Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THOMAS’ CERTAINTY”

 

Here we are once more on Easter Sunday, shortly after the annual hysteria of the infidels has taken place. I refer, in case you did not see it or hear of it, to this year’s installation of historical fiction from the man who wrote There Was No Jesus, There Is No God, Raphael Lataster, in an article in the most current issue of “The Conversation,” a periodical published by the University of Sydney, in Australia.[1] My response is, really? Really? Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, another Roman historian named Suetonius, a Roman governor named Pliny the Younger, another writer named Thallus, yet another writer named Phlegon, and finally a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion, each of them nonchristians, each of them living in the first century, each of them attesting to fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived.[2] How could such diverse men, most of them opposed to Judaistic monotheism, all but one so thoroughly pagan in their practice, and not knowing each other, be persuaded to make reference to someone whose very existence threatened the established order yet who supposedly did not exist? Please. Additionally, I hold up for all to see a book of incredible scholarship by Anglican bishop N. T. Wright titled The Resurrection Of The Son Of God, that was awarded book of the year honors in 2003.[3] May I remind you that the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of the living God is a historically proven fact, and that for someone to be raised from the dead He has to have actually existed? Therefore, having quickly swept aside the silly objections of people like Raphael Lataster, who rely on the ignorance and gullibility of their audience and their eagerness to believe lies to buy into this counterfeit “history,” let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God in the confidence our risen Savior is coming . . . again!

This morning we celebrate the resurrection of the eternal Son of the living God from the dead by considering the reaction of one man to Christ’s resurrection, a man about which far more is known from secular history than from the Word of God. He was the apostle named Thomas, about whom I would like to mention several things before we turn to the Biblical record. I begin with Christian writer Herbert Lockyer’s not surprising inclusion of the Apostle Thomas in his book All The Men In The Bible. He writes a very sympathetic biographical sketch:

 

THOMAS [Thom’as] - TWIN. One of the twelve apostles of Christ, and called also Didymus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-29; 21-2; Acts 1:13).

 

The Man Who Doubted

 

Thomas, we are told, was not really a name but an epithet, meaning, like its Greek equivalent Didymus, “the twin.” David Smith suggests that the apostle’s name was Judas, but that he was named “the twin” to distinguish him from Judas, the son of James, and Judas Iscariot. Tradition credits him with the authorship of a gospel which is included in apocryphal literature.

Zealous, inquisitive and incredulous, he earned the title of “Thomas the Doubter.” Because of his hesitancy in accepting the disciples’ story of the Resurrection of Christ, Thomas has come down through the centuries as a typical pessimist and sceptic. But was he an habitual doubter? Some authorities suppose that the name Didymus alluded to his doubting propensities, since some versions render it as “double-minded.”

Had we only the record of the first three gospels, Thomas would be to us simply a name, but John rescued him from oblivion, made him a reality to us and surrounded him with an undying interest. Tradition has it that he died a martyr.

Three traits seem to stand out in John’s cameo of Thomas:

I. When he saw what he ought to do, nothing kept him back. When Jesus expressed his intention of going into Judea again, Thomas urged the disciples to accompany Christ even though it might mean death (John 11:16).

II. When he saw what he ought to do, he only wanted to see how he was to do it. At the Last Supper he acknowledged his ignorance of the place the Lord was going to and asked how he could know the way (John 14:5).

III. When he saw what it was he had to believe, he only wanted to see that it was right, and then to him there was no help for it. After our Lord’s resurrection Thomas refused to believe in its reality except upon conditions which he himself laid down. How stirring was his confession of faith once convinced of the Resurrection (John 20:28; 21:2).[4]

 

Of even more interest to me concerning the Apostle Thomas is a very good book written by William Steuart McBirnie, The Search For The Twelve Apostles. You might remember McBirnie as the founder of the United Community Church in Glendale, serving there from 1961 to 1986, and launching the California Graduate School of Theology in 1968. Though a small book of only 312 pages, it is a wonderfully researched and well documented volume, with more than thirty-one pages devoted to the Apostle Thomas’ ministry and citing ancient documents from the Nestorian Christians, from the Chaldean Christians, and from the Coptic Church, among other sources. It seems Thomas traveled through Persia and ended up in southern India, where he was buried just outside Madras, India, in a place called Mylapore, a region on India’s southeastern tip now known as Chennai, not very far from where our own David and B. Mallipudi serve, as a matter of fact. The Christian community is ancient in that region, so ancient that when Portuguese explorers arrived there centuries ago and discovered Thomas’ burial site they destroyed it because the Christians there not being Roman Catholic were, of course, heretics.[5] Thus, there is an abundance of historical evidence for the Apostle Thomas’ life and ministry after Pentecost, through the Middle East, through Persia, through other countries, and down to the southern tip of India. His life and ministry are indisputable from a historical perspective. Does it not then follow, in order for a man to be real live apostle of Jesus Christ, someone called and sent by the Lord Jesus Christ as an apostle, that there had to be a Lord Jesus Christ to send him? Amen? There was and He did.

