What Proof Do YOU Need (John 20:24-29)
Passage: John 20:24–20:29
I. Proof Required
Listen to this short bit of dialogue from the 1997 film Contact. This is Jodi Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, a scientist, talking with Matthew McConaughey’s character, Palmer Joss, who is a kind of spiritual advisor.
ELLIE: You may not believe this... but there's a part of me that wants more than anything to believe in your God. To believe that we're all here for a purpose, that all this...means something. But it's because that part of me wants it so badly that I'm so stubborn about making sure it isn't just self-delusion. Of course I want to know God, if there is one... but it has to be real. Unless I have proof how can I be sure?
JOSS: Do you love your parents?
ELLIE: (startled) I never knew my mother. My father died when I was nine.
JOSS: Did you love him?
ELLIE: Yes. Very much.
JOSS: Prove it.
Ellie stops and looks at him, truly disarmed.
Proof. What topics or issues, what kinds of claims, for you, require proof? Maybe when an investment scheme comes along that seems to good to be true, you require some proof. Maybe when a consistently hurtful friend or spouse says they’ve really changed, you require some proof. Maybe when your doctor recommends you be involved in a clinical trial of a new drug, you require some proof.
I’d like you to look with me this morning at the Gospel of John, chapter 20. If you don’t have a Bible with you this morning, just grab one of the blue Bibles on the chairs around you and turn to page 907. We’re going to look this morning at 20:24-29.
II. The Passage: "Do Not Disbelieve, But Believe" (20:24-29)
Now, to set this up a little it’s helpful to know what’s happened thus far in John’s Gospel, which is actually almost over by the time you get to chapter 20.
Where we stand this morning in terms of our place in the year is almost exactly where the followers of Jesus stood in John 20. Good Friday had come and gone. They were living now in the reality of Easter. Jesus had been killed. Jesus had risen from the dead.
In verses 11-18 of this chapter, the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. In verse 19-23, He appears to most of His disciples. And that’s where we pick up with our passage this morning.
A. Doubting Thomas (20:24-25)
Look with me at verses 24 and 25:
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
So John makes the situation pretty clear in verse 24. Thomas was not around when Jesus first appeared to them that Sunday evening after his death.
It seems like, give the time indicators in these verses, that Thomas was simply 'out for groceries' on that Sunday evening or that had been gone since Thursday night and he was only reunited with the disciples later on Sunday, after Jesus had come and gone.
Either way, when he does rejoin the others, Thomas is immediately confronted by these wild claims about seeing Jesus alive. The tense of the verb in verse 25 has the idea that “[they kept telling] him, 'we have seen the Lord'”.
His response is somewhat unexpected. Not only does he state that he must see Jesus before he can believe their claims, but he goes further than that and says that he must touch the crucifixion scars of Jesus. If he cannot do that, he says at the end of verse 25, “I will never believe.”
Now, I don’t think we should categorize Thomas as simply a cool-headed, rational skeptic who is very carefully laying out a reasonable threshold for prudent faith. He's not saying, “I'm so sorry, Peter, ol' boy. I would really love to believe you, but the rational side of my brain simply needs some empirical evidence that will substantiate your claim.”
No, I think Thomas is angry here (no doubt, anger fueled by grief). I think he is angry with the other disciples, because he believes they are dealing with their grief by retreating into a fantasy world of denial where Jesus is still alive and well.
I think Thomas is being extreme here in order to send a message. “Unless I see the nail scars…I’ll do you one better…unless I put my finger into the nail scars…I will NEVER believe.” I think He is saying to his fellow disciples, “Wake up and smell the coffee! Jesus is dead.”
B. Believing Thomas (20:26-28)
But look at what happens in verses 26 through 28:
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
The event here is almost exactly the same as the appearance described in verses 19 and 20. In verse 20, we’re even told that Jesus showed the other ten disciples his hands and his side.
