Mother was busy cooking supper in the kitchen and asked her five-year-old son to go into the pantry to get a can of tomato soup. The little boy was afraid of the dark and didn’t want to go in there. He pleaded his case, “Mommy, I’m scared.”
Mother responded, “Johnny, be a big brave boy. Just walk in and get it. I need it right away for this food I am preparing.”
Johnny repeated his fear, “Mommy, I’m too scared to go in there by myself.”
So his mother used a different approach. “It’s okay. Jesus will be in there with you. Now go and get mother the soup.”
Johnny went to the door and opened it slowly. When he peeked inside, it was dark and his hands trembled. But then an idea popped into his little head. “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me a can of tomato soup?”
It is difficult at times to believe Jesus is “in there.” It’s not unusual for us to go through moments and seasons of frustration in our lives and even have doubts in our walk of faith. I’m sure many of you can identify with the words a man once spoke to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
A variety of reasons exist for this kind of struggling. It might be despair over situations that are overwhelming us. It might be a sense that the world is dark, threatening, out of control, and filled with pain and evil. It may be disappointment over the way life has turned out for you. You looked to God for answers, but He didn’t respond the way you had hoped.
Perhaps it’s physical and emotional suffering you or a loved one is going through. Maybe your peers are skeptical, cynical, and unbelieving, which can cause a person to struggle with faith. The question is, What do you do with those moments, those seasons? How can you get a grip on your faith? We have a story before us today from the Gospel of John, which I have found to be helpful.
First, notice the resurrection story is a Good News story announcing that Jesus is alive! He was dead, but now He is showing Himself to be alive to those disciples in the upper room. He has been transformed, able to go through locked doors and suddenly appear to His disciples. He took away their fears and gave them peace as He showed them His hands and side so they could know He was the same one who was crucified on the cross, but is now alive.
He came to assure them of His forgiveness for running out on Him. He also gave them an important commission – to tell the Good News to the world so all might believe and be saved. It is a good news story. Good news happens in the first half of the story.
However, Thomas wasn’t there. He had withdrawn from the fellowship of the others and didn’t experience the risen Jesus. We don’t know why he wasn’t in the Upper Room. We can surmise some reasons. From past mention of him in John’s Gospel, we know Thomas had a melancholy personality. He was a glass half-empty instead of half-full type of guy, prone to look for the worst. He didn’t hesitate to question Jesus when he didn’t understand.
Perhaps Thomas was feeling disappointed and even a bit angry as he grieved over the death of Jesus. He had such high hopes. He had followed this guy with his whole life. Now those hopes had been dashed. Where were you, God? he might’ve questioned.
Thomas could have been feeling a bit guilty. He’d run out on Jesus and deserted Him in His hour of need.
Maybe Thomas felt despair. He had seen the worst in human behavior from the people who destroyed Jesus. Such darkness and sinfulness can give a person a sense of hopelessness for the world.
Perhaps Thomas had just simply given up. I must have been wrong about Jesus. Surely you can empathize with him. When things go wrong and it’s too much to bear, we find ourselves wanting to run off sometimes, or curl up into a little ball to grieve and lick our wounds alone. We isolate ourselves and stay away from worship. We steer clear of others not wanting people to see how miserable we are. We’re afraid to fall apart in front of others, and we wonder, What’s the point of it anyway? We keep our distance and shut down relationally.
All these things could have been factors behind Thomas not being with them during Jesus’ first appearance. We can’t say for certain why, but we do know he wasn’t there the evening of that first Easter.
It’s really unfortunate, when you think about it, for Thomas would have to live with his doubts and disappointments. Yet he really didn’t need to. The other disciples took Jesus’ commission seriously and made their first attempt at witnessing to Thomas that they had seen the Lord. He is alive! However, it was met with skepticism and unbelief on Thomas’ part. He wasn’t buying it. I imagine he rolled his eyes as they talked, thinking to himself, This has to be just wishful thinking on their part. They’re caught up in their grief and want Him to be alive. They’re that delusional and unrealistic! Dead is dead.
So Thomas replies, “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 where he was pierced by the spear, I will not believe.”
Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. A week later Thomas was with the others as they gathered in the house behind shut doors. Maybe the other disciples talked him into coming back to join them that day. They have even physically come and escorted him to the get-together out of their love for him. Sometimes it takes just that, in which case I say, “Way to go, guys!”
