Delivered: April 7, 2013; Scripture Text: John 20:19-31
It was the early 1600s. Many parts of the world, up until this point, had lived independently of one another. Travel was difficult and dangerous. The seas were unforgiving. Many people with the desire to explore had gone off to satisfy their curiosity only to meet terrible fates, never to return home again.
But by the early 1600s, the times, they were a-changing!
Advances in maritime technology had made the seas more passable than they had ever been before. Great ships now sailed across the waters, carrying massive crews of curious men and women to places they never knew existed.
The easy-to-access sea ports were no longer the only destinations. Now, no-so-easy-to-access and remote places were on adventurous people’s agendas.
Dreamers couldn’t help but think that is so much wealth and prosperity could find its way across the deserts and treacherous terrains to the ships waiting in those sea port towns, just imagine how much more must be still hiding in those distant places.
With ambitions of riches and fame and having entire new lands named after them, captains eagerly assembled crews of adventure-loving seafarers and set off for unknown, unchartered places.
It was around this time that a ship from Portugal made its way to the remote ends of India—a place unmapped and still yet unexplored by western curiosity-seekers.
India was full of spices and dyes and goods that had been making western men rich.
And it was full of exotic religions and exotic people speaking exotic languages and living in exotic ways.
The possibilities for exploration, for finding something new, were endless!
The Portuguese had come, hoping to find something that would make them wealthy. Something that would make them famous. But they had also come with a mission given to them by the church that had helped to fund their journey— they were going to carry the teachings of the Gospel to this exotic, strange land.
As far as anyone knew, these Portuguese adventurers were the only westerners to touch this remote land, so they assumed they were bringing their faith to a land that had never heard it.
But when they anchored ship and come ashore they were greeted by a group of… Christians?
It turns out that a full millennia and a half before the Portuguese mastered the art of sea travel and ventured to new places not listed on their maps, Saint Thomas—The Apostle—the one we just read about—the doubting Apostle—had set out on foot to spread the word that he had first proclaimed in that locked upper room so long ago—that Jesus Christ is “Lord and God.”
Thomas had been so passionate about sharing that message that he went further than any of the other apostles went.
He went, and went, and went—and when he go to the edge of the Roman Empire, a place that most people of his generation considered the end of the world, he went further.
He crossed over into India because he knew some of his Jewish brothers and sisters had gone there to escape the oppression of the Romans.
And then he went further.
He crossed from one side of India to the other, spreading the message, and making believers as he went.
So, more than 1500 years later, when the Portuguese finally showed up to be the first preachers of the gospel on this strange land, they found the Gospel of Jesus Christ had already found its way there!
Now, there are two things I hope you take away from this.
First, is that the story of Doubting Thomas is not a story about Thomas at all, but a story about the abundance of God’s grace.
Sometimes we give Thomas a pretty raw deal. We have come to use his name as a pejorative when talking about skeptics who refuse to believe without having seemingly impossible proof before them. “Don’t be such a Doubting Thomas!” we tell people who meet our good news with negativity.
But Thomas’ doubt really wasn’t so out of line.
It’s not really so different from what you and I—and the rest of the disciples—would’ve felt after watching Jesus die on a cross.
Thomas, for whatever reason, was not with his friends when they gathered together in that locked upper room to share in the evening meal together—to remember what Jesus had told them to do at that last dinner they had shared with him.
Maybe Thomas was still grieving.
Maybe he was afraid.
Maybe he had given up all hope.
But when his friends came to him later and told him what he missed by not being there…well…it was hard accept.
Jesus—who had nails driven through his hands and feet; Jesus–who had had a spear driven into his side; Jesus–who had been wrapped in burial cloths and laid in the tomb—had come to them?
Through a locked door?
Now, that’s just crazy.
Of course he doubted that.
His friends were clearly starting to crack under the pressure of all they had just lived through.
What he demanded to see was indeed a lot. He wouldn’t be happy with just seeing the face of Jesus— because who knows… maybe they were being fooled by a clever look-alike con artist. He wanted to see the very marks of Christ’s death before he was willing to accept it was indeed Christ who was alive.
And Jesus showed him.
Jesus showed him because this is not a story about Thomas’ doubt, but about the way Jesus Christ gave Thomas exactly what he needed in order to believe.
This is a story about Jesus’ grace.
About Christ’s abundant grace.
This is a story about a Savior who meets us where we are and gives us what we need so that we might be able to believe.
The second thing I hope you take away from this story is just how amazing the grace of Jesus is.
The grace of Jesus met Thomas, with all his doubts and hesitations, and gave him what he needed to believe and that grace was sufficient to carry Thomas to the ends of the earth and beyond, preaching the gospel.
Thomas would be martyred in India…but not before he had given the people a message of hope and grace that would take root. And that root would be so strong that 1500 years later it was still in tact.
1500 years later, that mission Thomas had started in order to fulfill the commission Jesus had given us all, was still growing strong. So, when the Portuguese landed, expecting to share the message with a people who had never heard it, they found that the grace of Jesus Christ had already been there, had already prepared the way for them.
We come to Christ with hearts filled with doubts. We have our hesitations that slow us from believing and fully accepting. We make impossible demands. But Christ meets us in those places of doubt and gives us so much grace that we can’t help but believe. And as believers, no matter where in the world we go in Jesus’ name, Christ’s grace is going before us, preparing the way.
Resources that helped me plan for this sermon:
- United Methodist General Board of Discipleship Lectionary Planning
- Learning Faith From Doubting Thomas, Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
- Feasting on the Word