Thomas: Becoming Certain through Doubting

Series: Preacher: Date: November 4, 2018 Scripture Reference: John 20:24–29

Connecting with People of the Bible / Faith; Discipleship; Doubt / John 20:24–29; John 11:16; John 14:5

There are doubters in our midst. They’re us!

Have you ever come across something that is just too incredible to believe? We pass on information all the time that is simply preposterous. We don’t believe it! My cell phone buzzes a couple times a day with pre-recorded voices promising me something, like a free trip somewhere or an interest-free loan. My favorite – if you’re allowed to have a favorite robo-call – is one where a woman starts by saying, “Do not hang up.” I’ve never gotten past that to hear the rest of the recording.

We doubt more than just telemarketers. Sometimes we doubt the people we interact with. A car salesman in the city of Bodoe, Norway, lost a sixteen-car sale because of his doubt. A young man in a sweater, overalls, and rubber boots entered the car dealer’s shop in this city just north of the Arctic Circle. He asked the salesman if they kept cars on hand, and the salesman said they certainly did. Then the man said, “I want sixteen cars, if I like the model.” Well, the salesman was annoyed, because no serious person would ever want sixteen cars. So he said, “I have no time for jokes—buzz off.” So the man did. He buzzed across the street to another dealership, made the same request, and paid the equivalent of $77,000 US for the new fleet. He belonged to a sixteen-man crew of a Norwegian trawler that caught record quantities of herring last season. Each fisherman netted a lot of money during the season. They decided to buy new cars and to buy all sixteen at once, to get the highest possible discount.[1] Sometimes people are telling the truth.

We also doubt the ability of others. I heard a story about a woman in Kansas City who was cooking her first Thanksgiving Day turkey for her husband and son, and she was very self-conscious about it. She told them, “Now I know this is the first turkey I’ve ever cooked. If it isn’t right, I don’t want anybody to say a word. We’ll just get up from the table without comment, and go down to the hotel for dinner.”[2] Later that day, at dinnertime, the woman emerged from the kitchen with the turkey. As she brought it to the dining room table, she saw her husband and son seated there, already wearing their hats and coats! We don’t always trust that people will come through for us, that they will be able to handle our need.

But then we doubt our own abilities, too. We have an example from an oilman who bought a house outside Palembang in Sumatra. Since he needed to learn the Indonesian language, he attended the Berlitz Schools of Language in New York. Charles Berlitz, a vice-president of the school went out to Sumatra with the oilman.  Berlitz urged him to plunge right in with the language. While they were in his office together, the oilman took a phone call from one of his newly-hired servants.  “Just goes to show you,” the oilman said when he hung up, “you think you know the language, but when you get here you find you don’t know a thing about it. Sounded just like he said a tiger was in the house, chasing the cook’s dog.” It turned out that even though the man doubted his language decoding abilities, he had, in fact, heard right. There was a tiger that had gotten into the house, and it was chasing the cook’s dog! [3]

We have to admit then that there are doubters in our midst. They are us! We doubt in many ways, sometimes to our own detriment.  Some of you have come here today, and you have your doubts as to whether this is all really true.  That’s okay.  Or maybe tragedy has struck – perhaps family turmoil or a foreboding diagnosis – that introduces some doubt in your faith.  “God, why would you have me go through this trauma?”  It’s okay to ask those questions.  Or maybe you’re like that guy in the Bible whose son Jesus healed from demonic possession who cried out, “I believe. Help me with my unbelief!”

Even followers of Jesus deal with seasons of doubt.

God knows our tendency to doubt.  Thankfully, he has provided examples in his Word to help us work through our doubts.  One example is the Apostle Thomas.  We are looking at his life today.  Part of his story is in John 20.  Go ahead and turn there now.  We get to look at the crescendo of John’s Gospel this morning.  It’s what the entire book builds up to.  In a Gospel about Jesus, you might say, “Isn’t that the resurrection?”  Not in this case.  John’s climax is not the resurrection of Jesus but rather our response to it.  How we respond to Jesus matters.  As we connect with Thomas, he is going to teach us this truth: A faith-filled response to Jesus brings us new life.  Let’s read John 20:24-31.

