Sight (John 20:24-31)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached August 7th, 2022*

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”

26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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. – John 20:24-31


John’s account opens by referencing a past encounter with Jesus and the disciples that Thomas missed out on. The morning of Easter, the disciples are informed by Mary that the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away. They run to the tomb and do not find Jesus there, but find an empty tomb with the grave clothes Jesus was wrapped in left behind (John 20:1-10). Jesus then appears to Mary alone and charges her to go tell the disciples what she has seen (John 20:11-18). Then we are told: “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,” (John 20:19-20).

The disciples have seen the empty tomb, they have heard Mary’s testimony, but now they see Jesus—they even see the wounds in his hands and side. This isn’t an imposter, this is the same man who was hanging on the cross three days earlier. The disciples are shocked with joy—the nightmare has ended, everything sad is coming untrue.

But, Thomas misses it. We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t present, but he walks in later and finds his friends to be, in his mind, delusional. They tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus, that He isn’t dead, He is very much alive. But Thomas responds strongly, even disdainfully: “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,” (John 20:25). This tells us a number of things:

1.     Thomas was not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Sometimes modern skeptics today look at the accounts of the gospels and say, This is just wish fulfillment. The apostles thought Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah but he was crucified. So they created stories about Jesus coming back to life to keep the Messiah myth alive, or perhaps they were delusional and hallucinated a resurrected Christ.

Three quick responses to that: (1) the first witnesses of the resurrection are women, which would have been deeply embarrassing and problematic for patriarchal society that did not permit women to testify in court; if the events are fabricated, why include women when it would have been seen as a barrier to the spread of the gospel? (2) The earliest accounts of the gospel story are written too close to the events described (10-15 years), so if these were fabrications the movement would have been discredited, and (3) all of the apostles eventually die for their faith in a resurrected Messiah—as Pascal says, we should believe the witnesses who get their throats slit. One doesn’t usually die for what one knows to be false.

There are many more responses one could give to that, but the simple testimony here of Thomas’ skepticism makes the modern perspective problematic. The disciples were not expecting the resurrection because the resurrection didn’t fit into any kind of common worldview of their time. Greco-Roman culture believed that the material world was inferior to the spiritual, so there was no category for bodily resurrection—the body was something to be transcended for the higher immaterial realm. But the Jewish worldview held a high view of the body and the material world and strongly affirmed that there would be a resurrection one day, only the resurrection came at the final Judgement Day, when the Day of the Lord would arrive. 

So Thomas’s incredulity towards the testimony of the other disciples centers on this worldview—someone being resurrected in the middle of history, while suffering, and death, and sin continue to take place? That doesn’t make any sense. This is why Thomas insists on the physical verification—unless I place my finger into the nail prints and put my hand in his side, I will never believe. If Jesus appeared merely as some apparition or ghost that wouldn’t mean that Jesus was alive—plenty of people claim to see apparitions of loved ones after they have departed. The spirit of Jesus walking around wouldn’t have been controversial—but a living, breathing, resurrected Jesus? The hallmark of the end of the world, being helicoptered into the present, here and now? That was an insurmountable challenge to Thomas’ worldview. The resurrection of Jesus Christ would have forced the disciples to adopt an entirely different worldview.

2.     So, Thomas wants incontrovertible evidence. He needs empirical, firsthand experience of the resurrected Christ. He won’t take his friends’ word for it. Another typical modern skeptical posture towards Christianity is a kind of “chronological snobbery,” as C.S. Lewis described. It is an assumption that people “back then” were simple, gullible, and superstitious. They lacked the sophisticated, scientific knowledge we modern people possess today. But this is as incorrect as it is arrogant. The disciples know that dead people don’t come back to life. And Thomas demands touchable, verifiable evidence that the other disciples’ account is trustworthy. In fact, he claims that without it he “will never believe.” 

3.     Lastly, this shows us that doubt is common in the Christian life. Isn’t it amazing that the gospel accounts display the leaders of the church with such raw honesty about their own unbelief? There is Peter denying Christ, there are the other apostles fleeing at the Gethsemane, and here is Thomas—even after the account of the fellow disciples—refusing to believe. I think this functions to help us realize that faith in Christ does not come to the exclusion of doubt, but amidst it. Doubt and unbelief are not virtues, are not to be celebrated or embraced, but they are realities. We shouldn’t view belief and unbelief like on/off switches, but like dimmers. There is a gradient between the poles of complete belief and complete unbelief. Consider Matthew’s account of the disciples’ interaction with Jesus right as He is about to ascend to the Father, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted,” (Matt 28:16-17). Worship and doubt, simultaneously. 


