Poor Thomas! His name is doomed to be inextricably linked to an ignominious adjective. Don’t we love to criticize and point the finger at Thomas?
Thomas was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus, who traveled with Him and was commissioned to preach and teach and minister in His name. He saw Jesus' miracles, enjoyed close fellowship with Him, learned from Him and heard Jesus’ prophecies regarding His [Jesus’] death and resurrection. In John’s gospel, chapter 11, verse 16, following the news of the death of Lazarus, Thomas indicates his loyalty to Jesus, even unto death. At the last supper, Thomas displays his questioning nature and futuristic outlook by asking Jesus “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
The most celebrated account of Thomas, the story of "Doubting Thomas", is found in John’s gospel chapter 20, verses 24-29. Jesus has been crucified, and has risen from the dead, appearing to some of the apostles. Thomas isn’t present when the others meet with the risen Christ. He churlishly refuses to believe their account until he has proof. This is a man who wants concrete evidence. A week later Jesus appears through locked doors and invites Thomas to literally see for himself.
Yes, Thomas was weak and confused and lacking in faith. He was perhaps even resentful that others had seen Jesus before he did. He was also very human. Given the confusion and fear surrounding the crucifixion, which one of us might also have doubted that Jesus had returned alive?
As with other bible stories, we can be so concerned with the negatives that we fail to notice the great positives contained therein. There were two central players in these few lines – Thomas and Jesus. They reveal much about the character of Jesus.
Jesus had suffered and died a terrible death on the cross. He had risen again from the dead. When he revealed himself again in human form to his disciples, he still bore the wounds inflicted upon him, the nail holes in his hands and the spear wound in his side. He could have easily made his body completely whole again but he didn’t. Our perfect Lord still carried the cruel marks of sinful man. Why should he choose to do so?
Jesus knew that through the marks of his suffering, he would point the way to God for Thomas and to many others who would respond to this gospel account. He loved Thomas so much that he wanted his disciple to know him. Yes, he chided him gently, sorrowfully, but not before allowing him to reach into the wounds in his hands and side.
Jesus’ death on the cross is central to all time to the gospel for fallen humanity. Thomas had asked the question at the last supper “How can we know the way?” Jesus then replied with the wonderful words “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus had told Thomas, now He was showing Thomas.
What an awesome act of honour and obedience to God was performed by Jesus on the cross. What amazing love was demonstrated by our perfect and holy Saviour. It’s difficult for us to try to comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice. God’s Son was forever changed. Our God is the only God to bear scars.
So too can God can use our physical and emotional wounds and scars, our marks of cruelty and injustice, if we allow him to do so. They may be used to draw others to God, to be a testament to His comfort, healing, forgiveness, and sustaining love.In verse 28 of John chapter 20, Thomas proclaims "My Lord and my God". The doubter had become a believer. Tradition holds that Thomas traveled extensively and ministered thoughout Persia and was an influential founder of the Christian church in India; that he was a writer, although some manuscripts attributed to him, noteably the "Gospel of Thomas" have not been authenticated; and that he was martyred for his faith.
I thank God for the humanity of Thomas, and through the story of his doubts, the wonderful account of yet another aspect of Christ’s great love for us.