomas was with them this time.

John’s gospel does not count this as the second resurrection appearance. According to the Gospel of John, after Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ second resurrection appearance was to the disciples (first on Sunday night and then a week later). The third resurrection appearance in John was to the seven disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. 

-Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Once again the doors were shut. Once again the Risen Christ miraculously appeared and stood in their presence. Once again, the Risen Christ greets the disciples with his offer of peace to them.

-Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Jesus was offering the evidences of his wounded hands and his side. And then Jesus gave that classic line: “Stop doubting and believe.” That is what Thomas needed to do. Two things: First, stop doubting. And secondly, start believing.

When Jesus addresses Thomas, it is like he is speaking to us twenty centuries later. Jesus asks us to stop doubting and believe. Jesus is asking us to see the evidences of God that are right before our eyes and then believe. Not proofs but evidences. See God’s evidences and believe. Stop doubting and trust God. John’s gospel in and of itself is giving us evidences so that we can experience the miracle of faith and believe John’s testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the heart and mind of God, the presence of God in human flesh. The Gospel of John is directly confronting skeptics of all generations and centuries and asking us to believe his evidence that he is presenting in his gospel.

The NRSV translates the Greek word, “unbelieving” as “doubt.” Numerous Biblical scholars and translators think that “doubt” is a fair translation of the Greek word for "unbelieving."

-Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Without touching Jesus’ hands and without touching the wound in his side, Thomas confesses the most profound yet simple confession of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is what Christ is looking for from us: that we come to that time or place in our lives where we simply confess, “Jesus, you are my Lord and my God.” The confession is personal: “You are my Lord; you are my God.”

Simply put: that is what Jesus wants from us as well.

This confession is the climax of John's gospel and a climax of faith that the Lord God wants each of us to have.

-Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ That is our situation today. We have not seen the way Thomas saw and experienced the Risen Christ. Even more blessed are those people who have not physically seen but come to believe. Only a handful saw the wounds of Jesus' boday and believed; billions of people did not see Jesus' resurrection body but still believe.

The theme of doubt/questioning is interwoven into seven statements within the resurrection stories from the four gospels:

  • “These words (by the women) seemed to the apostles like an idle tale and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:10-11)
  • “Jesus said, ‘Why are you troubled and why do questionings rise in your heart?” (Luke 24:38)
  • “Unless I see in his hands the print of nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
  • “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put out your hand and place it in my side.  Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)
  • Jesus said to the two on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” (Luke 24:25)
  • “Afterward he appeared to the eleven disciples as they sat at table and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14, later addition)
  • “The eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16-17)

We ask the question: “What is the purpose of doubt in our Christian faith?”

  • Doubt is normal for human beings. All Christians, sometimes during our lives, have doubts, questions and skepticisms. That is the way that God wired us: to ask questions, to inquire, to think, to sort things out.                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith. Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of the universe. Christians of Copernicus’ era were using the Bible and quoting the Bible to prove that the earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus doubted the validity of those peoples’ interpretation and his doubting of their interpretation of the Bible led him to a larger and deeper understanding of the Christian faith. Doubt often leads to deeper faith.
  • There are advantages to being a recovered skeptic. I am writing today as a pastor who is a recovered skeptic. That is important. Not all Christians are recovered skeptics. Their faith was wonderfully simple and pure throughout most of their lives. Not me. I am a recovered skeptic and this is important. In my application to the seminary many decades ago, I said that I had a hard time believing in either the divinity or resurrec tion of Christ. To my surprise, the seminary sent me a "rejection notice." The years have flown by and gradually over time, I am now a recovered skeptic. By analogy, if you are having troubles with alcohol, it is important to be in conversation with a recovered alcoholic. A recovered alcoholic knows the nuances and subtleties of the arguments of an alcoholic. He knows their thought patterns and habits and weak points. So also with a recovered skeptic. I believe that I can deal with many people in our society who are skeptical about God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian faith. I sense I know the arguments, the logic, the reasoning, and as a recovered skeptic, I believe that I can be helpful to them.
  • There comes a time in life where we begin to doubt our doubts, question our questions, and become skeptical of our skepticisms. We start to understand that our doubts, questions and skepticisms are a phase of our life and that we can actually become fixated with our questions, doubts and skepticisms.

Discussion Question:
There are several instances of doubt found in the resurrection stories. What is the role of doubt in your faith? What are your fundamentals doubts about the Christian Faith?



