Monday, April 10, 2023

Apologies to Thomas the Apostle

 In the Easter story, Thomas gets kind of a raw deal. Throughout much of my Christian life, Thomas has been the poster boy for the faithless and the skeptical. If you know the Easter story, you know why.

After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, he appeared to some of his disciples. John picks up the story there (John 20:24-29), telling us:

“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “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.”

Rubens apostel thomas.jpg
Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens (Wikimedia)

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[One bit of trivia that I learned while writing this is that Thomas was not his real name. Both “Thomas” and “Didymus” mean “twin.” “Thomas” is the Aramaic and “Didymus” is the Greek for that term. The Bible doesn’t mention the other twin.]

Countless preachers and Christians have mocked Thomas for his skepticism. In some depictions of Thomas, he holds a carpenter’s square. I remember hearing when I was young that this was a reference to his skepticism and the fact that he wanted to verify everything. Thomas, a bit player in the Gospels, is remembered primarily for his disbelief. Thomas’s very name has become synonymous with those who doubt.

As I got older, I began to wonder if maybe Thomas was being treated unfairly. After all, who among us hasn’t had doubts?

Let’s be honest. If we had watched a trusted friend be brutally killed and then a few days later were told that the friend was alive and well, wouldn’t we react with disbelief? Most of us would stand alongside Thomas.

I can’t say that I haven’t had doubts even if I really shouldn’t after my experiences. I’ve written about the prophetic dream that led to the diagnosis of my melanoma. I’ve seen other medical miracles including the nick-of-time discovery of my mom’s colon cancer and my own prostate cancer. I’ve felt the easing of my anxiety after being blanketed with prayers, and my wife and I even shared an experience that I can only explain as supernatural.

Yet sometimes I wonder. Is it all a matter of coincidence?

John continued the story of Thomas:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 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!”

There are a couple of interesting things here. When Jesus showed up again, it was through a locked door. Dr. Hugh Ross, a physicist, astronomer and founder of Reasons to Believe, has postulated that this is a bit of evidence that the spiritual realm is a different dimension than our own. That’s an interesting discussion in itself that is fleshed out (pun intended) in his book, “Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.”

But that isn’t the most interesting part for the purposes of our discussion. I find it fascinating and comforting to see that Jesus was already aware of Thomas’s doubts and was not upset by them. Rather than getting angry over the lack of faith, Jesus met Thomas where he was and put his finger in the wounds on Jesus’s hands and side.

Afterward, tradition tells us that Thomas was sent to evangelize the Parthians, Medes, and Persians after the miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2). He ultimately ventured to India, arriving about AD 52, where he established several churches. He was reportedly martyred there on July 3, AD 72 when he was killed with a spear.

It’s astonishing to learn that the man who is remembered for his doubt spent the last decades of his life spreading the Gospel. It’s more astonishing to learn that he ultimately gave his life to tell people about Jesus. These are not the actions of a skeptic.

And as it turns out, the carpenter’s square is not a shameful symbol of Thomas’s doubt at all. It actually hearkens back to Thomas’s later work as an architect building churches and temples.

In fact, it seems that most of the disciples met similar violent deaths. While the Bible itself only tells the fate of Judas, who killed himself after betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:5), and James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, who was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2), other extra-biblical traditions tell us that almost all of the disciples became martyrs, something that would be unlikely if they had not seen the resurrected Jesus for themselves. Only John the Revelator seems to have lived to die of natural causes.

Fast-forward two thousand years. For hundreds of years, people have believed in Christ based on the foundations laid by the disciples. Today, we have it better. We have the accumulated research of two centuries of scholars who have questioned and probed and (literally) dug to find out the truth about the Bible’s claims.

Just a few days ago, an atheist tried to pick a fight with me on Twitter, saying that there was no historical evidence that Jesus ever existed. That’s wrong.

Sure, there would be no direct evidence of a poor itinerant preacher from 2,000 years ago. We wouldn’t really expect that. We aren’t going to find his driver’s license stashed in the corner of a tomb in Jerusalem. For that matter, we aren’t going to find his body either.

But there is evidence. This week, I’ve been reading through the “Easter Artifacts” study on the YouVersion Bible app. The study presents corroborating evidence from history that support the Gospel accounts.

There are numerous books that do the same thing. Two of my favorites are “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel and “Cold Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace. The two books examine the case from different, overlapping perspectives. In particular, Wallace points out that there is an abundance of near-contemporary writing about Jesus.

The growth of Christianity, spurred by the sacrifices of Thomas and the other disciples, is also evidence of Jesus’s existence. While we know that the ancients could also be as skeptical as modern men, Jesus and the Holy Spirit left a trail of miracles and changed lives that overcame the doubt of the masses. Just like they did with Thomas.

And lives are still being changed today. Beyond the historical facts and archeological evidence for Jesus and the Bible, the lives that have been changed are the best evidence that Jesus was who he said he was and still lives today. Earlier, my friend Steve Berman wrote about how Jesus changed his life.

As for me, I grew up in a Christian household. For much of my life, I took the truth of the Bible for granted. Then, when I had my first brush with cancer, I had a crisis of faith. I decided that I needed to make sure what I believed was true because what we believe about God is ultimately the most important decision we make. After examining the claims of Christianity and other religions, I determined that the claims of the Bible are true.

But sometimes those nagging threads of doubt still return. I’m like Thomas. I want to see conclusive proof.

In a world of conspiracy theories and propaganda and lies, it’s natural to want to see for yourself. It makes sense to want to put your fingers into the nail scars.

I think the story of Thomas is an assurance that God doesn’t mind our doubts and questions. We should just take our questions to him. Our prayer should be like that of the father in Mark 9, who said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

But Jesus had an answer for that too. In the last verse of John’s anecdote about Thomas, we learn:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We can’t physically see Jesus or his wounds, but we can see evidence that they were real. And God will bless us with eternal life if we believe.

And if we meet Thomas in Heaven, I think we will owe him an apology.

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HOW NOT TO CELEBRATE EASTER: A Catholic church in Tennessee alarmed passersby when it created an Easter display that included a hanging effigy of Judas. In these racially charged times, hanging effigies is never a good idea. Church members said that the effigy was a Hispanic tradition, but a photo on Twitter showed no context for the display. Just don’t.

Happy Easter from all of us here at the Racket News!

From the Racket News

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