Our minds are wired in such a way that when we hear a name, we automatically associate certain attributes or characteristics with it. Whether it is true or not, whether it is deserved or not, the image or description pops into our mind. For example, when we hear the name of a particular company we immediately think, “high quality products”. Similarly, we associate another name with “excellent customer service” or “quick delivery”. Advertising people call this branding. Companies spend fortunes trying to ensure that only positive connotations are branded into our brains, because once a company gets a reputation – good or bad – it’s mighty hard to change it.
We do the same thing with people. For example, if we’ve had a bad experience with someone as a child the person’s name can have bad connotations for us throughout the rest of our life. Similarly, certain names have very pleasant connotations. Good or bad, deserved or undeserved, it’s hard to change the image which is imprinted in our minds.
What are some of the associations our minds make when we think of Jesus’ disciples? When we hear the name ‘Judas’ our minds supply the words ‘thief’ and ‘traitor’. ‘Peter’ brings to mind ‘impetuous’ and ‘rock’. We think of James and John as the “Sons of Thunder”. Andrew has the reputation of always bringing someone to Jesus. In each of these cases, the disciples’ reputations are well deserved.
However, one disciple has a reputation which I think is inaccurate and undeserved. It’s Thomas. We call him “Doubting Thomas” because he said he wouldn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead unless he saw and touched the wounds. I think Thomas has gotten a bum rap. If you read the accounts carefully, it becomes plain that the other disciples doubted the resurrection as well. It was only Thomas who had the guts to verbalize it.
It’s unfortunate that people focus on his doubt and forget what Thomas did in John, chapter 11. Jesus and the disciples were in Perea when they got word that their friend Lazarus back in Judea was sick. After a couple of days, Jesus informed the disciples that it was time to go back to Judea and raise Lazarus from the dead.
Most of the disciples were aghast. “The authorities tried to kill you the last time we were there and you want to go back?”
Here, Thomas shows more loyalty and dedication than any of the other disciples. It is he who steps forward and gives the others enough backbone to go with Jesus back to Judea. I think his reasoning went something like this: “Jesus is going to Judea. They want to kill Him there. Since I am His disciple and have committed myself to following Him, I will go to Judea with Him even if it means my death.” It seems to me that Thomas, out of all the disciples, was the one who really understood what following Jesus meant. He, more than any, was willing to pay the price.
Not too long before this Jesus had told them, “...If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25 NIV)
Here’s a question for us: We call him “Doubting Thomas” but are we as dedicated as he? Are we loyal enough to follow Jesus into a situation which we know full well might mean our death?
Hebrews 6:12 says, “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebrews 6:12 NIV)
Before us are the emblems which remind us of Christ’s death on a cross. Are we, like Thomas, willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus?