Leap of Faith
Here we are in second week of Easter, the Sunday that comes after Easter and every year we have this story about Jesus appearing to the disciples and how Thomas wasn’t there the first time that he appeared to them. Thomas famously says that he will not believe unless he sees the mark of the nails in his hands, and puts his finger in them and in his side where he was pierced. The text we infamously call the Doubting Thomas text.
As I was looking at this text it was hard not to pay attention to the part about Thomas and Jesus because of how we have all come to know the text as the text about Thomas’ disbelief. What did strike me this time as I read it, is that this statement by Thomas reminds me of a group of people called agnostics. An agnostic states that there has not been sufficient proof or evidence that can prove that there is a supernatural being (aka God) or that there is enough to disprove it either. This person neither claims disbelief in God nor faith in God. Basically, it means that an agnostic is on the fence about whether or not to believe in God and tends to lean in the camp of unbelief until that moment happens when proof shows them that God actually does exist.
I have met many agnostics in my life. One of them I met while I was in college and he and I got into a good discussion about coming to faith. In college I was already on the track to enter into seminary to become a pastor and this person knew it, and he wanted to know how it was that I had enough evidence to believe in Jesus and God and that everything that the Bible says happened actually happened. Now I wasn’t trying to bow out of answering the question first but I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing withe me what his reasoning and rationale was for being in this in-between place of belief and unbelief.
He than began to tell me about how he was a chemistry major, which both he and I already knew he was, and that he for a very long part of his life was very fascinated with and trusted very strongly in the scientific method. He believed that the scientific method was the surest way to prove whether or not something was actually true or not. You form your hypothesis and you go about solving it by the means that seems most appropriate and then you form a conclusion based on the results. The results then either prove or disprove your hypothesis and from there you have your conclusion or your answer.
He then shared with me that he didn’t think that there was a way to conclude whether or not God existed. Until that day he would hold onto his memories of growing up in the church and remember all that he had been taught, but he said until the days comes when there is evidence of the existence of God and proof that the Jesus of the Bible rose from the dead he was going to remain agnostic. He wasn’t going to stop looking, but there wasn’t enough for him to believe in God.
Thomas as I mentioned at the opening of my message had a similar struggle. Thomas had been with Jesus for his ministry and had seen all of the miracles and heard from Jesus that he would die and rise again, yet when the other disciples come to share with him that they saw him and that he has been raised from the dead, Thomas wants proof. Thomas wants some hard evidence that what they are telling him is true. So a week after Jesus visited the disciples for the first time he comes again when Thomas is there and invites Thomas to do exactly what Thomas wanted in order to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Thomas got his proof and in that moment and then Thomas confesses his faith by calling him his Lord and God.
What is interesting is that as Thomas is placing his hands and fingers into Jesus wounds we hear the words from Jesus inviting Thomas to not doubt but believe. If we look up the word doubt in the Greek we actually don’t get doubt as the translation. Some of the possible translations for the Greek word ginomai include: making up your mind, receiving new information, or to experience a new state. Basically before Thomas says anything to Jesus, Jesus tells Thomas, ‘Do not experience, do not base your answer on this new information, but simply believe.’ Jesus wants Thomas to believe in Jesus not to experience him in a physical scientific evidence way.
In fact, I would say that is one of the main reasons why this Gospel was written. In the final two verses for today, , it says that Jesus did many other things that aren’t written down in this book but the ones that have been written are there so that anyone who reads this book may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that through belief you may have life in his name. If we take a look throughout John’s Gospel we will see ‘evidence’ of this very thing.
says that the Word came
says that the Word came into the world so that everyone who believed in his name would become children of God. The whole opening of John’s gospel is a summary of why the book was written and right here we see as we do in verses 30-31 that the whole reason for any of this is to come to believe and and that through believing we become children of God and receive life through him. Chapter 1 and chapter 20 mirror each other in telling us that it is through belief and faith that we come to know Jesus. Neither bookend says anything about seeing Jesus, but simply about having faith in him.
There are also stories throughout the Gospel that show us how people had faith and believed. In chapter 4 Jesus visits a well and there is a samaritan woman there and the two of them get into a discussion about water vs. living water. Just the words of Jesus amaze this woman and so she runs and tells the whole town. The samaritan woman and the town believed because of his word not because they saw him. You could say that she believed because she saw him, but she didn’t even know who he was until she met him. She believed because of his words not because of his face or his physical appearance. The story also says that the whole town believed her and thus believed in Jesus and they certainly hadn’t met Jesus but believed in his word.
chapter 4 samaritan woman and the town believed because of his word not because they saw him.
Later in chapter 4 Jesus heals the officials son. Jesus never sees the son and he never actually visits him. Jesus simply tells the official to go home and his son will be healed. The text tells us that the official believed Jesus and returned home. When he got home he saw that his son was healed. The official had faith that it would happen. Jesus could have sent him home and nothing could have happened, but the man had faith and his son was healed. No one in that house saw Jesus but they believed because of his word and how he kept his word.
In Chapter 6 we get a reversal of what I have been talking about. Here we have a group of Jews who demand a sign before they will believe, instead of trusting that Jesus and God will do it. They want their proof and their evidence in the presence of Jesus. If Jesus ‘performs’ for them then they will come to believe. Or maybe they won’t believe but continue to think that he has a demon inside of him and they are just using this as evidence to have him killed. The Jews demand signs and Jesus is unwilling to perform for them.
One final example comes from Chapter 9 where Jesus encounters a man who is blind. Jesus spits into his hands and makes mud out of the dirt and places it on the blind man’s eyes. The blind man trusts Jesus and washes in the pool of Siloam to receive his sight. The blind man could have thought he was crazy by placing dirt mixed with spit and going to a pool to wash it off, but he had faith, he believed and trusted in the word of Jesus and through that he received his sight.
There are lots of other stories from the other gospels that talk about how it was through faith that people came to Jesus and were healed and became his disciples, but if we looked at all of them we would be here all day. If we take a look at the very end of John’s gospel we see those same words uttered. If we wrote down and talked about everything that Jesus did into books the whole word could not contain what was done.
We see throughout the Gospel of John that people came to believe in Jesus because of his words not because they saw him. This all happens, I believe, because the beginning ofJohn’s gospel tells us that the light was the word of God. Everything Jesus said was, and is, the word of God. People believed in the word and through believing they had faith and through faith they became children of God and were given life. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe. In other words, blessed are those who have heard the Word and believe. John wants to emphasize our trust and our belief in the words of Jesus because they are the Word of God.
When I answered my friend in college about why I believe without empirical evidence, I simply told him this, “I look around this world and see how wondrously and intimately this world was created and I can’t help but believe that it was made by God. Because I can’t help but believe that God made it, I trust and believe the words of the Bible and how they are faithful and true.”.
Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Do not experience faith based on putting your fingers in my hands and side, but believe’. I pray for all of us, that through this Easter season and beyond we may experience the peace of God and trust and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, risen from the dead, and that through believing in his Word you may have life in his name.