The Incredulity of Thomas

Jesus Appears to Thomas

A Sermon on Doubting Thomas
Thomas, An Honest Doubter

Easter 2 A, B, C      John 20:19-31

“It always amazes me that at the very heart of the Easter gospel, when the mightiest act of God is occurring, when Jesus has just been raised from the dead by the power of God, when the blaring trumpets of Easter have exploded in celebration, that there is doubt. That there is plain, old fashioned doubt. On such a grand occasion as Easter morning, you would have expected the disciples to have been filled with awe and adoration. But the Bible tells us on that first Easter morning, there was doubt. I would like to share with you four examples of doubt found in the Biblical resurrection stories.

For example, we know the story of Mary Magdalene and how she came to the tomb early on that first Easter morning. The morning darkness was beginning to give way to the morning light, but she was told by a messenger that Jesus was not there. Suddenly, miraculously, the risen Christ spoke to her, saying her name, “Mary.” She turned and it was Jesus. They spoke a few words and then Mary ran to tell the disciples what she saw. And what was the disciples initial reaction? “There goes Mary again. Excitable Mary. Emotional Mary. Hallucinating Mary again.” The first report of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples and there was doubt lingering in the disciple’s minds.

A second example.  Later that night, the disciples were huddled together in their large upper room, and suddenly, miraculously, Jesus appeared to them. The doors were shut; the drapes were drawn; the widows were closed and the disciples were scared spit less. And what was the disciples’ reaction to Jesus suddenly appearing to them? Did they fall down on their knees in adoration and praise? Did they hit each other on the shoulder and say, “Hey, just like we said. Hey, we knew he would come back. Hey, we won the bet. We knew he would come again.”  No, the first disciples were startled. They were afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost or a hallucination. Jesus asked them, “Why are you having all these doubts? Why are all these questions in your mind?” … So you see, at the very heart and core of the Easter message, there is doubt. Plain, simple doubt.

Third example. Doubting Thomas wasn’t there in the upper room with the other disciples that night. Doubting Thomas wasn’t there. … Have you ever been to a party or a ball game or a concert and the next day a person comes up to you and says, “You should have been here last night. That was a fabulous Sonics game. Or, the Mariners won last night in the ninth. Or, you should have been at that Neil Diamond concert last night.” So it was with the early disciples. “You should have been here last night, Thomas. You missed something else. You missed it. You missed a great party. Jesus came back to us and he was alive.” And what was Thomas’ reaction? “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. Until I see the holes in his hands and side, I won’t believe.” He didn’t go along with the crowd. He didn’t vote with the ten disciples. He stood alone against the crowd and expressed his doubts and incredulities. …So once again, you see doubt on Easter.

The fourth story. It is one more example of doubt being at the core of the Easter story. We finally come to the last resurrection appearance of Jesus. We come to the very last resurrection appearance of Jesus and he was on the Mount of Ascension. Jesus was ready to leave this earthly existence. Jesus had just told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all people. This was their last great moment together. This was their last time together. This was their last goodbye to each other. And the Gospel of Matthew says, “Some believed but others doubted.” And so ends of the Gospel of Matthew on that old sweet song of doubt.

On the one hand, we experience the grandest event in human history when God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead; and within that story of that exquisite event, we see the lurking of doubt in the shadows.

And so today, we are going to take a good hard look at doubting Thomas. Doubting Thomas has a certain appeal to all of us because Thomas is an honest person, and honesty is attractive. Thomas did not believe just to believe. He wasn’t the kind of person who blindly accepted the faith without question. Thomas questions, doubts, thinks, ponders. He has a challenging and inquisitive mind.

We find two moments in the gospels where we meet Thomas and on both occasions he was inquisitively asking questions: For example, one time Jesus was teaching about going to prepare a place for them, a heavenly mansion. It was Thomas who scratched his thoughtful head and asked, “Jesus, we don’t know where you are going and we don’t know the way.” Thomas did not understand what Jesus was saying and so he asked Jesus the questions. None of the other disciples raised their hands and expressed their curiosity. Thomas did.

And the second story about Thomas is the gospel story for today when ten disciples expressed wonder and amazement that the resurrected Christ had revealed himself to them, but Thomas didn’t go along with the crowd and say, “OK, that must be true. You all said so.” Instead, Thomas expressed his reservation and doubt: “Unless I see him with my own eyes and touch his wounds with my own fingers, I will not believe.”

Thomas was not the kind of person who would rattle off the creed without thinking of what he was saying, e.g. “I believe in the virgin birth, descended into hell, ascended to the right hand of the father, the only Son of God, the same substance with the Father.” Thomas would not rattle of those statements without thinking them through.

