The Disciple with the Broken Heart (John 20:19–31)

Read John 20:19–31.

There are certain tragic events that don’t just hurt for a moment—or a day or a week or even a year; instead, they leave an indelible gash across our life’s journey, a rift that leaves us walking wounded and forever changed. Sadly, these traumas are not uncommon in this world. There is hardly a soul who doesn’t wince when thinking back on some tremendous injury or loss.

Just as it is with a physical injury, our instinct with these heart traumas is to reel back and protect ourselves from further pain. This seems to have been the case with Thomas. Though history has given him the moniker Doubting Thomas, it seems to me that label is unfair.

Thomas’s doubting wasn’t born from unbridled skepticism. He was neither too intellectual nor too proud to consider seriously the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. He was, instead, so wounded by the loss of his Friend and Savior that, out of self-defense, he could not entertain the possibility that the Lord was truly alive again. He knew that if he allowed a small flame of hope to be kindled in his heart and it was later quenched, he would experience his life’s greatest loss all over again—and he might never recover from that.

Back in John 11, when Jesus announced He would soon be heading to Bethany in Judea to wake dead Lazarus, the disciples knew such a trip was like marching into the belly of the beast. There were powerful men in nearby Jerusalem who wanted Jesus dead. But it was Thomas who spoke up confidently: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16). Thomas loved Jesus. His heart was committed to Him, and if that meant he’d have to die alongside his Master, so be it.

But that wasn’t how things played out. The religious leaders arrested Jesus. Roman troops beat Him beyond recognition. Pilate sentenced Him to death in front of an angry mob. Then soldiers nailed Him to a cross. They left His waning strength to fight against gravity until He could no longer push Himself up for air and He suffocated. Before dusk, Jesus’ lifeless body was taken down form the cross, and He was buried. He was gone, and Thomas was left behind. It was all too much for the disciple to take in.

But then, on Sunday morning, the tomb was found empty. Before long, the other disciples were telling Thomas Jesus was alive. They had all been gathered together behind locked doors that night, and Jesus simply appeared among them, alive and well. But Thomas wasn’t there, and his fragile heart couldn’t risk hope. He needed to see Jesus with his own eyes, to touch the wounds in His hands and side. Then, and only then, could he allow his heart to rejoice.

Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s just what happens with Thomas. His broken heart and crushed spirit are mended by Jesus. Eight days after first revealing Himself to His disciples, Jesus arrives in their midst once again—but this time Thomas is there.

Thomas had thought he’d need to touch the wounds of his Savior to believe. But in the moment, the sight of Jesus is enough. He proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Then, as if He were thinking about you and me, Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). Jesus is not chastising Thomas for his emotional fragility. Instead, He is alluding to the fact that not many will get to see Him in His resurrected splendor this side of glory. A few weeks after this meeting with Thomas, He will return to the Father, leaving His friends with the important task of telling the world what they have seen. The normal experience from then on will be for people to believe the message of the gospel without seeing Jesus for themselves.

That does not mean that faith today is without evidence. As the author of Hebrews says, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). That’s because faith is not blind optimism; it’s a relationship with Jesus. That’s the blessing for those of us who trust the Word of the Lord simply because it’s that—the Word of the Lord. We get to draw closer to Jesus as we follow Him—and there is abundant life on that path (John 10:10; 17:3).

One day, we will all have our Thomas moment. We will get to stand before the resurrected Lord and see His wounds with our own eyes. Until then, we have the pages of Scripture and the friendship of our Savior to renew our minds and transform our hearts. That is, after all, why John wrote—that we “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name” (20:31). In that life there is healing for every broken heart too afraid to risk hope.

What’s this all about?

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