One of the things which has helped me grow in my Christian faith and understanding has been listening to debates between Christians and atheists on Youtube. Now, it’s not as bad as you might think. I mean, some of you might think sitting on a prickly pear cactus and eat raw tofu might be more enjoyable, and I understand that. But for yours truly, I truly learn a lot about my faith and the views of those who do not share my faith.
One interesting thing keeps popping up over and over and over in such debates, and it is a criticism of Christianity and belief in God in general. Many people have a problem with what is called “blind faith.” This is the idea that our beliefs and practices have no evidence to back them up. We simply believe without anything measurable to point to as a basis for that belief. The argument goes something like this: well, you don’t have any evidence to back up your belief, so why not believe in the tooth fairy or the giant spaghetti monster?
In reality, this criticism is a valid criticism–if, and it is a big if, faith were simply an intellectual assertion–kind of like a switch in the brain that you turn on and off. “Click” I believe in God. “Click” I don’t believe in God. Whether I turn the switch on or off has very little bearing on my life. And there are many believers who fit right into this category. There are many believers for whom faith in Jesus is simply a belief that indeed He is God; He died; He rose from the dead, and if I give intellectual assent to this, then I am saved. Furthermore, as many, many pastors have said, it is quite all right to have doubts about such things. It is quite all right to wrestle with the intellectual problem of God taking on flesh and living among us; performing miracles; dying; and then rising from the dead. Simply believing this as passed down throughout history is a difficult thing especially in light of the scientific evidence about how the world generally works. Having doubt is not a bad thing–or so we are told.
Again, what is being said here is true–if, and it’s a big if, faith is simply an intellectual matter that is all in our heads. If faith is simply a condition of our heads grasping something and believing it, then we have to deal with the criticism of blind faith and the idea that doubt is a good thing. However, this does make Jesus’ words today in the 20th Chapter of the book of John a bit problematic. For if I get up here and say, “It’s okay to doubt,” and then you hear Jesus tell Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe,” then you are left in a bit of a conundrum. Who do you trust? Do you trust what I say? Do you trust what Jesus commanded? Do you trust that the writer of the Gospel actually gives us the words of Jesus? Did the writer make this story up? All of these questions come to life and then snowball if faith is something that is purely intellectual; purely a head thing that has no evidence to back it up.
But I do not think faith is simply a head thing. I do not think faith is simply a matter of clicking a switch up in our brains which turns on and off. I think faith runs much deeper, and honestly, the translation of verse 27 leaves a lot to be desired. I think it should be translated in the following way: 27Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not distrust but trust.’ How does this change things, and how does it affect our lives? Hold onto your seats.
To get at this question, we need to take a quick trip through the Gospel of John to look at Thomas. Thomas gets a lot of attention in this text, and he is important; although the main focus of this text is not Thomas, but Jesus. We’ll get there shortly. But let’s take a look at Thomas for a few minutes as we see his history throughout the Gospel of John. We begin in Chapter 11 as Jesus tells His disciples He is going to Bethany after Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. The last time Jesus was in Bethany, the crowds threatened to kill Him. The disciples know this, and they are afraid for Jesus. They are afraid Jesus will be killed. As His followers, they stand to suffer the same fate. Thomas bravely steps to the fore and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas definitely shows bravado here. He is willing to die with Jesus, but I am convinced that Thomas doesn’t quite understand who Jesus really is. Thomas doesn’t fully understand the extent of what Jesus is about and how this will really impact him.
Why do I say that? Because of the next time we run into Thomas is in John chapter 14. In this chapter, Jesus has just told His disciples that He will be going away and that He will bring them to Himself. Jesus also says that the disciples know the way to the place He is going. Thomas then says, “We do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” So, Thomas goes from a willingness to die with Jesus to being confused. He doesn’t quite get Jesus at all. Jesus responds famously, “I am the way, and the Truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus, of course, is revealing that He is the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world by His life, death, and resurrection. Thomas doesn’t get that. He still has a certain expectation of Jesus. Thomas still believes that Jesus is going to do something vastly different. I think Thomas believes Jesus is going to be the Jewish Messiah who will come with power and might, but not the suffering servant who gives His life as a ransom for many.
This is why when we meet Thomas today, Thomas initially refuses to believe or trust the witness of his fellow disciples. Jesus had appeared to them in that locked room; breathed new life into them; and commissioned them to spread the news–to forgive sins. Thomas was not there at this initial gathering, so when he returned, the rest of the crew greeted him with the news, “We have seen the Lord.”