Many of us are like Thomas. We, too, have doubts and express those doubts and inquiries. We have questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Christian faith. We have big questions such as,

“Is there a personal God?” or

“Is Jesus the only Son of God? or

“Is there no validity to the other world religions?” or

“How do we know the Bible is true?” or

“Why is there so much evil in the world?” Or

“Why did I get this heart attack?” or

“Why did my spouse get cancer?” or

“Why did my child die so young?” or

 Why are my family and I having all these troubles?”

So we are like Thomas. We also have questions and we often express those questions. We don’t hide them. So today, we are going to closely examine Thomas and the role of doubt in our faith.

Point number one for all those confirmation students who no longer have to take notes but still appreciate clarity. All Christians, sometimes during our lives, have doubts, questions and skepticisms. That is the way that God wired us: “to ask questions, to inquire, to think, to sort out.” During our lifetimes, we will have many questions for God. And there are times in our lives that we ask more questions than at other times. I have also discovered that there are varieties of personalities in this world. Some personalities have many more doubts and many more questions woven into their personality than other people have.

One particular theologian has been helpful to me. His name is Henry Drummond. He makes a distinction between a doubter and an unbeliever. I have found his distinction between a doubter and unbeliever helpful and I hope this distinction may be helpful to you as well. Let me explain.

A doubter is a person who searches for God and the godly life; the person is on a journey, a quest, a search to find God and the love of God.

But not an unbeliever. An unbeliever isn’t searching for God but for the pleasures of this world. An unbeliever is not searching for God or the god question or the love of God but for situations in life which will bring happiness.

A doubter is a person who has a thousand questions for God; questions about life, love, God’s existence, purpose, the divinity of Christ and many other questions.

But not the unbeliever. An unbeliever isn’t asking questions about God and the divine dimension. The unbeliever is apathetic to God and the “God question” does not really come up in his or her daily life.

A doubter is a person who struggles with God and struggles to live a godly life and struggles to find the purpose of life, but not an unbeliever.

An unbeliever simply struggles to pay the bills, find a spouse, find a job, and find a house. That is all.

And so there are an enormous differences between an honest and questioning doubter and a secularized unbeliever who does not struggle with the “God question” and the divine dimensions of life.

All Christians, sometime during their life and sometimes more than others, will doubt and question God and God’s existence and God’s presence.

Secondly, doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith. Let me give you some illustrations of this. As you know, we pastors teach confirmation to your kids and some of your kids can be at a phase in their lives when they “bug” us and this is normal. Some kids bug us because they chatter too much and they need their lips sewn up. Other kids bug us because they are a little more snarly and rebellious and refuse to do their homework. And still other kids bug us because they have thousand and one questions about God, Jesus, the Bible and every aspect of the Christian faith. One of the worst kids in my memory was a kid named Duane Anderson who had thousands of questions about God, the Bible, Christ, etc. That was some twenty years ago now and I feel that there is justice that he is preaching in a church this morning as a pastor of a congregation in Spokane, Washington. The thousands of questions and doubts that he had as a youth were leading him to a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. And that is what doubts and questions often do: they lead us to a deeper and larger faith.

Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of the universe. Christians round him were using the Bible and quoting the Bible to prove that the earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus doubted their reading of the Bible and his doubts lead him to a larger and deeper understanding of the Christian faith.

Centuries ago, during the time of Columbus, certain Christians were using the Bible in such a way that they concluded that the earth was flat and had edges. They believed that if you sailed too far into the Atlantic Ocean, your boat would fall over the edge off the earth. Columbus doubted the Christianity he had been taught, that the earth was flat, and his doubts led to a deeper and larger faith.

I personally believe it is important for Christians to outgrow their Sunday school theology. Not their faith in Jesus that they learned before they ever went to Sunday school. But some Christians still have a theology and thought pattern about God and the Bible that reflects the wooden literalism of Sunday school years. Such Christian people occasionally try to force their Sunday school theology, not only on their children but on me. In my life, I am grateful that I have had other Christian teachers who have led me to a theology that is deeper and wider than the theology I learned in the basement of my congregation in Jackson, Minnesota, so many years ago. The childlike faith in Christ that I learned before Sunday school is still the most important thing I know in life, but I am glad that I outgrew my Sunday School theology.

