Summary: Was Thomas unfairly besmirched when the church begin to preface his name with "Doubting"? Yup.
I love the church of Jesus for so many reasons. One of the reasons I love the church is the diversity of people you find in the church. We’re all here today, singing songs of worship and engaged in what is happening, but we come from so very many places.
What’s going on in each of our minds is also quite diverse. We all at different points in our journey, but we come together as one body, moving together closer and closer to Jesus.
Last week we talked about the struggle that the disciples of Jesus had to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. It took numerous appearances of Jesus to them and a couple of good meals with Jesus before they really were able to grasp that He was risen.
Despite the testimony of those who discovered the empty tomb, despite the eye-witness account of Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus first appeared after the resurrection, it really did take a while for the disciples to comprehend both that Jesus had risen from the dead and that BECAUSE Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different.
It was hard for everyone to accept that Jesus had triumphed over death. It was hardest for Thomas, a man who had followed Jesus from the earliest days of Jesus’ public ministry.
Thomas had been called by Jesus and set apart as an Apostle along with Simon Peter, his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.
Honestly, Thomas doesn’t stand out much in most of the gospel records, especially compared to Simon Peter who was always putting his foot in his mouth, or others whose questions or interactions with Jesus were pretty colourful.
Thomas doesn’t stand out, but we need to realize that Thomas had been a faithful servant of Jesus for quite some time and had been commissioned by Jesus, along with the other Apostles, to preach that the kingdom is near and to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who had leprosy, and drive out demons. He was, apparently, a do-er rather than a talker.
Now I really like Peter, the apostle. But unlike Peter who, frankly, was a bit of a blowhard and sometimes big on words and small on action, Thomas, as far as the Biblical record tells us, was simply one who listened and loved and obeyed Jesus. He did what he was called to do.
The truth is, Thomas has been pretty grossly misunderstood over the years in the church. What is the adjective normally attached to his name? “Doubting-Thomas”. Truthfully, that is just grossly unfair and does an injustice to a most remarkable man.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you were labeled unfairly? Have you ever kept something you were struggling with a secret because you did not want people to characterize you based on your sins or your weaknesses?
I wonder if we all haven’t at some point in our lives experienced that.
My sister Leslie has a unique response to the art of photography. On the one hand she loves it and responds very deeply and is moved profoundly by a really good photograph.
On the other hand, she feels that a photograph is a lie because it portrays something that is moving as though it were still, something that is dynamic and progressive as though it were static.
The living object of the photograph never stays in the position photographed in, of course, but instantly moves on to another living moment.
In a sense even though a photograph stops movement in its tracks so you can examine the subject more closely, the mere frozen-ness of the subject in motion is itself a distortion of the subject which we’re trying to understand.
To call Thomas “Doubting-Thomas” is to misunderstand two things. First, it is to not understand that Thomas’ experience of doubt lasted only one week.
For the three years before that week, Thomas had been a faithful servant of Jesus.
For the rest of his life after encountering the risen Jesus, Thomas faithfully served Jesus as a planter of churches.
Secondly, to call Thomas ‘Doubting-Thomas” is to assume that he ever actually doubted that Jesus COULD have been raised from the dead. We know that because as soon as He saw Jesus, he didn’t argue the impossibility of the situation or bury his head in the sand, but insteadhe worshipped Jesus.
Rather, Thomas doubted the testimony of the disciples ABOUT Jesus. We’ll come back to that point.
Why was Thomas remarkable as opposed to being worthy of scorn for not believing?
Thomas never said a lot, as I’ve already touched on. But there are a couple of occasions when Jesus is talking to the disciples and Thomas opens his mouth.