I have long believed that Thomas got/gets a bad rap. You know to whom I am referring, right? – “Doubting Thomas.”
In case you’re not familiar with the backstory, Thomas was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, sometimes referred to as Didymus. Thomas is the poor sap who, through the uttering one brief statement, redefined his identity for centuries to follow.
Jesus rose from the grave and appeared in his resurrected form to just about everyone except Thomas. Later when Thomas was with the old gang, and they told Thomas, “Hey, we have seen Jesus. He is alive,” Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side I will not believe it” (John 20:25b, NIV-1973).
From that day forward, every sermon, every Bible study, every piece of devotional literature has referred to Thomas not as “Thomas,” but as “Doubting Thomas.” Today, we are going to set that record straight. Thomas was no more a doubter than you, me, or any of the rest of the disciples.
Following the resurrection on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Mary reported this appearance to the rest of the disciples, but the disciples refused to believe her.
“What?” you ask! “How can this be?”
Yes, I’m sorry to have to say that every one of the disciples was a “Doubting, Disbelieving Disciple.” But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:11, ESV). Doubting Matthew. Doubting Barnabus. Doubting Peter. et al.
Now, let’s go one step deeper. Jesus was none too happy about the disciples’ reaction to Mary’s report.
Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. – Mark 16:14, ESV
Augh! Those doubting scoundrels!
Scripture never says that Thomas touched the nail prints, or the sword-pierced side of Jesus, though Jesus invited him to do so. What scripture does tell us, however, is that Thomas gave us the first proclamation from human lips that Jesus is God.
Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ – John 20:27-28, NIV-1978
Yes, Jesus told Thomas to stop doubting and to believe, but what Jesus did not do was rebuke Thomas for hardness of heart as he did the rest of the disciples.
The Berean Jews will always be considered noble because, unlike the Thessalonians, they examined the scriptures on a daily basis to confirm that what the apostle Paul was telling them was the truth (Acts 17:11). They, like Thomas, did not want to be fooled or deceived. They wanted confirmation. Once Thomas had confirmation, he proclaimed a status for Jesus (My Lord and my God!) that none before him had proclaimed.
Universally Hard Hearts
Beginning with Egypt’s Pharaoh, scripture is replete with references to those who harden their (our) hearts toward Yahweh. Having escaped Pharaoh’s clutches, the children of Israel became hardened toward the God who set them free, whining and moaning and accusing God of bringing them out of slavery only to let them die in the desert.
Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? – Exodus 14:11, ESV
God called it a hardened heart. “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work” (Psalm 95:8-9, NASB).
Jews and Gentiles … disciples and common folks … rulers and common citizens … Christians and non-Christians. Every one of us suffers from ‘sklerokardia’ – hardness of heart.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:12-13, NASB.
With this directive from Hebrews, I have a double responsibility: 1) guard against my own potentially unbelieving heart, and 2) encourage you day after day so that your heart does not harden in the face of sin’s deceitfulness.
Any one of us could be a hard-hearted doubter – “Doubting Damon.” Soften your heart. Allow God to remove any heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). Do not be one about whom God says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21b, NIV-1978).