I would like to share an autobiographical sketch for a moment. I was born into a Christian family, was baptized as an infant, and grew up in the faith. My mother and father were sporadic church members. In ninth grade, my parents were having troubles with the family business and each other; and at Bible camp, I experience a conversion. My doubts went away for three years, but my doubts fully blossomed and flowered when I was in college. I took several courses in Comparative Religion, Anthropology and Psychology. I became a “walking question mark” about God. No matter what it was about God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian faith, I questioned it. The essential question was this: “Did God create man or did man create God?” I basically answered that question with “man created God.” With Sigmund Freud and his book, THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION, I concluded that man created God so that we humans would feel more secure with our mortality in our short time here on earth. As I finished college, I was still a walking question mark, but thought that I still wanted to be a pastor. Yes, I know that was weird, but I wanted to be a religious social worker or a religious psychologist. I was required to write a paper for the seminary and tell the seminary my beliefs. I did. I told them I had lots of questions about God and Jesus, and didn’t really believe in them except as symbols.  I wanted to come to the seminary and explore these questions. The seminary turned me down and sent me a rejection slip. I was surprised that the seminary had some standards and so I wrote the paper again, using the right buzz words that would get me into the seminary. It worked. I got into the seminary and studied hard the knotty questions of my life: God, Jesus, the Bible, the miracles, virgin birth, the resurrection, evolution, and every other question that was bugging me. I don’t know how it happened but over time, the Holy Spirit got into me in such a way that my questions and doubts were addressed if not answered and my doubts and questions began to fade into the woodwork, like a scar in a tree fades over time. I believe that my questions and doubts and skepticism led me into a deeper and wider faith.

In other words, today I am standing before you as a pastor who is a recovered skeptic. That is important. Not all Christians are recovered skeptics. Their faith was wonderfully simple and pure throughout most of their lives. Not me. I am a recovered skeptic and this is important. By analogy, if you are having troubles with alcohol, it is important to be in conversation with a recovered alcoholic. A recovered alcoholic knows the nuances and subtleties of the arguments of an alcoholic. He knows their thought patterns and habits and weak points. So also with a recovered skeptic. I believe that I can deal with many people in our society who are skeptical about God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian faith. I sense I know their arguments, their logic, their reasoning, and I can be helpful in that situation.

That was also true of Thomas. Thomas, too, was a recovered skeptic. Thomas was enormously skeptical of the news he heard about the resurrected Christ and he voiced his skepticism. At the close of the story, Thomas fell on his knees and said, “Christ, you are my Lord and God.” I believe that the story of Thomas is a story of a recovered skeptic.

Point three:  Jesus and the Bible says: “Thomas, stop doubting and believe.”  There is a time in all of our lives where God says to us, “It is time to stop your doubting. It is time to move past your doubting. It is time to believe and experience the power of belief.”

In the Book of Job, Job went on doubting, complaining and questioning God for thirty- eight chapters and God finally got tired of Job’s doubting and said,  “Be quiet Job. I am tired of your wailing and doubting. Be quiet and believe.”

As a recovered skeptic, I have discovered that there comes a time in life where we begin to doubt our doubts, question our questions, and become skeptical of our skepticisms. We start to understand that our doubts, questions and skepticisms are a phase of our life and that we can actually become fixated with our questions, doubts and skepticisms. That was true of me. I had become fixated on my doubts and questions for about ten years, and I called that reason, but it wasn’t reason but only a phase in my life where I was a walking question mark. I discovered that Christians can become fixated on their Sunday school theology and not move beyond it; and I also discovered that a person can become fixated on their doubts and not move beyond them. I gradually discovered that my doubts and questions were becoming a waste of time and waste of life and waste of intellectual and spiritual energy. Then, these questions and doubts began to fade like the scars of a knife carving etched into the bark of a tree. The questions gradually faded and dissolved and they weren’t so important to me anymore.

At the same time, I became aware that there is power in believing as Jesus wants us to believe. That there is a power in believing that is not weighed down and slowed down by doubts and questions. Jesus said to many people, “Great is your faith.” He said that a hundred times in the Bible. He never once said, “I commend your for your great questioning.” There is power to faith, power to move mountains and carry momentous burdens. Jesus said that: ‘If you have the power of faith and do not doubt, you will be able to move mountains, do great works of love and move mountainous burdens.”

And so we come to the end of the sermon and the end of the story of Thomas. Thomas, after all that questioning and doubting and skepticism, came to the time when he fell on his knees and he said. “My Lord and My God.” His were the words of a recovered skeptic. And those are my words as well. Amen.

#366. The Ending of John (only John)    

John 20:30-31

-But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. This verse summarizes the whole gospel. All these stories/narratives/teachings in John’s gospel are written that you and I may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Mind and Heart of God, and that believing, we may find the fullness of life here on earth and for all eternity.

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