Summary: God confirms gospel benefits in the resurrection of the Christ.
People write for many reasons. Some seek fame or wealth, others self-fulfillment or to aid in their own learning. Some books teach skills, others simply entertain. The Apostle John’s purpose was: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah” – God’s promised redeemer. And central to belief is assurance that the same Jesus who was crucified, dead, and buried, also rose again on Sunday morning, 2000 years ago. Jesus is now with the Father, so we do not see him bodily. But before he ascended, he appeared to reliable witnesses so that we would know for certain that his gospel is true. We read their story and its relation to the purpose of this book in John 20.
[Read John 20.19-31. Pray.]
Most of us know him as “Doubting Thomas.” So familiar is his insistence on visible proof of the resurrection, that his name has become a byword for anyone who refuses to believe. In spite of his bad press, however, we probably should judge Thomas more generously. For example, after Lazarus died, Jesus tells the disciples that they must go and see him. Thomas mistakenly thinks that this will be the end of all of them, and says to the guys: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” So Thomas is a courageous man, if a bit melancholy. One commentator said he “finds the best things too good to be true, and usually imagines that the worst foreseen possibility will be realized” (E. H. Titchmarsh, “Thomas,” in DCG, 2:729). In other words, with Thomas the glass is half-empty.
We also need to remember that the other disciples saw the resurrected Jesus. They were together on that first Sunday night when Jesus appeared. So when he says, “I will never believe unless I see,” it was in response to the other disciples saying, “We have seen.” They doubted before they saw.
Notice, third, that Thomas’ profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” culminates John’s Gospel. Chapter 21 is an epilogue; the main story ends here – a story written to bring you to faith – to bring you to the same conclusion as Thomas. This one who doubts so much provides the perfect profession of faith. John asks us to do the same.
In 1943, Dorothy Sayers created a series of dramatic readings from the life of Christ for broadcast on the BBC. They are published under the title, The Man Born to Be King. For each of the plays, Sayers offers notes on the characters and the way they should be read. She writes this about Thomas’ profession: “It is unexpected, but extraordinarily convincing, that the one absolutely unequivocal statement, in the whole Gospel, of the Divinity of Jesus should come from Doubting Thomas. It is the only place where the word ‘God’ is used of him without qualification of any kind, and in the most unambiguous form of words (not merely theos but ho theos mou with the definite article). And this must be said, not ecstatically, or with a cry of astonishment, but with flat conviction, as of one acknowledging irrefragable evidence: ‘2 + 2 = 4’, ‘That is the sun in the sky,’ ‘You are my Lord and my God.’”
I would think that each of us, at times, has doubts. For that reason, I think it is helpful to remember that the “incredulity of Thomas has done us more good than the faith of Mary” (Gregory, Quoted in J. C. Ryle, John, 3.467-468). If Thomas had never doubted, we would not have such a full and clear proof that Christ rose from the dead. So God records this event to deliver our souls from doubt and to teach us some benefits that Christ imparts to his own. Thomas recognized the resurrection as the perfect proof of Jesus’ deity. May his testimony stir up the same faith in our souls this morning. That it may be so, notice, first…
1. Because of Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances, We Are Comforted by Gospel Peace
The Jewish leadership hated Jesus. He wrested power from them and condemned their self-righteousness. To men who thought much of themselves and longed to look good in the eyes of others, Jesus was cursed as an enemy to be crushed whatever it took. Even partnering with pagan Rome and bearing false witness against an innocent man were small costs to win this war.
With such vehement opposition against their friend and teacher, we are not surprised that the disciples (v. 19), “for fear of the Jews,” gather behind locked doors. Certainly, they act less courageous than those who had been with the Lord probably should, but at least they overcame their fear enough to meet together. They struggle against the weakness of their flesh, and meet in spite of the danger. Suddenly he appears.