Tag Archives: Apostle

God’s People, part 172: Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.’”  (John 11:16, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

HidingCaveofStThomas2010
Rev. Todd praying in “The Hiding Cave of St. Thomas” in Chennai, India back in January of 2010. The Apostle Thomas was believed to be in hiding there on “Little Mount”, prior to being caught and martyred.

Part 172: Thomas. The Apostle Thomas often gets a bad rap as a result of one moment of disbelief. Called to be one of the Twelve, it is rather unfair for him to be given the disparaging nickname of “Doubting Thomas.” We don’t know too much about him prior to his time with Jesus, but we do know that he had the nickname of Didymos (Greek) or Didymus (Latin) or Twin. This probably is an indication that Thomas had a Twin brother; however, there is no way to be certain about that.

It is in the Gospel According to John that we gather the most information on Thomas. Upon being told that Lazarus had died and that Jesus was planning to head down to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to visit with Lazarus’ sisters, the disciples protested for fear that Jesus would get himself captured and killed. This was toward the end of Jesus’ ministry and it was known to them all that the religious leaders, Herodians and scribes were looking to arrest Jesus and have him killed.

In that moment, it was Thomas who said to the rest of the disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus” (John 11:16, NLT). For someone who often gets painted as a doubter and “wishy-washy”, this is a pretty bold statement of loyalty to Jesus and his mission. It is clear that Thomas believed they were going to all suffer the same consequence of Jesus and he, loyal to his master, was seemingly ready to suffer those consequences. At least in that moment, as later on in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thomas flees for his life just like the rest of the disciples.

While Thomas did not always get Jesus, and while he did not always understand the things Jesus taught and said, he was always engaging with Jesus and sought to have a deeper understanding. For instance, in John 14, Jesus was explaining that he was not going to be with the disciples much longer. Speaking in riddles, Jesus begins to talk about going to away to his father’s house to prepare a place for the disciples.

Most of the disciples sat quietly, dumbfounded and confused by Jesus’ exposition. The only exceptions are Thomas and, subsequently, Philip. When Jesus stated that the disciples knew the way to where Jesus was going, Thomas responded, “No, we don’t know Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To that, Jesus famously answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:5-7, NLT).

Like all of the disciples, Thomas did not quite understand just what kind of “Messiah” Jesus was. For him, and the others, Jesus was the Messiah who would conquer the Romans by force and restore Israel to her rightful place as God’s Kingdom on Earth. Thomas, along with the other disciples, was mistaken. Jesus was not a conqueror king and God’s Kingdom was far more than Israel had ever amounted to. No earthly kingdom could compare to God’s Kingdom and, as shown through the disciples’ confusion, God’s Kingdom was far different than anything the world could ever understand or accept.

So, that brings us to the moment that Thomas will be forever remembered for. When Jesus was crucified and died, Thomas was devastated as were the other disciples. He was ready to fight alongside of Jesus, even to the death; however, Jesus never fought. Instead, he willingly gave himself up, was tortured, crucified, and now he was dead. There was nothing that any of them could do to change that and they all were in a hair’s breadth of being caught by the officials and crucified themselves.

So, when Thomas is told that Jesus had resurrected, he did not believe. It was not a moment of doubt; rather, it was a moment of grief-driven disbelief. Yet, unlike the rest of the disciples who had actually placed their hands into the wounds of Christ, Thomas never even had to. The second Jesus appeared to him, he fell to his knees and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Instantly, in that moment, Thomas knew who Christ was and professed it fearlessly with conviction.

That same Thomas went on to travel one of the furthest distances of any of the Apostles. He followed the Spice Route to India and established one of the oldest in Kerala, India. From there he traveled across expansive India, proclaiming the Gospel everywhere he went until he was martyred in what is now Chennai, India, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Thomas was no feeble-minded doubter, but a person who wrestled with the complexities of being human.

We do no less and, I think, our willingness to judge and label Thomas a doubter says more about us than it does about him. We should, like Thomas, be willing to ask probing questions and to seek answers. Like Thomas, we should wrestle with our unbelief and come to terms with who we are in Christ. Like Thomas, we should profess Christ as our Lord and our God and follow him to the ends of the earth, if that is where he is calling us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It’s not your doubts that brings you down, but how you respond to them.

