Not Unbelieving But Believing - Part 1 (John 20:24-26)
Good morning everyone. If we could take our Bibles and open them to John 20:24, we’ll maybe make it through verse 29 today, probably not, maybe verse 27, we’ll see. But the title of our message this morning is Not Unbelieving But Believing. And it’s sort of funny, I had been praying, I said Lord, You know, we need to let these people out of church early every once in a while; we need to beat the Baptists to the cafeteria at least one time. So I guess last week was it. But if you didn’t get the e-mail one of the things I started experiencing as I was sitting there is these intense stomach pains, and I’ve preached sick, half-dead, flu, and I just could not get up and do it. So I thought I was having some kind of heart attack, having never having a heart attack, maybe I’m having a heart attack. We went to the ER and they gave me some medicine and whatever was going on disappeared immediately, and I haven’t let that medicine out of my sight for a week. So I just went through my normal work week at College of Biblical Studies almost like nothing ever happened. I do have a specialist appointment, they wouldn’t let me see him until June, so I have to hang on until then.
Of course, I want to wish everybody a very happy Memorial Day, it’s not Memorial Day today but it’s Memorial Day weekend. And of course, this is the time where we honor the fact that freedom isn’t free, so we honor the brave men and women who serve our country and those who gave their lives to preserve freedom. And beyond that I had an announcement I was going to make last week and I didn’t get a chance to make it so here it is in my notes again. I just got reminded of it because I didn’t have to do any sermon prep this week, it was great. We, unfortunately have lost Melanie, she didn’t die, Melanie has been our church secretary, one of our two church secretaries since, I think 2007. She handles all of our accounting and payroll and all of those kinds of things. And she got a wonderful ministry opportunity at her home church Beth Messiah, and she’s basically going to be over children’s ministry. So she’s going to be designing children’s ministry and she’s going to have a lot of administrative leeway over that, so we, as the staff and the elders were sorry to see her go but we’re also happy for her because we think this is a great fit for her.
But the good news is we haven’t lost her completely; since her church meets on Saturday she’s still free on Sunday so she’s going to be in the office during church hours, taking care of accounting and things like that, so she won’t be here during the week but she will be putting in about four hours a weekend on Sundays. So you might come into church and see her back there feverishly working and that’s what she’s doing.
Then to sort of pick up the slack, because she was handling a lot of other administrative type issues, we, as the elders, decided to hire Dr. Jim McGowan to fill that role. Some of you may remember Jim McGowan, he was our Christian education pastor here, I think up until about the beginning of 2010. If you call the office and hear his voice or see him in there that’s what that’s all about. As a matter of fact, for those of you who don’t know Jim, Jim can you stand up just for a second so we can all get a gander, and thank you for letting us call you out of retirement; I appreciate that.
John 20:24, we are continuing our movement through the Gospel of John, and as you know, we find ourselves in that final section of John which involves the death of Jesus and His resurrection. We’ve already covered His death and now we’re moving into, or have been studying actually for quite a few weeks the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This section is in chapters 20 and 21; it begins with the empty tomb, that’s in John 20:1-10, and what follows are about five post resurrection appearances of Jesus. So He’s appearing to five groups or people and that is how John’s Gospel concludes.
So He has appeared to Mary Magdalene, we saw that in chapter 20, verses 11-18; and then He has appeared to, that very Sunday that He rose from the dead, He has appeared to a group of disciples that we call the ten. Judas isn’t there any longer, and of course, Thomas is not in that group. But He appears to them and He reveals to them tremendous truths.
And then what happens the next Sunday is Jesus reappears to this same crowd; they are in the same location, probably I would guess the Upper Room, but this time Thomas, so-called Doubting Thomas, is present, and so we have this whole interaction that Jesus has with this man named Thomas. In verses 24-25 we see Thomas’ reluctance. This is a guy that just does not want to believe that Jesus has resurrected as he said He would. And then what follows in verses 26-29 is a growing recognition. Thomas begins to recognize that Jesus, in fact, has risen from the dead because Jesus has appeared to Thomas in a very special way. And that’s what takes place there in verses 26-29.
But it is very interesting that John is the only Gospel writer who recorded this post resurrection appearance to Thomas. We don’t have any record of this, that I can remember, in Matthew, Mark or Luke; it’s material that seems to be unique to John. And, of course, why would John go into this information? Because John, in his Gospel, has an agenda; his agenda is to set forth Jesus Christ, explain who Jesus is, as the Son of God and the Christ. And John’s hope is that the reader would exercise faith in Jesus Christ and consequently be saved and experience the gift of life.