Anyway, Thomas joined them and was he glad he did, for Jesus appeared out of nowhere again saying, “Peace be with you,” just as He promised in the Upper Room the night before His crucifixion when He said, “I give you peace.” But before Thomas could say anything, Jesus looked him in the eye and repeated His earlier statement. “Here. Put your finger in my nail prints and your hand in my side. Don’t doubt, but believe.”
Thomas gasped. How could Jesus know what I said? Then it hit him. Jesus was there! When the disciples told Thomas they’d seen the Lord, He was there. He really is alive! The next moment we see Thomas dropping to his knees proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” He was the first person in John’s Gospel to call Jesus, Lord and God. The flame of faith burned brightly within Thomas from that day forward. His faith was revived and renewed.
Church tradition tells us Thomas hit the mission field full blast with great enthusiasm, going first to what we today call Iraq, then to Iran, and eventually to India where he died a martyr’s death for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Folks, the same Jesus who met Thomas in the Upper Room and revived his faith is still available to you and me to help us get a grip on our faith. Jesus’ response to Thomas’ statement of faith is very interesting! He says, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and come to believe.” God blesses those who have not seen Him and yet believe.
Jesus, here, is really talking to you and to me in this statement, those of us who come onto the scene later. Although we can’t physically see Jesus, we still believe in Him. We can have encounters with the risen Christ in our own faith journeys.
A takeaway from this Thomas story for me is this: An important truth in the walk of faith is the importance of where you station yourself. In order to let the presence of Christ and His grace touch your life, station yourself in the places where He has promised to meet you. The story of Thomas points us to the value of stationing oneself in the community of faith, especially while feeling despondent.
It is true that in our moments of depression and doubt, we may need solitude. But we also need hours with fellow believers who can come alongside of us and encourage us. Remember Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). In this story we see the danger of withdrawing from the community of faith. When we are alone and separated from other believers, we can easily err in thinking we can find healing on our own, but it’s not true. When we’re isolated, our minds can play tricks on us, and we lay ourselves open to Satan himself who sees us at our weak moment and makes it a point to deceive us and play with our doubts. We can begin to believe the sun will never shine again. We become filled with doubt and feel defeated. We despair. It happens; I’ve seen it.
I found an old illustration out of Scotland I think is quite helpful. A man stopped coming to church. He knew the pastor would soon be calling on him to inquire why.
When the minister showed up at his front door, the man invited him in, and the two sat by the fire and made small talk. The man wondered when the discussion would turn to his church attendance. As conversation dwindled off, the pastor took the tongs by the fireplace, reached into the fire, took a white-hot coal, and set it out in front of the fire. The two taciturn Scotts sat there smoking their pipes and sipping their tea. Minutes passed in silence. The coal, of course, cooled to red-hot. Slowly the color began to fade until it finally it became black. A wisp of smoke signaled the fire was out, and the man realized this was an object lesson.
“Yes, pastor,” he said. “I’ll be at church on Sunday.” The coals burned brightly while they were together, but when one was removed, it could not long sustain the heat, and it went out. So we need the fellowship of one another in the church.
You can also station yourself in the Word and sacraments. Interestingly, John throws in a little editorial statement after the Thomas story. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs that are not written in this book. But these are written so you may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31-31). You see John and the disciples came to understand the power of the Word of God to feed their faith. They knew they would encounter Christ in the Word. We receive God’s grace in Christ as we open our Bibles and read and study His words.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you station yourself in the Word if you want to encounter the grace of God in Christ. Read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read them again and again and again. Get to know Him. Let Him walk with you and talk with you. I love the statement: Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death. Feed your faith with the Word.
Jesus has also promised to be with us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We hear His words: “This is my body given for you; This is my blood shed for you.” Because He is present in the bread and wine, we taste Him, touch Him, smell Him, and hear His words of love and assurance. It is a reminder that we are not alone. We are forgiven.
Finally, station yourself in the company of the world’s needy, for Jesus promised to meet us there. We find His promise in Matthew 25, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink; stranger you welcomed me; in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” Service is an amazing instrument for staying close to Jesus. You meet Him face-to-face.
Friend, if you are struggling with doubts and seeking to get a grip on your faith, know this: Jesus loves you. He longs for you to believe in Him. He went to the cross and rose again to have a relationship with you. He is calling you through His Word this day to make a commitment to station yourself in the right places. He will meet you there.
This is the way to get a grip on faith. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer