What would if have been like to be one of the disciples? To have the opportunity to walk with Jesus, to eat with Him, pray with Him, work alongside Him, minister beside Him, travel with Him, sit at His feet, ask Him questions, become His friend? What would it have been like to walk the dusty roads of Galilee with Him, to see Him feed the 5,000, to be present as demon hoards were banished from bodies and souls they had held captive for years, to watch as sight is restored, to see with your own eyes as a dead man is raised to life, to see the tongues of the mute loosened and to see as the ears of the deaf were opened? What would it be like to have Jesus in your hometown, in your home; to sit up with Him in late night conversations about the things of God under the stars—to work with Him, learn from Him, come to love Him, and ultimately come to a conviction that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah? What an incredible privilege to watch Him, to see Him, to come to believe in Him!
Now what does it look like to be one of His disciples at the arrest, at the crucifixion? Those who try to resist eventually realize it is futile. The groups scatters and hides. Peter and John follow and try to see what happens—Peter fails his Lord. Now how great does it seem? Put yourself in the sandals of one of the disciples. Try to see this through their eyes. Choose one. Go ahead! Choose Peter, or Andrew, or John, or James, or Matthew, or Nathanael, or Philip. Put yourselves right there. How do you make sense of this? How do you see through it all? What are you to believe now? You were convinced, with an assurance put in your heart by God the Father, that this man was the Messiah. And now He is dead. You want to preserve His memory but the memories are painful now. You try to make sense of it all but you can’t see your way through the fog. His few earthly possessions were stolen by greedy Roman soldiers and all you have left are the memories of his words; nothing to see, nothing to hold—just echoes of a powerful voice whose words and works had brought you to your knees in faith. You can’t see Him any longer. You have only His words. And you are trying to make sense out of them now in light of what has happened, trying to figure out what to think, what to believe, how to move forward, where to go, what to do, how to find your way. How was it Thomas had put it before any of this had happened? He had asked “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”
Thomas. Think what it must feel like to be Thomas. You’ve followed Christ faithfully for three years. You tried hard to understand what He was teaching. You’ve always been inquisitive, analytic, driven to understand what’s true, wanting to know what you believe and why, asking Jesus for truth, asking Him for help understanding, to help you see and grasp the things He’s been trying to teach you, things that don’t always fit your mental categories. So you’ve worked to adjust them. And adjust them you have. You’ve seen with your own eyes His miracles, and believed in the man whose works have validated his words. When offended crowds turned away from Jesus and He asked you and your companions if you too would go away him, you nodded your head in heartfelt agreement when Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” And now all you have is words—echoes of words. And he is not here to answer your questions this time. The words and the questions are ringing in your head, unanswered, unreconciled, unresolved. The light has gone out in your heart and the cold dark night is beginning to creep in. You can’t see clearly anymore. It’s been three days.
When we are in dark circumstances, it can be hard to see the truth clearly. It can be hard to keep believing. And when we are confronted with truth claims we cannot validate with our own eyes, it can be hard to believe. Thomas was, for a time, faced with both.
In John 20, Thomas misses a wonderful opportunity that other disciples had to see the risen Christ. And when the others tell him, he doesn’t buy it. His attitude is “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We have a tendency to look at the disciples and make fun of them, to see them in all their weakness, to be patronizing about them, to take them to task. But do we ever think why the Spirit of God recorded their weaknesses in the Gospels? In part, I am sure, it is because we are just like them. Thomas was wrong. He was dead wrong. But let’s not be smug about it. Let’s let his weakness, his failure, motivate us to cry out for God’s grace to give us faith to believe even in the dark.
So here’s the next scene of the story—one week later. In spite of closed doors, Jesus miraculously enters the room again and pronounces peace on the group. This time Thomas is there. Jesus invites him to gratify his intellect, to engage in the tactile test he insisted would be necessary for him to believe. Jesus quotes Thomas own words back to him and invites him to touch and feel. But Thomas has abandoned his obnoxious demand and he melts into a heartfelt confession of true belief. Thomas moves from darkness, inexcusable doubt, and disbelief to one of the greatest, most dramatic, most spontaneous, most climactic confessions of faith in Christ ever recorded—“My Lord and My God.”
This is not simply the climax of this one little narrative. This is a climactic moment in the context of the whole Gospel of John. What Jesus is about to say is something we really need to listen to. It’s key not just to understanding why this passage is in the Bible, but it is key also to understanding why the book of John was written. “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
It is wonderful that Thomas saw and believed, but do you want to know who really has it made? Do you want to know a person who has been incredibly blessed by God? Then find a person who has believed without seeing..
The passage keeps going, and it does so with a word that signals both a new development and tight backwards-looking connection with this blessing.
“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30-31 (NAS)
That connective word “therefore” (Greek ουν) tips us off that we are supposed to recognize a tight connection between the blessings of Jesus and this explanation to the reader. John is going to transition to directly exhorting the reader, but as he does so, he is signaling to the reader that he is doing so on the basis of the blessing that has just been recorded.
Down through all the ages, those who read the Gospel of John—sign after sign, miracle after miracle—are confronted over and over again with the claims of Jesus Christ and his true identity. But they have never seen him. And then in a climactic section of the book, near the very end, they read these words of Jesus, this great pronouncement of the blessedness on those who believe without seeing. At that point it is like the Holy Spirit swings the spotlight off of the page and on to the reader. This story just became very personal. The spotlight is now on you. This is a narrative that calls for a response of belief.
John is saying: “I have written what I have written because you, reader, didn’t get to see any of His signs personally. There was so much the other disciples and I witnessed that I did not record in this book, but what I did write I wrote so that you would believe and so come to participate in this blessing that Jesus pronounced specifically for people just like you who do not have an opportunity to see with their own eyes.”
This is why the book of John was written. So that people will believe and be saved. People who didn’t get to see it all with their own eyes. People like you and me.
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Have you believed in this One whom you have never seen?
If so, He has by His Spirit and by His Word moved in your heart and brought you to faith even though you haven’t seen. In the days after His resurrection from the dead and His triumph over all evil, over sin, Satan, death, and the grave, He talked to his disciples–a privileged group to be sure—and He told them how blessed you are.
On that day 2000 years ago when Jesus had this conversation with Thomas, somewhere in that room was a man named Peter. And many years after this event, writing to a group of believers who had never seen Jesus Christ physically, personally, people who had only seen Him with the eyes of faith, Peter penned these words.
“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
[1 Peter 1:8-9]
True believer, you have come to participate in the incredible blessing reserved for those who believe without seeing. Only God’s supernatural working in your heart could bring that about. Now even though you have not yet seen with your own eyes the risen Christ, you love Him. As you look at Him in faith, rejoice with the unspeakable joy that belongs to you as one who has come to faith in a Savior you will one day see with your own eyes.