Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas (Sermon on John 20:19-31)

by jpserrano on May 13, 2014 · 1 comment

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Intro

When people speak about Thomas, especially from today’s Gospel reading, he is almost universally called what?  Doubting Thomas.  I am not sure that’s accurate.  I think that history hasn’t really understood Thomas.  But mostly, I think he gets a bad wrap.

Actually, there’s not very much known about Thomas; he is only mentioned a handful of times in the New Testament.  But based on what we do know from scripture, he’s always held a special place with me for three reasons.

First, Thomas is called Didymus, which means twin in Greek.  Since I’m a twin, I kind of like that someone in the Bible is also a twin.

Second, there’s this story where Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to Judea to wake up Lazarus who has died. But, the last time Jesus was in Judea he was almost stoned. So some of the disciples start to question this little trip—but not Thomas. Anyone know what Thomas says?  He says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him!”  There’s something about that kind of commitment that just makes me think we would have been good friends.

Lastly, I like him for today’s Gospel.  I get it. I totally identify with him.  If my friends told me that a guy who died three days ago was raised from the dead, I wouldn’t believe them either.

Gospel Reading

But, there’s something about this story that one doesn’t get with the English translation.

See Thomas is a— jump with both feet—bet all in—let us go and die with him kind of person.  

Yet, in our English translation Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”  But the word doubt here doesn’t do justice to the original language or Thomas’ character.  

When Jesus tells Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe,”  

The word for doubt in Greek is apistos—Everyone say apistos.  

The word for “believe” is just pistos—Everyone say pistos.  

So Jesus says, “Do not apistos, but pistos.” Apistos is the opposite of Pistos. A better translation of Jesus’ words is, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas wasn’t merely doubtful. He wasn’t feeling a slight uncertainty or a lack of conviction about Jesus being alive. He was apistos—He was unbelieving or even incredulous.

There’s something about his firm conviction: a no wishy-washy middle way about him, that wasn’t just about doubt; he was unbelieving.  And, I think we can all understand his unbelief.

People don’t normally rise from the grave.  A friend who’s put in the ground doesn’t speak to people three days later. I think I’d want to see proof too. How many of you like Thomas would have wanted to see the risen Lord’s hands and side?

Death

At that time, what Thomas knew, what everyone had known, is that death is the enemy.  It is the great separator. When a person is dead, they are gone forever.  When they go into the ground—or are made into ashes—there’s no coming back from that. Thomas knew that death could not be rationalized with.  It’s the enemy that comes to every one.  Death separates.

I’m sure you all can remember your first encounter with the enemy, right?  My first real meeting with death came when I was about twenty years old.  My older cousin Johnny was driving a motorcycle on some mountain roads when he lost control and died in the accident.  

I remember looking at him during the open casket viewing, thinking, once this casket goes into the ground he is there to stay. Death disconnected Johnny from our family, his fiancé, and the future that he was creating for himself. 

Death separates.

AND, death is a cruel enemy that begins to work even while people are still alive.  We are afraid of death, or in denial of its coming.  We ultimately let that fear direct the course of our lives.

Death was in the room with the disciples in our Gospel today.  It locked the doors and kept them trembling inside.  It had them huddled together, hiding, and fearful that the same people who condemned Jesus would start looking for his followers.  

Thomas was unbelieving that Jesus had risen from the grave because death is an unrelenting enemy who has no mercy and no remorse.  Thomas understood that death separates.

The God Who Experiences Death

But Friends the Good News is that we believe in a God who willingly chose death and separation. The Holy Trinity chose to experience what happens when death goes to work.

The Father, creator of heaven and earth, felt the loss of the Son.

When Jesus lets out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?”  He meant it.  He was forsaken and separated.

Andrew Root, a professor at Luther Seminary, explains the separation of the Trinity in this way.  He says, “There can be no Father without a Son, and there can be no Spirit without the relationship between Father and Son.”

With the death of Jesus on the cross, separation affected the Trinity.

Root goes on to say,  “The impossible occurred.  The community, the Trinity, that has spoken creation into being out of non-being has itself been made mute.”

The God Who Appropriates Death & Brings Life

But, the Trinity’s loss of the Son is not just a separation, but an appropriation of death itself.  When Jesus dies on the cross and enters death, he, at the same time enters into all of those places where we meet death.

The cross turns everything upside down.  God comes into the broken and deserted places.  God chooses to reveal God-self not just in the glorious and triumphant—with healings and miracles, but in the meek and lowly.

God is with the couple when they say their wedding vows 

and with the couple who signs their divorce papers. 

God is with those in the joy of peacetime 

and with those who are in the agony of war.

God is at a newborn’s birth 

and with those who are born to eternal life.

God is with us in the mess and the muck, but we are never forsaken, we are never forgotten.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Jesus promises, “I am with you always.”

God meets us in all places of death.  But, we don’t worship a God of death.  We worship THE God of life.

If Jesus was not raised, then we don’t have hope that comes in the dark of night—when all seems lost—when we’re huddled like the disciples in the upper room.  

The love of the Father

resurrected The Son,
rejoined Jesus to the Trinity,
and reconnected us with God.

It’s in instances of lostness and death that Jesus walks through the locked doors in our lives, just like he walked in through the locked doors of the disciples and shows us that in him is new creation.  In him is resurrection no matter how hopeless it seems.

Our Story doesn’t end on Good Friday.  It begins again on Easter Sunday.  We worship THE God of life.

Conclusion

When Thomas saw the risen Jesus, Thomas realized that he could no longer be unbelieving.  So he knelt before Jesus and said, “My Lord and My God.”

His unbelief became belief.  His apistos became pistos.  May the confession of Thomas be our confession now. 

No matter where God finds you today, in joy or in pain, may you always say “Jesus, My Lord, and my God.”

Amen.

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