Thomas usually makes a pretty easy target for our condescending judgments. So often and firmly do we judge him that we usually can’t think of his name without appending the required doubting adjective.
Why? What was his crime? He wanted to see and touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. He had heard the news, but he wanted to see with his own eyes.
We shouldn’t be so quick to judge him. There’s a lot of that in us, as evidenced in Mark Driscoll’s recent introduction to his commendable three-year exposition of Mark. Driscoll visited the Holy Land over the summer with a film crew and will be showing his congregation some of the important locations connected to Jesus’ ministry.
What we decided to do is, since Luke went to all these places–Bethlehem, Capernaum, Nazareth–he went to all these places to investigate the man who is God, the Lord Jesus Christ, we got this crazy idea: wouldn’t it be cool to do what Luke did? To just go there, and see it, and investigate it, and check it out. So we did…
We wanted to get Jesus off the flannel graph and get him actually on the dust of the earth just like he was. We want to take you to the places where he was, so you can see it and see it as historical reality, to investigate “the things that have been accomplished among us.” And so that’s what we did…
And when we finally get to it in a few years in Luke 24, I’ll preach on the “Resurrection of Jesus” from Luke 24 from the empty tomb of Jesus.
The question is, why? Well, because just like Luke, we want to do investigation so that you can have certainty about who Jesus is and what he’s done. We want you to have that personal certainty about Jesus.
My question to Driscoll is, how does it increase our faith in Jesus to see the historical reality of Jesus’ life? If my faith will be increased by watching Driscoll’s movies, would it be increased even more if I could go to the Holy Land myself?
This is exactly the same rationale that sustained the Roman Catholic impulse to engage in pilgrimages and hunt for relics. If only I could see and touch the nail that held Jesus to the cross, I would see the crucifixion as “historical reality” and have a “personal certainty about Jesus.”
Driscoll’s well-intentioned goal of retracing Luke’s steps and treating us as his own Theophilus misses the whole point of what Luke did and actually undermines Scripture. Luke did it once so that we didn’t have to do it again. He says as much in his preface:
Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, must excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4)
When Driscoll presents his trip as helping us have “personal certainty about Jesus,” he–probably unwittingly–suggests that Luke’s own account is insufficient. When you think we need more evidence than Luke provided, you might start preaching sermons based on unverified claims you pick up from tour guides (like this).
Luke seemed to think that he’d given us as much information as we needed. We didn’t need to visit the places, because Luke had done so, or had talked to people who had. John acknowledges at the end of his own account that there was much, much more that Jesus did that didn’t need to be written down (John 21:25).
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written 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)
The Bible alone is perfectly sufficient for our faith and “personal certainty.” If we need trips to the Holy Land to boost our faith, we have learned nothing from Thomas or from Jesus’ response to him. The point of the Thomas account is not to emphasize his doubt, but to shine a light on our own doubt. In fact, Jesus was very gentle with Thomas.
Here’s how the Thomas affair unfolded: In Luke 24:36-39, Jesus appears to his disciples, who don’t believe that it is really him. He assures them by letting them see and touch his death scars.
Why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see.
Now, Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when that happened, and when they reported the event to him in John 20:24, he merely asks for the same evidence that the other disciples were given. He wants to see and touch the wounds too.
When Thomas does see Jesus, he’s not rebuked for his doubt; instead, Jesus removes his doubt by showing him the physical evidence. Thomas, however, is told that he’s the last who will be shown that evidence. From John 20:27-29:
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.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What’s the point of John’s lesson? It’s the very next paragraph, cited above, where he tells us that what he has written is given to us that we may believe.
In other words, Thomas, you have the privilege of believing because of what you see with your physical eyes, but after you will come generations of believers who will have to trust their spiritual eyes. How do we see? How do we remove our doubts and say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”?
Through what the Gospel writers recorded. They’re not even very subtle about it. I’ve cited part of Luke’s preface where he says, I know what I’m talking about, so trust me. John says the same thing as he signs off his book in John 21:24:
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
That’s all we need. When we hype visits and videos of the artifacts and places where Jesus walked and talked, we ignore the guarantees of the Gospel writers. We undermine their authority.
In seeking certainty, we actually feed doubt.