Let’s start with the last verse of this chapter in order to understand why the account of Thomas is so important in the book of John. John 20:30, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the messiah, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.”
I could have written a 10,000 page book and it still wouldn't contain everything Jesus did. John was laser focused in the encounters that he included in his gospel. Scholars believe that if you read straight through the book of John, you will notice that he only covers 21 days of the life of Jesus. 22 at the most. John is not writing a systematic account of the life of Jesus. He’s selective in the events he includes. Every event apexes with this one instance in the life of Thomas. This is the climax of the book.
John 20:19, “in the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “peace to you!” having said this, he showed them his hands and his side. so the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “peace to you! As the father has sent me, I also send you.” after saying this, he breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Filling of the Spirit
On Sunday night, the disciples were huddled together behind closed doors out of fear. Without saying a word, Jesus squashes their timidity and doesn't knock but walks through the wall. Blood is racing through their veins, adrenaline is flowing, and goose bumps have appeared. No one says a word. Jesus speaks first: “shalom.”Jesus then shows them his hands and his side. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (24:41). Can anyone describe that night? I don’t think so. They are blown away.
He then gives them the mission: “just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He breathes on them. Don’t miss this validating action of His deity. This action should remind us of God’s creative power in making Adam in Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.”
This is the first time the disciples received the Holy Spirit. Why would Jesus breath on them here? The church is birthed in this room. People ask me, “do you believe in a second filling of the Holy Spirit? Yes. And a third. And a fourth. And a fifth. Paul said, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
What is the purpose of God filling us with his spirit? To speak boldly for God. Arturo Azurdia in his book “spirit empowered preaching” pointed out 8 occurrences of this phrase:
–the Greek verb is pimplaymi “to fill or take possession of the mind. It is translated, “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I want you to see what happens every time someone is filled with the holy ghost.
Why did Paul need to be filled? So that he could speak the word of God boldly. Look at verse 20, “immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.”
Acts 13:8–11,”Elymas the magician was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith, Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze and said,” It is not for people to look at us at all. It’s not even for us to fall down and pass out.
The giving of the Holy Spirit is for God’s name to be spoken and his word to be made known.
Notice what Paul said in Ephesians 5:18, “ and don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the spirit: 19 speaking to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”
The spirit empowers us to carry out the commission Jesus gave to us. It’s his power. You have all the power you need. Appropriate it for God’s glory.
Finished Work of Jesus
Verse 23, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The first thing Jesus does after saying peace is point to His side. He is not identifying himself, as much as He is reminding them of the atoning work on the cross.
Hebrews 9:22, “according to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Then for Thomas in verse 20:27, “27 then he said to Thomas, “put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.”
Can the disciples forgive people of their sins? No. Only God can do that. The disciples would have known that noo ne can forgiven sins but God. But they had the privilege of being the first to announce the forgiveness of sins through the finished work of Christ.
If a person asks for forgiveness, and accepts Jesus as savior, you can tell them they are forgiven. If a person doesn't ask for forgiveness and rejects Jesus as savior, you can tell them they are not forgiven.
Faith of Thomas
Notice what Thomas says after seeing Jesus, “28 Thomas responded to him, “my Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “because You have seen me, You have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
Whenever the name Thomas is mentioned, one word comes to mind: doubter. Before we examine what happened this day, let me give you Thomas’ background. Like most people in that day, he had two names: “Thomas” is Aramaic, “Didymus” is Greek, and they both mean “twin.” who was Thomas’ twin? We do not know—but sometimes we feel like we could be his twin. How many times have we refused to believe and insisted that God prove himself to us?
John includes 3 encounters with Thomas that culminates with one response.
He was devoted to Jesus
We are first introduced to Thomas in John 11 as Jesus prepares to raise Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. Jesus gets the news while he’s still in Jericho. When Jesus announces to His disciples that he is going to make the journey, they warn him against going, reminding him that the religious leaders tried to kill Him last time. Jesus says that he is going anyway. Thomas, not Peter, speaks up and says, John 11:16, “let’s go so that we may die with Him.”Thomas’ words display enormous devotion to Jesus. He says, “if they are going to kill Jesus, then I’m ready to die as well.” He is committed to Jesus completely.
He desired to learn about Jesus
John mentions Thomas one more time before Jesus’ death. Thursday night in the upper room after Jesus washes the disciples feet, he gives them the command to love others.
Then he says in John 14:1–4, “your heart must not be troubled. believe in God; believe also in me. 2 in my father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 if I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 you know the way to where I am going.”
The disciples sit in silence contemplating what Jesus just said. Thomas, again speaks for the group, and says, “Lord, we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
He asks an honest question to Jesus. Notice, Jesus never turns away a person who is seeking truth. Everyone else sat dumbfounded, but Thomas speaks up. He wants to know what Jesus is talking about. He has a desire to learn the truth.
