‘[T]he other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘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’. […] these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’. John 20:25,31
Brothers and sisters, we arrive at the conclusion of the Gospel of John. We have heard some of these words before as we thought about why John included the seven signs in the first half of his Gospel. But before we get to John’s reason for writing, let us first note the remarkable story of Thomas. There is, in some parts of the Church, a stream of thought which denies questioning and intellectual discovery a place at all. Some Christians might be heard to say, ‘Study and investigation go against our Faith. Quiet those questions, just trust God. Doubt has no place, just believe’. Perhaps this has been said to you; perhaps you have said it to others. But look at the great apostle of St Thomas, and note how Jesus responds. Thomas hasn’t been at any of the appearances of Jesus. Thomas has heard the story from the women, heard some of the reports of the other Apostles (vv.24-25), and understandably Thomas is sceptical, to say the least: ‘he said to them, ‘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’ (v.25). In other words, says Thomas, ‘I have very serious questions about this whole resurrection business, and I want to do some serious probing, serious questioning before I can put my trust in what you say’. Wow! How contemporary is this? How many people do we know who would say a version of what Thomas says. A spouse who isn’t a Christian perhaps and who is constantly asking tricky questions. A neighbour who takes the mick out of you for believing in something which they claim there is no evidence for. A child perhaps, who keeps asking ‘why’ or who puts on a puzzled face and wants more information. Yes, there are Thomas’ all over our modern world. How often are we tempted, when faced with such attitudes to shut them down with ‘oh you just need to have faith’.
But look at Jesus’ response, (vv.27-28): ‘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!’’ Jesus’ response is not to shut Thomas down, tell him he shouldn’t ask questions, or that he shouldn’t investigate for himself. No, Jesus shows up, lets Thomas investigate, to ask his tough questions, to actually prod and poke Him so he can satisfy himself that Jesus has actually risen, and only then does Jesus say to him ‘Stop doubting and believe’. There is a very valid place for serious investigation, both at the popular and the academic level. The Church has had, and continues to have, some profound thinkers in its ranks. The Church is not afraid of rigorous investigation, in fact from the very beginning - as seen in Jesus’ response - she has welcomed investigation, she has welcomed questions and debate. Our Faith is based upon actual historical events - not wishful thinking - and therefore has nothing to fear from questions. This week, one of our members has reviewed a book ‘Who Moved the Stone’ by Frank Morison, a wonderful book about a sceptic who investigated the resurrection for himself. I myself came to faith through reading ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis who thinks through the claims of the Church step by step. In ‘The Reason for God’ Tim Keller, a New York-based academic and pastor, takes a look at the most often asked questions of our modern culture and gives reasoned answers to them. Why not use this time of lockdown to read one of these books, and then give a copy to a sceptical friend or loved one, so they can read it too? If you have trouble getting hold of a copy, let me know!
Finally, we come to those words of the Apostle John, and we can see know how they fit very well with Jesus’ approach to Thomas. Why has John written his Gospel the way he has? Why did he begin with those seven signs, and then take us through the things which he had seen himself in that final week of Jesus’ life? The Apostle tells us that He recorded the signs so that the reader: ‘may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’. In other words, just like His Lord, John gives firm answers, and firm evidence to those investigating the Christian faith, before he then invites the reader to trust and believe. At this time of crisis many are, perhaps for the first time, asking serious questions about God and about Jesus. Let us copy Our Lord’s example, let us copy the Apostle John’s example and point those asking questions to places where they can find answers. And let us too take seriously the call to take the Gospel to those around about us by finding some of those answers for ourselves, so that we can be ready to witness to the verifiable facts on which our faith is based. Amen. (from Rev. Mike).