A Faith Tested
(Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/SO0bgJw1sss)
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Each year we begin our journey through the season of Easter with this account of Thomas’ faith being tested. It is fitting that we should begin our reflection on the resurrected Jesus with someone who initially didn’t believe that Jesus came back to life. And not just someone but one of Jesus’ closest disciples! The resurrected Jesus IS a difficult thing to believe! Even those closest to him, those who had seen him perform countless miracles, those who witnessed firsthand his making the impossible possible, struggled with believing perhaps his greatest miracle of all—his coming back to life after 3 days. They of all people should have had enough faith to believe that Jesus could pull off such a miracle. After all, they’d seen it before with his raising of Lazarus after 4 days of being dead. No, his disciples had no excuse for not considering a resurrection a slight possibility. Jesus’ disciples should have remotely expected such a miracle. What kind of disciples would they be if not believing disciples?!
But that was precisely what they were! Well, maybe not disbelieving but certainly confused and angry and sad and fearful. None of them were in the right mood to even consider the possibility of Jesus coming back from the grave. They were all stunned by what had happened on the cross just 3 days earlier. They didn’t know why it happened, why it happened so quickly, and what it meant for them and their future. If the Jewish elders and Roman authorities could put their master to death so suddenly, so unjustly, surely they could put them to death just as easily for being his closest disciples. They were scared and rightly so. All the disciples except Thomas had gathered behind locked doors to mourn their loss and figure out how to rebuild their lives without Jesus leading them any longer. Suddenly Jesus appeared among them, said, “Peace be with you,” and showed them the wounds on his hands and side. Those 11 disciples didn’t even have a chance to confess their own disbelief before Jesus proved he was who he said he was! At least a couple of them probably wouldn’t have believed Jesus was who he said he was if he hadn’t showed them his wounds as proof either. But Jesus didn’t give them the opportunity to confess their disbelief like he gave Thomas. He didn’t allow for more than one disbeliever in his resurrection narrative. No, Jesus only needed one disbeliever to represent ALL disbelievers.
This is why we lift up Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Jesus so early in our walk through this season of Easter. His encounter is representative of so many encounters over the last 2000 years. Our resurrected Christ is a profoundly difficult thing to believe. Life just doesn’t reanimate itself after death! When something dies, it dies! Nature illustrates this, science illustrates this, logic illustrates this. When something is dead it’s dead…there’s no coming back from death. Death is an end…or is it? Perhaps death isn’t an end but rather a beginning. Perhaps there is life after death…that is, new life. Perhaps there is coming back from death but in a different form. Our resurrected Christ teaches us to think differently about death. He teaches us to reconsider death and our initial understandings of it. He teaches us how to live by faith. None of us knows what awaits us in death. None of us knows what awaits us after death. Jesus teaches us there is life after death though. New life springs forth from death. Nature, science, and logic attest to this as well. But again, we don’t know what awaits us in that new life. So we are further encouraged to live by faith and faith alone. Life, death, new life…so many unknown elements to existence that demand faith.
Which is perhaps why Thomas receives such a harsh title as a doubter, a disbeliever. By demanding physical proof from Jesus, Thomas confesses a lack of belief in who Jesus claimed to be. At the same time, he confesses a lack of trust in Jesus. When we choose not to believe in the resurrected Christ, we choose not to place our trust in him either. And if you can’t trust him, who or what can you trust?! If you can’t trust the one person that always loves you and always wants the best for you, who can you trust?! It isn’t Thomas’ disbelief that offends us. It is his lack of trust that we consider most offensive, most unforgivable. As one Jesus’ closest confidantes, Thomas should have placed his entire trust in Jesus and his ability to do the unimaginable. But for some reason he couldn’t or wouldn’t do just that.
We can’t be too hard on Thomas though. Remember that Jesus didn’t give the other disciples the same opportunity to confess their own disbelief and distrust. No doubt Thomas is representative of a few of the other disciples, if not many of us. Our resurrected Christ holds a mirror up to us as well. Which raises another key aspect of Thomas’ encounter—testing of faith. Perhaps Jesus deliberately met with Thomas aside from the rest so that he might test his faith…OUR faith. God is not above testing the faiths of those who serve him. God does not tempt us but He certainly tests us on occasion. He wants us to remember just how supreme He is. I’m reminded of that expression, “God brings men into deep waters not to drown them but to cleanse them.” God uses people and situations to test us, to refine us, to make us stronger. He doesn’t want us to fail miserably but rather to rid ourselves of stuff we don’t need to be carrying around. Testing develops and enriches faith and we know how integral faith is in life, death, and new life. Faith enables us to live life to the fullest, die fearlessly, and be reborn courageously. We need faith to live and die as God want us to live and die.
Reflecting on the importance of God’s testing of faith, we realize there are three truths about trials and God’s testing that are reinforced by the wisdom of Scripture. First, God tests every believer because true faith must be tested. The genuineness of one’s faith is only determined by testing. Recall the testing of Abraham with the opening verses of Genesis 22 which says, “After these things God tested Abraham. He said him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you’” (22:1-2) Abraham goes on to bring his son to the mountain, ties him to the sacrificial altar, and just before he kills Isaac, God commands Abraham to drop his knife and return to life as usual. God tested and Abraham passed, his faith more apparent than ever. Second, God’s testing work for us, not against us. We hear in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (8:28) In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (4:17). Even Peter notes, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:6-7). The final truth about trials and God’s testing is that they help us to mature in patience. Again, Paul in his letter to the Romans says, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (5:3-4). The apostle James writes, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (1:2-4).
Thomas’ encounter with the risen Jesus helps reveal our own disbelief and distrust at the start of this Easter season. Christ is among us whether we want to believe it or not. Christ is among us whether we want to trust it or not. God tests our faiths in the resurrected Jesus. Let us stand firm in our belief and our trust. Let us give witness to the risen Jesus by our words and actions this season. Perhaps more importantly, let us give thanks to God not only for faith but…a faith tested.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.