You have all heard the expression “Seeing is believing”. People have been saying that for almost two-thousand years – since this exchange between Thomas and Jesus. But the principle has been around a lot longer. In our reading today from Exodus 4, Aaron performed miraculous signs in front of the elders of the Israelites – and they believed. But today, you cannot believe everything you see.
We’ve known for decades that airbrushing techniques and multiple exposures in the darkroom could change the truth in a photograph into a lie. In the late 19th century, people would combine images to try to prove that they really had fairies fluttering around in their gardens – or that their homes truly had ghosts haunting them.
That no longer required professionals now that we have digital images which can be manipulated easily by anyone with the right app. About ten years ago, we took a group picture of all the kids and staff at Kirkwood’s African Safari Vacation Bible School. Everybody was assembled outside and the picture turned out great.
But before we had the group picture printed, Diane said it would have been so much better had we brought the 12-foot wood-and-cardboard giraffe from the Fellowship Hall outside for the photo – and she was right. But not to worry. Photoshop allowed me to put the giraffe in the photo – with his head and neck sticking up from behind a bush.
Still – if you see something right in front of you, it has to be real – right?
As holograms and Virtual Reality get more sophisticated, and Artificial Intelligence starts to interact directly with the human brain, maybe we won’t be able to trust any of our senses.
For the disciple Thomas, reality was not that complicated – but he still needed some solid physical evidence that Jesus was alive. As was the case with the women at the tomb and the other disciples on the first Easter, what they heard and then saw conflicted with the general rule that dead people don’t come back to life – at least not in this life. There were a few exceptions – Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus, to name two – but they were raised by Jesus. Can we blame any of them for doubting that Jesus – once dead – could raise Himself?
And we certainly shouldn’t be so tough on Thomas – because he was not with the other 10 disciples when Jesus appeared to them the week before. The others had seen and believed. Thomas wasn’t there yet, because he had not yet seen. He had only heard from the others that their Mentor was alive – and their repeated efforts to convince him had failed.
What sets Thomas apart from the others is that he was not willing to let seeing alone bring him to the point of believing. He wanted more proof:
“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 is the only Gospel writer to tell this story. I believe the Holy Spirit moved him to include it because of a false teaching known as Docetism that would soon arise. Its name comes from the Greek word “to seem.” Not long after Jesus ascended into heaven, people started to suggest that Jesus was all God, but not at all human. He only seemed to have a real body – so He only seemed to die and only seemed to rise from the dead. John addresses the same heresy in his three pastoral letters – and begins the first letter with these words:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
Thomas wants to touch Jesus’ wounds – and turns pretty gruesome with his demand to place his hand into the opening in Jesus’ side, made by the soldier’s spear. But can we blame him? Does Thomas make the request because he is the most cynical of the disciples? Or does he because he wants to be absolutely sure? Yes, seeing can be believing – but confirming it with another of the five senses will tell him that Jesus has not come back as a ghost, but as a living, breathing, man.
So did Thomas really earn His reputation as “Doubting Thomas”? Or did he simply want to be prepared for all the questions that he would certainly get when He proclaimed the resurrection to others?
As the story plays out, seeing was believing for Thomas. It helped that Jesus offers exactly what Thomas had requested – but after seeing the risen Jesus, he did not need to touch the wounds to believe.
And as Jesus challenges him “do not be disbelieving, but believing”,
Thomas then put into words a truth that none of the other disciples had stated up to this point – not even Peter. All he says in response to Jesus is, “My Lord and my God.”
Do you catch the power of that declaration? Thomas has gone from unbelieving to making the first statement of faith in Jesus as God. Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of the Living God.
But people have quibbled ever since over what “Son of God” means.
Doubting Thomas leaves no room for doubt. He confesses Jesus as Lord and God. And yet, Thomas’s faith still falls short. Jesus pointed that out when He said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Guess what? Not one of us here this morning has seen the risen Jesus. And yet we are here because we believe that Jesus is the Lord God and we believe that He rose from the dead. So we are blessed. We have Jesus’ own word on that. We are blessed to believe, and we are blessed because we believe.
Sadly, we are just a small part of a much larger community – most of which
does not believe – in part, because they have not seen. But how are they to see the risen Jesus?
In us. Certainly, we are to tell others about Jesus – but it helps them to believe if they see Jesus in us. If we profess our faith in actions as well as in words.
The Coptic Orthodox tradition teaches that Thomas went east with the Gospel, sharing the Good News of Jesus with people in India – and by feeding the poor, healing the sick, and even raising the dead. So many people came to believe by seeing Jesus in him.
God may never use us to raise the dead, but we can obey His command to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners.
Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision, likes to say that “we may be the only Jesus some people ever see.” He wrote in one of his daily devotionals:
As followers of Christ, we bear the responsibility of demonstrating to the world what Jesus might look like were He to walk the earth today. Those who will never enter the door of a church or read a Bible or hear a sermon can still know Jesus by watching us!”
That is a heavy responsibility – showing the world what Jesus would be like. How many of us really act like Jesus all the time? Every action, every reaction to people, every word, every attitude, is seen by the world as a representation of our Savior. So we must be constantly aware of whether we are living as Jesus would live – because the world is watching.
Not everyone must see to believe – but what a blessing it would be to know that someone believes because they saw Jesus in us! Amen.