By Scott Keith –
I know it may seem weird for me to start talking about Doubting Thomas at this time of the year, but I just can’t help myself. Most of us are still reveling in Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany. In a way, I am too. I have spent the last several weeks contemplating the idea of embodiment over disembodiment.
For the last several months on the Thinking Fellows podcast, we have been going through a series on apologetics. That series has led us over and over again to the fact that Christ, as a real embodied or incarnate person, was born, lived, died, and rose again. It is the realness of His embodiment which sets Him apart from all other “gods” and our connection to His real, dead, raised-in-the-flesh body that makes our faith in Him uniquely true. (By uniquely true I mean really TRUE.)
The emphasis on Christ’s real body is present all over the New Testament. In his various epistles, Paul does an excellent job of linking Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to real time and actual history. He says things like, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) And also, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…” (Galatians 4:4) Paul goes so far as to give Christians a sort of falsifiability principle concerning the validity of our faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul tells us: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” According to Paul, it is Christ’s actual bodily resurrection from the dead that proves His deity and gives us the ability to trust His promises for us. That is, that if we believe in Him, we too will never die.
This leads us right into the story of “Doubting Thomas.” I love Thomas. I love his doubt. I love his need for verification. I love his reliance on an embodied, risen Christ. You see, at the end of the day, Thomas was not satisfied with the other disciples’ stories of a ghost of Christ that had visited them. He had no interest in a disembodied Savior. Thomas wanted verification that Christ was raised, that he was still dealing with the same Jesus he had once known, a Jesus with a real body. Here is the story of Doubting Thomas.
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” (John 20:24-29)
The way I see it, there are two significant parts to this tale. The first is Thomas’ insistence on physical evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus. The second is Christ’s willingness to supply that evidence. The Good News of Christ is so intertwined with an actual resurrection of Himself from the dead that He is willing to capitulate to the petulant demands of a demanding Thomas. He appears once more. He thrust His hands at Thomas and says, “Place your fingers here, in these holes in My hands which bled for you.” He approaches Thomas calmly and lifts his cloak to reveal His riven side and says, “Thrust your physical hand into my flesh pierced side which poured My blood, which was shed for you.” He shows Thomas that He is real—flesh, bones, and body, not a disembodied ghost or aberration. He is the risen, incarnate, embodied Christ the Lord. He then commends all of us who believe by the historical written accounts of Thomas’ physical interaction with the risen Christ. What a fantastic section of Holy Scripture!
We live in a disembodied age. Many of us spend more time interacting with people on our phones than we do face to face. Robots, androids, virtual reality are not a part of our future; they are more and more a part of our lives in the here and now. We live a good portion of our lives in a disembodied state. Things like social media, which help us in many ways, can also distract us from the real life and real people right in front of our eyes. How do we handle this disembodiment? How do we balance the pressures of the modern world? The truth is, I don’t know. But I think it is good for you to consider these things and to work towards some answers for yourselves.
Nonetheless, I like to use opportunities like this to remind you that Christ was actually born of the Virgin Mary for you. Christ actually lived the sinless life for you. Christ actually died in His body to atone for you. Christ actually rose again, in His real body, as the first fruits of your resurrection. As the embodied, incarnate, risen God, He promises that He will bring you to Himself. Through His proclaimed Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, He will bring you to faith. In that faith, we now stand in Him.
His resurrection is for you. Thomas’ doubt is not your doubt because we know where Thomas’ fingers and hands have been. Thank God for Thomas. Thank God for an incarnate and risen Christ who saves us.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Joyous Epiphany to you all.
(Recently, I have been working with a group out of Concordia University in Irvine, the Crosswise Institute, which will be putting on a conference for high schoolers that is designed to help them wrestle with some of these issues of embodiment and disembodiment. If you’d like to know more, click here.)