March 4, 2018 Sermon
Thomas: Loyal, Leader & Lesson in Discipleship
Most of us would consider it an insult to be compared with the disciple known as Thomas. Often times we look at Thomas and see little more than a failure. The truth should be told, we know little about him. But we are familiar enough to know that he was the man who doubted that Jesus arose from the dead. In fact, we seldom refer to him as the Apostle Thomas. Instead we have long since renamed him. We have given him a new first name. We call him “Doubting,” “Doubting Thomas.”
I want us to overcome our negative impressions about Thomas and allow ourselves to walk in his shoes. I want us to see in him some positive qualities that will help us to be better disciples of our Lord. Someone who is loyal, a leader, and a lesson for all of us in discipleship.
Actually, the Bible gives us very little information about Thomas. In the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all we know about Thomas is that his name is listed among the twelve disciples. That’s it! Everything else we know about Thomas is found in the Gospel of John. Even in John’s gospel he is mentioned only three times.
The first time we meet Thomas is in John chapter 11. In this episode, word came to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was very sick. Out of desperation, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus hoping he would come and heal their brother. The sisters reminded Jesus of how much he loved Lazarus. Instead of dropping everything and going to him, Jesus continued his ministry.
Then a few days later, clear out of left field, Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead and that he was returning to Judea to see him. When the disciples heard this, they became visibly upset. They are troubled not because Lazarus was dead. Instead, they remind Jesus in no uncertain terms, “Lord, don’t you remember the last time you were in Judea? The Jews tried to kill you! They wanted to stone you! If you go back, they may very well succeed.” The disciples tried to stop him, fearing for his life and we might add, “Their own.”
It is important for us to notice here, that at no time did Jesus force the disciples to go with him. There were no demands made. In fact, Jesus did not even ask them to go. At any point along the way the disciples could have spoken up and have refused to go. They could have said, “Hey, this man has a death wish” and have left him.
It was precisely at that moment that we meet Thomas. Fully realizing the danger of returning to Judea, Thomas spoke up and said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The New Living Translation expresses it this way, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
What a statement! What an affirmation of faith! It was clearly an expression of love for Jesus. In essence, he was saying, “If the people take up stones and kill Jesus, let us die with him. If he is cast into prison, let us go to prison also.” These are powerful words; words that should cause us to remember something that Jesus said on another occasion:
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.
We see that Thomas loved Jesus so much that he was willing to die right along beside him. This statement took great courage of the part of Thomas. Instead of calling Thomas the Doubter, we should call him Thomas the Risk Taker. He was loyal to Jesus! He realized that if he went to Judea with Jesus, there was a high probability that he would die also. Humanly speaking, it would be impossible for 13 men to stand against an angry mob armed with stones. But Thomas was willing to take the risk. Why? Because he loved Jesus with all his heart!
If we love Jesus, we too are called to be risk takers. Think about it, following Jesus involves a certain amount of risk. It is a risky thing to get up out of our pew and walk down this aisle and say before God and everyone else, “I am a sinner. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong. I am accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”
Sullivan Ballou was a lawyer, a politician and a Major in the United States Army, but may best be remembered for the letter he wrote to his wife the week before he fought and was killed in the Battle of Bull Run.
July the 14th, 1861 Washington D.C.
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters.
Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
There’s a message here for the masculine heart. “A man must have a battle to fight, a great mission to his life . . . a cause to which he is devoted even unto death. That is why God created you—to be his intimate ally, to join him in the Great Battle.” (Wild at Heart, John Eldridge)
The Lord will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes! He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against his enemies. Isa. 42:13
The next time we see Thomas is on the night of the Last Supper. It was the night when Jesus broke bread and blessed the cup and gave it to his disciples in remembrance of himself. This was to be a long terrible night with moments of pain and anguish eventually leading to the cross. Being Just hours before his death, Jesus longed to share some special insights with his disciples. We find these beautiful words recorded in the fourteenth chapter of John. By now you recognize them:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
It was at that moment we hear from Thomas. He breaks into the conversation, not to be rude, but to ask a question. He asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way’?” This tells us a great deal about Thomas. One popular television aid says, “Inquiring minds want to know.” Thomas was not only a risk taker he was Thomas, the Inquirer. He was not a man who considered himself to have all the answers. Instead, he was an individual who wanted to know more. He wanted to understand what Jesus was talking about.