I would rather someone ask a simple question rather than remain in the dark. This shows us that Thomas was an independent thinker. He was a man who contemplated truth. He wrestled with all the facts, and considered about all the implications before he put his faith in Jesus. He as a thoughtful man.
His doubt led to belief
As you can imagine, Thomas has experienced a roller coaster of emotions over the past few days. He was with him in the upper room, watched God wash his feet, he prayed in the garden, watched Peter slice the ear off a soldier, observed Judas sell out the group and their leader, witnessed Jesus be shackled and carried away, and heard about the beating and crucifixion. It was too much to bear. He can’t take anymore, so he leaves the group.
Notice in John 20:19–25, that when Jesus comes back, Thomas was not present. People grieve in 2 ways: publicly or privately. Some want to be around a company of friends and family to talk about things. Others want to be alone so they can think and pray. Thomas was the one who wanted silence and solitude.
Someone said it best: “if the bare possibility of his Lord’s death had plunged this loving yet gloomy heart into despondency, what dark despair must have preyed on it when that death was actually accomplished! How the figure of his dead master had burnt itself into his soul, is seen from the manner in which his mind dwells on the prints of the nails, the wound in his side. It is by these only, and not by well-known features or peculiarity of form, he will recognize and identify his Lord. His heart was with the lifeless body on the cross, and he could not bear to see the friends of Jesus or speak with those who had shared his hopes, but buries his disappointment and desolation in solitude and silence. Thus it was that, like many melancholy people, he missed the opportunity of seeing what would effectually have scattered his doubts!”
Here is a man who gave Jesus everything and now he is gone. He is brokenhearted. But he still cares for Jesus, he still loves Jesus, and he still wants to believe in him. He is not an unbelieving cynic, he is a distressed seeker. It’s not that he was unwilling to believe in Jesus. He was unable to believe. He didn't have enough evidence to prove it.
8 days later, Jesus comes back and appears to the disciples, specifically to 1: Thomas. Verse 27 says, “then he said to Thomas, “put your finger here and observe my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.” 28 Thomas responded to him, “my Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said, “because you have seen me, you have believed. those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
Notice that Jesus didn't criticize him down for doubting.Don’t equate doubt with unbelief. Doubt is okay because it leads you to honest answer. Unbelief is not okay because you have already made your mind up. Thomas is not the only one who doubted. Peter doubted after leaving the tomb. Mary was confused and thought Jesus was taken. The disciples doubted her testimony after she told them. Notice that the doors are locked on 2 occasions.
I want you to notice, that when the time came for Thomas to prove his faith through touching, he never did. Just seeing the wounds or hearing his voice was enough. I love the way Frederick Buechner expresses it: “doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving” The popular television sums up Thomas’ life, “inquiring minds want to know.” Thomas didn't act like he had all the answers. Instead, he was a man who wanted to know more about Jesus.
We need more Christians who long to know more about Jesus and his word. Far to many people are satisfied with shallow, superficial spirituality. This wasn't good enough for Thomas. He wanted to know more.
That great hymn by Eliza Hewitt sums it up well:
More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.
More, more about Jesus, more, more about Jesus;
More of his saving fullness see, more of His love who died for me.
Notice what Thomas says, “my Lord and my God.”
My Lord, Jesus’ authority —ruler over all.
My God, Jesus’ divinity — he is one with God
My Jesus—Jesus’ personal nature
The strongest doubters at one time become the strongest believers. Sometimes doubt is the prelude to a deeper faith.
Was Thomas a failure? It’s easy for us to throw stones at Thomas for his doubt, for his lack of belief. But if we are honest, there are times when we doubt God.
We doubt if he hears us.
We doubt if he is working in our lives.
We doubt if he cares for us.
We have all had moments of doubt.
Instead of calling Thomas a doubter perhaps we should view him as an example. He really wanted to know Jesus in order to follow him. And follow him he did.
Unfortunately, many don’t know what happened to Thomas after Jesus died. God sent him to preach the gospel in India, the home of millions of false Gods. His declaration that Jesus was his Lord and his God would sustain him in a land of paganism and idolatry. Because of his faith in Jesus, a riot was started by pagan priests, which ended in his martyrdom. They thrusted a spear through his side, just like they did to Jesus. Little did he know that the hole he requested to see in Jesus’ side would be the one he would die from years later.
If you are a doubter, don’t remain there. Seek answers to your questions. But at the end of the day, it comes down to faith. Will you believe?
Doubt sees the obstacles.
Faith sees the way!
Doubt sees the darkest night,
Faith sees the day!
Doubt dreads to take a step.
Faith soars on high!
Doubt questions, “who believes?”
Faith answers, “I!”