But look again at how this passage is different. Look at verse 27. It is clear that even though Jesus was not visibly present when Thomas came back on the evening of that first Easter, He stills knows exactly how Thomas responded to the other disciples.
Jesus’ invitation to Thomas comes right out of Thomas’s own demand for tangible proof. Jesus is saying, “Go ahead, Thomas, stick your finger in my scars. Go ahead.” I don’t believe Jesus is inviting Thomas to do this because he knows this is the only way Thomas can believe Jesus is not some kind of ghost.
No, I think he is simply reminding Thomas of his stubbornness and doubt. That’s why he goes on to quickly say, “Do not disbelieve, but believe!” And of course, as we see here, Thomas does not need to poke around in the wounds of Christ. The sight of Jesus combined with the knowledge that Jesus has of Thomas’s doubt-filled words a week earlier, this is enough to drive Thomas to make the most perceptive confession of Christ to be found anywhere in the New Testament.
Not only is Jesus his “Lord”, He is also Thomas’s “God”, a stunning declaration for a Jew whose very identity in the world was so defined by monotheism, the belief in one God. And because Thomas was a Jew, we know he is not saying Jesus is a god, but THE God.
Not only does Thomas see Jesus, Thomas can see Jesus more clearly than he ever has before.
C. Learning Thomas (20:29)
And yet, in verse 29, Jesus has something else to say to Thomas. We read this:
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The lesson that Jesus was teaching Thomas is really only concluded in verse 29. Now, you may have a Bible that translates the first part of Jesus words in verse 29 as a statement and not a question. The difficulty is that ancient Greek, the language in which this book was first written, didn’t have any punctuation, including question marks. So in man cases, the context is the only way to tell if a question is being asked.
Personally, I think this is a question, and not just the statement, “You have believed because you have seen me.” I think it's a question because I think Jesus is responding to the earth-shattering confession Thomas has just made. Thomas has not simply believed that Jesus was alive. He has believed and confessed that Jesus is God in human flesh. That's huge.
And I think Jesus is asking him this question because He wants to gently rebuke Thomas for his stubborn skepticism. Let me get back to that point in just a second.
Notice the other half of Jesus' statement. Unlike Thomas, Christ declares a blessing on all those who believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh, which of course, is almost every Christian who has ever lived and ever will live. Remember how the Apostle Peter described his readers 20 or 30 years after Jesus' resurrection. He wrote:
Though you have not seen him [i.e. Jesus], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:8, 9)
Why does the Apostle John include this story about Jesus and Thomas in John 20?I believe he includes this account because of verse 29. It's John's readers who need to understand this story about Thomas precisely because of what verse 29 reveals. I can say that with confidence because of verses 30 and 31:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you [my readers] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
III. The Proof We Already Have
Now, let me try to bring this home for all of us here this morning.
For many people today, Thomas would be the hero of this story, not for the conclusion he comes to, but for the skepticism he demonstrates. They would say that Thomas is right to demand evidence and not just blindly accept whatever anyone tells him. And a segment of these people would generally be hostile to religious belief. They might describe religious people as gullible or uncritical or superstitious or weak or needy or narrow-minded.
But let's be clear about what this story is and is not teaching. The story is not teaching that a desire for proof is wrong. Did you hear that? This story is not teaching us a desire for proof is wrong. Thomas was not gently rebuked by Jesus simply because he expressed a desire for proof.
Here's what the story IS teaching us. Thomas was rebuked by Jesus for his stubborn doubt, not simply because he expressed a desire for proof, but because he expressed a desire for proof when he already had so much.
The first half of the Gospel of John, from chapters 1 through 12, is what many scholars have called the book of signs.
In these chapters, John presents seven signs, seven miraculous works that Jesus performs in order to give evidence to those around him that He was the Son of God. From turning water into wine in Cana, all the way down to sign number seven, raising Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, all of these miracles were witnessed by the twelve disciples, including Thomas.
