John 20: 19-31 Doubting Thomas
Fingers on buzzers please - your starter for 10:
If 7 is hail and thunderstorms, and 9 is darkness what is 2?
The answer to this University Challenge question is frogs, and the bright young things easily got it right. Now the Israelites had witnessed all these attempts to persuade Pharoah to let them leave Egypt and to free them from the slavery of making bricks without straw, they had celebrated what we know as the Passover and had chosen to follow Moses, their leader and a man of God.
Yet despite all these clear signs from Yahweh, of frogs, lice, flies, boils, locusts not to mention the slaying of all the first born they came to a crisis of faith. “What have you done bringing us out of Egypt - were there not enough graves there for us to die into?”
Some of you know already that I am a fan of Handel’s Oratorio “Israel in Egypt” because I played a little of it at our Lent courses. At the end of part two there are three short and connected choruses:
“But the waters overwhelmed their enemies”
There was not one of them left,
There was not one not one not one of them left
“And Israel saw that great work”
That the Lord did upon the Egyptians
And the people feared the Lord
“And believed the Lord”
And his servant Moses
Thomas was one of the twelve, now the eleven. He had been with Jesus watching him perform miracles, expelling demons, healing the leprous, was alongside him as he preached and taught praying with him and was one of his most fervent followers. When Jesus hears of Lazarus’ death the other disciples try to prevent him from going to Bethany saying “No, no the Jews are waiting to stone you” but Thomas the twin said “Let us also go that we may die with him.”
Yet despite all these clear signs and Jesus’ own testimony that he would rise again after three days, when Thomas hears from the disciples that they have seen the Lord, he comes to a crisis of faith.
We do not know why Thomas was not in the room with the others but I prefer to think that this was Jesus’ intent for we learn much from his absence. A week or so later Jesus came again; “Peace be with you” Jesus of course knew of Thomas’ doubts, there is no upbraiding, but rather like the good shepherd seeking the lost sheep Jesus opens himself up, he opens himself totally to Thomas:
“Put your finger here and see my hands
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
Thomas, without placing his fingers or hand in Christ’s body becomes no longer doubting Thomas but, and as he always will be for me Believing Thomas: “My Lord and my God” he says in complete acceptance not just of Jesus’ presence but of his whole identity as Jesus and God.
The encouragement we draw from this is inestimable; this man who doubted came to be an extraordinary missionary and worked all over the East notably in India where he is particularly celebrated. What hope these two stories give us - we see that many before us with direct experience of God’s works had moments of panic. “I am not sure, have I made a mistake, can it be true? Should we have stayed with the Egyptians or the non believers?
Back to Handel for a moment:
And Thomas saw that great work, and believed in the Lord.