This past week I had the great privilege of attending the annual evangelism conference in Dallas. One of the featured speakers was Jim Cymbala, the long-time pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A few years back, we did a Bible study on prayer here at Calvary Baptist Church using some of Jim’s videos. His message intrigued me because it involved a passage about the apostles, which of course is our topic right now.
The gospel of Mark tells us why Jesus appointed the apostles. It states that Jesus called them first and foremost to “be with Him”. Sure, they were ultimately sent out to preach the gospel and to cast out demons, but before they could do that effectively they needed to spend time with Jesus (Mark 3:13-15). The key to having a successful ministry is simply spending an adequate amount of quality time with the Lord.
Far too many pastors and/or other religious figures spend so much time doing ministry that they neglect their personal time with Christ. As such they eventually become tired, discouraged, jaded, and even depressed. Their families and relationships are negatively impacted as well as their ministries. They become deeply discouraged and weary in well-doing all because they have failed to spend enough personal time with Jesus.
The apostles back then, just as pastors and other Christians today, are called first and most importantly to be with Jesus. The time we spend with Him gives us the strength necessary to serve and to do ministry. Apart from it, we will surely struggle. May we all rearrange our schedules as necessary to ensure that we spend a sufficient amount of quality time each day just being with Jesus.
Today’s sermon is the eighth installment of our current series “The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ”. We will be discussing Thomas. May God open our eyes and ears to the teaching of His Word.
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
The apostle Thomas is also called Didymus and “Doubting Thomas”. The name Didymus derives from the Greek and means “twin”. For this reason, most scholars conclude that Thomas was a twin. Scripture does not provide us with the identity of his twin brother. Perhaps he was another one of the apostles, perhaps not… this as a matter of speculation. Other than this, nothing is known about Thomas’ background or calling.
Thomas was an inquisitive person who didn’t hesitate to ask questions whenever he was confused about something. He was both loyal and faithful. He courageously committed to follow Jesus even unto death. Thomas is probably best known for openly doubting the Lord’s resurrection, but these doubts were short-lived. Though he has been characterized as a doubter, in fact all of the apostles doubted to some some degree or another.
None of the Biblical canon is attributed to the authorship of Thomas. However, there are several ancient writings believed to have either been written by him or named after him. These include the Acts of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas, among others. The Gospel of Thomas purportedly lists several secret sayings or quotations of Christ. These 2 books are highly untrustworthy, and some early Christians described them as spurious and heretical.
II. THOMAS’ MINISTRY WITH JESUS
The first substantial mention of Thomas in Scripture occurs during the final months of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Lord told the apostles that He was going to Bethany of Judea, where His dear friend Lazarus had just died. Due to its proximity to Jerusalem and knowing the hostility of the Jews that was prevalent there, most of the apostles were likely hesitant to make this potentially dangerous trip. But Thomas courageously spoke up and called for them all to follow Jesus, even if doing so ultimately led to their deaths (John 11:14-16).
Later, on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus was speaking words of comfort to his troubled apostles. He told them that He was going away to prepare a place for them, and that He would someday come again to receive them to Himself. Jesus then declared that they already knew the way. Thomas was confused by the Lord’s statement and basically said, “Jesus, we don’t know where You’re going or how to get there.” In response to Thomas’ honest admission Jesus taught that He alone is the only way to gain entrance into heaven (John 14:1-6).
On the evening of the Lord’s resurrection day, Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room. For some unknown reason Thomas was not there with them that night. Later, when they told him that they’d seen and spoken with the risen Christ, Thomas simply couldn’t believe it. Despite their testimony Thomas still had serious doubts about the resurrection. A week later Jesus appeared in the upper room again, and this time Thomas was present. The risen Jesus addressed Thomas directly and showed him His pierced hands and side. Broken, Thomas repented of his doubts and proclaimed Jesus as his Lord and his God (John 20:19-29).
Thomas was 1 of the 7 apostles who were present with the risen Jesus during the breakfast by the sea (John 21:2). He heard the Great Commission on the mountaintop in Galilee. He saw Jesus ascend into Heaven. Thomas personally walked with and experienced many marvelous things during his time with Jesus.
III. THOMAS’ MINISTRY AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
After the ascension, Thomas remained in Jerusalem with the other apostles for approximately 10 days until Pentecost (Acts 1:13). Once anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Thomas left Judea and became a missionary to the nations. He faithfully did his part to carry the message of Jesus to the world.
According to tradition Thomas travelled eastward to India where he worked tirelessly to establish the church. He is known as the Patron Saint of India. Some reports state that he went even farther into Indonesia preaching the message of Christ. It is believed that Thomas died in India as a martyr after being stabbed with a spear. This is ironic considering that Thomas is often remembered for wanting to see and touch Jesus’ spear-pierced side.
Unfortunately, many people remember Thomas as a doubter. But can I ask you, who among us has never doubted? If we are honest, all of us must admit to doubting in God from time to time. I am reminded of the story in which a father brought his ailing son to Jesus. The boy suffered from severe seizures, and the Lord’s disciples had been unable to help him. Jesus assured the father that He could heal the child, saying that “All things are possible to him who believes”. The father emotionally responded, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” This remarkable statement reveals that even believers harbor doubts (Mark 9:14-29).
Rather than criticize the negative, I want to accentuate the positive. Thomas was an honest and transparent person who did not try to hide or cover-up his weaknesses. Whenever he was confused about Jesus’ teachings he spoke up and asked questions. Whenever he had doubts or reservations about something, he expressed them and made them known. Thomas did not try to keep these things to himself, but openly confessed them. As he did so, Jesus was able to address Thomas’ weaknesses and strengthen his knowledge and faith.
All too often we as Christians would rather stay silent than risk asking a question that might make us appear foolish. In similar fashion, we often pretend that we are confident in the ways and the will of God when in fact we are consumed with doubt. In these instances, we should learn from Thomas to honestly admit our misunderstandings and misgivings. This invites Jesus to come with the answers we seek and to bolster our wavering faith.
In our next sermon, we will highlight 2 of the lesser known apostles. There names are Simon the Zealot and Thaddeus. Until then, may our lives be an open book so that others might see the strength of God magnified through our many weaknesses.