By Pat Knight
Thomas replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
On Easter Sunday evening, “When the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After this he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). At first the disciples were paralyzed with fear, but Jesus reassured them, “Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:38-43), demonstrating that He had a functioning physical body that desired food.
The disciple Thomas was absent from the group on the evening following Jesus’ resurrection. When his fellow disciples relayed to Thomas, “‘We have seen the Lord,’” Thomas replied, “‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’” (John 20:25).
The following week, when Thomas was gathered with the disciples, Jesus again appeared to them through locked doors, then focused His attention on Thomas. “‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27), an admonition which also applied to future believers. Jesus was patient and merciful to allow Thomas the same opportunity to feel His scars as He had provided the other disciples the previous week. Immediately, Thomas confessed a climactic, credible confession, “‘My Lord and my God!’” (v.28).
We have no indication that Thomas touched his Lord’s wounds. It wasn’t necessary; Thomas instantly recognized his Master—His voice, His authority, His love. Jesus tenderly and compassionately meets the honest doubts of believers. As with Thomas, He willingly provides proof without criticism. Often during a period of doubt in our lives, we are led to new spiritual enlightenment. It is important that we allow doubt to function positively to develop our faith in the sovereign Lord. “Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults” (Isaiah 51:7b).
God is compassionate toward a believer who seeks self-knowledge and the help only He can provide. Our Lord will supply answers through His Word, Christian literature, church sermons, and other Christians. His resources are unlimited, His love unfathomable. However, if the doubt aimed toward God is accusatory or tainted with unbelief, God will not respond. Faith involves submission, humility, and an open mind of belief in our Lord alone. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
God is a friend of believers, and He desires that we communicate with Him in that capacity. Are your prayers as natural with Jesus as conversation with an earthly friend? Our relationship with our Lord must be forthright and sincere, with our hearts consistently abiding in Him, searching God’s guidance and wisdom, absolutely convinced He will respond. “Ask boldly, believing without a second thought. People who ‘worry their prayers’ are like wind-tossed, whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open” (James 1:6-8, The Msg.). The nautical comparison conjures images of believers tossed by waves of doubt.
Jewish rulers of the synagogue clamored for increasingly more proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Daily they witnessed His miracles of teaching and healing, but their doubt and suspicion only multiplied. Jesus refused to perform miracles on demand. He was all too familiar with hardened hearts, those unwilling to believe despite the evidence that convinces a receptive, pliable spirit.
Through the centuries since Thomas lived, he has been encumbered with an unmerited moniker as if he were the only doubter in history. Incredibly, there is an entry in our contemporary dictionaries for “doubting Thomas”, defined as an habitually doubtful person. Nowhere in God’s Word is Thomas identified as a repetitive doubter, aside from the single incident when Thomas sought confirmation that Jesus was the risen Lord, the same evidence afforded the other disciples a week earlier. Jesus didn’t rebuke His disciple, but patiently, lovingly offered Thomas the proof he was seeking.
Every life is more significant than to reduce the sum of it to one experience. Society has judged Thomas harshly and permanently. It causes me to wonder the reason Thomas was specifically singled out as a doubter when the doubt and unbelief of other characters in God’s Word had far-reaching consequences. Would any of us appreciate having our lives defined by one lapse of faith? God’s lack of spiritual censure assures us of His mercy and understanding.
Zachariah and Elizabeth were childless, a major disappointment in their lives, particularly disgraceful for a Hebrew woman. One day while performing his priestly duties at the temple, an angel appeared to Zachariah. “‘Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord’” (Luke 1:13, 15a). Zachariah asked the angel, “‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’” (v.18)? Even though the angel had been sent from God in heaven and had promised the most fabulous gift of their lifetime, Zachariah wanted more proof. His doubt overshadowed his belief. Thus, the angel struck Zachariah mute “‘because you did not believe my words which will become true at their appointed time’” (v.20). The future father was temporarily punished for his lack of convictions. Unbelief is blind and dumb, as illustrated by Zachariah’s lack of verbal communication until the day of John’s birth. Zachariah, a priest, who prayed at the altar of God for a child, questioned whether God’s answer was reliable.
Do we ever pray as Zachariah did, asking God for something specific, but not fully believing our request will be answered? Let us reflect on the belief in our hearts before we pray, to ascertain if we possess tenacious faith anchored in Jesus.
Following Jesus’ ascension, Thomas, like the other disciples, took the Good News of the Gospel into the known world of their time. With courage and convictions, Thomas planted churches in India, establishing Christianity that still survives today in a predominantly Muslim country, and there he was martyred. We owe a great deal to Thomas, who teaches believers by example that Jesus is not threatened by our sincere questions. He welcomes honest, searching inquiries that fuel our daily journey, as we reach out to touch and to be touched by Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. Then we know with certainty what Jesus assured. “‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’” (Isaiah 49:16).
All Bible references are taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.