A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter 2020
The Gospel Reading – John 20.26-28
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 was no actual resurrection
After World War II, there was a surge of celebrity professors (and a bishop) claiming that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. They claimed the Bible accounts were confusing, and most of Jesus’ appearances were unreliable “visions” They were saying that the early Christians only “believed” in the resurrection. They did not accept the resurrection as a historical event, but only as a picture of God’s power to bring new life.
Inspired by an elderly Professor
It was 1974. The pastor at Eccles Evangelical Church said to me, don’t do theology! Go to Sheffield University and do languages and exegesis. As a sixth-former I couldn’t have realised the incredible advice that this man was giving me. At Sheffield I had a head of department who was an old, distinguished professor called James Atkinson. He was a mighty man of learning both in Britain and in the world. Best of all, he loved Jesus!
One time, while at home, I heard Professor Atkinson on the radio. A theologian was pointing out that Jesus’ resurrection exists only because of our belief. Then the Professor said: “It’s the reverse, our belief flows from the fact of the resurrection.” All the New Testament references show that for the early church, resurrection was a fact, not a spiritual idea. The actual bodily resurrection of Jesus became the bedrock of their lives and preaching.
John records Thomas’ experience
The importance of today’s gospel reading is often lost in our belittling of “doubting” Thomas. What’s plain is that this episode is a demonstration of the utter tangibility; the solid, physical truth of the risen Jesus.
Dr. Luke includes a similar account where Jesus expresses hunger, and eats in front of the disciples. In the same passage, in Luke 24.39, Jesus says this:
(The purple lines are Luke’s actual Greek, the green lines are what that the Greek looks like in English, and the yellow lines are my literal translation – I thought it might give you a better feel for the reality of the actual conversation! Sorry if it’s confusing)
It’s also Dr. Luke who is later to write: “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1.3 KJV).
John records Thomas’ spiritual response
|“My Lord and my God”|
Thomas is not only persuaded, he’s deeply moved. He is the first disciple to declare openly that Jesus is God. We can only try to reconstruct his thoughts, but they must be somewhere close to “So…everything this man ever said was true! How can I not trust Him?”
Thomas also calls Jesus: “My Lord” This is a major step in the development of his relationship with Jesus – a step that some Christians never make. In two words he lays down the entirety of his existence before the Lord; Thomas gives Jesus total control of all the issues of his life and his ultimate destiny.
In the early 70s when Patsy and I first began church, we met with an American “hippy” Christian group. One of their songs said:
“Now all I want to do is serve Him……now all I want to do is serve the King.”
This had become Thomas’ song. How odd that the “Doubter” label stuck. He was determined not to be a second-rate follower of the Lord, but to give his all.
What happened to Thomas?
I few months ago, I received a phone call asking if I would bless a new house on the new estate being built at the McDonald’s end of Stone Cross Lane North. When I arrived, I found a young family with its roots in South India. They were Malabar Christians. They spoke English perfectly but to my amazement they could pray in Aramaic (aram-ay-ik), the language that Jesus and his disciples spoke! For them the Lord’s prayer begins:
“Aboon de ba-shemayo” – Our Father who art in heaven,
– possibly the actual Aramaic words that Jesus taught to His disciples
The Malabar Christians are convinced that the evangelist who brought the gospel message to South India was Thomas, he was followed by missionaries from the Syrian church who taught the Indians Aramaic. There is cross just outside Madr.as showing the place where Thomas was martyred.
Some of us are fond of giving a name that sums a person up, just like “Doubter”. You need to realise that Jesus doesn’t have a name or a label for you that encapsulates you and all your shortcomings. He see’s too much potential and future in you – that’s how His love works. PS There is no record of Jesus calling Thomas “the Doubter” – only Didymus – “Twinny”.
- Lord there are time when I can’t grasp the truth; Come to me and show me.
- Lord there times when I lose track of the full power of the resurrection; Come and breathe new understanding into me.
- Lord there are times when I realise I’m holding back from You; Come and take hold of all of my life and my future. Amen.