Summary: Thomas heard of the resurrection second-hand and had to have a personal encounter with Jesus before he came to faith.
DOUBTING THOMAS ENCOUNTERS THE RISEN LORD
The first Easter Sunday morning was a time of indescribable joy - Jesus had risen from the dead. Friday was the day of the funeral, but Sunday turned it into a festival! It was almost too good to be true. The disciples could hardly take it in. One moment they were terribly downcast because their beloved Master had been taken by cruel men and put to death. That was on the Friday. Saturday had been a dark day, almost like death itself. But then came the first day of a new week. It was the beginning of the Christian era, because it saw the climax of God the Father’s plan of redemption. Jesus rose from the dead in great triumph as proof that the sacrifice of his life on the Cross had been accepted by the Father as the atonement for the sins of the world.
What a day that was! What excitement at seeing the empty tomb. There was the drama of hearing from the lips of Mary how she had actually seen and spoken to the Lord Jesus himself. And yet by the end of that Sunday evening we 1earn from John’s gospel that things were far from well for Christ’s followers: "the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities" (20:19).
Jesus had risen from the dead and yet his closest followers were living in fear. I sometimes wonder what God makes of human beings. We sometimes act very irrationally. It must be our fallen nature. What could have happened in the minds of the disciples for such a change of mood, from newly received hope to deep, deep gloom?
The answer lies in the fact that the disciples had yet to have a personal experience of the risen Lord. Yes, they had heard about the resurrection; they had even seen some of the evidences of it - there was the empty tomb and the discarded grave clothes. But what was missing? They had an intellectual knowledge but somehow it hadn’t entered into their experience.
Let’s try to put ourselves into the disciples’ shoes to see what we can learn of the meaning of the resurrection. Looking back at the event from the standpoint of history we can see the happy ending but it was different for the disciples on that first evening. They had passed through a tremendous upheaval. For three years they had left home and loved ones to follow Jesus, but now their dear friend had suffered and died on a Roman gibbet, like a common criminal and all the city was talking about it.
The Jewish authorities had plotted the overthrow of their Lord and they had reason to believe their own safety was at considerable risk - no wonder they took refuge behind closed doors. When people go though a traumatic experience it often results in their being disorientated. Don’t let’s forget that the disciples had suffered the bereavement of their dearest friend. Emotionally, they were thoroughly confused.
It’s very easy to pass judgement on people, especially if we haven’t passed through their experience. People who have lost a loved one, lost their job through being made redundant or lost a position of responsibility, often go through a valley of bereavement which can’t be understood second-hand. It requires a true friend to stand by them. When our opportunity comes to be a friend indeed, let’s be sure to rise to the occasion.
The disciples were disappointed and despondent behind their locked doors, but then, like a shaft of sunlight piercing the gloom, we read the heart-warming words: "then Jesus came and stood among them." Surely, that’s God’s answer to the need of mankind. The risen presence of Jesus is the remedy for our perplexity of not being able to understand what is happening to us. He blows away the fog of confusion with his words, "Peace be with you," and he gives a sense of purpose for the future.
One of the disciples was missing from that safe house in Jerusalem - it was Thomas. We don’t know a great deal about him but it does seem that he was a natural pessimist and he’s had a bad press. If something could go wrong, Thomas was the one who was sure it would! He seemed to have a sense of foreboding. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died in Bethany and Jesus announced that he would go there, Thomas’ reaction had been: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). But although Thomas may have been a pessimist, he didn’t lack courage. He loved Jesus and was willing to go to Jerusalem and die with him when the other disciples seemed hesitant and afraid.