John is all about conversions, so it stands to reason that John would record information about this man, Thomas, as we watch His conversion here on the spot. John, of course, is including this information under the power of the Holy Spirit in hopes that other individuals and doubters, like Thomas, may respond in faith. You might know people, or you yourself might be such a person; you have a lot of doubts about Christianity. Thomas was one of those individuals, and yet we see how the Lord gradually worked with him and worked with him in a very special way, worked with him in a very caring way, and orchestrated circumstances whereby Thomas would come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Thomas, of course, has no corner on God because God is the same yesterday, today and forever. And so God desires all men to be saved. And so the same type of care that He exhibited to Thomas is the same type of care He exhibits to you, it’s the same type of care He exhibits to me. He works with us where we are at, many times condescending to our level so that we can be saved, because at the end of the day God wants people in heaven with Him.
And that, by the way, is one of the reasons the gospel is so simple. The only reason the gospel is complicated is we, as the church, have made it complicated. But when we study the Bible the gospel is very simple. God has designed it in a simple way because God wants people saved and in heaven with Him. And He is willing to work with people in great patience and forbearance to see that that would become a reality for people, because at the end of the day God loves people. And we see this here in His work with Thomas.
But notice, if you will, Thomas’ initial reluctance, and the reason for his reluctance, or his reticence, or his unwillingness to believe, is found there in John 20:24. Notice if you will what the passage says, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” Now Jesus has appeared to the ten in the prior Sunday. And as you drop down to verse 26, it says “eight days” have elapsed. So we are now in the very next Sunday, the Sunday after Jesus bodily rose from the grave, rose from the dead. Now this group of disciples is in that same location; the doors are shut, but this time Thomas is with them.
Why was Thomas unwilling to believe? Very simply put, Thomas was not present when Jesus bodily appeared to the ten the prior week. Now we’re not really given the reason as to why Thomas was not present. Maybe he had a valid excuse; maybe he felt like he was having a heart attack or something along those lines. But the fact of the matter is, Thomas missed out on a blessing which he could have had if he had just been present. Thomas spends an entire week not at the same level at the other disciples were at. He spends an entire week in despair; he spends an entire week in unbelief; he spends an entire week lacking in faith, not understanding who Jesus really was. Why? Because he just was not present, for whatever reason.
And of course, I’m reminded very much of the book of Hebrews, chapter 10 and verse 25 which says this: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The fact of the matter is God wants to bless you; God wants to disclose Himself to you. God wants your level of understanding to increase; He wants you to be encouraged. But God has designed things in such a way that much of that blessing that we receive comes from His work through the local church. And if the local church is not a priority in our lives we somehow have this misguided idea that we’re cheating God. Well, I’m going to miss church this month, or this week, or this year, and boy, I’m getting God back. What a silly way of thinking; we don’t cheat God. How can you cheat God? We cheat ourselves.
Why is that? Because God has designed the church in such a way that it is where the gifts of the Holy Spirit are faithfully ministered. And one of the great purposes of the church is the edification of the saints. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are designed by the Holy Spirit, not for the wielder of the gift or gifts, but to fortify and to edify the body of Christ. The gift of teaching and preaching we think of, but that’s just one of many gifts that God has given to the New Testament church. There are a plethora of other gifts. And as we avail ourselves to those gifts we find ourselves in a place of strength; we find ourselves in a place of fortitude. But if local church assembly is really not much of a priority for us, it’s like missing a meal; we lack the strength and the resolve that we need for the tribulations and trials of life, simply because we have not availed ourselves to the resources of the local church.
That’s why we have this command in the book, of Hebrews “not forsaking our own assembling together….” Barkley, in his commentary, says this: We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and when we try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s church which will not happen to us when we’re alone.” There are things that God wants to show you, reveal to you, strengthen you, that will only take place in the context of a local church. Of course, the church is not a building; we are fortunate here to be meeting in this building or this facility, but the early church simply met in homes and houses. The church is where God’s people are; where they are regularly gathered. And God has given to the body of Christ various gifts of the Spirit, and as these gifts of the Spirit are faithfully administered we become fortified for the week. So Thomas was in a state that the other disciples were not in. Why is that? For whatever reason, assembling together with them was not a priority for him.
One of the things that’s very troubling to watch and you don’t really recognize this until you actually become a pastor of a local church, is sort of a revolving door in the body of Christ. People leave one church because they are upset and they show up at your church and you get on the phone with a prior pastor and you try to figure out why are these people showing up at our church, and the answer you get is well, it’s basically your turn to babysit these folks for a while; you know, they’ve made the rounds. And so then they get upset about something else and then they go to another church, and it’s almost like a revolving door, they just bounce from place to place like a ping pong ball in a ping pong machine.
And that is such a far cry from the design of the local church. We simply will not receive the blessings that God wants to give us until we become committed to a local assembly of believers. And I realize that there are people out there trying to find the perfect church. Let me let you in on a little secret: if you find the perfect church don’t join it because you’ll end up ruining it. The fact of the matter is, there are no perfect churches and the reason there are no perfect churches is because churches have people in them. People are beset by the sin nature. As long as there’s people there’s going to be problems. And if you’re in a church with no people then you have another problem, right?
