Have you ever missed out on an event that everyone else got to see and be part of? Maybe you weren’t able to be at a family wedding or you missed some big news event and so felt completely in the dark as everyone was talking. Or maybe you took a day off work and that was the day the boss showed up and decided to take everyone out for lunch. We’ve all missed out on something through the years and so we can understand a little of what Thomas must have been feeling the week after Jesus rose from the dead. For whatever reason, Thomas was not with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them. We don’t know where he was or what he was doing but can you image how Thomas felt when he got back together with his friends and they all start telling him that Jesus was alive and that he had stood right there with them.
How disappointed Thomas must have been. How frustrated and upset he must have been with himself and maybe even Jesus for appearing when he was away. Maybe it was that frustration and disappointment that made Thomas defensive so defensive that he said he wouldn’t believe it until he could see it with his own eyes, or maybe Thomas really was struggling to believe something that contradicted what he knew was true – which was that Jesus had died on the cross. For centuries Thomas has gotten a bad rap because he struggled to believe something that all the rest of the disciples got to see and because of that people have called him doubting Thomas. The truth is that Thomas has more to teach us about faith than doubt.
All that we know about Thomas comes from the gospel of John. We hear Thomas speak three times in the gospel, which may not sound like much, but since we never hear many of the disciples speak, that we hear from Thomas three times is significant. If we listen to what Thomas says, we find that he is really more of a man of faith than doubt and maybe we need to model our lives and faith on him.
We first hear Thomas speak after Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha and the three of them lived in Bethany and often opened their home to Jesus and the disciples. Word came to Jesus that Lazarus had died and so Jesus said that they were going to return to Bethany in Judea to be with the family. At this, the disciples raised a concern with Jesus; they reminded him that the last time he was in Judea, people tried to kill him. Did Jesus really want to go back? Jesus said he was going and it was Thomas who replied, Let us also go, that we may die with Jesus. John 11:16
What Thomas shows us is that real faith involves taking risks. There is no doubt in Thomas’ mind about what will happen to them if they return to Bethany, they will die – but Thomas is willing to go. He was willing to take that risk. This is real faith. Real faith is bold, courageous and risk taking. Think of the people of faith we read about in the Old Testament – they all had to take risks. Abraham had to leave his home to go to the place God would show him. He had no idea where they were going; he just had to take a risk and go. Moses had to step up and speak to Pharaoh and then lead God’s people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. All of this was dangerous and could have led to Moses being attacked or killed. David had to be willing to face Goliath with a slingshot, some stones and his belief in God. The prophets had to risk their lives and reputations to speak the truth to the people of God.
Real faith always involves some risk. The only reason we know about Jesus today is because there have been people in every generation who were willing to take some risks to share the message of Jesus with others. The disciples took risks to tell others about Jesus. The early church took risks to spread the gospel through the Roman Empire. People were thrown to the lions and burned at the stake because they refused to deny their faith in Christ and their risk-taking-witness helped others believe in Jesus.
Missionaries took risks to take the message of Jesus to places like India and China and today we have brothers and sisters taking great risks throughout the Middle East to simply proclaim that they believe in Jesus. Their witness is helping others come to faith and retain their faith in the face of death and danger.
I also think of our own mothers and fathers in the faith. In their own way they took risks so that the church could be established and so their children and grandchildren might come to believe in Jesus. People right here in Bellefonte sacrificed and gave so that we could be here today. They didn’t just give so there could be a building, I think more about the faithful ministry and service of so many people who have taken risks to keep the work of Jesus alive. Men and women gave their time and energy and gifts to make sure Sunday school continued and children were cared for. People gave their time to sing in worship, lead in Bible Studies and serve in the community. Ministry and service take some risks and sacrifices and we are here today because of the risk taking faith of others.
Faith in Jesus calls for taking risks and for the kind of courage we see in Thomas who was willing to die with Jesus. Thomas’ love for Jesus was so strong he was willing to lay down his life. Thomas is not a study in doubt but an example of faith because real faith is risky. Will we take risks in our own faith? Will we take risks at work and let people know that we are a follower of Jesus? When others are making fun of the church will we take a stand and speak up for what we believe? Will we take a risk with our finances and order our financial lives the way God calls us to? It is risky to tithe and give sacrificially to the work of God in the world, but think of all those who have done this. Their faith has made a difference.
Will we take some risks and step out in mission and service? Too often we don’t think that we have anything to offer, or that our work can make a difference so we sit back, but instead we need to take a risk and step out. Sometimes we are afraid of looking foolish when we step out to help others because we may not feel like we have the skills or ability to help, but are we willing to risk looking foolish or failing and just go. Thomas really thought they would die by going back to Judea – he thought they would fail – but he went anyway. Sometimes we just need to step out and go anyway.
Maybe it seems risky to volunteer for Serving our Seniors because we aren’t sure what – if anything – we can do and we don’t know who we might be working with. Faith is signing up anyway. It may seem risky to volunteer to work with our children because we don’t feel like we have the gifts to help in the nursery or with VBS but faith is stepping out to help anyway. We have made a commitment today to order our lives after the example of Christ so that a child and family (which means all children and all families) can see and hear and experience the presence of God. This means we all have to do something – we all have to be willing to risk something.
When the disciples faced the resurrection of Jesus and the uncertainty that this new reality brought to their lies, they had to be willing to overcome their fear and take some bold and courageous steps forward. I’m sure they asked themselves, Now what? My guess is that in time it was Thomas who answered that question by saying, we need to have faith and we need to take some risks. Faith requires us to take risks. What risk is God asking you to take today?
Thomas also shows us that faith means digging deeper into who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about. The second time we hear Thomas speak is at the Last Supper when Jesus told his disciples that he was getting ready to go to his father in heaven. John 14:1-7. Now the truth is that none of the disciples understood what Jesus was talking about, but it was Thomas who took a risk and asked a question. Thomas wanted to understand more about Jesus and what he was doing and where he was going. Thomas wanted to learn more and real faith always has a hunger and thirst for more of Jesus.
While we think that faith means having all the answers, real faith is being willing to ask all the questions. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry the disciples asked a lot of questions, but none of those can compare to what they wanted to ask after the resurrection. How did you rise from the dead? Why did you rise from the dead? What does this mean for Jesus, for us and for the world? Now what are we supposed to do? Now what was Jesus going to do? These are still questions we ask today and we may not get specific answers but as someone who has asked a lot of questions during his life of faith – let me tell you that the process of asking questions leads to a deeper faith and trust in God.
It is important to ask questions because asking questions not only leads to finding answers but it leads to a deeper relationship with the one we are asking. One of the most wonderful things and one of the most exasperating things, about children is that phase where they ask constant questions. Why is the grass green? Why is the sky blue? Why does the cow go moo? I heard a parent tell me this week that their child asked them, why did Jesus have to die? (Always a good question.) And of course don’t we all love it when children simply ask why – over and over again.
When children ask all these questions, there is a real desire to learn more about the world around them, but I often wonder if what they really want is simply a deeper relationship with the one they are asking. Do all these questions just show a desire on the part of children to know their parents more? I asked my grandmother lots of questions about my grandfather and my family because I wanted to know more but I also just loved the time with my grandmother.
So developing a strong faith doesn’t mean we shy away from questions but that we ask them and seek to know more about Jesus and to know Jesus more. This is why worship, Sunday School, Bible Studies and personal devotions are so important because they not only teach us about God but they open up our hearts and minds so we will ask more questions and seek more of God and the more we seek God the more we find him. Our faith can’t get complacent. We can’t get to the place where we feel like we have learned all we need to know because when it comes to God we will never learn all there is to know.
Thomas shows us that real faith takes risks and asks questions, but real faith is also willing to let go of uncertainty. After Thomas sees the risen Jesus and the wounds in his hands and side, we hear him speak for the last time and he says to Jesus, My Lord and my God.
With these words, Thomas has let go of his uncertainty, his questions have found answers and his love of Jesus has grown to the place where Thomas alone in the gospels proclaims Jesus to be God. In many ways this is the moment that John has been leading us to. All through his gospel, John has been telling us that Jesus is God and of all people, it is Thomas who really doesn’t doubt but has the faith to say that Jesus is God.
Thomas has now become the model of what it means to have faith in the risen Jesus. Real faith means that we love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that our love moves us to take big risks to follow him. Real faith means always being willing to learn more about Jesus and ask the questions that not only lead us to a deeper understanding but into a deeper relationship with God. It also means being willing to let go of our fear so that with confidence we can proclaim Jesus to be God and to trust him as our Lord.
After Jesus rose from the dead, one of the biggest questions the people faced was Now What? what do we do with this news of Christ resurrection? What does it mean for our lives and for our world? Thomas teaches us that what is needed now is FAITH. We need to take some risks, dig deeper into who Jesus is and let go of our doubts and fears so that we can trust that Jesus is Lord and God. Thomas is not the one who shows us doubt but the one who teaches us about FAITH.
Now What? FAITH
1. What events have you missed out on that everyone else got to see, hear and experience? How did missing out make you feel?
2 Read about Thomas in the gospel of John. John 11:1-16, 14:1-7, 20:21-29
3. Real faith is willing to LOVE God and take risks.
• What risks have you been willing to take for your faith?
• What risk is God asking you to take?
With your finances
In mission and ministry (Sign up today to serve our seniors this coming Saturday)
4. Real faith is willing to LEARN more and ask questions.
• Join a Bible Study, small group or Sunday school class to ask questions about Jesus and to learn more.
• Commit to regular worship this summer to learn more about faith. (This Summer we will be exploring the Apostle’s Creed)
5. Real faith is willing to LET GO of uncertainty and move forward.
• What is keeping you from taking risks?
Move beyond these doubts and fears.
• What is keeping you from being part of a group that is committed to learning more about Jesus?
Step out and join a group this summer?