Thomas doesn’t believe them. He doesn’t trust their witness. We automatically ask, “Why?” Scripture is not explicit here. We don’t know the workings of Thomas’ brain at this point, but based upon our experience of Thomas in the book of John and what he said to the disciples and to Jesus in John 11 and John 14, I think Thomas refused to believe and refused to trust his colleagues because he knew it meant he would have to die. Hear me again on that one: if Jesus was risen from the dead, then it meant Thomas would have to die.
Please know, I am not talking about physical death. No. That would have been the easy way out. Physical death was something Thomas was willing to face earlier, but I don’t think he was ready to face the death that Jesus had talked about with His disciples before, “If anyone wants to save his life, he must lose it; and if anyone loses his life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel, he will save it.” This kind of death is much, much harder. This kind of death is traumatic. This kind of death means a radical shift in one’s worldview and understanding. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then I must give up everything I once thought would bring me happiness and joy. I must give up everything that I once thought that made me who I am. I must give up everything I once placed my trust in to bring me peace. I must give up everything I once wanted and desired; and I must put my trust in Jesus.
I don’t think Thomas wanted to die that kind of death. I don’t think Thomas wanted to give up his dream of a Messiah who would overthrow Israel’s enemies. I don’t think Thomas wanted to give up his dreams of power and authority. I don’t think Thomas wanted to give up his ideas of a Messiah who was powerful and mighty; a warrior of paramount who would bring about world peace–and, of course, the dominion of the kingdom of Israel of which he would be one of the twelve rulers. Thomas wanted all of this. This was his deepest heart’s desire. It was something he was willing to die for, and when he thought Jesus would give it to him, he was glad to follow Jesus to death. It’s why Thomas couldn’t understand Jesus’ comments about preparing the way to the Father. Thomas wasn’t thinking of such things. His heart and mind and trust were somewhere else.
But if Jesus was raised from the dead, those dreams must come to an end. Those desires must cease. His heart could no longer be captured by what Thomas wanted. If Jesus were raised from the dead, a radical new way of life was mandated; a way of life with Jesus at the center. And so, Thomas came up with a list of demands which could surely not be satisfied. “Unless I place my hands in His wounds, I will not trust.”
You know, there is a reason we quote Isaiah 53.5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” For Jesus came to Thomas. Jesus had Thomas touch his wounds, and by Jesus’ wounds, Thomas was healed. Thomas was put to death. When Jesus came to Thomas, all of those things Thomas thought were his dreams and desires left. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas cries out.
“Do not distrust, Thomas. Trust.” Thomas entire being was affected by his encounter with Jesus. Thomas entire soul was changed. It was not an intellectual switch in his brain that was thrown, but it was a change to his very core as he put his trust in the one who died and rose again.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet trust,” Jesus then says. There is no doubt as to whom this statement is directed. It is not directed to the disciples who are standing in that room. It is not directed at Thomas who has touched Jesus. It is directed at you and me. It is directed at all who will hear the message about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is an invitation to us to come and die–to walk away from all of those things that we once believed would bring us happiness; peace; satisfaction; and joy. It is an invitation to stop placing our trust in money; power; politics; science; sports; status; possessions; friends; family; co-workers; humanity; and ourselves. It is an invitation to put our trust solely and squarely in Jesus Christ and look to Him for our identity, for our hope, for our well-being, for meaning, for purpose, for peace, and for joy. It is an invitation to rethink our entire lives and our entire being–not just some intellectual assertion that Jesus is risen from the dead. It’s an invitation to make Jesus our deepest heart’s desire and proclaim Him our Lord and our God.
Why? You may ask. Why should I put my trust in Him instead of all of these other things? Why Jesus above material possessions or money or power or politics? Why Jesus over any other religion or philosophy? Why trust Jesus instead of trusting myself?
Let me start by going backward. Trust yourself? If you start believing your own press and thinking you have the ability to handle every situation in the world, then you have become your own god and will eventually end up like Narcissus. You will fall in love with yourself and end up consumed with yourself dying alone. If you put your trust in any other god, they will demand your total allegiance and punish you dearly when you mess up. If you trust in wealth, possessions, power and politics, they will demand everything of you and never give you enough to satisfy.
Only one God has dared die for you when you were undeserving. Only one God dared die for you when you rejected Him. Only one God dared to love you deeply when you refused to love Him. Only Jesus was willing to do this for you and demand nothing in return.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him!
And if Jesus was raised from the dead, then this is most certainly true. And when you put your trust in Him; when you put your trust in His saving actions, your life will be transformed. Not in the sense of material possessions or health or financial well being, but with a peace that passes understanding and with a joy that can never be taken from you. Today, Jesus invites you to trust Him. Not with some simple belief, but with your entire being. Let His wounds heal you that you may fall on your knees and say, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.