Bill Buckner has gotten a bad rap. Buckner is remembered as the goat of the 1986 World Series – as the player who “lost” the World Series for the Boston Red Sox when a ground ball went through his legs in the bottom of the tenth inning and allowed the winning run to score for the New York Mets. This single play has become his legacy to the point that when a sports fan hears someone talk about “pulling a Buckner” – they immediately know it refers to choking in some huge and costly mistake.
However, Buckner has gotten a bad rap on two accounts. In the first place it ignores the fact that numerous others shared in the Red Sox’s collapse in 1986. The Red Sox entered the bottom of the tenth inning ahead five to three. Before Buckner’s famous error, two runs had already scored to tie the game. These runs had occurred as a result of three consecutive singles with two outs. The tying run itself scored on a wild pitch. Before the ball was ever hit to Buckner others had missed opportunities to close out the game. Many other players shared in the Red Sox collapse that night – not to mention that all of this occurred in game six and not game seven of the World Series as so many people seem to now believe. The Red Sox as a unit share the blame for going out and losing the next game in order to lose the World Series.
In addition, Buckner has gotten a bad rap because this one play has caused a very fine career to be completely forgotten. Buckner had a lifetime .289 batting average over 22 seasons. He won the National League batting title in 1980 while playing with the Chicago Cubs. His 2700 career hits means that only fifty players in the entire history of the game have had more hits than Buckner. Bill Buckner was a very good player and it is not right that one play has caused all of this to be forgotten.
In John 20:24-31 we hear the account of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Lord. The mention of Thomas almost immediately brings to mind the phrase that many of us have used at one time or another: “doubting Thomas.” Yet like Bill Buckner, Thomas has also gotten a bad rap. This becomes clear when we consider this account in the context of John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel begins with that grand prologue in which we hear about Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-2). John lets the reader know from the very start that Christ is truly God, the One who made the world. He captures the mystery of the God-man Jesus Christ – the mystery of the incarnation – in the statement, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The reader begins the Gospel in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is truly God – the God-man, the Word become flesh. Yet we wait in vain as the people interacting with Jesus bumble about and fail to recognize and confess this truth. We wait throughout the whole Gospel for someone to get it right. We wait, and wait, and wait, and then in John 20 we finally hear the correct and full confession. We finally hear someone say to Jesus: “My Lord and my God.” We find that the Gospel reaches its culminating confession on the lips of … Thomas?
Thomas gets it right? Our so-called “doubting Thomas” is the only one in the Gospel to this point who believes and confesses correctly? It may seem surprising. It may not fit with our label for Thomas. But the fact of the matter is that the true and correct confession of Christ in John’s Gospel is found on the lips of Thomas.
This fact becomes all the more emphatic when we read what follows. Thomas had refused to believe the testimony of the disciples. He demanded visible proof and on the following Sunday the Lord provided it to Thomas. Thomas ceased to remain in unbelief and instead followed his Lord’s command to believe. He confessed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).
And then immediately after this Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Jesus parallels Thomas’ belief with that of those who will follow him – with us. Our belief is to be the same as that of Thomas. And in fact, the next statement in the Gospel tells us that this same belief has been the purpose of the whole Gospel. We hear: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his 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” (20:30-31).
As John 20:30 indicates, John narrates for us signs that Jesus did. At the beginning of the Gospel, we are told after Jesus turns water into wine at Cana: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11). The miraculous signs in conjunction with Jesus’ words of explanation help reveal the glory of God incarnate who is removing humanity from the darkness of sin and death.
The ultimate sign by which Jesus glory is revealed and by which he is glorified is his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Christ had entered into the world – the Word had become flesh – in order to carry out the will of the Father on our behalf. We saw on Good Friday that the glory of God was revealed in the crucified flesh of Jesus Christ. There we see the depth of God’s love for us. In our Lord’s wounds in John 20 we see that Jesus continued to bear the signs of his glorification for us on the cross when he continued into the glorification of the resurrection.
In John 20 we encounter not “doubting Thomas” but rather believing and confessing Thomas. We hear the correct confession addressed to the God-man, Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas saw the crucified and risen Lord with his own eyes and so believed. Yet what about us? What about those of us who live 2000 years later and have not seen with our own eyes the wounds of the risen Lord? There is an important distinction between Thomas’ experience and our own. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Where then does all of this leave us?
John 20:30-31 provides the answer as it states, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his 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.” We see Jesus’ signs – and most importantly the sign of his death and resurrection - through the words of the apostles. We hear in our text that Jesus sent forth his disciples. Those apostles have shared with us the testimony of what Jesus did in their presence.
Yet this testimony is not simply the testimony of men. It is the testimony of Christ carried out by the Holy Spirit who is present through their witness in our midst. Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father regarding his apostles, “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Jesus prayed not simply on behalf of the apostles, but on behalf of us, “those also who believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).
We have not seen the wounds of the risen Lord with our own eyes. Yet through his Spirit, our Lord has revealed them to us through the apostolic Word. Jesus promised to his disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me, and you will testify also, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26).
Through their Spirit guided Words we have beheld the sign of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. Through this Word of God we have been called to faith as we join Thomas in confessing to Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God!”