After the late solemnities on Good Friday, a certain precocious young lady asked me why we call it Good Friday. After a little background, I try to sum it up a little bit, saying that Jesus took something that was bad, being crucified and killed, and began to turn it into something good, which we would hear about again on Easter, when we celebrate Jesus being alive again. “So Jesus is a zombie?” she asked, or maybe told me. Perhaps I should have been a little more clear in my explanation of the death and resurrection of Christ.
This certain precocious young lady didn’t struggle for long to understand the fact of Jesus, having been dead, was alive again. But the fact is, she wasn’t the first to be a little perplexed about the whole thing; if you’re dead, you’re dead, and that should be that. Makes perfect sense.
And it would have made perfect sense to our hero Thomas, about whom we hear every year the Sunday after Easter. Thomas got a bad rap, really, that whole Doubting Thomas thing, even though I would venture that none of us, in that same context, would, without evidence or experience, have refrained from doubting.
Even more, remember that Thomas was not the wishy-washy type, nor was he in any way a coward. He was fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and was willing to throw himself headlong into whatever Jesus was getting into. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus announced that it was time to go back into Judea so that God might be glorified by Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The problem was that the people of Judea had wanted to stone Jesus to death not long before, and so the disciples were justly hesitant to go running back there. So then Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus is dead, and we must go to him, and the disciples sort of looked down and kicked the dirt a little. That’s when Thomas spoke up and said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
With Thomas being Thomas, let’s say, perhaps the disciples were not so surprised when he didn’t just up and take their word on Jesus being back around. Thomas saw Jesus resuscitate Lazarus, of course, but wouldn’t someone need to be just like Jesus to come and do the same for Him?
“So Thomas (seems to play) it safe but also then speculates aloud as to what it might take for him to believe this after all. As he talks, his rhetoric gets more and more exaggerated. “My friends, I’d have to see with my own eyes the nail holes in his hands. No, tell you what, I’d need to touch those holes with my own finger. Better yet, I’d want to stick my whole hand right into his side where the sword pierced him!” Thomas kept mounting up an ever-larger heap of evidence that he thought he’d need to believe. His words seemed calculated to induce some eye-rolling.”1
But not long after, Jesus happened by again, once again defying the locked door, and stood in the midst of them, and said, “Peace to you!” He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be doubtful, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Note that there’s no indication, despite his previous bluster, that Thomas bothered to take Jesus up on His offer.
Everything changed with the Resurrection of Jesus, including what we knew of the nature the material world, of flesh and bone, of how life actually worked. Who can put Thomas to task for needing some time to take the whole thing in, and who wouldn’t ask for that time themselves? Jesus didn’t scold Thomas as much as He offered Himself again, Jesus alive for Thomas’ sake, for our sake, for the life of the world.
We, like Thomas, don’t always easily grasp all of this; we doubt, we reach, we look for proof and demand Jesus to stand before us, to offer His wounds to us. The good news is that He does do just that, by our faith, by the Holy Spirit, and in His Body and Blood. We might not see Him the way Thomas got to see Him, but my prayer for us this Eastertide is that we, beholding Him in our hearts, may greet Him as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.