Faith in the Flesh
by Melissa Hill
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!”
Trey found his way to the Sanctuary before me on Sunday, so he had already opened the bulletin and read, not only the topic of the sermon, but who would be preaching as well. When I sat down, he was laughing because, of course, it was on Thomas and, of course, it was Lafferty. After 17 years, there are two things my husband knows about me. One is that I, like so many of us, sincerely struggle with faith—with believing what I cannot see. Trey often reminds me that skepticism is not a spiritual gift. And two, my vocabulary can be lacking as can my knowledge of obscure current events. So with Lafferty at the helm, I had my work cut out for me.
Yet as I listened to the Word of God being unpacked from the pulpit, I was again moved by the ever compassionate, knowing love of Christ, who, in His infinite mercy, patience, and kindness, does not shame His children for their doubt or fear. At the same time, He does not excuse our doubts as a simple by-product of our humanity. Instead, He draws near through locked doors, stands before those whom he has called unto salvation through faith as Faith itself—not an argument, but a person. He is indeed “that which changes everything.”
Our faith in Christ is an ongoing work of Christ and the story of Thomas is one for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ yet still echo the prayer, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). In fact, Paul in Ephesians 2 calls even our ability to believe—that is, our faith in Christ—a gift of God. However, gifts are not always given all at once. As we see with Thomas, the gift of faith is unfolding, ongoing, and increasing throughout our lives.
Thomas and the disciples had already seen much to fortify their understanding that Jesus was indeed who He said He was. They had lived in community for three years, sleeping under the stars or in borrowed rooms, being fed from baskets brimming over with miracle-bread-and-fish, and following and being taught by the Creator of the world. They had seen the blind healed, the lame walk, and the dead rise. Thomas was not the new kid on the block, but at the same time he held the Lord somewhat at arm’s length. It was Thomas who asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered directly revealing more of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Then foreshadowing, Jesus continued, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:7). Yet even after seeing so much, Thomas was insistent that he would not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead without actually seeing and touching His crucifixion wounds. It was in that declaration of unbelief that this disciple earned the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.”
The paradox is that Thomas did not always doubt as he has been historically characterized. At times, he even spoke of his willingness to die with Christ—to be stoned to death by those who opposed the message of the Gospel. But life had taken an unwelcome turn, and the object of his zeal had been tortured to death on a lonely hill outside of town. Although Jesus spoke of His death and His resurrection to the Twelve multiple times, it was beyond Thomas sensibilities. I totally get it. Suffering and heartbreak can do a number on our faith. Perhaps we don’t necessarily stop believing in the Lord, but instead, we put parameters on our trust. We determine what we need to believe, to follow, and to obey in terms of proof. We believe less on the Word of God and more on evidences we create.
We run the God of the Universe through the gauntlet of human reasoning.
The beauty—the absolute astounding beauty—is that the Lord knows His people doubt, falter, and experience weakness in their faith. Our frailty doesn’t cause the Lord to withdraw or shrink away or wait until we get our act together and believe. In fact, as seen in this passage, it’s quite the opposite. Can you see His handiwork? In both John 14 and John 20, the Lord presses in to Thomas. This time, He walks into a room full of rejoicing disciples who know the Lord has been raised from the dead and singles out His one floundering sheep. He stands before His faithless child and calls him out of his unbelief. He literally shows him the fulfillment of all scripture, the Hope of the world, the redemption of sinners, and life everlasting in the flesh. It is then that Thomas worships, “My Lord, and my God!” Thomas’ skepticism didn’t change who Christ was. Christ changed who Thomas was, and then recorded it as a means to strengthen the faith of believers to come—even us, millennia later.
Patrick closed his sermon Sunday with a beautiful proclamation,
“To follow Him is somehow to be carried by Him.”
It’s unfathomable. Just as Christ met Thomas in his doubting, He will meet us in ours. He may not stand before us in the flesh as He did then, but Christ in us will affirm our sure footing in the Savior. Let us, together, not be afraid of what we cannot comprehend. May we instead go before our Lord and confess our unbelief, our skepticism, our own frailty, and our doubts and learn to trust the One who bids us, “Believe.”