I wonder of you have ever had the experience of turning to a well-known passage in the Bible, recognizing it and then skim reading it quickly because you know what happens next?
That was my experience this morning as I looked at a really familiar passage from John’s Gospel. It was the story of “doubting Thomas” John 20 vs. 24 – 29. All of the other disciples had been present when the resurrected Jesus had appeared. For some reason, unexplained, Thomas had been elsewhere. Jesus appears to the others, they are full of joy and excitement about who and what they had experienced. Thomas pours cold water upon it;
“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 vs. 24)
Over the years, I have heard many different sermons on this scene (preached quite a few myself). It was one of those passages that held no surprises for me – or so I thought.
As I quickly read the passage, I felt God invite me to step into the scene. I imagined what it would have been like to have been there. I imagined the room, the feelings of the disciples and I imagined them trying to convince Thomas of what had happened. I heard Thomas make his statement of disbelief but, as he spoke, I heard different words;
“How can I believe unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, how can I believe?”
Thomas asks a very fair question. It is a question that we have all asked at one time or another. The brokenness and tragedy of the world causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?” The brokenness in our own lives causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?”
I think it is healthy to ask questions. It is human to ask questions. As a pastor, if I see people “smiling through” all of their struggles without a moments’ hesitation, I worry about their grasp on reality!
Why does Thomas seem so keen to see the physical evidence of the cross? Why is seeing the nail prints so important? Partly because they are proof positive that it is Jesus. But, I also think, there is something deeper going on here. I think it is to do with identification at a much deeper level. The pagan gods were remote, isolated from humanity. In Jesus, God became fully human. He experienced the full joy and sorrow that we all experience. In Jesus, He bore our suffering on the cross and carries the marks of that suffering.
A week later, Jesus invites Thomas to see the marks of the crucifixion. Jesus doesn’t shy away from Thomas questions, He understands them and helps him move forward in faith.
I cannot pretend, in this short thought, to fully understand the joys and the struggles you are experiencing in your life nor can I explain to you the things that I face. What I believe is that Jesus still carries the marks of crucifixion and if you, like Thomas, are asking “how can I believe?” then He welcomes your question.