PRAYER
My Lord and my God, I humbly seek you out in my life and in all that I do. Remind me the way to you and to your Kingdom and guide me toward it. Amen.

Itinerant

Read Romans 15:14-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT)

pauloftarsusJust last night I was watching the film, “Paul the Apostle”. I am imagining you can tell who the film was about just by looking at the title. It is basically the Acts of the Apostles (aka the Book of Acts) acted out on the screen. It follows Saul, a young Pharisee who is determined to zealously follow God at all costs. Even as Peter and the disciples are receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and preaching to the masses about their risen Lord Jesus Christ, Saul is looking to zealously serve God by putting an end to the Jesus movement. This Saul eventually ends up approving of, and aiding in, the martyrdom of Stephen.

From there, Saul goes on to wage a bloody and violent campaign of persecution, hunting down all who would call themselves followers of the Christ. Yet, Saul was about to have a transformation unlike any of the other Apostles had ever gone through, let alone hoped it would happen to their fiercest of enemies. On the road to Damascus, Paul was blinded by a bright light and he heard the voice of Christ, whom he was persecuting, telling him to go to Damascus and wait there for Ananias to come and heal him. Of course, this does happen three days later and, upon receiving his sight back, he is told by Ananias that God has called him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles and that he (Paul) will learn how he will suffer for the Gospel.

I will now fast forward to the end of the movie, which is also where the Acts of the Apostles ends. Saul, who now goes by his Roman name Paul, is about to board a ship as a prisoner being sent to Rome. In between Paul’s awakening to the truth of Jesus the Christ and the end of his story in Acts, Paul had been on three missionary trips around the known world at the time. He had traveled throughout Judaea, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and back again. Now, he would be traveling to Rome to appeal his case before the Emperor. As we all know it, Paul would never return home again.

Paul had practiced an itinerant ministry, meaning that he didn’t just stay in one church community but moved from place to place as the Holy Spirit led him. His ministry was not to just one person, or one church community, but to all people. As John Wesley once said, the world was Paul’s parish and he had all intentions of going to Rome (albeit he was not intending to go as a prisoner) and even up to Spain should God will it. Itineracy was a reality for the Apostles and the early Christians.

In the film, as Paul was about to board the ship, his former mission partner, Barnabas, said to him, “The Lord is a hard taskmaster, too hard for me today.” Indeed, Barnabas knew he would never see his friend, his brother in Christ, ever again. He knew that Paul would go to Rome, preach to the people there and eventually find himself on the wrong side of Caesar. He knew that his beloved Paul, the one he had shared so many journeys, trials and tribulations with would become another martyr for the faith. “The Lord is a hard taskmaster, too hard for me today.”

As I sit here reflecting on the ministry of the early church, as well as my ministry, I can relate with that. I can relate with the human need for keeping things the same, for keeping things familiar, for keeping things comfortable. I have been serving in my current church for the past 5 years. During that time, I have come to love this community and I am honored to be the pastor of such a great church with a great Spirit. Yet, God does not call me to stay in one place, but to be itinerant and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Now, after five years of awesome ministry here at my current church, I am being called to serve in another one.

This is, of course, bittersweet for me. I will miss serving alongside my current church family; however, I also look forward to what God is calling me to in the future. One thing that I have learned, and something that I would like to impart to all of you who read these devotions (I will keep writing the devotions no matter where God sends me), is that God never promises us easy or comfortable. What God promises to us, if we are faithful, is that God will be with us through thick and thin. I trust that to be true, and I have experienced its truth.

The challenge for all of us is to develop that kind of trust. God is calling you somewhere too. For church members, unlike itinerant ministers, it does not mean God is calling you to leave your church family to go elsewhere (though some in the church do get called to be missionaries in other lands); however, like Ananias, God is calling you to move within your community and to go and spread the Good News. Whether that is at work, at school, at the diner, or in other places around your community, God is calling you to be willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit and to go outside your church walls and into the community around you. I pray we all answer that call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
PRAYER
Lord, open my heart up to your movement and send me to the places in my community you need me the most. Amen.