(From John 20: 19-31)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Doubt is an inevitable part of our human existence. We are called to make hundreds of decisions each week in both our personal and our professional lives. Many of these decisions are made without our having a complete knowledge and understanding of all the factors, ramifications, and potential outcomes involved beforehand. To defer, or at least, to minimize the number of negative and unwanted outcomes we receive, we can take some precautionary measures. For example, we have all heard the adage “Trust, but verify.” What this statement really means is that we receive information which we are willing to initially accept as being true, honest, accurate, and reliable; but we are going to do our diligence to confirm that this is the case. We will then proceed forward in a manner that is appropriate to the findings of our due diligence.
A higher level of doubt is implied by the also commonly heard adage, “I’m from Missouri, you’ll have to show me!” This adage is attributed to William Duncan Vandiver, a member of the House of Representatives from the state of Missouri. He was also a member of the House Committee on Naval Affairs. During a speech he gave at a Naval function, Vandiver is remembered for delivering this quote, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” The implication found within this adage is that I do not trust unless you can show me it has been verified!
There are times when doubt’s inevitable nature is used as a tool of assistance. Our nation’s justice system is founded upon the ability of a jury of peers to utilize the evidence presented to them to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the accused committed the crime for which he or she is charged. In a court of law, determining the guilt or innocence of the accused person depends upon the presence of significant factors that cast a reasonable doubt the accused actually committed the crime. Our justice system is appropriately served only when the guilty person is the one who pays the consequences of the crime.
There is one other well-known adage about doubt we have yet to explore today. When someone is an extreme doubter, that person is often referred to as a “doubting Thomas.” Doubting Thomas people not only need to know that the truth or facts of a matter have been verified, they need to see the proof for themselves—up close and in-person! They are the “unless I see for myself, I will not believe” people. I hope these words sound familiar to you today. In case you did not know the origin of this adage, a doubting Thomas is someone who acts like the Apostle Thomas did that first Easter when the Disciples told him that they had seen the risen Lord. To say Thomas had his doubts about this matter is a serious understatement. Let’s take a deeper look into the events and circumstance surrounding the original doubting Thomas from our Gospel lesson for today.
On the evening of that first Easter, Jesus came to be with the Disciples, who had hidden themselves away in fear behind closed doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you,” and he then showed them his nail-scarred hands and wounded side. The Disciples rejoiced to see that it was, indeed, their risen Lord. Thomas had not been present when Jesus visited the other Disciples, so they shared with him that they had seen the Lord, Jesus. Thomas would not believe what the Disciples said about seeing Jesus in-person among them. He said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Even though the others corroborated for Thomas that Jesus had been among them again arisen and alive, he refused to believe what they were saying to him. It was not enough for Thomas that the others had seen the risen Lord, Thomas needed to see Jesus himself before he would believe.
About a week later, when the Disciples, including Thomas, were all together again and hidden behind closed doors, Jesus came among them. As he had previously done, Jesus greeted them with “Peace be with you.” Then he approached Thomas directly and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus answered doubting Thomas with these words, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I have found it interesting that the author juxtaposes, or sets beside, his story about Thomas’ doubt with his purpose for sharing his own personal version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own words, John is writing his Gospel to share the important events of this good news story about Jesus to inspire his readers to believe. He writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Unlike doubting Thomas, who refused to believe a second-hand account about Jesus, John wants his readers to be convinced by the evidences and proofs he provides within his Gospel story. So, if you are a “trust but verify” type of person, or a “I’m from Missouri, show me” type, John is a first-hand witness sharing his personal testimony of truth with you. John believed his evidence to be truthful, reliable, and compelling, providing verification of the truth about Christ Jesus beyond any measure of reasonable doubt. John’s hope and expectation was that his good news would prove itself to be so true, believable, and compelling that it leaves no doubt in the mind and heart of his reader. Even doubting Thomas types should be moved to belief by John’s inclusion of the story about how Jesus proved the truth of his death and resurrection to the original doubter himself. The Gospel of John calls us to believe John’s good news and its proofs about Jesus as the Messiah of God, and in believing, to receive new and eternal life in his name-no doubt.
On this third Sunday in Easter, Easter people of Peninsula Church, what does this Gospel truth mean both to and for us? If we believe the good news of John’s Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we receive marvelous new and eternal life in his name, are we not also compelled to follow him and obey his commands? We are servants of the Servant, the one who called those who would be first to be last and the servants of all. He ate with sinners and called them to live new lives. He healed the sick and gave help and comfort to those in need. He stood for peace with justice, and he called his believers to follow him and to do the same things he did. If we truly believe in Jesus, then we are compelled to believe and to follow him in all that he called us to do. This third Sunday in Easter, I testify to John’s Gospel, John’s good news story about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I confirm and verify that I have experienced the truth of his story about our resurrected and living Lord, who is yet present among us, and he is working in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit-no doubt! Amen.