“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,” (John 20:26).  Notice the similarities between the previous appearance of Jesus: the disciples are inside, the door is locked, yet Jesus appears and stands among them, and then proclaims “Peace be with you.” Even the day of the week is the same—eight days later (since Jews count the day of as the first) would have been on Sunday again, one week from Easter. The only difference is that this time Thomas is with them. 

So, Jesus turns 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,” (John 20:27). Jesus knows what Thomas said one week prior, so he invites Thomas to put Him to the test: touch my wounds. He invites Thomas to evaluate the evidence for himself. And then, He gently rebukes him: do not disbelieve, but believe. Do you see the patience and mercy of Jesus mingled with correction? Jesus doesn’t come to destroy Thomas for His lack of faith, nor He does He simply refuse to appear. But notice that in His appearing He corrects Thomas—Thomas was unbelieving, doubting, lacking faith, and Jesus summons him to faith. Doubt, skepticism, or the “deconstruction” of faith is not a virtue to embrace, but a problem that Jesus arrives to alleviate.

Nowhere in the text are we told of Thomas actually touching the scars of Jesus, rather the emphasis in verse 29 is on sight, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” The image of sight and blindness is used throughout the gospels as a kind of metaphor for spiritual understanding—here, Thomas literally sees Jesus which enables spiritual perception. Thomas no doubt was dumbstruck by the arrival of Jesus who can walk into a room despite the door being bolted shut. But imagine what flew through Thomas’ mind at the moment that Jesus spoke “peace” to him, when he offered to meet Thomas where he was at, and then invited him to believe. Jesus has not shut the door on him, has not closed the book, has not wiped His hands and waved Thomas off. Friend, don’t you see the encouragement in that? Perhaps you find yourself like Thomas today and struggle to believe. Perhaps you would not identify yourself as a Christian because you struggle with believing its claims. Jesus’ response to Thomas is a response to you: He is inviting you to believe.

One of the deceptive things about doubt is that it feels like it is the safe, neutral position to inhabit, while “faith” is the risky gamble. But actually, our doubts hide their own faith statements. If I doubt the Bible is a historically accurate and reliable disclosure of God’s Word, that is because I have faith in an alternate set of beliefs, God cannot speak and preserve His Word, a set of beliefs that are relying on faith just as much as the believer. When Jesus invites Thomas to believe He isn’t inviting Him to go from zero faith at all, to faith—He is inviting Him to reevaluate the previous faith he had (the Messiah cannot die, the Resurrection cannot take place in the middle of history). One of the reasons why Christians and non-Christians alike should take seriously their doubts about Christianity rather than ignore them is because there are often unexamined faith assumptions being made, assumptions that should be evaluated and tested—is there good reason to believe that? Is that true? Or, to put it another way, do you doubt your doubts with the same level of scrutiny you use for the claims of Christianity?


“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Of all the disciples, Thomas expresses his doubts most clearly and most dramatically: ‘I will never believe.’ And, of all the disciples, Thomas now provides the most clear identification and confession of who Jesus is: ‘My Lord and my God!’ The gospel of John opens by identifying Jesus as the Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:1, 14). That is a pretty clear explanation that Jesus, the Word made flesh, is God. And all throughout John’s gospel Jesus alludes to this truth. But nowhere in all four gospels is the identity of Jesus as God made as clearly as it is here by Thomas. Doubting Thomas! On the other side of his doubt Thomas found clarity and conviction that none of the other disciples at the time had.

Another reason why we shouldn’t pretend that our doubts and uncertainties don’t exist is because there is a security and solidity of faith on the other side. If you are willing to wrestle with your doubt and bring it Christ then there will be a strength in your faith that you would not have had you never wrestled with those doubts in the first place. If we leave unanswered questions to remain buried in our subconscious we may begin to tacitly wonder if there are no answers, and find our faith slowly deteriorating from the inside. But when we examine our doubts, and look at the assumptions those are based on, and scrutinize the evidence and bring it before Christ we find clarity. This is what happened for Thomas.

