Summary: Doubts come and go, and often they can lead to greater faith. But living in doubt will leave us in our sin because we are saved "by grace through faith." Blessed are those who believe but have not seen because, in matters of faith, believing is seeing.
"Tom- The Concrete Man"
Did you hear the joke about the neighbor who loved children in the abstract? A young married couple who had several children lived next door to an older man who frequently told them how much he loved children, especially their little tykes. But when these same kids ran through the neighbor's new driveway before the concrete dried, the neighbor was incensed. He was beside himself, and when the couple commented, "You told us that you loved children," the neighbor replied, "I do. I do love children, in the abstract, but not in the concrete!"
Perhaps you have known or know people who embrace things more willingly in the abstract than they do in the concrete. Well, Thomas the Twin (Didymus) was just the opposite. He was a committed as anyone to the things he had seen, but he trouble embracing those things he had not seen. If Thomas had seen something, he was capable of being deeply committed to it, as Scripture tells us in the 11th chapter of John. When Jesus heard that his friend, Lazarus, was ill, he waited two days and then said, "Let's get going," to his disciples. But they were afraid. "Teacher," they cried, "We just barely made it out of that area alive, and now, you want us to go back?" Jesus explained that Lazarus needed them, but the disciples were still afraid. And then, Thomas, who would later be given the label "Doubting," stepped to the plate. "Let us go and die with Jesus," he said, showing that he was fully committed to his earthly Lord. He had seen Jesus heal, he had heard his wisdom, he had witnessed His miracles, and he believed, even to the point of death! If Thomas could see it, he believed it as much as anyone, but he wasn't good with abstract ideas. For instance, when Jesus told his disciples that they knew the way to the place where He was going,(John 14:4-5) it was Thomas who had the courage to say, "Master, we have no idea where you are going. How in the world can we know the way?" This honest question gave rise to one of the Bible's great truths when Jesus replied, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the God except through me." Honest questions often elicit life-changing answers, and honest doubt can be the catalyst for great faith, which brings me back to our passage today.
On Sunday evening, His frightened disciples were clustered behind closed doors for "fear of the Jews." They were dejected, believing that the power of evil had prevailed once again. They were confused, as they had often been while Jesus was alive, and they were hopeless. Then, our Risen Christ appeared to them, which is, in itself, life-changing news. Just knowing that closed doors cannot keep Christ from ministering to us is overwhelming. But there's more: in the midst of our pain, Christ offers us peace that transcends circumstance! Real shalom, not just the absence of war (although we pray for that); real peace, not just a temporary truce (although that is a blessing to a battle-weary soul). Only Christ can give peace at this depth, and that is exactly what he gave to his troubled disciples. But Thomas the Doubter was not with them when Jesus first appeared, and because he only embraced things ”in concrete," he could NOT believe. He needed proof-the same proof that the other disciples had already seen- and he said so. His need was an honest expression, not a stubborn stance, and Jesus met Thomas in his need. He met Thomas at his place of need and showed Thomas his wounds. Nothing can be more concrete than open wounds, and Thomas saw what he needed to see! "My Lord and My God," he cried, showing us that honest moments of doubt often give birth to greater conviction and faith.
There are many things that can be said about this morning's Bible passage. It is rich in material. Peace, forgiveness, faith, doubt, Christ's presence, even the giving of the Holy Spirit- they're all here and they're all worthy of proclamation. However, I will simply offer a few thoughts on doubt and faith:
1) Doubt is NOT the opposite of faith. Someone said that "faith is the ants in the pants of faith," and it is true that honest doubt may well lead us to greater growth in Christ. So, don't give up when doubt rears its head. Instead, turn to prayer, Scripture, and to a Christian you trust. Let doubt spur you to a faith that is more strongly rooted, but...
2) Do NOT surrender to doubt. Do NOT become a doubting person. Doubts are common enough,especially in the early stages of a faith journey, but a DOUBTING person will never reap the rewards of faith because we are saved by grace through faith. Besides, while faith and reason can be dialogue partners for part of our journey in life, faith goes on when reason drops off. No matter how much we know, no matter how smart we are, salvation demands a leap of faith It is one thing to wish for more answers in the concrete- it is quite another to need them. Thomas had a choice that we do not have. We MUST live by faith, which is great because the best things in life can neither be measured or seen. Things like joy, honor, and love cannot be dissected, but they make our lives fuller, even as faith in the Risen Christ makes our lives worth living.