So people have this idea that they’re going to come to church and everything is just going to be pristine; no problems, no personality conflicts, everything is on the up and up; we’re all in this sort of resurrected sanctified state. And the fact of the matter is that’s not a reality. But you become blessed in God when you become committed to a local church. It’s like being married; you become blessed in God when you commit yourself to an imperfect person. And by the way, that’s what love is; people define love as an emotion, or as a feeling, or as some kind of euphoria, but love is simply an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. The two of you are committed to one another despite your many, many warts, so to speak.
And that’s basically what a church is. In marriage you’re blessed as you walk out that commitment; in the life of the church you are blessed as you walk out that commitment to a local assembly of believers. I’m not really in the business of trying to tell people where to go to church, just that they need to find a church and be committed to it, and watch God begin to bless and unfold things to you that you never thought possible.
So Thomas missed the blessing simply by his absence. You’ll notice also here in verse 24 that Thomas is called Didymus; Thomas is his Greek name, Didymus is his Aramaic name. And the reason John is explaining these Aramaic terms and Hebrew terms as he’s done many, many times in this book, John 5:2, John 19:13, 17, 20. [John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.” John 19:13, “…and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” 19:17, “They took Jesus, therefore, and he went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of the Skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.” 19:20, “Therefore may of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified near the city was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.”]
John always explains to his audience what these Hebrew, or Aramaic terms mean is because John is writing to an audience that knows virtually nothing about the things of God. They don’t know anything about Jewish history, because John, at the end of his life, found himself in Ephesus and in Ephesus he was the last living eyewitness to the things of Jesus Christ. And from Ephesus he was, as the last living apostle, exercising authority as sort of a bishop, if you will, over multiple churches in Asia Minor.
So John is writing to an audience that is removed from the land of Israel, that knows almost nothing about the things of God and Jewish history that preceded it. Now why is that interesting? Because this gives us insight as to why John’s Gospel is written. John’s Gospel, as we have said many times, is written to the person with the lowest common denominator of spiritual truth. It’s not written to the religiously educated person; it’s not even written to the believer. It’s written to the unbeliever and this is why, if you are investigating the things of Christ, and you’re unsure and you don’t know much about Christianity, then the very best book you could possibly study is John’s Gospel. That’s why the Holy Spirit has given us this book and we need to become sensitive to this in our evangelism.
Many times we direct people to the wrong book; we assume that people know more than they really do. And this is, of course, the greatest error that you could make in teaching, is you assume your audience or your students are at a certain level, but the fact of the matter is nine times out of ten they are far below what you anticipated. And so the climate that we’re living in today in the United States of America is a post-Christian climate. There are people all around us that know virtually nothing about Christianity. As a matter of fact, if you use the word Old Testament, New Testament, they might not even know what that is.
And there’s a little girl that comes over to our house, she lives on our street, she comes over to play with our daughter and my wife overheard the two of them talking, and Sarah, my daughter, was mentioning something about Abraham, and she heard this little girl say well, who is Abraham? Sarah mentioned something about Noah and this little girl said well, who is Noah? She mentioned something about Jesus; well, who is Jesus. And this is the type of reality that we’re in. We have kids coming up that know absolutely nothing about the things of God. In prior generations you could assume a certain base of knowledge, but that base of knowledge, for whatever reason, has been wiped out.
It reminds me, very much, of the book of Judges; towards the end of the book it says, “There arose a generation that did not know the God of Israel, nor the things that He had done.” And beloved, that is exactly where we are today in this culture, a generation all around us and coming up knowing almost nothing about the things of God. And thus it’s almost as if John’s Gospel is tailor-made for our times, because that’s what John was doing when he was communicating from Ephesus to those various churches in Asia Minor.
And so notice, if you will, the reason why Thomas is in unbelief, but notice also the requirements. Thomas gets into the business, verse 25, of laying out requirements for God. Now we look at that and we say well, how arrogant is that? We don’t require God to do anything! And at first, as Thomas lays out these requirements it does seem somewhat presumptuous, but what totally blows me away about this passage is Jesus responds to the requirements. The God of human history, the God of the universe, the One that spoke and heavens and earth leapt into existence, responds to the requirements of a human being. Does that not show us how much God loves us? Does that not show us how interested He is in our eternity? If human beings meant nothing to God, why would God respond in this sort of way to these requirements of a mere man, this man, Thomas? As I said before, God loves people and He wants people in heaven with Him. That’s why He is responding in this way.
But notice, if you will, Thomas’ requirements; John 20, notice, if you will, verse 25, “So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’” Now the word, “saying” there is in the imperfect tense, and so the idea here is they kept saying this. So they were present when Jesus Christ had appeared on Sunday the prior week. And, of course, they were completely blown away by this, they were completely impressed. You get this idea from this passage that it’s all they could talk about. Thomas, of course, not being present, never received this blessing. So he’s around people that have been blessed while Thomas himself hasn’t been blessed.