We need more Christians who are longing to know more about Jesus and his word. Far to many of us are satisfied with knowing Jesus on a superficial level. This wasn’t good enough for Thomas. He wanted to know more.
It is evident that Thomas had not yet figured out everything Jesus was talking about, but one thing was for sure. Thomas loved Jesus and he wanted to know more about him. And to top it all off, if Jesus was going somewhere, he wanted to be with him.
The third time we meet Thomas is in the 20th chapter of John. It was Easter Sunday. That afternoon all the disciples were gathered in a house, that is, everyone but Thomas. The doors were locked because they were afraid of the Jews. Suddenly, Jesus appeared unto them and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus then showed them his hands and his sides and said once again, “Peace be with you.” He gave them a commission that “just as the Father had sent him, he was sending them” and he left. Understandably, the disciples were excited. They had seen the risen Lord! One of the first things they wanted to do was to tell Thomas. As soon as they saw Thomas they said, “Thomas, he is alive! We saw him with our own eyes!” Surely Thomas would experience the same joy they felt, but no. He looked at the disciples, and said with what seemed to be an angry tone:
“I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
Now was Thomas’ reaction really that unexpected? No, I don’t think so. Thomas loved Jesus. All of his hopes and dreams had died on a cross and now it seemed as if Jesus’ own disciples were mocking him.
In fact, we must honestly say that we are a lot like Thomas aren’t we? Unless we see something with our own eyes or hold it in our hand, we have a hard time believing some things. We cannot believe something unless we see it, touch it. Yet, that is the heart of what the Gospel is all about: Faith! Hope! Ours is a faith that comes not from seeing, but from experiencing it in our hearts.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the next eight days were like for Thomas? Surely his fellow disciples had a sense of peace about them. They had seen Jesus but Thomas must have been miserable. In his mind Jesus was dead. In his unwillingness to open his heart in faith he missed out on all the joy that the risen Messiah offered.
However, the days did pass and once again the disciples were gathered together but this time Thomas was with them. Once again Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus did not waste a moment. He walked straight over to Thomas and said, “Thomas, here is my hand, put your finger in it. Here is my side, thrust your arm into it. Stop doubting and believe!”
Wow! Thomas was standing in the presence of the resurrected, living Jesus! He had been dead, but now he is alive! What was he to do? Should he fall down and kiss Jesus’ feet? Should he cry? Shout? What should he do? Thomas responded to Jesus with what many have considered to be the climax of the Gospel of John. Thomas said, “My Lord and My God!” Thomas the doubter is now, Thomas the Witness. For the first time in the Bible, Jesus is called God. He had been called, Lord, Teacher, Son of David, and even the Son of God but now, one who had doubted gave the greatest witness of all. He proclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”
Was Thomas a failure? I suppose it would be easy for us to scold Thomas for his doubt, for his lack of faith, but when we do so, we must chastise ourselves. Instead of calling Thomas a doubter perhaps we should make him an example. We need to have a love like Thomas that is so deep and sincere that we will be risk takers. We need the courage that would allow us to follow Christ where ever it may lead. Let us pray that we would have an inquiring mind to know more about Jesus. And most of all, regardless of our moments of doubt let us witness to the fact that Jesus is our Lord and God.
Someone has written:
Doubt sees the obstacles.
Faith sees the way!
Doubt sees the darkest night,
Faith sees the day!
Doubt dreads to take a step.
Faith soars on high!
Doubt questions, “Who believes?”
Faith answers, “I!”