19. Doubting Thomas
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” ...On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord...And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”...
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.”
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!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 18-29
“Doubting Thomas,” as we know him, cannot trust his friends’ testimony. Thomas’ faith is conditional: “Unless I see, I will not believe.” But Thomas was in fact a very solid and noble disciple, and a dear friend to Jesus. Read John 11. As Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for his upcoming death, this small group of followers learned of their dear friend Lazarus’ death. The other disciples were reluctant to return to Bethany which is close to Jerusalem. They were aware of the death threats coming from that holy city. Jesus was determined to go. It was Thomas who prompted the other disciples to follow Jesus back to the home of Lazarus where they witnessed his resurrection by this Son of Man. As the disciples witnessed the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection so did they witness the crucifixion of Jesus. Even though Jesus had tried to prepare Thomas along with the others, his faith failed after he witnessed the horrific torment and death of his beloved friend. I cannot fault Thomas’ incredulity.
I believe that the disciples and Jesus’ other followers including Mary Magdalene were alone in the darkness of a godless world for those three days before Christ returned. Their dear friend who performed miracles and they knew was the promised Yeshua was dead. The Comforter promised by Jesus before his death could not yet indwell because the Son of God had been murdered. Humanity’s only chance at reconciliation had failed.The broken kingdom of the earth was to remain under the bonds of its king, Satan. That darkness was so so very dark. But then the resurrected Jesus appeared through locked doors! He comforted them with words of peace. He showed them his wounds. And then he breathed on them the very breath of the Holy Spirit!
But Thomas was not able to accept the gift of the Comforter until he had hard proof. In truth, none of the disciples could accept this until they had proof themselves. Why are we so hard on poor Thomas? Think about the scene above. How very intimate this encounter with the risen Christ is. Here is their dear beloved Jesus having Thomas touch his wounds with his hands.
Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. ...
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” Genesis 28: 11-21
The name Jacob means “he grasps the heel,” a Hebrew idiom for “he deceives.” Remember Jacob? The twin who cheated his brother Esau and his father Isaac. Jacob who was a “Mama’s boy.” Jacob, who favored one sister wife over the other and one son, Joseph, over the other eleven. This deceiver was chosen by God to become the father of the twelve tribes that would become the chosen nation of Israel, the beloved “child” nurtured by God who would in time birth the Son of God. Jacob’s story spans from Genesis 25-48. It is an entertaining and rich story.
Jacob, the younger of twin sons birthed to the chosen son, Isaac, and his wife, Rebecca, was the one chosen by God to receive the blessings of both his earthly father, Isaac, and his Heavenly Father, God. Fleeing from an understandably angry and murderous brother, Jacob had his first supernatural encounter with his grandfather’s Lord and God. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
This all sounds well and good for Jacob. This huge familial and familiar blessing from the Living God. And what a thing to see. What a testimony. What a gift to ponder. Angels and the LORD. But listen closely to Jacob’s true heart. Paraphrased, “If God will be with me and give me, then and only then, I will regard him as my God.” The conditional “if and then.” Thomas’ conditional “Unless I see, I will not believe” is Jacob’s conditional “if and then.”
It is so easy to dislike Jacob. But remember, Jacob, though a deceiver and a liar, is young and afraid. He is running from the only home and family he has ever known. Can we try to put ourselves in Jacob’s shoes? Can we see and hear through his eyes and ears?
Out of some kind of parental unconditional love for a deceptive and manipulative child, the Lord, the Living God, hugely blessed Jacob and yet Jacob still fails to trust and believe. After Jacob has acquired two sister wives, two servant wives, many children and a large possession of goods, Jacob as a wealthy man is called by his God to make peace with his twin brother whom he so horrible deceived so many years ago:
Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. ... Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.”
Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”...
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Genesis 32: 1-30
The angels of God met him! Can you imagine that? What they, the angels looked like? And yet, he still could not trust and believe. The Lord had told him to return to Esau, to his country and his family, and yet still he manipulates. But, at least now Jacob is learning how to talk to his God, his Lord. As he hedges his bets; as he divides his family and property into two camps, his one-on-one conversation is so very intimate; Jacob is confessing his lack of trust and pleading for his Lord’s protection. The night’s encounter with “a man” is yet even more intimate. The Hebrew word “Peniel” means “face of God.” It is from two root words and literally means “to turn toward God.” Who do you think this “man” is? Pinning Jacob to the ground, this Living God refused to allow Jacob to turn away, and then, Jacob refused to let the Living God leave his presence!
The 29:11 Story
Out of deserved admiration for Thomas whose name has been unfairly muddied, the 29:11 Story bead for this beloved disciple is among the other disciples. But it is not a pretty bead. It is black and white or grey denoting the light and darkness of Thomas’ experience in his personal walk with the Living God, Christ Jesus.
