I have a confession to make: I’ve always thought the apostle Thomas gets a bad rap. In the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas somehow missed one meeting, where Jesus miraculously appeared to his disciples behind a locked door (John 20:19-23). The Lord showed them all the wounds in his hands and side as proof that he really had risen from the dead. The Bible doesn’t tell us why Thomas wasn’t there. Maybe he was out buying fish sandwiches for the rest of the crew. Maybe he just needed some alone time after a really terrible week.
Whatever the reason, when the other disciples later told Thomas that they had seen Jesus alive, he didn’t believe them. He famously told them, “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Just for that little speech, he was forever dubbed “Doubting Thomas.” We wag our heads and cluck our tongues at him, certain that if we’d been there, we would’ve believed the other disciples right away. “Silly Thomas,” we think. “Of course Jesus rose from the dead. It’s right there in the Bible!”
What we forget, of course, is that Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who didn’t believe the news at first. In fact, none of them believed in the resurrection when they first heard about it. When a group of women discovered Christ’s empty tomb, they came and told the disciples what they had seen. Luke’s Gospel says that the disciples all dismissed the report as “nonsense” (Luke 24:11). Peter and John then ran a little footrace to see if this nonsense could possibly be true. They didn’t believe it until they saw the empty tomb for themselves. Even when Jesus appeared to them in person later, they still harbored doubts (Luke 24:38). Jesus went so far as to eat a few bites of fish to prove to them that he wasn’t merely a ghost (Luke 24:40-43).
My point is that it’s absolutely normal to doubt a story about your friend coming back from the dead. It’s not something that happens every day. If there’s one thing most of us understand about death, it’s that you can’t usually just wake up whenever you want to. Thomas might have been slightly more vocal about his doubts than the other disciples, but he was far from alone.
If you have your doubts about Jesus, by the way, you’re not alone, either. Most of us find that our faith is quite often mixed with doubt. We’re like that man who once asked Jesus to cast out a destructive demon from his young son. Jesus said to him, “All things are possible to him who believes!” The distraught and confused man replied, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” That’s a prayer that resonates with me at times. Maybe it resonates with you also. We want to believe, but it’s hard sometimes. We are finite beings who cannot possibly know everything. For that reason, absolute certainty is hard to find.
What I find comforting when I read the Bible is that Jesus always responds to doubters with grace. He could have sent Thomas a little papyrus note saying, “Doubters like you don’t deserve to touch my hands and side. Next time, attend the important meetings.” Instead, Jesus appeared to the whole group again, seemingly for the benefit of “Doubting Thomas.” He encouraged Thomas to touch his hands and his side, where the nails and the spear had pierced his flesh.
As soon as Thomas did so, he realized the truth, crying out, “My Lord and my God!” That’s perhaps the strongest confession of faith in the entire gospel of John. The resolution of Thomas’s doubt produced in him a rock-solid and unshakeable faith. Tradition tells us that Thomas spent his later years in India, telling as many people as possible about his face-to-face encounter with the risen Jesus, the Savior who was kind enough to show up for a struggling doubter.
If you have doubts about Jesus, he is kind enough to show up for you, as well. If you find yourself approaching this Easter Sunday full of questions, wondering if Christianity could possibly be true, you are not alone. Allow me to encourage you not to deny or hide your doubts, but instead to ask Jesus to show himself to you. Jesus probably won’t appear in the flesh to show you his hands and his side, but he has many other ways to reveal himself to us. Tell him about your struggles with unbelief, and ask him to help you resolve them. Ask him to show you what is true.
My own struggles with doubt have led me to a place of deep and abiding faith, as I’ve turned my doubts over to Jesus and asked for his help. Tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, a reality that I believe in more deeply with each passing year. In his kindness, Jesus keeps reinforcing the faith of this struggling doubter.
Wherever you are in your faith journey, my prayer is that Jesus will show himself to you powerfully this weekend. My hope is that you will come to understand the unbelievably good (and astoundingly true) reality that the one who rose from the dead now offers eternal life to those who believe in Him. And if you do struggle to believe, I want to tell you that we worship an infinitely gracious Savior. He wants to help you in your unbelief. He did it for Thomas, he did it for me, and I believe he can do it for you, too.