John 20:24–31 ESV

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


This is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Okay, let’s take care of the elephant in the room.  Thomas had a nickname.  And that nickname was…the twin!  Yes, that’s the nickname the Bible gives. Thomas was apparently a twin, but we don’t know the identity of his brother or sister.  We’ve given him a different nickname.  If I were Thomas, and I were picking, I think I’d stick with being called “The Twin” over “Doubting Thomas.”  There’s a little more to it than that – “Twin” was more of a name than a nickname – but this is a good reminder that there’s more to Thomas than meets the eye.  We are going to focus on his doubting moment, but we’ll try to get a well-rounded picture of who Thomas was.

Thomas’ name is only mentioned in Scripture 11 times, and 8 of those are just his name in a list of the other apostles.  Everything we know for sure about Thomas’ personality comes from just 3 verses.  The picture we get is that Thomas was kind of gruff and grumpy.  In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur writes that if Thomas were a Winnie the Pooh character, he’d definitely be Eeyore!  If you are a matter-of-fact kind of person; if you consider yourself a realist; if you look around at other people – Christians even – and get sick of what looks like syrupy sweetness or shallow sentiment; if you have ever sat in a meeting and wanted to stop discussing and make a decision already; if these things resonate with you, then Thomas is your guy.  So what can we learn about Thomas?

Thomas was an “ all  in ” disciple.

The first recorded line from Thomas is in John 11:16.  This is where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  But you might remember that Jesus got the word about Lazarus and waited until Lazarus actually died before going to see him.  Waiting made sense to the disciples, because Lazarus’ home was in Bethany, two miles outside Jerusalem.  The last time Jesus was there, he ticked off the Pharisees so much that they attempted to kill him.  That was why Jesus left with his disciples.  It was why they crossed over to the other side of the river.  And then Jesus’ dropped the bombshell that he was going to visit Lazarus, who was already dead. The disciples were already trying to talk Jesus out of traveling there, because they didn’t like getting pelted with deadly stones.  I imagine their stunned silence as they crowded around Jesus, confused yet again by what their Master told them.  And then Thomas spoke:

John 11:16 ESV

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas saw no use in arguing.  He looked at his fellow disciples and said, “Let’s go.”  There was a sense of duty here.  By any normal estimation, Jesus was headed toward his death.  By association, anyone found with him would also be put to death.  Thomas was a matter-of-fact realist looking at the situation.  He had committed to following Jesus regardless of where that led.  He was saying, “If this is what it means to follow Jesus, count me in.”

In that moment, what if he had said, “Count me out”?  What if he declared an upper limit to how far he would go in following Christ?  He would have missed out on one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed.  There is a difference between simply hearing about an event and actually being there, witnessing it.  Thomas didn’t want to be a degree removed from Jesus.  He didn’t want a starter level discipleship package.  He wanted firsthand experience.

And I don’t think Thomas say any choice in the matter.  The logic only led one direction.  I chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus is going that way.  This is going to get us killed.  Let’s go.

Following Jesus isn’t a choose-your-own adventure story. 

There aren’t light and full versions.

What does it look like when we place an upper limit on following Jesus?

It’s a mentality that allows clocking out, where some time is devoted to your faith, the rest is your time, for the rest of your life, as though following Jesus is a part-time job.  It’s seen in comments such as, “My faith is more of a private thing,” or, “One day I will be more committed in my faith,” or when a more seasoned believer says, “I’ve served my time. It’s someone else’s turn.”

Thomas thought following Jesus was going to kill him, until he experienced something that made him feel more alive than ever.  That’s how it often is with following Jesus.  When we move past our artificial upper limit, we often think it will overwhelm, until we feel more alive than ever before.  As we already said, a faith-filled response to Jesus brings us new life.

Jesus affirmed this truth elsewhere when he said,

Luke 9:24 ESV

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

You won’t be surprised to know that our country has “experts” on the topic of human happiness.  After all, our country’s founding documents involve the pursuit of that happiness as one of the unalienable rights endowed us by our Creator.  But our Creator does not mandate how we search for it.  Studies show that many people search for it in the wrong direction.  Chris Riotta wrote an article published in World Magazine titled, “People Who Spend Money on Experiences Instead of Things Are Much Happier.”  He writes, “Just think about it: At the end of your life, are you going to be reminiscing about the fact that you had an iPhone 6 Plus while everyone else was still using the 5” – this was back in 2015 – “or are you going to recall golden memories you shared with the people who shaped who you’ve become?”  There is a documented buyer’s remorse among people who buy expensive things, which they almost immediately devalue.  Dr. Thomas Gilovich, with the Psychology Department at Cornell University, says,

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you.”

