Summary: A look at Thomas, the man of doubts.
How would you like to be remembered after you die? Wouldn’t it be really nice to have something named after you, Robert Stephenson managed that, he was one of the early founders of British Rail and Railtrack – maybe we should blame him for the state of our railways – but today, children in our schools remember him for Stephenson’s Rocket, the first passenger train.
Or what about Walt Disney? That name won’t be forgotten for many years as children and adults watch his films and dream of visiting his kingdoms in France at Florida. He will always be remembered as the great Children’s Entertainer.
Or Lord Shaftesbury, he has a charity named after him that helps to remind people many years after his death of the type of person he was. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our name remembered like one of these people, wouldn’t it be wonderful if fifty years or more after we die, our name is still on people’s lips and they think ‘what a wonderful person they were.’
Thomas did not manage this did he? 2,000 years after he died he is remembered for his doubts. People don’t think of him as a wonderful person, they don’t say ‘I would love to be like the disciple Thomas. This is in spite of the fact that after Pentecost, Thomas became a missionary. He took the gospel to Parthia, and then on to India. Christians in the country of Malibar claim that Thomas founded their church and there is no reason to doubt that claim. He was eventually martyred for his beliefs in the city of Madras in India. Yet all he is remembered for is his difficulty in believing, for his doubts.
Yet there is a lot more to this man than doubt. As we look at him today, I think you will find we have much in common with him. It could well have been one of us who was remembered as doubting ? or doubting ?, or I am sorry to have to admit, even doubting Steve, your preacher this morning if we had been in Thomas’s position.
He is mentioned one time in each of the first three gospels and all of them occur in the list of people called by Christ to follow him at the start of his ministry. Matthew and Mark place him as close to the middle of the list as they can. Matthew has him sixth out of the twelve; Mark has him seventh. Only Luke places him away from the middle. He appears eighth in his list. But Luke, while he was researching, obviously got to know Thomas better. For when he lists the disciples again in Acts 1:13; Thomas appears right in the middle again in sixth place.
Thomas does not appear again in any of these gospels. I am sure he must have been there for if he were not, the gospel writers would have told us why not. But he was never mentioned, could it be that he remained in the middle of that crowd of disciples for the three years between the time Jesus called the disciples, and the time he died on that cross.
Didn’t I say that this man Thomas was like many of us today, for don’t we do the same. We do not like to, or even want to stand out from the crowd. You only have to ask the stewards or deacons in any Church today to find this is so. When they ask for volunteers to do something, there is often a deafening silence. Nobody wants to volunteer because if they did so, they would stand out from the crowd.
And to be brutally honest, isn’t this one of the reasons why we have so many nearly empty Churches. Christians do not want others to notice them, they would rather be hidden in the crowd of their fellow workers, their friends, or whatever, and so few people are attracted to Christ because of this. We are afraid or unwilling to stand out from the crowd and so we fail to be the witnesses that we should be.
But this is not the only way that we are like Thomas today. Fortunately, one of the gospel writers noticed a little bit more about this man who liked to be hidden in the middle. I say fortunately, because it would be extremely difficult for me to preach a sermon from what we know of Thomas in the first three gospels.
In John’s gospel, he appears three more times. The first is in John 11:16. We are told that somebody brings news to Jesus of his friend Lazarus’s illness. As you know, Jesus stayed where he was for two days, and then tells his disciples “Come, let us go to Judea.” The disciples, naturally enough are scared, they know the authorities are looking for Jesus, and they know that they are not planning to hold a party in Jesus’ honour if they find him.