So consequently notice what Thomas says as he lays down these requirements there in verse 25, “But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and but my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” You’ll notice here that Thomas had no problem believing in the death of Christ. He obviously believed in the death of Christ because as you study these requirements he’s making reference to Christ’s wounds.
It is interesting to me that there are those today that even deny Christ died. They call this the swoon theory, that Jesus really, when He was put into that tomb did not die, He kind of was in an unconscious state and He was resuscitated in the middle of the night and He snuck out of the tomb.
Frankly, beloved, it takes more faith to believe a theory like that than it does to believe the straight¬forward biblical account. It is very clear from the Bible that Jesus was “dead as a doornail” when He was put into that tomb. You might recall John 19:30, it says, “He bowed his head and gave up His spirit.” You might recall John 19:33-34 where they did not need to break the legs of Jesus Christ because after all, Jesus was already dead. [John 19:33, “but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.  But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”]
So it’s very clear that Jesus died. Thomas believed in the death of Christ, unlike many people today. What was troubling to Thomas, though, is not His death but His resurrection. And how critical it is and how important it is to believe, not just in the death of Jesus Christ, but in His bodily resurrection from the grave. You see, the resurrection makes Christ different than any other dead person that’s ever lived. Every other dead person, before they died, said, perhaps if they were insane, I’m going to rise, but guess what? None of them had. Buddha’s tomb is still full, isn’t it? Confucius tomb, still full! Mohammed’s tomb, still full! Jesus tomb is very different, isn’t it? It’s empty! And Christ said I will die and I will rise from the dead. It’s one thing to say it; it’s quite another matter to pull it off.
So the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that He is God; it proves who He claimed to be and it authenticates every other word He ever uttered. Think about this for a minute; if there is no bodily resurrection from the dead, if Jesus never rose, then how can I trust any of His other statements? But suddenly all His statements take on the scope of divine authority if this resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. Thomas believed He died, but he just never believed that Jesus Christ, this man Jesus Christ, rose from the dead.
This is why Paul, in his preaching, typically will include the resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul writes, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,  by which also you are saved if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  and that He was buried….” Now you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t stop there. Of course, the death of Christ is very significant because the death of Christ, that in His death He bore in His body the wrath of a holy God against the sins of the world. But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes, not only was He buried, but “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
We do not serve, we do not believe in a dead Messiah. We believe He did die and it was critical that He did die for the sins of the world, but on the third day He rose, bodily, from the grave. And guess what? This risen Jesus Christ is continuing His ministry as I speak, at the Father’s right hand. The ministry that he is doing as He is gifting the church, empowering the church, forgiving sins, answering prayer, and all of the plethora of things that He does, He does as a live, living Savior. If Jesus was not alive because He did not resurrect from the dead, there would be no point in praying, would there? Why would you pray to someone who is dead and has no power to alter our circum¬stances? And so you see, this concept of resurrection becomes critical to the Christian belief system.
Thomas, though, had no problem with the death; the problem he had with are all of these disciples that kept saying He has risen. So consequently Thomas lays out his requirements; once again notice, if you will, verse 25, “But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” Notice this word “believe.” The Greek word for believe is the very pisteuō, you’ll find it there in verse 25 mentioned one time.
As you go down to verse 27 you’ll see it used two times; there it’s contrasting believing and unbelieving. And as you drop down to verse 29 you see “believe” used two more times. [27, “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”]
Apparently the five-fold use of this verb, “believe” is very important to this paragraph, as John has constructed it under the guidance and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Why is this significant? Because there is utter confusion today. In fact, I’ve never seen it quite like this, where even the gospel itself is garbled, and the condition that God holds out to lost humanity, there is a lack of clarity on what we communicate to people so that they can be saved. And this is one of the reasons I wanted to do an in depth study of John’s Gospel, because I want to drive this confusion out of our church, I want to drive it out of our minds, I want to drive it out of our midst. I can’t do it, but God’s Word can do it simply by studying over and over again what He calls lost people to do, which is to believe.
Is it not interesting that John, as he writes to unbelievers, in fact, he’s the only Gospel writer writing to unbelievers (as best I can tell), uses the word “believe” ninety-nine times. How many times does he use the word “repentance?” The Greek word metanoeō. You’ll be shocked to discover that he doesn’t use that word a single time. Isn’t it interesting that John, when he is writing to unbelievers uses the word “believe” 100 times and not one single solitary reference to the word “repentance.” Because many people ask me, should I use the word repentance in my gospel presentation? Should I use the word repentance in my gospel tract? My answer is yes, IF you have an opportunity to explain what it means. There is a way to harmonize the word “repentance” so that it becomes a synonym for believe. Repentance simply means to change one’s mind; metanoeō is the Greek word; you’ll recognize the word “meta” as in metamorphosis, or change. You’ll recognize the word “meta” as in metastasized, in other words, someone’s cancer has changed from one part of their body to another, that’s never a good thing, by the way, when that happens.