In the Old Testament, on the downfall of God’s story, Jacob’s bead follows a lovely brown bead, Isaac, the chosen child. But Jacob’s bead, like that of Thomas’, is a mix of black, white, and grey. Jacob had difficulty in deciding whether he would turn toward or away from God. Into the light or away from it. Would he trust in God or in his own manipulative and deceptive ways. He is a hard man to admire but certainly one of God’s most favored. His bead is followed by a beautiful blue bead, Joseph with his coat of many colors and his ability to interpret dreams. The bronze bead of the Twelve Tribes finishes the chapter of Abraham’s immediate family.
One of my most important passages during my son’s illness was that of the desperate father in the book of Mark. Jesus and his three best friends, Peter, James and John, have just come down the mountain from the Transfiguration:
Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”
He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” John 9: 17-24
Listen! Did you hear? The fire and the water! The word of Christ, who is the Word, is so powerful. And we, his creation, are so blind. We are so deaf. In the midst of our crowded lives, we lack so much. How long shall I, Son of God, have to bear with you? Bless are those who do not see and yet have faith. Don’t you know that we weary God? I weary God. I know I do. Like Jacob, I wrestle with things beyond my natural eyesight.
The weekend after William died, my small, diminished family of four went up to Tennessee to our lake cabin. As we got out of the car, a woman across the road also got out of her car. She smiled at me and came over to introduce herself. Her family had just bought the cabin across from us: “How many children do you have?” She asked. I paused and said, “We have two,”…I realized what a betrayal to William that was, “ no, we have three. We have three children but we just lost our oldest son last week.” She said the appropriate things and we found that we both had two children of the same ages. My family seldom saw her family for the next ten years; we swam in different inlets of the lake.
Several years ago,, I got a phone call: “Salley, this is Suzanne from across the street at the lake. I remember you had a son who died. I need you today. My beautiful son committed suicide this past weekend.”
The next year, my husband and I met Suzanne as we got out of the car and invited her to walk down to the dock with us to watch the sunset. As we sat with our feet dangling in the water, Suzanne said, “I need to share what happened to me a couple of months ago.” Her story is yet another gift I have been given:
“I was driving and saying to God what I have been saying ever since my boy died, “I need to see his face, I need to see his face, I need to see his face.” (Please do not miss the significance of this mother’s desperate need. Her son had shot himself.) “Suddenly, there in the sky, was his face! And where his eyes were, the blue sky was shining through and the rays of the sun were shining through and he looked like he was laughing.”
“I watched his face until it had disappeared, saying, ‘Thank you, God, thank you, God, thank you, God.’ When I got home, before I could tell my husband about what I had seen, we both got a text from my son’s girlfriend. She asked if we were together and texted that she wanted to send us something. I said to Tim, “She’s going to send us a picture of Benton’s face in the clouds.” Then there it was, the exact thing I had seen. But his girlfriend had been at the lake, an hour away from where I was driving; her picture showed Benton’s face in the clouds above a boat dock and the lake water.”
My husband and I have had some amazing things happen to us so we were not about to question this supernatural vision. We continued to watch the sunset and then I asked a question. Please pause for a moment and stretch your mind as to what I could have asked... What would you have asked?
“Can I see the picture?” Her phone was sitting there beside her. “Yes, of course!” When I tell this story, many people say, “And it was only clouds?”
No! This photo showed the most exquisitely beautiful young man’s face in the clouds. He had blue blue eyes from the sky and crinkly laugh rays from the sun. “Is this Benton?” Suzanne’s reply, “ Yes!” “Can I see it?” John asked. “Wow.”
“And do you want to see something really neat?” Suzanne asked, as if what we had seen wasn’t neat enough. “Look in the water,” and she zoomed into the lake water of the picture, “Here is Benton as a little boy!” And there it was, a little boy’s face perfectly contained in the texture of the ripples! “Is this Benton as a little boy?” “Yes.”
Several years ago, I got to know a young woman named Lane who worked with the first nonprofit that the 29:11 Story was associated with. She was the administrator for a new little Christian preschool. The first time I shared this story with some of the women of the 29:11 Story Ministry, Lane was visiting, “You do know that Benton was my cousin? Suzanne is my aunt.” Amazing to me how God works. “Have you seen the picture?” “Of course!” “And does it look like Benton?” Here Lane corrected me, “It is Benton.”
I weary God. I know I do. Like Jacob, I wrestle with things beyond my natural eyesight. Like Thomas I have to see to believe, “Can I see the picture?” Very often, I ask my husband, “Did you see that boy’s face in the clouds?”