Honest Thomas

Sermon by Jack Hammans,  7.24.16

Text: John 20:24

 

When you hear a reference to the biblical character named Thomas, what term comes immediately to

your mind? “Doubting Thomas,” right? I’ve always felt rather bad for Thomas. How would like to

have your name go down in history with such a negative connotation permanently attached it?

Those of you who are, like me, are dyed in the wool baseball fans, will recognize the name “Bill

Buckner.” If you aren’t a baseball fan, bear with me. Bill Buckner was an above average MLB player.

In his 22 year career, he collected over 2,700 hits, won a National League batting title, and had a

career batting average of .289 (that beats my life time Little League average of .111, I jest! In truth, I

was an All Star Yet poor Bill Buckner will always be remembered in the annals of baseball history for

one terrible moment in the 1986World Series between his team, the Boston Red Sox and the New

York Mets. Going into that 6 th game at Shea Stadium in NY, the Red Sox led the series 3 games to 2. At

that time the Red Sox had not won a World Series in almost 70 years; they were so close to reversing

“the curse of the Bambino.” After the 9 innings of regular play in game 6, the score was tied 3-3. In the

top of the tenth inning, Boston scored twice to go ahead 5-3. Twice in the bottom of the tenth, they

were one strike away from winning the World Series. But the Mets fought back and tied the score 5-

5. With two outs and a runner on second base, Mookie Wilson was at the plate for the Mets, and on a

3-2 pitch he hit a weak grounder toward the first baseman, Bill Buckner, and this happened (show you

tube clip). The Mets evened the series at 3-3, and the momentum of that come from behind victory,

went on to win the 7 th and final game. From the moment of Buckner’s fielding blunder, his name has

lived in baseball infamy—eclipsing his 2,700 career hits, batting title, and .289 lifetime average. To

this day, in the world of baseball and other sports as well people still talk about “pulling a Bill

Buckner.” Here I am, playing in the late innings of my life, with what I think is a pretty good record so

far; I really hope that I don’t blow it so badly at some point, that for years to come you will be telling

one another, “Now, don’t pull a Jack Hammans.”

An admonition that has been repeated for many generations is, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas.” The

basis for the negative connotation associated with Thomas’ name is found in John 20:24-29. Read

verses 19-24). There you have it. That’s why he’s called “doubting Thomas,” and the term “doubting

Thomas” today refers to someone who is stubbornly skeptical, slow to believe, who invariably wants

more time and more proof, who does not trust the testimony of others.

Before we pass judgment on Thomas for his doubt, perhaps we should reflect on why he was

doubtful. I think part of the explanation is found in his temperament.

In my pastoral counseling practice, I frequently administer a temperament test to people as a tool

(one of several I use) to help them understand themselves. There are five temperament types, and

each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. From what I’ve read about Thomas in the gospels, I’m

fairly sure if I could have administered a temperament test to Thomas he would have scored most

highly as a “melancholy.” That doesn’t mean he would have been sad and depressed all the time, but

he would have been rather serious minded and intense. Along with this passage in John 20, there is

another passage, in John 11:1-16, that provides insight into Thomas’ temperament. “So Thomas,

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

 In that sentence from Thomas’ lips, I see a couple of strengths of his temperament: loyalty

and self-sacrifice. He was deeply loyal to Jesus, and willing to sacrifice his own safety, and to

risk his own life for the sake of his commitment to his Master.

 But also in those words of Thomas, I see a weakness of his temperament: a pessimistic

attitude toward life. Thomas was a “glass half empty” sort of guy. His response to the

optimist’s saying that “every cloud has a silver lining,” would have been “every silver lining

has a cloud.” He would have been a proponent of “Murphy’s Law”—“When things are going

well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime

things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”

Let’s go back to John 20 and look again at verse 24. I see here a couple of other characteristics of

Thomas’ melancholy temperament. John says, “Thomas was not with them [the other disciples] when

Jesus came.” Why wasn’t he there? John doesn’t tell us, but we can surmise from what we know of

his temperament that he wanted to be alone with his grief over Jesus’ death. People grieve in

different ways, and because melancholies are “loners,” they tend to grieve in private, alone. And the

skepticism that Thomas strongly expressed about the report of Jesus’ resurrection is another

characteristic of the melancholy temperament. Melancholies tend to be skeptical about everything.

Melancholies tend to have a negative attitude toward something new until they’ve had time to

examine it for themselves.

My own temperament profile is a blend of three types, and one of them is melancholy, so I can in a

number of ways relate to Thomas.

“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 in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the print of the nails, and put my

hand into his side, I will not believe it.” In all fairness to Thomas, he was only asking for what the

other disciples had already received. In John 20:20 we read that when Jesus had shown up in the

locked room where they were gathered, “he showed them his hands and his side.” It was then that

they had believed! But Thomas was now hearing their unanimous and unambiguous testimony that

Jesus was indeed alive and had appeared to them. It can well be argued that should have enough for

him.

But whether Thomas should have believed the other disciples’ witness to the resurrection or not, at

any rate he was bluntly honest about it. He didn’t pretend. He didn’t try to fake out his friends. He

was completely up front. That’s why I prefer call him “honest Thomas.” Yes, he was a doubter but he

was an honest doubter. He did not flatly say, “I will not believe,” but “Unless…” showing he open to

being convinced that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Many years ago I read a quote by 19 th

century Anglican preacher and writer Charles Kingsley that has stuck in my brain: one need not be

afraid to doubt as long as there is a disposition to believe.

Read John 20:26-27. Verse 27a in The Message, “he focused his attention on Thomas.” Focused his

attention how? Like a scowling schoolmaster with a student who forgot his homework? Like a stern

red-faced Sargent with a late for roll call? I don’t think so. I think he focused his attention on Thomas

with kind eyes. Thomas was not confronting a frowning Jesus but a smiling Jesus. He does not scold

Thomas. He does not berate him. He does not shame him before his fellow disciples. Instead, he

gently invites Thomas to do just what Thomas had insisted on doing to be certain of the resurrection.

“Here, touch me, where you want, and believe.”

How do you think Thomas responded? Did he actually put his finger in the nail prints in Jesus’ hands

and place his hand in his wounded side? John doesn’t say. My hunch is that he didn’t. My hunch is

that he was so overwhelmed by the glorious presence of Jesus than he just dropped to his feet in a

reverent and adoring act of worship. Notice what Thomas said in verse 28, “My Lord and my God.”

This is a breath-taking statement of Thomas’ new found faith. Did you know that Thomas is the first

person in the gospels to look at Jesus and address him directly as “God”? Theologically, this is the

fullest personal confession of faith in Christ in the NT. Someone has suggested, rightly I think, that

“instead of calling him “Doubting Thomas” we should call him “Thomas the Great Confessor.”

Jesus said Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not

seen and yet have believed.” NT Wright: “This isn’t…so much a rebuke of Thomas; it’s more an

encouragement to those who came later, to people of subsequent generations. We are all ‘blessed’

when, without having [literally] seen the risen Lord for ourselves, we nevertheless believe in him.

Thomas went on to become a bold witness Christ. He is known as the Apostle to India, because,

according to an ancient tradition that scholars regard as reliable, he traveled to India in AD 52 to

preach the gospel and plant churches there. And, according to tradition, he was martyred for his faith

by a spear being plunged into his heart and was buried on a hill near what is now Madras, India.

Our pastor Jason’s latest message, a couple of weeks back, was called “Doubters Welcome.” His

suggestion that I might follow along with that theme in this message immediately resonated. My

“sermon in a sentence” this morning is: doubters are welcome at New Hope, both doubters who

belong to the community of faith and doubters who do not.

If you are a member of the community of faith struggling with doubt, you are welcome, with your

doubt. I’m quite sure that there are genuine followers of Jesus here this morning who are fighting

doubts in their minds and hearts. In the face all the evil things happening in the world, or some

terrible tragedy in your own life or family, you may be grappling with doubts concerning character and

nature of God: is he really all good? Is he really all powerful? If he is all good and all powerful, than

why all this pain? In the face of TV documentary programs, or You Tube videos, or blogs you’ve been

exposed to of brilliant people challenging the truth claims of Christianity you may be grappling with

doubts about the Bible: is it really reliable? Is it really the Word of God? Do your doubts disqualify

you as a Christian? Not at all. Mark Roberts: “Doubt is a natural part of the faith journey of many,

many Christians.” Last week I read an article on the website of a Christian magazine called “Relevant”

about seven prominent Christians who wrestled with doubt. One of them was Mother Teresa of

Calcutta, who was admired worldwide for her selfless service to the poor, and the sick and dying.