But these are all derivations, if you will, from the Greek word meta, metanoeō is a compound word, two words sort of together in one word; meta is one word, noeō is the other. Now from the word noeō, that latter portion of the word, we get the word notion, or idea. Where do ideas come from? They come from the mind. What does metanoeō, repentance, mean? It means to change your mind, and if you use the word that way then it becomes a synonym for believe. For example, when a person believes what exactly are they doing? They are transferring their confidence from one to another.
When I was a teenager I heard the gospel and up until that point in time if you had asked me why am I going to heaven, my pat answer was I’m good, I’m a good person, I try hard, I’m religious, and so forth. So in other words, I was my own savior; do you see that? I was trusting in myself. But then upon hearing the gospel I believed in it, which is to have confidence in it, and simultaneously what happened is I repented, my mind changed. I changed the way from trusting in myself to trusting specifically in Jesus Christ. I believed! A synonym for it is to repent, or change my mind. But is that word, “repentance” so critical to our presentation of the gospel? Apparently not, because John is the only Gospel writer writing to unbelievers and he doesn’t even use the word a single time, although he does use the word “believe” about…what did we say? Ninety-nine times!
Should we use the word “repentance” in our gospel tracts and in our gospel tracts and in our gospel presentations? My answer is yes, if you have time to unpack the biblical definition. Most people today have no knowledge of Greek, and so when you throw at them the word “repentance,” they don’t even know what you’re talking about. You think it means one thing, and they receive it, or interpret it as something totally different. Do you know what it means to them? It means to don’t smoke, don’t chew, or don’t go with girls who do.
You toss out the word “repentance” today in this society and you don’t explain to people what it means what they think it means is clean yourself up and come to Jesus. And if we are misunder¬stood at that foundational level then we’ve just preached the wrong gospel. We’ve just preached the gospel of works. We might be very sincere in what we’re doing, but in the process of miscommunication the message got garbled. Unless you have time to unpack and a receptive teachable audience to unpack what repentance actually means, my suggestion to you is just leave the word out completely. You say well, how could you say such a thing? I’m just following John here. I mean, if that word, “repentance” was such a big deal as everybody makes it out to be, why does John never use the word a single time in evangelistic presentation.
So you’ll notice this word “believe,” Thomas simply said unless I get the evidence that my intellect craves I will not believe. The word “believe” is used about 160 times in the Greek New Testament, and it’s always held out as the single condition that people must respond to so that they can be saved. To believe means to trust. It means to rely upon. It means to have confidence in.
I’ve used this illustration many times, if you’ve heard it before bear with me. But a man named Blondin used to walk across a tightrope suspended over Niagara Falls. And he became very skilled in doing this, in fact, he because so skilled at it that he would push this wheelbarrow across this tightrope, suspended over Niagara Falls, knowing full well that if he slipped in any sense his life would be over. And it was an astonishing thing to watch, as people would gather and sit there on the sides and watch him do this over and over again. And one day he calls out to the crowd, do you believe I can do this again? And of course everybody said yes. And his answer was, okay, which one of you all wants to get in the wheelbarrow?
That’s different, isn’t it; it’s no longer intellect, now you’re having to put your trust in this man and that is essentially what Jesus requires. That is it! That is the only condition that must be satisfied to enter into a relationship with God. The moment you lose that message is the moment we preach a false message AND we deprive God of the glory that He rightfully deserves, because I know this much about God, that He will not share His glory with another. I believe that’s the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 42:8. [Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.”]
He will not share His glory with another, and so if I can somehow contribute to my salvation then I get part of the credit, don’t I? I get part of the bragging rights. If salvation is mostly faith but a little bit of works, then part of the glory goes to me. And yet God has designed it in such a way so that man never receives credit nor glory in any sense. In fact, the book of Romans, chapter 3, verse 27 says the gospel itself eliminates boasting. [Romans 3:27, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”] Does not Ephesians 2:8-9 talk about how we are saved by grace through faith; it is the free gift of God, lest any man should what? Boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”]
God is uninterested in people inhabiting heaven with Him, taking partial credit for their salvation. And this is why it’s always based on belief and believing only. Thomas has it right; I won’t put my confidence in this Man unless I see certain evidence. And frankly, we have made things so complicated, but it’s not complicated. Why would God, who loves all people and wants to see people in heaven with Him, make the presentation of the gospel complicated, where only an elite group could figure it out? That would violate who God is, would it not, in terms of His very nature. And so humanity today is populated by two kinds of people, those that have trusted in this provision and those that haven’t. It’s about that simple.
But Thomas, after he lays out these requirements, begins to experience a recognition. He begins to see the light and he actually responds, in faith, a little bit later on in these verses. Notice, if you will, verse 26, notice the manifestation. It says this, “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Lots of interesting things to talk about in verse 26. For example, notice it says “After eight days,” “After eight days His disciples were again inside,” they were together when Jesus rose from the dead, the prior Sunday, and now the very next Sunday they were gathering again. What is beginning to happen here? You have the beginning of Christian worship; the name “Christian” of course is not used; the name “Christian” doesn’t occur until Acts 11. But whatever you call this group, these believers in Yeshua, these believers in Jesus, they were starting to move into a pattern or a habit of gathering, not the last day of the week as they had been doing for one thousand five hundred years as devout Jews, but now the first day of the week.
