by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
Thomas is my favorite apostle. It is partly because he was the apostle who went to preach in India where I worked for eleven years. The traditional sign of St. Thomas is a spear and a carpenter's square. This seems to be based on the probability that he made two journeys to the east. The first was to north India where he was the carpenter who built a palace for Godnophores (Greek name), and as a result King Gudnaphar (Sanskrit name) was baptized as a Christian. His next journey was by ship across to the south west coast of India. You can still visit the seven churches in Kerala which were founded by this great apostle. And you can also visit the place in Madras where he was speared to death by his enemies.
Thomas was not present with the other apostles when the risen Jesus came among them the first Easter evening. And during the next few days Thomas refused to believe the eye witness account of the other apostles. "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" (John 20:25). As a result Thomas is often called Doubting Thomas, as if doubt is not something Christians should ever experience. We all have doubts from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with questioning and doubting. The important thing is to have our doubts about resurrection resolved.
How did Thomas have his doubt removed? And what gave him the faith to make two very dangerous journeys to India to announce the certainty of the resurrection?
Last Sunday we saw that there was no way anyone, until they saw it happen, could possibly believe that a crinkly daffodil bulb could become a yellow daffodil. But once you have seen it happen, you have the faith to plant bulbs in the fall and expect them to come out in the spring. For the apostles seeing was believing. They saw Jesus's resurrection body, and they had faith in their own resurrection. But we were not there to see the unbelievable resurrection event happen.
Most of what we believe depends on the evidence of reliable eye witnesses. How many of you believe that astronauts have walked on the moon? You were not there on the moon to see, but you believed the newspaper and television reports. You have never been to Ethiopia, but you believe the news that people are dying of starvation. At first Thomas did not accept the report of the other eye-witness disciples, even though they were personal friends, because resurrection was too much for a practical minded carpenter to believe. But eventually he himself took the news of what had happened to the people of north and south India.
Immediately following the story of Thomas, the writer of the Gospel tells us: "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" (John 20:30-31). It is by reading the accounts of the resurrection in the four Gospels that millions have come to faith in Jesus' resurrection from the tomb, and their own resurrection when they die.
But there is a third kind of certainty that comes by personal encounter. Imagine you read in the Kingston Whig Standard that a man was being lowered into the grave in his coffin, and suddenly he pushed the lid open, jumped out, and greeted the mourners. You would naturally refuse to believe that a man who had died of heart failure could resurrect like that from death. But your curiosity grips you and you decide to call him. "Are you the man who was reported as jumping out of your grave?" After answering half a dozen questions, he invites you round the next day for coffee. Now he goes over the story, shows you the medical records, and his wife assures you he had indeed died of heart failure but now he is fit and well. Although the account seems as unbelievable as a caterpillar coming out of a cocoon as a butterfly, your reasonable doubt might eventually turn to certainty. But would you still be as certain of this event ten years later?
Thomas had heard the evidence of eye witnesses, and the next Sunday he actually met the same Jesus who had been crucified, bled to death, and buried in a sealed tomb. That was sufficient to send him out on his mission. But he must have had doubts during those long dangerous journeys to India. "Was it wishful thinking? Was I dreaming? Was it a psychological trick?" Even if he had the Gospel of Matthew with him, as now seems possible, rereading the story of the resurrection might not settle his doubts. But if Jesus is alive, and he has the resurrection body of heaven, then it should be possible to talk to him personally.
"Jesus, I am serving you in this mission to India, but I wonder if you are still around? Things are so difficult, and I have this terrible dysentry and malaria. Sometimes I even doubt I saw you risen from the dead. I need your assurance. Any day now I am going to be speared to death by my enemies. I need to know you are there to welcome me on the other side." Jesus loves us, and he will certainly answer that kind of prayer from one of his disciples. Those who pray in that way all know for certain that their Lord is alive. And when the time of death comes they commit themselves into his hands with confidence to die beautifully.
Earlier this week I talked to a man who had been a faithful, active church goer all his life. "Are you sure that when you die you will be resurrected into heaven on the other side?" His answer bothered me. "Some people say you are snuffed out and that's it. Others believe you will come back in some other form. Frankly I don't know."
It wasn't philosophical reasoning that removed Thomas' doubts, or his
remembrance of a previous experience, or even the words of the Gospels.
It was the personal experience of a conversation with the one who loved
him, and stood by him in the tough situations of life. So I encouraged
my friend to talk to Jesus who is alive for evermore. And I would like
to give you a couple of minutes to do that right now.