Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16 (NIV)]
“You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” [John 14:4-5 (NIV)]
In 1976, Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and acting as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Nevertheless, whenever I come across his name, I don’t think of the 36 years he spent in his ministry. Instead, I remember the ruthless man once considered Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Along with being one of the Watergate Seven, Colson was known as a “dirty tricks artist” who tracked down incriminating photographs and leaked damaging and untrue rumors to discredit and blacken the reputations of political enemies. In 1974, as a new Christian, Colson pled guilty to obstruction of justice on a Watergate-related charge and served seven months in prison. It was after his release that he mobilized the Christian Church to minister to prisoners.
Why do we remember the negative rather than the positive about people? Think of the disciple Thomas. Most of us think of him as the doubter rather than a disciple zealous for Jesus. When the other disciples urged Jesus not to return to Judea because of the danger he faced, it was Thomas who urged the disciples to join Jesus and face death with Him!
The next we read of Thomas is at the last supper when the inquisitive man is probably more honest than the rest of the disciples. Not understanding that Jesus had just described His destination—heaven and eternal life—Thomas acknowledged his ignorance and asked the same question the others probably were silently asking. Thomas wasn’t doubting, the eager man just wanted to understand exactly where he was going and how he was to do it.
Although Thomas heard Jesus say that He was “the way, the truth, and the life,” like the other disciples, the man didn’t know what to believe after the crucifixion. One moment of skepticism and that’s what we remember of him but Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe their eyes when Jesus first stood before them and thought they were seeing a ghost. [24:37] Even after seeing His pierced hands and feet, Luke says they “stood there in disbelief” and it was watching Jesus eat a piece of fish that finally convinced them. [24:41-42]
Let’s remember, Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared and it wasn’t Jesus he doubted. He questioned the veracity of the disciples in the same way Mark tells us the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene that Sunday morning [16:11]. He wanted to be sure it actually was Jesus they saw. When Thomas finally sees Jesus, he makes the clearest confession of faith we find in any of the gospels by exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” If anything, Thomas’ willingness to express his doubt led to a greater faith!
Neither Chuck Colson nor the Apostle Thomas should be remembered for their worst moments yet they probably are. Oddly, we don’t immediately think of Peter as the man who denied Jesus three times. Instead, we first think of him as the rock upon which Jesus built His church. May we grant the same amount of grace to the Chuck Colsons and the “doubting” Thomases we meet in life!
No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory. [Chuck Colson]