And consequently this became the standard day that Christians began to gather together in the context of local churches and celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 20:7 says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread….” 1 Corinthians 16:2, as Paul is giving instructions for the offering, it says this: “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save,” and to provide for the offering, and so forth. So what has happened is 1500 years of history is just changing before our eyes.
And, you know, I don’t mean to sound stereotypical but some of the most stubborn people on planet earth can be Jewish. I’m not trying to put Jewish people down, I just notice that that is a dominant feature of Jewish people. Now some people think I’m partly Jewish because I’m very stubborn myself, but the fact of the matter is, they change their minds on something that they had been doing for one thousand five hundred years. How is that explicable? How is that explainable unless Jesus had bodily risen from the dead? Consequently I believe that the switch for the day of worship is one of the greatest proofs you can have that, in fact, something significant happened that prior Sunday and they wanted to recognize it in the subsequent Sunday’s to follow.
You’ll notice that this time though, eight days later, Thomas was with them so he is now in the right place, where he’s supposed to be. Notice also verse 26, “Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst.” Now this is the second time this has happened. Jesus passed through a wall in the prior Sunday to be with the ten, John 20:19, and now the exact same thing has happened. [John 20:19, “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”]
This is a manifestation, if you will, of the resurrected body. The resurrected body of Jesus Christ was not a “Casper the Ghost” scenario. It was a physical body. How do we know it was a physical body? Because Thomas is about to touch His wounds. Thomas said I’ve got to see and I’ve got to touch. Jesus appears and says go for it. So obviously Jesus was in a physical body. In fact, when we get over to John 21:12-13 we are going to find Jesus having a meal in this resurrected body, with His disciples. [John 21:12-13, “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.  This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.”] And yet it was a body that was not bound by the normal laws of nature, as we know them to be. Jesus, in this very physical body, apparently could pass right through a wall.
And I’m so encouraged by the fact that His body is a prototype, if you will, of our future glorified bodies. 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23 calls Christ’s resurrection “first fruits.” [1 Corinthians 15:20, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”  “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.”]
“First fruits” obviously was very significant in the life of Israel’s harvest cycle because first fruits guaranteed the rest of the harvest. First fruits, if it came in, was a virtual guarantee of the general harvest, which would come in later. Consequently Christ’s resurrection is a virtual guarantee from God, who cannot lie, that we too, at the appointed time, will be placed in resurrected, glorified bodies. And yet when we study Philippians 3:21 it says, “…into conformity with the body of His glory….” When we study 1 John 3:2 it says, “we will be like Him.” If you want to know what your body will be like in its resurrected state? You simply study the body of Jesus Christ and we can get a very real clue. It’s a physical body, but it’s a body which is not constrained by the normal laws of nature as we experience them today.
There is one difference though; Christ’s wounds will be visible in His glorified body. I do not believe any defects, abnormalities, or sicknesses or anything that has corrupted our physical bodies will be present, but Christ’s wounds are on display forever. Why is that? Because when you look at Jesus Christ in our glorious eternity, you are reminded, every time you see His wounds in that body, you are reminded that you are in heaven, not because of you but because of what He has done. We are perpetually reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It’s very similar to communion, isn’t it? Where we partake of the bread and the cup as reminders of what Jesus has done; isn’t it wonderful to know that throughout the ages we are reminded over and over again of the price that He paid to procure for us so great a salvation.
If all of this is true how can man brag? What bragging rights is there for human beings. These things have been brought into existence solely because of what Christ has done. I also believe very strongly that we have a very warped and a very distorted interpretation of what the afterlife will be like. You’ll notice that Jesus is very physical in this body. Did you know that the afterlife that we will experience with Him will be very physical in nature?
Revelation 5:10 says this, “You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God; and they will reign upon…” where? “the earth.” You mean we’re not going to be up in heaven sitting on clouds with white sheets and halo’s singing The Hallelujah Chorus ten gazillion times, being bored out of our minds? NO! It’s a very physical, earthly experience.
In fact, our ultimate destiny as God’s people is this earth. Now following the rapture of the church there is a seven year program for us to fulfill with Him in heaven, but then we return with Him to this planet, the very planet that Adam and Eve forfeited in Genesis 3. That authority is reestablished as Jesus is reigning over this physical world and we, as His bride, are right there with Him, ruling and reigning, in physical, real bodies. That is the reality that the Bible calls the afterlife.