Consider that of the twelve apostles only the Apostle John died a natural death, and yet unsuccessful attempts were made to martyr even him. Thus, every one of the apostles faced the prospect of a violent death, with eleven of them actually being martyred. Would they have died for a lie? Would they have died for a Savior who never existed, who did not die on the cross, and did not rise from the dead? No, they would not have died for a lie. Those men knew the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for their sins, was buried in a rich man’s tomb, rose from the dead, and then ascended to the Father’s right hand on high.[6] That said, the apostles were not uniform in their willingness to admit to their Lord’s resurrection, at least not initially. Of the remaining eleven, it was especially Thomas who had great difficulty with the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, consider with me on this Easter Sunday morning, when the world around us takes note of Christ’s resurrection after a fashion, the way in which the Apostle Thomas responded to the testimony of the others who said, “He is risen.”

 

First, TAKE NOTE OF THOMAS’S APOSTLESHIP

 

As was mentioned in passing earlier, “Had we only the record of the first three gospels, Thomas would be to us simply a name.”[7] He is mentioned but once in Matthew, once in Mark, and once in Luke in connection with his calling as an apostle, and once in the book of Acts in connection to a gathering of the remaining apostles. Please listen as I read:

 

Matthew 10.3: “Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus.”

 

Mark 3.18:   “And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite.”

 

Luke 6.15:  “Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes.”

 

Acts 1.13:  “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.”

 

From these passages and their contexts we know barely more than his name, yet he was called by the Savior to be an apostle.

 

Next, TAKE NOTE OF THOMAS’ ABSENCE

 

Mentioned but one time in the first three gospels and once in the book of Acts, the Apostle Thomas is named no less than eight times in the gospel according to John, who he must have known since childhood being as they were both fishermen from the same small community on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

He is mentioned once by John in connection with a comment he made in relation to the death of Lazarus, who the Savior later raised from the dead. He is mentioned by John once more the night the Savior was arrested, when he asked, John 14.5,

 

“Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”

 

Of course, this led to our Lord’s answer, John 14.6:

 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

 

The Lord and His apostles then walked to the Garden of Gethsemane where the Lord prayed, which was also where our Lord was taken into custody when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. After that came His unjust and illegal trials and tortures, which led to His crucifixion and burial the next day. These terrible events are all known to us. What is not known to us during that time is what Thomas was doing. No mention is made of him or his actions during that span of time.

Then, of course, came our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, first discovered by some women, then discovered by Peter and John, and then by the other apostles save for Thomas when the risen Savior came to them in a room. Turn to John 20.19-23 where I read what wonderful things transpired:

 

19    Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20    And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21    Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22    And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23    Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

 

How thrilling it must have been to be huddled for fear of the Jews when suddenly the risen Savior appears standing in your midst, says “Peace be unto you,” and shows you His wounded hands and side. Is it any wonder they were brought to great gladness? Then He spoke to them again, imparted to them the Holy Ghost, and concluded by speaking profound words to them. How thrilled they must have been.

Except for Thomas. Verse 24 reads,

 

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”

 

Really? Such an absence was inexcusable. How is it the others knew perfectly well the Lord wanted them together, yet Thomas was not with them? What was his problem? Before I address Thomas’ problem let me point out something each of us should bear in mind. From the days of Noah God’s plan has been for sinful mankind to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” Genesis 9.1. Psalm 115.6 reads,

 

“The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.”

 

Yet what did sinful men do instead of obey God? They began to gather together in cities, and Satan destroyed them, Isaiah 14.17. They collaborated to build empires instead of spreading out in settlements as God directed. They conspired to oppose the plan and purpose of God. With two notable exceptions, when men gather together they do so to do wrong, to collaborate in their opposition to the plan and purpose of God, Psalm 2.2:

 

“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed.”