Thomas was not about to miss out on the experience of following Jesus, and we shouldn’t be, either.

Thomas was a  questioning  disciple.

Thomas was not just “all-in.”  He was willing to ask questions.  That moment just mentioned – where the disciples crowded around Jesus, looking confused until Thomas spoke up – that moment happened on more than one occasion.  The second time takes place in John 14:5.   It was the night Jesus was arrested and later crucified.  The disciples knew something was up.  Even though Jesus had told them many things plainly, they were still bewildered.  Jesus told them in John 14:4,

John 14:4 ESV

And you know the way to where I am going.”

As Jesus spoke, I imagine Thomas wondering what in the world he meant. “I’m supposed to know where Jesus is going?”  Maybe he wondered whether he was the only perplexed one.  Then he looked around and saw confusion written on the faces of the ten remaining disciples there.  He also noted their silence.  Maybe he waited a moment or two longer.  Stupid questions were, after all, more Peter’s department.  However long it took, Thomas spoke up.  John 14:5.

John 14:5 ESV

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Thomas declares in his question the exact opposite of what Jesus had just told them.  Jesus says, “You know the way,” but Thomas declares, “No we don’t! How could we?”  If you know John 14:6, then you know this was a set up; I believe Jesus wanted someone to ask the question, and that someone was Thomas.  As I look at this, I’m convinced that Jesus loves wrestling.  Does he love WWE?  I don’t know that, but again, I said wrestling.  There’s a long tradition of that.  God visited Jacob one night, and Jacob literally wrestled with him for the entire night.  People believe this was the pre-incarnate Christ.  Jesus loves wrestling.  He was willing to lose to Jacob and even gave him the blessing he asked for.  He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “struggles” – or wrestles – “with God.”  Jesus loves wrestling.

It’s really funny that some people take a look at the Christian faith and they equate it with some level of prim, proper, polite rule-following, as if that’s what the Bible describes.  I’m not completely sure where that idea comes from, but it doesn’t come from the pages of Scripture.  It’s about wrestling!  The parts that involve following God’s laws still involve wrestling with our former natures; they involve the effort of figuring out how God’s truth applies to different situations.

How are your wrestling skills?

Do you ask questions, like Thomas did? Or are your encounters with Jesus like those of the other, passive disciples?  They were with Jesus, but they stayed inactive and unquestioning.  Thomas became involved in what Jesus was saying, and he questioned it.  The result was arguably the greatest self-revelation Jesus ever made: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through me.”  Why did Jesus say that?  Because Thomas asked a question.  When we take our spiritual growth seriously, we begin to wrestle and ask questions.

Take Jeremiah 29:13 to heart.

Jeremiah 29:13 ESV

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Questions lead to some of the greatest spiritual discoveries we can ever make.

If you struggle with spiritual dryness, it’s often true that you have stopped asking questions.  You’ve stopped wrestling.

Questioning is what led a 14-year-old farm boy named Philo to talk to his high school teacher.  Philo was brilliant, especially in chemistry and physics.  When he asked his teacher about the idea in his mind, it was so complex that he needed to draw a diagram on the board to help explain it. 7 years and several more questions later, Philo Farnsworth developed and patented the world’s first fully electronic television in 1927.  That’s the sort of thing that questioning and wrestling accomplish.  In our pursuit of following Jesus, we go farther than we ever thought possible.  Questioning is part of that faith-filled response to Jesus, which brings us new life.  If you’ve stopped questioning – if you’ve stopped wrestling – it’s time to break out your spiritual singlet.

Thomas was a  submissive  disciple.