And what introduced so much confusion into the church on this is the circle at the bottom there, in the south, a school of thought called Alexandria, Egypt. Origen and other allegorists were pupils and students and influenced by what happened at Alexandria, Egypt, and those in Alexandria, Egypt, a Christian center of thought, began to say you know, the Bible is literal, except when it comes to the end times that’s not literal. The Bible is literal except when it comes to all of these descriptions of an earthly kingdom, and banqueting and feasting in an earthly kingdom; that can’t be heaven, heaven is much more (what they said) spiritual than that.
Now why did they start to think that way? Alexandria Egypt had been influenced by a doctrine known as Gnosticism. Gnostics taught dualism, that the spiritual world is good and the physical world is bad. And that began to seep into their theology; according to 1 John it even started to corrupt their doctrine of the physical appearance of Jesus Christ in history. But once that school began to dominate, once it took root as people like Origen began to promulgate their doctrines and then finally Augustine in the 4th century, in his book, The City of God, began to promulgate his doctrine henceforth comes into the church the dominant view, which was a wrong view, which dominated Christianity, literally from the 4th century probably up until the 1800’s A.D.
A doctrine known as amillennialism, “a” is a negation, the word “millennium” is a Latin word, millennium is a compound Latin word, it comes from two words, mille which means a thousand, and annum which means years. An amillennialist is somebody who will say there is no future earthly kingdom, because all of these prophecies of an earthly, terrestrial, physical reality, those prophecies aren’t spiritual, I mean, being spiritual is in heaven and we’re reading all of this stuff about banqueting and feasting and eating and physical realities and we all know that the physical world is bad. And so the church has been under this cloud of confusion over this, emanating from the school of Alexandria, Egypt throughout the centuries.
And the whole thing is wrong. There is a mentality out there today that says if the majority of Christian’s believe something it must be accurate. Oh my goodness… completely false! The majority of Christians embraced amillennialism throughout the ages, and I’m here to flatly tell you that that doctrine is unbiblical. Truth does not come from a majority opinion. It never has!
In fact, Jesus, did He not say, “broad is the road that leads to destruction,” many there are that go that way, narrow is the road that leads to life and few are they which find it.” [Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”]
How do we harmonize a mindset that says the majority is always right with a statement like that, in Matthew 7? In fact, an entire generation of Jews was disinherited from Canaan; the majority of the spies came back and they said we can’t take these giants. Two guys stood up and said “let’s get ‘em,” Joshua and Caleb. And here’s another case where the majority is wrong and two guys are right.
And God, do you know what He does with people that stick with Him and His truth? He ends up vindicating them, because Joshua and Caleb entered Canaan with the next generation. Now they were “senior citizens” at that time, we might call them seasoned citizens, God shut off an entire generation because of unbelief, He started working with their kids and He says you old-timers, you few guys that believed Me forty years ago, you can enter also.
So don’t believe something just because it’s popular. Don’t believe something just because it’s “in vogue.” Don’t believe something just because it’s cool. I can’t tell you how many fads I’ve seen (in my years as a Christian) rushing through the church. And people jump on bandwagons because that’s what the majority is doing. And I’m here to tell you that the majority is frequently wrong. You test truth, not by popular vote; you test truth by is it in the Word of God.
The Alexandrian school deceived multiple generations of Christians and others just bought into this doctrine of amillennialism on the grounds that well, Augustine said it and everybody believes it and that settles it. It doesn’t matter what Augustine said or didn’t say; I’m not here to deprecate Augustine; there are things in his writings that perhaps could be useful to us. But the authority is this book right here. It isn’t even Sugar Land Bible Church; it’s not even this pulpit. This church and this pulpit and our Sunday School classes will have value to you to the extent that we are teaching what is in this book accurately. But should we depart from this book, then you should depart from our teaching and find somewhere to go where they’re going to teach you the Word of God line by line, verse by verse, precept upon precept.
And so we have in our minds this mindset that heaven is all celestial, it’s not physical at all. Part of the problem to the whole thing is John 14:2. It says, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” As many commentaries have noted, mansions, or “dwelling places” does not represent the best translation of this Greek noun, monē; “dwelling places” is the Greek noun monē. So why do we think these are mansions in the sky, because if you start seeing these things as mansions in the sky then our home is ultimately heaven. Right? Not on this earth. After all, why would God be building a mansion for me in the sky if I’m supposed to return with Him to this earth to rule and reign alongside Him?
So how did “mansions” get into our understanding of John 14:2? As many commentaries have noted, “mansion” does not represent the best translation of the Greek noun, monē. This mistranslation ultimately emanates from the Vulgate. Now from the word “Vulgate” you’ll recognize the world “vulgar,” which means common or earthy speech. The Bible was translated by Jerome into Latin around the… I don’t know, 4th century, something like that, and it became known as the Latin Vulgate. Why was it called the Latin Vulgate? It was called the Latin Vulgate because it took the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament and put into the language of the common man. And when Jerome did that translation he used the word for ‘dwellings’ that sounds an awful lot like mansions in English. I’m not sure that was Jerome’s intent but that’s what he ended up doing.