 

Who does God, on the other hand, want to gather so they might worship and serve Him? In the Old Testament, only the Jewish people, the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, only the church of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 10.25 reveals:

 

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

 

Do you think this principle was lost on Thomas? Think again if you think he was alone among the apostles who failed to grasp the importance of gathering. And what did he miss by not gathering? What everyone risks missing when they, for whatever the reason, choose to forgo being with God’s people when God’s people gather. A blessing. What blessing did Thomas miss out on by demonstrating his autonomy, by being his own man, by showing that he could stand apart if he so chose? First, he missed the blessing of seeing the risen Savior with his own eyes. Second, he missed the blessing of being wonderfully encouraged on the day of the resurrection. Third, he missed the blessing of a shared experience with those who were faithful to be where they were supposed to be. Fourth, he missed the blessing of hearing the risen Savior reissue the apostolic commission. Fifth, he missed the blessing of the Savior breathing on him and imparting to him the Spirit of the living God. And sixth, he missed the blessing of being assured that he represented the Savior of sinful men’s souls.

My goodness, the things that happen to a man, or that don’t happen to a man, as a direct consequence of not being where he is supposed to be or when he is supposed to be there! Abraham should not have been where Hagar was. Anywhere but there with Hagar. David should not have been in his home the night he spent with Bathsheba. He should have been where kings are supposed to be when kings go forth to battle. Elsewhere! Uzziah should not have been where only priests should be, resulting in a lifetime of leprosy.[8] Those men had bad experiences as a result of being where they should not have been, while Thomas had no blessing from not being where he should have been.

 

Third, TAKE NOTE OF THOMAS’ ATTITUDE

 

There is little doubt that Thomas was deprived of eight days of knowledge, eight days of bliss, eight days of joy, eight days of confidence, and eight days of fulfillment and satisfaction, for no other reason than choosing not to be where he and the others knew they should be.

Thomas’ attitude that led to his absence reflects not only arrogant pride but also a misapprehension of reality. Let me explain: One of the significant teachings Christ had imparted to His apostles was that body of doctrinal truth surrounding His church, His assembly, His congregation, His gathering. For three and one-half years they had lived together, traveled together, slept together, been taught together, observed miracles together, heard the world’s greatest sermons together, seen the sick and crippled healed together, seen the blind given sight together, seen the lepers cleansed together, seen the dead raised from the dead together, and they had actually together seen Him walk on water. They were at the communion of the Lord’s Supper together, in the garden when He was arrested together, yet when all the others were gathered following the resurrection Thomas was not there. What causes a man to be elsewhere when it is clear that the life Christ wanted His apostles to live, the life He wants us to live, is in community with others? What caused Thomas to miss that meeting? What causes anyone to miss the meeting, be it a Sunday service, a prayer meeting, or outreach time? What causes an individual to miss? Is it not because he thinks he has something more important to do? Is it not because he has relatively little regard for those he would be with were he there? Is it not because he has little expectation of blessing should he attend, or that he can always be blessed later? These things are all associated with pride, beloved. This is not the thinking of a humble and spiritual Christian. As well, this is the action of someone who misunderstands how God works, wrongly presuming that he can always get the blessing some other time. Now, it is true that Thomas was eventually blessed . . . eight days later. However, do you have any doubt that after he actually saw his blessed Savior, beheld Him in all His beauty, and heard His tender and loving voice, that a day ever went by without his mind reflecting on an opportunity missed, a blessing delayed, and something he might have had with his fellows that he was never able to recapture (they together saw Him the first day while Thomas did not)? That said, keep in mind that God is gracious. Yet what is grace anyway? Some people think of grace as God always giving a second opportunity, God always providing a second chance, God always enabling you to make up what you missed. Such a view of grace is not exactly right. Keep in mind that grace always includes the idea that God does not have to. He frequently grants additional opportunities for blessing. One may even say God usually grants additional opportunities for blessing. However, He does not always grant opportunities for blessing. And sometimes He graciously extends an opportunity for undeserved blessing only once.

Don’t you know that Thomas was humbled by the realization that the Lord Jesus Christ showed Himself alive with many infallible proofs, though by his own neglect to gather with the others he went missing the first opportunity he had?

 

Finally, TAKE NOTE OF THOMAS’ ADMISSION

 

John 20.25-28: 25   The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26   And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27   Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28   And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

 

Notice the stubbornness. “We have seen the Lord.” But he refused to believe them. Think about it. Men he had lived with for three and one-half years. Men who were good men, and trustworthy, devout and committed. Yet he refused to believe their combined testimony, the testimonies of ten good men. How do you explain that apart from stubbornness, and the basis for stubbornness is pride?

