Summary: Our purpose as a Church is to demonstrate the power of the gospel in the way we live together in unity.
He was a twin, but we don’t know anything about his brother; he was cautious, yet ready to walk into danger if that’s where his master was going; he was the one who was prepared to admit his ignorance if he didn’t understand something; he was a cynic, or a realist, depending on how you look at it, but when confronted by the impossible was able to draw the only conclusion that fitted, that God had done a miracle beyond all miracles. Finally he was one of the first to leave his homeland and travel to the far ends of the earth to tell people about that miracle of the resurrection, or so the traditions tell us.
Yes, of course I’m talking about Thomas, the twin, ’doubting Thomas’.
I have to say that we don’t know a huge amount about Thomas. Most of the information we have is found in John’s gospel, and nothing’s mentioned of him after the resurrection appearances of Jesus. But, still, there are legends about him taking the gospel to Asia. The church in Southern India calls itself the Mar Thoma Church because of the tradition that Thomas went to Kerala to preach the gospel in the first century. It’s not actually clear how much truth there is to that story, but it seems likely that he at least got as far as Persia or Afghanistan and if not to India then his converts would most likely have taken the gospel there.
But today I want us to think, first of all, how Thomas came to the point of taking the gospel to foreign lands and then I want us to think about what the implications of this gospel are for us. What is it about the gospel that Thomas was building on in his missionary endeavour?
Our knowledge of Thomas begins in John 11. Jesus has just received a message from Mary & Martha that Lazarus is sick. So what does he do? He tells his disciples, "don’t worry about it. This illness has come on him to glorify God." And then he waits around for two more days. After the two days have passed he tells his disciples to pack up, it’s time to go back to Judea.
Now it’s not that long since the crowd in Judea tried to stone him and the Jewish leaders have been plotting his death for some time so the disciples have a bit of a problem with this idea. They don’t want Jesus walking into a death trap - nor do they want to walk into one themselves. But Jesus is going because he needs to raise Lazarus from the dead. And that’s Thomas’ opportunity to star. He stands up and says, in truly cynical fashion: "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
He’s not happy with the decision, but if Jesus is going, he’s not going to let him go alone. And of course we know what happens: Jesus gets there four days after Lazarus has died and performs the final and greatest of what John refers to as signs. He raises Lazarus from the dead.
Well, the next time we see Thomas in action is during the last supper when Jesus tells his disciples that he’s only going to be with them for a little longer. He assures them that although he’s going to leave them, he will return to take them to be with the Father in heaven. And then he says: "And you know the way to the place where I am going." Well they’re totally mystified. What is he talking about? But again, it’s Thomas who speaks up. He says: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" He wants answers. He’s a simple plain speaking type who just wants to know the details. And so Jesus says one of the most well-known statements of the gospel: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Finally, when Jesus appears to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection, Thomas is absent. And again we see his cynical nature come to the fore. Or is it simply that he’s a realist. He’s seen what happened to Jesus on the cross. He’s seen his dead body hanging there and he knows that no-one survives that sort of thing. Not unless there’s someone like Jesus around to raise them from the dead and when it’s Jesus who’s died what hope is there? So he says ’show me some proof. Let me "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." Only then will I believe.’
Thomas would have fitted well into our modern world wouldn’t he? Richard Dawkins might have got on well with him - for a while at least. People like Dawkins want to hear the scientific evidence. They dismiss the stories of miracles because that sort of thing doesn’t happen in our world. Or they explain them away with psychological explanations. Even those new age people who are open to spiritual forces in the world dismiss the gospel stories as being too remote from their personal spiritual experience, or perhaps because they’re too down to earth.