But we circle back to our opening passage, which is not Thomas’ best moment.  It’s hard for me to fault him too much here, either.  The disciples did not yet know that Jesus had risen from the dead on night the Jesus appeared to them.  Peter and John had seen the empty tomb on that Sunday morning, and they didn’t know what that meant.  That night, Jesus appeared to the disciples.  But Thomas was not with them.

Put yourself in Thomas’ sandals for a moment.  You’re the brave one in the bunch.  You were willing to follow Jesus to your death when he went to raise Lazarus.  You still remember Jesus saying that he was the Way, Truth, and Life from a few days earlier.  You can even remember how he said it and the stirring it caused inside of you.  And then he was arrested and killed.  Part of you probably died that night, too.  Then you’re stuck with these ten fearful followers who don’t know what to do.  They’re so scared that they’ve locked themselves inside a house, as if that’s going to do any good when the next mob comes.  Maybe the only reason you were outside the house was because the disciples ran out of Cheerios, and you were the only one with enough courage to brave a trip to the grocery store.

Thomas came back and heard that Jesus came, conveniently while Thomas was out.  I wonder if he knew it was true from the moment they said it but was too ticked off to respond in faith.  Maybe Thomas was upset that Jesus would appear to these pansies first and leave him out.  Maybe it was too much to take in.  Either way, you know from our reading earlier how Thomas responded.  John 20:25.

John 20:25 ESV

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Have you ever said, “I will never…” only to wind up doing the thing you said you’d never do?

Never say never is a good rule of thumb.  I remember saying I would never darken the door of a place ever again.  And then I worked there every day for four years!  Thomas finally showed himself to be a  submissive  disciple.

Eight days later – just think, Thomas had eight days to simmer over this – Jesus appeared and went right to Thomas, inviting him to touch the places where the nails and spear had left their mark.  The Bible does not record Thomas doing that.  He didn’t need to .  It was simply time to admit the truth: “My Lord and my God!”  This is the greatest revelation in John’s Gospel.  It all builds to the question of whether a rough-around-the-edges disciple named Thomas would humble himself and submit to Jesus as his Lord and as his God.

Thomas gives us the example of all-in disciple who never clocks out.  He shows us how to question, how to wrestle, in our growth.  And he is a portrait of a submissive disciple.  There are many people who stop short of becoming submissive.  We talked about wrestling, but wrestling gives way to submission.  Thomas would not stop wrestling in his faith, as we all do, but he became submissive on the identity of Jesus, confessing him as Savior and Lord.

What happened next in Thomas’ life?  Tradition records that he traveled to India and planted churches there.  Many legends sprang up about the Apostles, but this one has a lot of corroborating evidence that would lead us to believe it true.  Surviving church traditions there have recorded for over 1,900 years that Thomas started their church, and a Jewish community has been there for just as long.  When early Christians expanded to share the gospel message in India, they discovered they church was already there, because Thomas had been there.  He lived the remainder of his days in India.

Have you experienced the full life found through faith in Jesus Christ?

As we close, I want to ask if you have experienced the full life found though faith in Jesus Christ.  Maybe, like Thomas, it’s time to submit and confess that Jesus is your Lord and your God.  That you place your faith in him to save your from your sins.   Psalm 46:10 says,

Psalm 46:10 ESV

“Be still, and know that I am God…”

Wrestling in our faith is good, but that faith must be founded in Jesus.  John tells us, John 20:31

John 20:31 ESV

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

How we respond to Jesus matters. Thomas’ response is for you, so that you will believe, so that you will have life in Jesus’ name.  It’s time for you to respond the same way Thomas did: “Jesus, you are my Lord and my God.”

Maybe you’ve made that confession, but you’ve stopped wrestling.  You’ve stopped asking the questions that grow your faith and made it richer than you ever thought possible.  Commit to keep striving, starting today, and get back involved with a group here that goes deeper than we can during a Sunday service.

Maybe you thought you could define the limits of your commitment to follow Jesus.  You clock out, and so you’ve been missing out on the life-changing experiences that come from following Jesus.  Embrace the all-in discipleship of Thomas.

Our invitation time is a chance for you to respond, publically or privately, with any decision you have.  If you feel led, you might decide to join our church or commit to baptism.  Maybe you just need prayer.  Won’t you respond as God leads?



[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 347–348.

[2] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 347.

[3] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 347.



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