by Samantha Shrauner
There is a fascinating movement of people who are adamant that the earth is flat. Rejecting what scientists and mathematicians have asserted for millennia, flat-earth enthusiasts insist that the world is a disk. Why don’t they accept what most people take for granted? Because they have not seen a round earth with their own eyes. Astronauts who have been to space could be lying, and the photographs could be doctored. Scientists could be in league with sinister and shadowy forces intent on keeping people ignorant of truth. Until a flat-earther sees a round earth for themselves, they will not believe.
The tension between sight and trust exists in the gospel as well. The Christian faith is built on the historical facts that Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead, but almost no one who has lived on earth has seen the risen Christ in person. Like flat-earthers, should we attempt to protect ourselves from deception by refusing to believe what we cannot verify for ourselves? How can we have strong faith when we have not witnessed Jesus with our own eyes?
Our answers to these questions have life and death consequences:
Are we willing to stake our lives on something that we cannot personally witness?
In John 20:24-31, we see how difficult it can be to put our trust in what other people say about God. Thomas cannot accept what the other disciples say about Jesus rising from the dead. In this passage, we see a failed response to the testimony of a trustworthy source, the grace of God leading to a confession of faith, and an invitation for every person to investigate claims about Jesus. As we dive into this text, we can learn how to stand secure when we wonder if our faith in the resurrection is a solid foundation for our lives.
The Witness of the Apostles
Ten disciples are recent witnesses of the risen and glorified Christ. They have seen with their own eyes that Jesus has defeated death on the cross. Jesus has given them a new purpose: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21b). The disciples are now apostles: ‘sent ones.’ They will spend the rest of their lives telling others about what they have seen and testifying about salvation from sin. Their first opportunity comes almost immediately.
24 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.” John 20:24-25
Thomas hears their testimony and rejects what they tell him.
Without robust physical evidence and a personal experience of the resurrected Jesus, Thomas will not accept that he has risen from the dead.
Thomas’ primary failure is not his doubt, it is his unwillingness to accept the testimony of those who saw Jesus alive.
When we read the New Testament, we are reading the words of those who spent time with Jesus in person and witnessed the resurrected Christ. These are the men who were sent out by Jesus to tell the world what they had seen and experienced. When we come to these writings, are we willing to accept the testimony of those who saw Jesus alive? Thomas made up his mind that belief was impossible apart from personal experience, but he failed to see that he could build his hope on the trustworthy foundation of the apostles’ witness. They have seen the Lord. When you open your Bible, remember the people that God used to write it. Come to the Saviour through those who saw him face to face.
The Confession of an Apostle
26 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!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:26-28
In an act of grace, Jesus gave Thomas precisely what he asked for. Samuel M. Ngewa points out that Jesus “gently rebuked Thomas,” but the purpose was to restore and not to punish. In the same way, Ngewa reminds Christians, “when we rebuke others, we must not lose sight of our goal, namely, bringing those we serve to confess Jesus as their Lord and God.”
Jesus did not appear to Thomas to humiliate him, but to lead him to confession about who Jesus is.
As a result of their encounter, Thomas came to the realisation that Jesus is the Saviour who has defeated death fully and forever.
Thomas brazenly declared that he would not believe without seeing Jesus in person, and Jesus graciously appeared to him. You and I do not have the same opportunity to see and believe. If we do believe, it is necessarily faith apart from sight.
But Jesus is not asking us for blind faith. He is asking us for faith based on what others have seen and reported.
If the source is proven trustworthy, then we must consider the implications and act accordingly. Testimony about the resurrection requires a response to the identity of Jesus. When Thomas understands what Jesus has done, he responds with a confession of faith: “My Lord and my God.” The evidence of eyewitnesses implores us to make the same confession. When your faith feels weak or you wonder who Jesus is, come to the Saviour through those who saw him face to face.
The Purpose of the Apostles
30 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. John 20:30-31
Jesus had a public ministry. He performed signs in front of people in order to demonstrate who he was: the Son of God sent into the world by God the Father. He died in public and revealed himself to people after his resurrection. The Christian faith is not built on shadows and mystery but on historical truth witnessed by people who saw and knew Jesus personally. Since the end of the first century, Christian believers have put their faith in Jesus without seeing him, but our faith rests on the testimony of the apostles who were sent to tell people about the faith that they had through what they had seen.
John’s testimony extends from the first century to the twenty-first century through his Gospel. At the end of this passage he invites readers to act on the trustworthy evidence that he has presented: his gospel is written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31b, emphasis added). This material is not presented to be read as an account of historical interest; there is a call to action. John wants his readers to know that they can stake their lives on the things that he has written.
We lack the ability to see the risen Christ in person, but we do not lack the blessing that Jesus offers through the testimony of the apostles. Through faith, all people can have life in Jesus’ name. When Jesus feels far away and you feel spiritually dry, open the pages of the New Testament and spend time with the people who knew Jesus and witnessed the resurrection. Read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels, and learn from the apostles’ encouragements and teachings in their letters. See how their lives were changes by what they had witnessed, and pray that God would help you trust in their testimony.
When you long for the abundant life that Jesus offers, come to the Saviour through those who saw him face to face.
Flat earth enthusiasts may never have enough proof that the earth is round, but through the testimony of the apostles God has provided sufficient evidence for people to trust that Jesus died for sins and rose from the dead. Jesus appeared to the apostles alive and sent them out to share what they had seen. Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas when he demanded proof, and Thomas responded with a confession of faith. Now all people have the same opportunity to place their trust in Jesus and receive the gift of life through the Gospel of John and the rest of the New Testament. There will be days when our hearts desire tangible and concrete evidence for our faith. When you long to put your finger in Jesus’ hands and put your hand in his side, come to the Saviour through those who saw him face to face.