During her lifetime much of the media portrayed her as a symbol of Christian humility and unwavering

faith. But after her death a book of her letters was published that revealed that she was no stranger

to doubt. She frequently wrote of her loneliness, her sense of the absence of God, her battle with

self-accusations of hypocrisy and with doubts about her own faith. She endured a long “dark night

the soul,” writing in one letter, “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither my mind nor with

my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long and

long for God…the torture and pain I can’t explain.” When that posthumous book of letters was

published, the militant atheist Christopher Hitchens who had been her most scathing critic, said, “That

proves I was right about her. She was a fake, a hypocrite!” But was she? Not at all. She was a loving

servant of Jesus, who remained loyal to him and true to her call throughout her spirits of doubt and

desolation. If you are curious about other prominent Christians mentioned in that article who

struggled with doubt; they include Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, CS Lewis So, if you

are going through a period of doubt and questioning as Christian, you are in pretty good company.

But what do you with your doubts? Be an “honest Thomas.”

1. Express your faith struggle to the Lord. You see that often in the Book of Psalms. Don’t hold

back in your prayers for fear of offending God. He won’t condemn us when we have your

honest questions. He can handle all your doubt. One of my favorite minor characters in the

gospels is a dad who came to Jesus pleading with him to free his demonized son; he said to

Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief,” or as it reads in The Message: “I believe. Help me with my

doubts!” Faith and doubt can co-exist. Faith always co-exists with a degree of uncertainty,

because, if we had certainty, there would be no need for faith.

2. Share your faith struggle with others in the Christian community, mature believers whom you

can trust, who won’t rebuke you for your unbelief and negative confessions, and bash your

head in with their copy of the King James Bible. Seek them out, tell them the issues that are

tripping you up, ask them to pray with you, and to encourage you along a slippery stretch in

your journey of faith.

If you are a member of the community of faith who is battling with doubt, don’t take that as a sign of

weakness. In fact, doubt—honest doubt—can actually make our faith stronger, goading us to dig

deeper into the Scriptures and our relationship with God. I have been through my own seasons of

doubt. The first major one was when I was about 16, 3 years after I became a Christian. I had already

felt the stirrings of a “call to preach” (which I was resisting). At age 16 I experiencing a huge burst of

intellectual activity and curiosity (except for math!) in my brain. I began to have questions about the

Christian faith that was part of my heritage. I wanted my faith to be my own faith, not a spiritual

hand me down from my devout wonderful Christian mother. I was being influenced by my favorite

high school English teacher, Mrs. Goodwin, who was a liberal Methodist, I read books of sermons read

by famous liberal preachers, biographies of famous agnostics like Clarence Darrow, and took at peek

at Marxism, while at the same time devouring everything I could get my hands on that presented a

defense of orthodox Christian faith. I was an honest doubter, I had a disposition to believe, but I

wanted to be sure for myself; I needed to be convinced it was more reasonable to be a Christian, to be

a conservative Christian, than not to be. My doubts of course alarmed my dear mother, but in the

long run they strengthened my faith because they pushed me deeper into the Scriptures, deeper into

my relationship with God. I came through that first season of doubt, and subsequent season, more

sure of what I believed and why I it, and, most importantly, knowing whom I believe

If you are a skeptic outside the community of faith, you are welcome here. Doubters, skeptics, and

cynics are welcome here! Maybe you have come here the first time because you are a spiritual seeker.

You’re interested in Christianity, you’re curious about Jesus as a person, but you have a lot troubling

questions or you’ve been burned by “organized religion” and you’re a little jaded, mistrustful.

Doubters, skeptics, and cynics are welcome. Maybe you’ve been here, or to other church’s services, a

number of times, and you’ve heard stories of people being radically changed by an encounter with

Christ; your heart has been stirred, you want to experience the peace, love, and forgiveness you’ve

heard others talk about and have seen in some Christians you know, deep down you want to believe,

but you’re just not sure. Are you able to pray, “Lord, if the stories about you are true, if you are real,

please reveal yourself to me”?