Our Great Salvation, 2

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John 20:29

In the late 1800’s, Jemima Luke wrote these sentimental words that are still sung today in churches all over.

 
I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children like lambs to his fold;
I should like to have been with him then.
I wish that his hands had been placed on my head,
That his arms had been thrown around me,
That I might have seen his kind look when he said,
“Let the little ones come unto me.”

Those are sentimental words, but like so many hymns and Gospel songs, they have absolutely no basis in Scripture. They make you feel good and touch your heart, but they are subjective and they give credence to feelings or emotions you have have that stop your brain from remembering the more important teachings of Scripture.

In opposition to the words of Jemima’s song are the words of our Lord:

You believe because you have seen me. But blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.” (John 20:29 TLB)

We who believe in Jesus Christ 2,000 years after the fact are infinitely MORE blessed than those who lived with and talked to Him. How is this possible? What did Jesus really mean? Let’s look at the context of verse 29.

Thomas started it all

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He appeared to His disciples a number of times, but only John records this appearance that has to do with the faith—or some might say lack of it—of Thomas.

Over the centuries, good old Thomas has gotten a bad name—nickname, really—because of what he said in verse 25:

I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands—and put my fingers into them—and place my hand into his side.”

Doubting Thomas” is what we have come to call this man, but if you look at his words carefully, this disciple was only asking for the same evidence his fellow disciples had already received. They had seen the scars. They had heard the Voice. They had been visited by the risen Lord previously. So, it’s wrong to come down hard on Thomas because he asked for proof of something that had never happened before. No, in fact, we should come down hard on Thomas for another reason—as a Christian, at this point in his life he was really pathetic. Consider these two observations. First, we see how unreasonable this man really was. For Thomas, the unanimous testimony of his FRIENDS, whose character and honesty he knew so well, amounted to nothing. Did he really think they were all lying to him?

But second, and most important, for some reason not given, Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them.

One of the disciples, Thomas, “The Twin,” was not there at the time with the others. (John 20:24 TLB)

He was absent from the gathering on the first day of the week. We know that Thomas was a loyal, if not pessimistic, follower of Jesus, and this may be why he stayed away. What was the point of gathering together when the Leader of the group, Jesus, was dead and buried? William Barclay observed:

Thomas made a big mistake. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness.

The fact is, if a Christian is to grow in grace, he must have regular fellowship with the Body of Christ. Christians grow TOGETHER. Remember the words of Hebrews 10:25—

Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (TLB)

If you are a Christian and you aren’t in your church when you should be there, you are being disobedient to the plain teaching of Scripture and you are short-changing yourself and your fellow church members. You need them and they need you to be in church. Staying home and cooking a big breakfast for your family is not a substitute for fellowship with the saints of God. It’s not a question of “the church not being a building,” which is true. It’s a question of obedience to the Word and commitment to its admonitions.

Thomas, because he skipped out of meeting with other believers, missed out on experiencing the risen Lord. He missed out on the tangible presence of Christ.

God’s grace

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them and greeting them. (John 20:26 TLB)

A lot of Bible teachers think that Jesus really acquiesced and did what Thomas asked, but if you read verse 26 carefully, you’ll see He really didn’t. He did NOT appear to Thomas personally, but He appeared the very next time the disciples met together as a group. This time, however, Doubting Thomas was there; he was there where and when he should have been, and the Lord honored him.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger into my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 TLB)

This statement of Jesus’ must have blown Thomas’ mind. Jesus approached Thomas and spoke to him as though He had heard what Thomas had said a week ago. Blown his mind? Maybe “pricked his conscience” would be a better way to describe how this stubborn, pessimistic disciple felt. Look at what Jesus did: He met the ridiculous demands of this man to the letter. How foolish Thomas must have felt. He should have just had faith.

The inspired record does not say that Thomas reached out to touch our Lord. But he didn’t have to. Jesus proved His point and Thomas believed. How many people today say things like Thomas said? How many times have you heard something like this: “If I could just see Him.” “If God would just heal me, I’d believe.” The reason people don’t believe is not because of a lack of evidence of God’s existence or of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it’s a problem of the human heart. People don’t want to follow Christ and live in obedience to the Word of God, and it’s not an intellectual problem they have with God, Christ, and the Bible, it’s a moral problem they have. They don’t want to change their way of living. They don’t want to surrender their will to God’s. They prefer their sin to the new life they could have in Christ.

The issue of faith

Now, Thomas believed, as he should have all along. And Jesus, being the kind of Person He is, didn’t rake Thomas over the coals. But He did say this:

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. But blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.” (John 20:29 TLB)

It was a blessing for Thomas to have seen the risen Lord. But his and the disciples’ blessing was not the highest blessing. That is reserved for people like US. We who have never seen Jesus; heard Him teach; walked where He walked; are most blessed because:

(a) Our faith is genuine and true. It takes a leap of faith to believe in Someone you can’t see. It takes real faith to believe He said the things He said and that the Bible is an accurate record of His life. You may think your faith is pathetically weak, but if you are born again and if you have faith in God and Christ and the Word, you are blessed beyond the disciples and anybody who lived when Jesus lived. Many Christians don’t think like this; they have the Jemima Luke syndrome—believing how much better and easier it would have been for them to have been with Jesus when He walked the earth. They don’t stop and think about what Jesus said in this verse! He’s not lying when He says believers who have never seen Him are more blessed than those who did. We need to understand and appreciate how blessed we are and how powerful our faith is, even while we struggle with doubts and questions.

(b) Our faith honors Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. Our faith is satisfied with the proof of Christ’s resurrection and the testimony of His Word and of the Holy Spirit. What’s more, as we honor Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord honors us in return.

(c) Our faith leads to sight. Thomas needed to see before he believed. Sight aided his faith. But his was wrong-headed thinking. Faith leads to sight; faith is, in truth, an aid to sight. Lots of people talk about “blind faith,” but faith sees what cannot be seen.

I had fainted, unless I had believed… (Psalm 27:13 KJV)

A Christian may not have all the answers; he may not see solutions; hope may not be on his horizon at the moment, but one thing is absolutely certain: a believer sees more on his knees than a non-believer with the sharpest intellect can discern using all the resources available to him. Faith leads to sight.

(d) Our faith leads to our justification and salvation. Nothing is plainer:

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and your entire household.” (Acts 16:30, 31 TLB)

This is the Gospel in a nutshell! This is what salvation is, expressed in simplest form: faith, Jesus, salvation. To “believe” always means to put one’s full trust and confidence in Jesus Christ. This was the one thing the jailor was to “do.” He, like all human beings, must do the believing, but we do not produce the faith. Faith and confidence is awakened in us by the One in whom we believe: the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are brought into contact with Him, we are moved to trust Him. This is why unbelief is so serious and such a crime against God. It is the stubborn refusal trust Him who alone is worthy of trust.

The Lord Jesus Christ has salvation. He offers it to sinners. And He gives it to them. To trust Him is to receive that gift of salvation. To refuse is mistrust and distrust Him. Remember, His very name means “Savior.” To believe in and to trust Jesus is to accept His gift of salvation immediately. Faith leads straight to salvation.

Thomas had his doubts. He didn’t trust his friends or his Lord. But Jesus was gracious and met Thomas where he was. He is still doing that, today. The greatest blessing of all, though, belongs to those who have believed in Jesus without seeing Him.

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