To drive home the importance of these signs, listen to what Jesus himself said in the presence of his disciples:
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (5:36)
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me…” (10:25)
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (10:37, 38)
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (14:11)
But someone might say, “Well maybe Thomas just wasn't fully convinced by what he saw.” You tell me if he sounds convinced in regard to Jesus:
John 11:14-16: Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:14-16)
Thomas was willing to die with Jesus and for Jesus. And of course, what's interesting about that passage is that Jesus explicitly takes them to Lazarus' tomb so they witness Him raising this man from dead. Thomas knew, he knew that Jesus had power, even over death.
He should have believed.
This is why I believe the first half of John 20:29 is a question. After making that incredible confession about Jesus (“my Lord and my God”), Jesus asks him, “Do you believe, do you believe what you just expressed, because you have seen me?” The answer to that question is both “no” and “yes”.
“Yes” because Thomas did not, in fact, kneel until Christ appeared. But “no” because the incredible confession He made was fueled not only by the resurrection, but also by everything else he had seen, all of those signs, and all the words of Christ that must have flooded back to Him in the very moment he saw Jesus.
He should have believed. He should have believed without seeing. He had all the evidence he needed. Listen again to what Jesus told Thomas in John 14:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7)
Though Thomas had already seen everything he needed to see, he demanded to see again.
The first half of John's Gospel, this 'book of signs', ends with this summary statement in regard to Jesus' fellows Jews:
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him… (12:37)
Very simply, the Gospel of John brings all of us to that upper room on Easter Day. John wants all of his readers, even us this morning, to place themselves in verse 25: So the other disciples told him [or her], “We have seen the Lord.”
We know how Thomas responded. But how will you respond?
Someone might say, “Well, like you said, Thomas already had enough proof. He was an eyewitness of everything Jesus did. We don't have that same advantage.”
But listen, we have to remember the two verses that come after verse 29: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Do you see what John is saying here? Just as he experienced these signs, he has now written them down so that everyone can experience them. In one sense, the proof is, not in the pudding, but in the writing.
John is challenging everyone of us with the incomparable reality of Jesus Christ. History has been filled with great men and women who accomplished incredible things, but none of them can compare with Jesus. Who else could turn water into wine? Who else could heal a boy who was miles and miles away? Who else could raise a lame man to his feet? Who else could give sight to a blind man? Who else could raise a man from the dead? Who else could come back to life after three days in the grave? Who else could and who else has? The answer is: no one.
And remember how the temple police responded to the Jewish leaders when they failed to arrest Jesus early on. John 7:46: The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:45, 46) Who else has ever claimed the things Jesus claimed about himself? I am the way? The truth? The life? No one gets to God but through me? Who else ever taught the way Jesus did? With authority like his? With such crystal clear insight into our hearts?
So what proof do YOU need?
What proof do you need to believe that something is horribly wrong with this world?
What proof do you need to believe that something is wrong with you, with your heart?
What proof do you need to believe that every single person in this world is looking for someone or something to save them from a life of emptiness?
What proof do you need to believe that there is a hunger in all of us that nothing in this world can satisfy?
What proof do you need to believe that love is more than just chemical interactions in our brains?
What proof do you need to believe that there really is a right and a wrong?
What proof do you need to believe that there is a God who made the stars in all their brilliance, who made the earth in all its beauty, who made you in all your wonderful complexity?
What proof do you need to believe that the God who made us loves us enough to give us answers to our questions, to give us solutions to our problems, to give us life in light of death?
Whether you are here this morning having made the same confession as Thomas, or you are here and just beginning to understand how important all of this is, the command of Jesus this morning is the same: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
As you are distracted by the fading treasure of this world, Do not disbelieve, but believe.
As you are tempted to doubt because of your pain, Do not disbelieve, but believe.
As you are seduced by the false hope of self-sufficiency, Do not disbelieve, but believe.
In light of the proof you already have, John writes, Jesus declares, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Would you pray with me?
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