And consequently, Tyndale followed the Vulgate and used the English word “mansion.” And of course, the King James Version and many other English translations followed what Tyndale had done and they used this word “mansions” there, when the fact of the matter is, John 14:2 is not talking about mansions in the sky. What the word is, is monē which means a watch house or an inn. What is a watch house or an inn? An inn is somewhere where you reside temporarily. Why are we residing with the Lord temporarily in heaven for seven years? We are temporarily there because our ultimate destination is the earth. We are going to rule and reign with Him over the earth. And yet all of these concepts through, I believe, satanic deception have clouded our minds as to what our future actually is.
And beloved, if you don’t know where you’re going you have no perspective for today. You can’t know what to do in this life unless you know where you’ve come from and where you are going. And this celestial, Casper the Ghost, mansions in the sky, heavenly experience, is the thinking of many, many Christians, and yet there’s not a shred of evidence in the Scripture to support it. In fact, those doctrines are a consequence of great misunderstanding.
All of that to say notice the physical body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the eating that took place in this body. Revelation 22:2 says this about the afterlife, “in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month,” now a question, what do you do with fruit? Don’t you eat it? Isn’t that talking about eating and the pleasures of eating and things of that nature in the afterlife? That’s what Jesus is modeling in John 21, in His resurrected body; Thomas, in a moment, is about to touch that physical body of Jesus Christ.
Sort of finishing off verse 26, notice what Jesus says as He enters this room with the doors shut for fear of the Jews, having passed through a wall in a physical body, notice what it says, and He said, “Peace be with you.” Now this concept of peace being with you must be very important to Jesus because He’s repeated it two other times. You’ll find it mentioned in verse 19 when He appeared to the ten the prior Sunday, “Peace be with you.” And then in verse 21 He repeats the same idea, “Peace be with you,” and now as He’s appearing to the eleven, with Thomas included, eight days later He repeats it a third time, “Peace be with you.”
Why does He keep repeating it? Because you cannot understand the meaning of Christ’s ministry without that term. What is peace? Peace is a cessation of conflict. Before we trust in what Jesus Christ has done we, as fallen members, in Adam’s race, are in a state of conflict with God. In fact, the book of Romans, chapter 5, verse 10, is very clear, it says, “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to” Him, reconciled simply means the state of conflict is called off. One of the great things that God has given us is reconciliation, the conflict that existed between us and Him because of our position in Adam has been brought to a close. There’s a harmony. I remember Jacob and Esau, they didn’t get along very well, did they? And yet there’s this scene in Genesis, I believe it’s around chapter 32 and 33 where there is a reconciliation.
In other words, that’s what God has done for us. He has stepped out of eternity into time to pay a price that we couldn’t pay, so that we might, by trusting in what He has done, be reconciled unto God and yet if a human being has never embraced that provision the state of conflict between them and God continues. John 3:36 says it about as clearly as it can be said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The wrath of God is like the sword of Damocles, waiting to fall over a person at any moment.
It is very interesting to me that what Jesus did eight days, the prior Sunday, earlier, He repeats. He materialized, back with the ten, now He does that with the eleven. He passed through a door; He did that back with the ten, now He does it again with the eleven. He preached a benediction, “Peace be with you.” He did that with the ten and now He’s doing that with the eleven.
Why the repetition? Because Jesus loves Thomas and was moving heaven and earth to see that Thomas would receive the exact opportunity to believe that the others had received the prior Sunday. Did you know that God loves people to just that degree? Did you know that 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that He desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? [1 Timothy 2:3b-4, “…God our Savior,  who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”]
Did you know in 2 Peter 3:9 it says, “The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but He is patient, toward you, not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Thomas, I will go ahead and fulfill your, what seemed to be childlike criteria to God, if that’s what it will take for you to believe, I’ll do it. And Thomas has no corner on God; God loves you the same way.
And it’s very possible that there could be someone here that has never heard this and never responded to the grace offer of Jesus Christ. But it’s just as valid for Thomas as it is for us today in the year 2015. And if the Spirit of God is doing something on your life and heart as I speak, if He is convicting you of this need to enter into a relationship with the God that made you and to be reconciled unto God, then our exhortation here at Sugar Land Bible Church is to respond to that exhortation. You may not have all of the answers but the best you know how, just where you’re seated, as the Spirit of God convicts believe the gospel; exercise confidence in the gospel, respond to the gospel. It’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction.
If it’s something that you need more explanation about then I’m available after the service to talk. But it’s not a matter of joining a church, walking an aisle, raising a hand, doing any type of public display, it’s simply a matter of believing what Jesus has done. Our exhortation to you is to do that today, to do that now. The Bible teaches that today is the day of salvation; we simply do not know what tomorrow holds but you can control right now by responding to the free offer of Jesus Christ. Shall we pray?
Father, we’re grateful for Your work with Thomas and Your care. Help us, Lord, to glean truths from these verses that You have recorded for us so that we might share the gospel more accurately and understand the great love that You have for us. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. And God’s people said, Amen.