Today I listened to Pastor Jeremiah talk about doubt, and how it can be a positive if you a) articulate the doubt into a question, and b)take the question to God in prayer. Naturally the subject got me thinking about Thomas, as it did the Pastor. Yes, he was the one who doubted, who required evidence. But what was it that made him thus, and was it part of his character?
I began realizing that there are only five of the 12 that we got any real inkling into their character- Peter, John, Thomas, Nathaniel, and Judas Iscariot. As usual, I discovered that there is a theme in that. Now you may interrupt with, “What about Andrew and James?” Ask yourself, where did we ever see them that they weren’t in the shadow of their respective brothers, and you’ll see why I left them out- and why they’ll become important later.
Peter and John are like flip sides of the same coin in two very important respects. The first is the picture of faith that they had. Peter was what I would call a “small picture” believer. He was the one who stood up and named Jesus “The Christ of God,” so he got IT. However, in the next breath, he found Jesus in need of not only instruction (about NOT talking about dying), but also defense, even to the point of taking the sword to Malchus, who basically amounted to an “innocent bystander” in Gethsemane.
This was because of the second respect- for Peter the important thing was that he loved Jesus. Because of that, his faith was so personal, and Jesus so much the friend, that he felt the need to defend Him despite his knowledge that Jesus was divine and really didn’t need the defending.
Contrast with John, who is the “big picture guy”. John and his brother were nicknamed the “sons of thunder” because of their zeal, and sometimes it drifted into “You and me against the world”. To them, God was a given, a respected and honored force that everyone should be ready to bow to and worship. Remember, Jesus had to remind them “You do not know what kind of spirit you are,” when they suggested that Jesus “nuke” the unbelievers. John saw more of the divine nature, whereas Peter saw more the personal.
And like Peter, John saw it this way because his focus was on God loving him- hence his constantly describing himself in his Gospel as “the one Jesus loved”. And this carried through their ministries. Where John concentrated on the esoteric, writing epistles describing the nature of God and love, Peter was out there converting people. Both of these jobs are vastly important. Without those like John, the people that those like Peter convert will never be able to deepen the faith they are called to. These are the two bedrock personalities of the Church.
And, I might note, they cannot be done alone. You need fellow travellers to sharpen you, “as iron sharpens iron”. Thus Peter has an Andrew, and John has a James.
Nathaniel’s story is different. When Phillip comes to him with news of Jesus, Nathaniel questions. But when Jesus comes to him and proves Himself, he doesn’t demand further evidence, he simply believes. Jesus calls him two things. First, He calls him “an Israelite indeed”- another words, one who is not a child of God through birth or ritual, but through faith and action. Then He calls him one “in whom there is no guile”- in other words, not someone who’s in it for what he can get. He is simple, honest, a man of integrity, and the presentation of Jesus is enough to convince him. Note also that he has a Phillip, one whose zeal will move him to ask his questions, and find Jesus as the answer.
Thomas has to be hit over the head to have faith. It’s not that he doesn’t BELIEVE; In John 11, it’s not that he isn’t ready to die with Jesus, but he let Jesus’ words saying not to worry go through one ear and out the other. Despite the fact that Jesus has told them not to worry it, and despite that he has belief enough to follow him to Bethany, he EXPECTS to die on the trip. Then go to John 14, where Jesus has just explained about His going to heaven, and that He would come back for them, and they would know the way. And Thomas, who believes what Jesus says but hasn’t the faith yet to understand it, says, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? “ To which Jesus explains that He is the way and “If ye had known Me”, he’d know the way. Then we tack on the upper room story, where he demands evidence to believe. Actually not to believe, but to have faith; Atheists demand evidence too, but have no intention of accepting any. Thomas’ believe was such that, once he had his evidence, it created faith.
But this isn’t doubt that actually helps; it was doubt that insulated him from faith, where Nathaniel’s caution led him to faith. Not surprisingly, Thomas didn’t have an Andrew or James for support, or a Phillip to urge him on.
That brings us to Judas, who had the most different focus. His focus in following Christ is what good it would do for HIM. Thus it was, practically the only times (other than the betrayal) that Judas gets ink is in regards to money, or valuable possessions. When Jesus allowed himself to be anointed, rather than saving the perfume so that it could be sold and Judas get his cut, it was the last straw for him. He’d go to the priests and make the money back by selling Jesus to them. But he only got offered a fraction of what he wanted! By this point, Judas said, Screw it, I’ll get what I can out of Him.
And that is why people WON’T believe or have faith in Jesus- because their attitude is what can I get out of Him. When they find He’s not a magic lamp or a lottery ticket, what good is He?
One of the points Pastor Jeremiah made today fits in here. “The Bible is the inerrant Word of God; everything contained in it is truth. But it does not contain ALL truth.” The Bible gives us what we need for faith and leaves trivial curiosity to the imagination; in other words, what it DOESN’T say is as informative as what it does. Why don’t we get info on the other disciples? Because Jesus needed them to spread the Gospel; we don’t need them to understand our faith. The lessons of the disciples we know- Peter’s personal faith, John’s grasp of the “big picture”, Nathaniel’s integrity and objectivity, Thomas’ ability to accept evidence when presented, and Judas’ failure do to focus on himself- are all the lessons from their lives that we need.