Summary: Thomas is called the doubter, but he is also the confessor, who made a remarkable confession like no other and did a marvelous work as far east as India.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection what happened and what did he say?
I hope that we can learn that doubt is a normal and natural part of a life of faith.
We will look at Jesus’ appearance to ten of the eleven remaining disciples and then to Thomas.
Peace First, then Go with Power
Jesus did and said amazing things after his resurrection (John 20:19-23)? Appearing through locked doors to fearful disciples, he stood among them. 1) Both spirit and flesh, he showed them his wounds. 2) Jesus came to their fears and spoke. 3) He stood with them and stands with us. Jesus spoke of peace, and mission and the Holy Spirit. 1) He spoke of peace first, before mission, before power. Jesus is our peace, through the cross: peace between us and our triune God, between us and other Christians, in our own souls (purifying our consciences) and peace in the world. 2) I send you 3) in power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Receive him when he comes. If people reject God’s messengers, they also reject God, because he will give them power to lead people into forgiveness.
Reference: John Piper sermon: The Risen Christ—His Peace, Power and Purpose
Peace from God
What changed the Apostles from a fearful band of fleeing cowards to men of faith and action? Certainly, the coming of the Holy Spirit caused dramatic changes at Pentecost, but the changes in the Apostles began seven weeks before that after the resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives power, but only to those who are prepared. Three times in John 20:19, 21, 26 Jesus proclaimed peace to his disciples. Could peace be a necessary preparation for the Holy Spirit? First came the resurrection, then blessings of peace and a commissioning followed weeks later with the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of their fear we can imagine that the disciples had no peace. Yet, Jesus blessed them with peace. Could it be that peace from God is an important first step on the way to the Church fulfilling its purpose?
Your Sins have Already been Forgiven
Can humans forgive on behalf of God (John 20:23)? This verse does not support going into a booth and confessing to a priest who would forgive. That practice only grew in popularity from 7th to 11th centuries. It also does not say that a priest would have apostolic succession. There is not one Scripture to indicate that this verse was then understood to be a priest-confessor act. What it does say is that as the Father sent Jesus, so he sent them. Who were they? They were the 11 apostles specifically. Does this then apply to us? We could conclude that anyone who is sent and receives the Holy Spirit has this call. Verse 23 literally says in Greek, If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have already been forgiven. They were already forgiven at the cross.
Asking for Faith
Doubt is normal in a skeptical world. We demand proof. But faith is evidence of things without visible proof, a mystery. John 20:25 records some physical proof shown to Thomas. It is written that we might believe and that believing we might have life through his name. Thomas’ doubt is our doubt. We want a genuine faith. If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). We proclaim real victory over death. Faith is neither wishful thinking, nor based on what we see. How can we find this faith? Only the risen Christ can help as he lives in us. Faith has never been easy. We find faith by having faith given to us by God. If we have doubts then let’s not be afraid to ask Jesus to show us his scars.
Are we like Thomas
In the gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:25), we are perhaps surprised to see that Thomas doubts. Yet his weak faith is not unique. It is rather the sometime condition of all of Christ’s disciples, including us. What is more remarkable is the incredible authority that Jesus entrusts to such faulty disciples, the power to forgive sins or not. This is not a contradiction to Jesus’ instructions after giving the Lord’s prayer regarding forgiveness. It relates directly to the gospel message. It is a message of forgiveness of sin to those who accept it. It also contains the message that those who refuse it will not be forgiven. Those who do not accept the message of Jesus, delivered by ordinary people, cannot be forgiven until they do. We have that authority today.
What can a Doubter Accomplish
The thing that most of us remember about the Apostle Thomas is the epithet “doubting Thomas” from his initial doubt at Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25). Was he then a failure? Thomas went on to Persia, Parthia and India and established several great churches. Though severely persecuted by overzealous Portuguese Catholics in the 1500’s, Indian descendants of early Jewish Christians still exist as various churches today. Despite the shameful persecution by those who claim to be successors of Peter and Paul some of these Thomas Christians still observe elements of their Jewish heritage. Today, various groups of them either adhere to the younger western Catholic Church or are attached to the older eastern Orthodox Church. Historians consider these to be the oldest Christian churches after the Assyrian Church. So, what can a doubter accomplish in Jesus? — a great legacy.