His pride is also seen in the fact that he has decided on his own what the standard of faith would be, where the threshold of faith would be placed. He chose to ignore not only the testimonies of ten men, but also three and a half years during which time he had heard the teachings of Christ himself, seen the miracles of Christ himself, observed the cleansings of Christ himself. Yet he chooses to ignore all that he had seen and heard himself, chooses to deny the collective testimonies of ten good men who were eye witnesses to the truth? What arrogance he displays.

Yet this is the same arrogance that is displayed by anyone to exercises his own autonomy by refusing to gather where he knows God wants people to gather, by refusing to gather when he knows God wants people to gather, and on top of that choosing that he and he alone is the final arbiter of whether Jesus Christ is worthy to be believed, worthy to be trusted, worthy to be obeyed.

That said, aren’t you glad the Lord Jesus Christ chose to appear to His disciples and also to Thomas? I phrase it that way because verse 26 reads, “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them,” not identifying Thomas with the disciples . . . because he had failed to congregate with them when he should have.

I look upon verses 26-28 with utmost gratitude, thankful that Thomas saw the risen Savior at last, thankful that his arrogance and his ignorant determination to order his life his way was overruled by our merciful Lord, and thankful that he humbled himself and confessed, “My Lord and my God.”

 

On Easter Sunday first there was a man who thought he knew everything. He also felt he had the right to self-determination with respect to spiritual matters and fealty to God. However, he was wrong. Dangerously and foolishly wrong. For three and a half years he sat at the Savior’s feet, learning from Him, observing Him, witnessing His healings, His cleansings, His miracles over nature, His conquest of death in the lives of others such as Jairus’ daughter and His friend Lazarus, apparently causing him to think he just about knew it all. I guess he didn’t think he needed to be with the others on that first resurrection Sunday. My guess would be that his proud demonstration of autonomy and independence was based upon his conclusion that he knew enough to make such a decision. He had no concern for God’s sovereign right to bless those who were obedient and to withhold blessing from those who were not obedient. The result?

He was eight days without the comfort of the resurrection, eight days without the indwelling Spirit of God, eight days without joy unspeakable and full of glory, and forever without the cherished experience of having been there with his colleagues when the Savior first appeared to all of them except for him. The basis for Thomas’ actions? His certainty that he knew. He knew. He was positive he was right. After all, he had seen it all, heard it all, and witnessed it all. Yet he was wrong. And what he was wrong about was quite simply the worst possible thing you could be wrong about, the resurrection. And he continued to be wrong for eight long days. And he didn’t get it right himself. The Savior Himself straightened Thomas out when Thomas could never have straightened himself out . . . because he was right and everyone else was wrong. Only he was wrong.

Think about it my unsaved friend. One of the twelve most well-informed men in human history concerning the things of God’s only begotten Son. He had seen everything in three and a half years, from the beginning to the very end (in a manner of speaking) with the crucifixion. No one knew as much about Jesus Christ as those twelve apostles. It can be argued that no one knew more than Thomas, yet he was still wrong. You certainly do not know as much about Jesus of Nazareth as Thomas did. So, if he had been wrong about the resurrection, you could certainly be wrong, too. How was Thomas straightened out? The Lord Jesus Christ miraculously appeared to Him, in the flesh. Thomas could no longer deny the resurrection, and his admission proves it.

May I make a prediction to you? I predict the Lord Jesus Christ will not rise from His throne in heaven to appear before you. I predict He will not overwhelm your stubbornness, if such is the case. Why not? Because of what He said in verse 29:

 

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

 

God’s plan for most people, you see, is faith. Faith means not seeing what is nevertheless true, but relying on the testimony of others. Therefore, if you are ever to be saved from your sins so as to escape the never-ending torment of the damned, if you ever want to be reconciled to God, you will have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead without ever seeing Him. Then you must trust Him.



[2] Josh D. McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), pages 120-123.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection Of The Son Of God, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), awarded Book of the Year by the Association of Theological Booksellers, 2003.

[4] Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), page 327.

[5] William Steuart McBirnie, The Search For The Twelve Apostles, (Wheaton, IL: Living Books, 1973), pages 142-173.

[6] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[7] Lockyer, page 327.

[8] 2 Chronicles 26.18


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