 “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” (John 20:29). There is a unique blessing reserved for those who believe without having the same evidence that Thomas has. If you ask someone to house sit for you, but you set up cameras all throughout your house and watch what they are doing the entire time you are gone, what does that reveal? You don’t trust them. You don’t believe them. And what then does that reveal about your relationship with that person? Jesus invites us to see that the faith that comes without sight enjoys a unique dimension of blessedness from God—we have a deeper trust in Him and so experience a more intimate relationship with God. 

Okay, you may say, but Thomas had something we don’t have—if Jesus came and visited me I wouldn’t struggle with doubt either. Would you? Jesus does invite Thomas to see, even touch Him—yet there are other individuals who witness the resurrection, yet do not believe. After Jesus rises from the dead angels appear at the tomb and leave the guards trembling and afraid (Matt 28:2-4). And the guards report back to the chief priests and tell them what happened, and do you know what the chief priests do? They pay the soldiers off to lie and to tell everyone that the disciples stole the body (Matt 28:11-15). They don’t reconsider their position or admit what they did was wrong or seek Jesus or the disciples out. 

People are not merely brains on sticks—they need more than evidence or reason to believe. If you have ever been in an argument or debate with someone, you know this to be true—you can be 100% correct, but it mean nothing to the person if they do not possess a willingness to listen. So too, good arguments and tangible evidence can help someone in their process of belief, but if their heart is hard, then they will simply find another way to reinterpret the evidence. The one generation who witnessed more miracles, more supernatural intervention, more tangible and experiential evidence of God was the wilderness generation in Exodus. Just think of what they saw: the plagues of Egypt, the Red Sea part, water come from a rock, bread from heaven, fire descend on Mt. Sinai—they heard the very voice of God. And yet, you will not find a better example of a generation that simply does not believe in God, that refuses to trust Him, whose hearts are hardened. 

Is there a chance that some of our doubt and unbelief is a product of the fact that we may not want to believe? And if so, no amount of evidence will change that. You need a work of the Holy Spirit to give you a new heart that is open to God. Dare I say, that loves God. Love is required for all true knowledge. The man who loves Russian literature is likely going to understand War and Peace more than the man who despises it; the husband who has loved his wife for decades knows her in a way no one else will; the scientist who loves her subject will be able to find insights that a disinterested scientist would ignore. And if we do not have hearts that are open to love God, nothing matters. Consider what Peter tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Pet 1:8). You don’t see him yet you love Him—love is the source of knowledge.

And yet, like Thomas, we are not left alone to muster faith out of nothing. John closes this section by summoning us to the purpose statement of his gospel: “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,” (John 20:30-31). You see where this leaves us? We are Thomas now. We haven’t seen the resurrected Christ, but we are invited to rely on the testimony of the disciples to lead us into belief. All that John has recorded has been done so that one may go from unbelief to belief, to give you the conversion Thomas experienced but through the blessed sightless faith that Jesus commends. In other words, here is the claim: for those of us who struggle with doubt, we can examine this book, and if we are willing to doubt our doubts, to examine the reasons for our faith, and have a hear that is open to God, that is inclined towards Him, then we can find grounds for genuine belief.

Maybe you are not a Christian here today: I invite you to this process. Read through John’s gospel and when you find something that you seem to find unbelievable, simply ask yourself, “Why do I think that? What grounds do I have for that conclusion?” Take seriously Jesus’ claims and His work and see what you find.

Or maybe you are a Christian, but find many pockets of unbelief in your life. Maybe you are embarrassed about certain things that the Bible teaches that you know our wider culture finds ridiculous, backwards, or even immoral. Maybe you struggle with how the Bible can be reconciled with science, or struggle with how a loving God can permit evil, or maybe you doubt whether God can forgive a sinner like you. O friend, have you doubted your doubts? Is your heart open to God? Do you see the benefit that comes on the other side of doubt?

It is significant that Jesus authenticates Himself by showing the disciples His scars, isn’t it? It is the wounds of Jesus that break the spell of disbelief. It is the marring and rending of the flesh of the Son of God that identify Him most—so much so that even after resurrecting and receiving a glorified body, His wounds remain. The scars Jesus remind us that Jesus is not unfamiliar with pain, with shame, with abandonment, with agony. He knows the pain we go through and deliberately chose to enter into pain on our behalf, for us. You can trust Him. But more importantly, it was in those scars that He purchased salvation and forgiveness for us. As Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Jesus he knows these should have been mine.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

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