The Dim Embers
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The embers of Thomas’s faith were glowing dim, but they were still alight. We must not think that he had rejected all this business about Jesus, and that his faith had been extinguished. A week after he’d dismissed the claim from the other disciples that they had seen Christ, he was still with them. He hadn’t turned his back on them entirely, He was still there, but doubtful. The flame of faith was flickering, but was still burning.
Jesus’ response to Thomas is gracious. He offers Thomas the proof which he needed, but when Jesus is standing in front of you what more proof do you need! “Do not disbelieve, but believe” he coaxes, and from Thomas’ lips comes the first recorded confession of Jesus’ divinity: “my Lord and my God”. This doubting disciple becomes the first to recognise that Jesus is God. What a transformation!
This pattern is one which we see throughout the gospels. Think of those two disciples who were making their way to Emmaus when they unwittingly met Jesus. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”, they had said with disappointment in their voices (Luke 24:21). Rather than wearily shaking his head and walking on, Jesus takes the embers of their faith and shows them how the Old Testament both refers to him, and predicts his death and resurrection. Later, they remember: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Think of the leper who, faltering, knelt before Jesus: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2). He did not quite summon up the courage to ask for healing, but nonetheless Jesus stretched out his hand: “I will; be clean”. His words are echoed by the poor father whose son convulsed on the ground at the feet of Christ. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for the one who believes” replied Jesus. The father straightaway blurted out “I believe; help my unbelief”. (Mark 9:22-24). And the child was healed.
We must never forget that Christ is compassionate, and does not despise those who find faith a struggle. He delights to take the small mustard seeds of faith, and allow them to grow into a mighty tree. Not all Christians grow at the same rate, and not all of the Christian life is full of faith. Some are weak in their faith, and others stumble from time to time as they follow Christ. Be nor afraid, but come faltering to the saviour!
But us turn our gaze once more on Jesus. His is the compassionate face we should remember when we pray. His tenderness is the quality we should trust in when we feel weak. His willingness to take the smallest faith and fan it into flame should be the principle on which we rely. The love of God is not simply an emotion, but is active. Throw yourself upon his mercy, and he will hold you fast. He will never let you down, even when you let yourself down!
So allow his words to Thomas settle into your consciousness and transform you: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”