My friend Dustin told me a story recently about something he saw on his way to work. Dustin lives in Washington, D.C. He was driving down a busy road in a residential area to get to the highway. While he as stopped at a light, he looked around waiting ‘til the light to turn green. He saw a woman come out of her house and walk to her car. She seemed to be leaving for work. Dustin said the woman was wearing a colorful blouse under a black jacket, heals, and that’s it. Apparently, she couldn’t decide between a skirt or pants so chose neither.
This is most people’s worst nightmare. She had left the house and was walking to her car in broad daylight for the whole neighborhood and all the passers-by to see. Many of us have had dreams about leaving the house or being somewhere without clothing. It’s a fear of embarrassment that we all share. That fear of personal embarrassment is an individual fear. That’s not the type of fear that had the Disciples locked up behind closed doors. The Disciples had a collective fear that each individual held for their group.
Verse 19 says the doors were locked for fear of the Jews. Their fear was not for their physical lives. It was for their participation in the synagogue. The Pharisees had decided to ban from the synagogue anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. The Temple authorities who are the Pharisees were the ones that the Disciples feared and gathered behind locked doors to hide from. The cowering community of Disciples was afraid of being kicked out of their religious congregation.
The cowering community of Disciples was afraid of being asked who Jesus was. If they told the Jews the truth, they wouldn’t be allowed to go to the synagogue to worship God and read the Scriptures. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Disciples shut themselves in away from the world to regroup.
Then, Jesus penetrates those locked doors to bring them peace. I don’t know about you, but having a friend back from the grave appear in my house would freak me out! The Disciples, on the other hand, saw his pierced hands and feet and rejoiced that the Lord was with them.
They had been trying to figure out what to do next and Jesus had the answer. He sends them out. Jesus says, “As God sent me, so I send you.” The Crucified Christ calls on the Disciples to continue His ministry.
Before the Disciples can go out, they have to fully understand the enormous significance of his resurrection. The Disciples have to grasp the reality that Jesus is really risen. They are not seeing a ghost or an illusion. It was not a spirit. Jesus had actually been physically raised from the dead. Thomas’ question proves to us that Jesus was there in the flesh with the Disciples. If they were just seeing a ghost, Thomas would not be able to stick his finger in the pierced holes.
Thomas’ question is a reminder to us that our witness will cause others to want to see the Risen Christ for themselves. Like, when Mary came back from the empty tomb on Easter morning, Simon Peter had to go down to the empty tomb to see for himself. Thomas wants to see the risen Christ for himself. It is the witness of the others that cause Simon Peter to run to the empty grave to see it for himself and Thomas to ask to put his finger in the mark of the nails. Thomas believes because he was able to confirm for himself that Jesus was really alive. That’s a better understanding of Thomas’ dilemma than doubt. Thomas didn’t doubt Christ’s resurrection; Thomas wanted to see for himself.
The Greek word pistuo in this text is often mistranslated as doubt, but it would be more appropriately translated as unbelief. There is a difference between Unbelieving Thomas and Doubting Thomas. Doubt and unbelief are very different. Doubt is going easy on Thomas. Doubt is questioning the belief or being skeptical. Unbelief is no belief, no faith, no question. The English doubt really doesn’t do justice to Thomas’ refusal to believe. Thomas says, in the Greek, that he will not never ever, under no circumstances believe. It’s going to take him sticking his finger in the nail marks on Jesus hands for him to believe the news of Christ’s resurrection.
While we’re on the Greek word pistuo, let’s talk a little more about believing. Pistuo is a profound word. Pistuo is a verb. It means to believe, to trust in, to entrust oneself to. Pistuo requires action. Pistuo is not just having faith like a one way ticket to Heaven that you put in your wallet until it’s needed. Pistuo is faithing. If the English language had a verb for the action of faith, that would be the most appropriate translation of pistuo.
I’d like for us to add the verb faithe to our vocabulary. As we live out our faith, we will have an active faith. Faithing will be the Disciples response to Jesus who will now send them into the world. Jesus said that he would send the Disciples to carry on his ministry to reveal God to the world by teaching and healing and performing miracles.
Now that all the Disciples, including Thomas, believe that Jesus is risen, trust in Jesus, entrust themselves to Jesus, their faith is activated to reveal God to the world. Basically, sharing Jesus Christ is believing in Jesus Christ. Hopefully, our witness will cause someone else to want to see and experience Christ. Our faith is strengthened when we share the Good News.
I came across this story written by a woman of the Disciples Women’s Ministries about one man’s courage to act in faith.
“You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.
An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” En masse the crowd arose as one and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”
We are people of RESURRECTION” and We have a story to tell. Like the Disciples had the story of all of the miracles they witnessed, we have a story to tell. With the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ to forgive, we are sent out to continue Christ’s ministry of making God known to the world. There’s no need to be a cowering community about sharing the Good News of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.