He was a disciple, chosen by Jesus. But history remembers him for his doubt.
His name was Thomas, though he was also called Didymus, as we discover in John’s Gospel.
It’s not until the eleventh chapter of John’s account that we hear him speak. Jesus, knowing that His friend Lazarus had died, plans to return to Judea and to raise Lazarus from the dead. His disciples don’t know Lazarus is dead yet, but they fear the journey because of the previous attempts on the life of Jesus there.
As they try to convince Jesus not to go back to Judea, one solitary voice is raised in certainty and support.
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” John 11:16 (NIV)
These are not the words of a doubter. These are the words of a man of conviction and courage, a man ready to give his life for a cause, a revolutionary whose time had come.
But Thomas isn’t remembered that way.
After the extraordinary events of the third Garden, where a garden of remembrance had instead become a garden of resurrection, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them.
We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but I suspect his courage and conviction had fled in the face of the circumstances and he had followed. He’d watched his King disgraced, tortured, mocked and finally murdered on a cross. Perhaps he couldn’t even bear to be with the others as the pain was still so great.
This was not the revolution Thomas had imagined, I expect. He was clearly ready for death and glory, but he wasn’t prepared for the brutal loss of Jesus, especially as Jesus had gone so willingly to His execution.
When the others found him and excitedly told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replied with the words that have marked him for history:
“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.” John 20: 25b (NIV)
“I will not believe it.”
How does someone go from willing to die to refusing to believe?
It seems impossible.
But then we remember our own capricious nature, so easily shaken by unexpected circumstances, just as sure as leaves are blown through a garden by the storm. When we don’t see what we’d hoped, our hearts so often turn to the place of doubt.
It’s not that hard to understand the doubt of Thomas.
But a new world had dawned in that third Garden. A Saviour had risen, and even the darkest doubts were no match for His glorious grace and love.
Jesus didn’t leave Thomas alone in his doubt for long.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 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!” John 20:26-28 (NIV)
Thomas may have been gripped with doubt. But Jesus wasn’t shaken by the doubt of Thomas. In fact, it became the point at which He encountered Thomas most deeply, transforming him in his place of weakness.
They called Thomas Didymus sometimes. It means ‘twin’ or ‘double’ so he may have been one of a pair of twins. But he might been called ‘double’ because he swung between two points so quickly, blown by circumstance… perhaps it was his nature.
But after this encounter with Jesus, Thomas was no longer marked by his doubt, and, in fact, went on to be martyred for the Gospel in India many years later on a courageous journey to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
It’s an extraordinary story of Jesus meeting doubt with grace and love. Jesus had enough faith for the doubt of Thomas and He hasn’t changed.
Jesus isn’t shaken by our doubt either. The resurrection in the third Garden means that all of our doubt, all of our fears, all of our questions can become a place of encounter with His presence.
Easter is the wonder of Jesus meeting us all where we are, even in our questions, because He doesn’t want to leave us there, stuck with our doubts, suffering in our shame and defined by our sorrows. He’s writing a new story of faith and courage and we’re invited to take our role amongst the pages.