By Paul Gilbert
It’s the end of March, which means we get to witness the spectacular conjunction of two glorious, celestial sports bodies: March Madness and America’s Pastime. Part of the fun of being a fan is all the momentous memories we experience and collect along the way. Yet, as much as some of our best sporting recollections involve some kind of glorious win or achievement, the memories that stick with us the most are oftentimes the devastating disappointments. In fact, there are certain people in the sports world who are remembered not so much for a particular on-the field accomplishment, but instead for their one, colossal failure.
Bill Buckner is one such person.
Buckner played for 22 years in Major League Baseball, and while not a Hall of Famer, he still had a distinguished run as a professional baseball player. Not only did Buckner have a career batting average of .289 with 175 home runs and 2,700 hits, he also won the National League batting title in 1980 and was voted into the All-Star team the next year. However, despite his solid, on-field accomplishments, Buckner is best known for his one spectacular failure that happened in the 1986 World Series.
On the cusp of their first World Series title in almost 70 years, the Boston Red Sox needed only one more out to defeat the New York Mets. Playing just slightly off the bag at first base, Buckner needed only to field the crisply hit grounder and touch the bag in order for Red Sox nation to begin their celebration. Alas, though, it was not to be: Buckner allowed the grounder to roll through his legs, thus enabling the Mets to win the game, and soon thereafter the Series. And despite Buckner’s solid, on-field accomplishments over the course of his career, he will be forever marked by a singular failure.
For Christians, we have our own “Bill Buckner” - his name is Thomas. DOUBTING Thomas, as you may know him. Thomas was a faithful disciple, someone the Bible says followed Jesus for three years and embraced Jesus as His Lord and Savior, someone church history tells us went on to die a martyr’s death after taking the gospel to India. Yet, most people know Thomas more by his one spectacular failure than anything else about him.
Most of you are already familiar with the story, but it seems that Thomas was not with the other disciples the first time Jesus appeared to the group after His resurrection. After being told by the other disciples that Jesus indeed had risen from the dead, Thomas refused to believe the good news, instead coronating his doubt by indicating that he would believe “if and only if” he were allowed to touch the very wounds of Jesus on His resurrected body. Jesus indeed ends up appearing to Thomas, allowing him to touch his wounds, and in turn providing an object lesson to us about not doubting, having faith, and trusting in God’s Word – end of story. Bad Thomas, forever defined by his one epic failure.
Or, is he? Are we?
You see, I don’t think doubt is the main point of this story. In fact, I think this passage has less to do with how weak and doubting Thomas was and more to do with how faithful and gracious Jesus is. Jesus accommodates Thomas’ doubt and lack of faith by revealing Himself to Thomas at his greatest moment of weakness. Thomas’ doubt is not the defining truth of this passage; no, it's the grace of Jesus Christ given to us at our greatest place of sin and struggle.
This, my friends, is the gospel in all of its glorious beauty. The heart of the gospel is not what we have done for Jesus in order to earn His love, nor how little doubt we have wrestled with along the way. The heart of the gospel is what Jesus has done to show His love for us, IN our doubt. He condescends, stoops, meets, accommodates, and reaches out to us at our greatest points of doubt and weakness. As such, it’s not ultimately about Thomas, or us; it’s about Him.
I truly believe that this message of mercy and grace needs to be heard by the friends, neighbors, and colleagues that we live alongside of. There are many people in our spheres that are wandering around feeling as if their lives are defined by their greatest points of pain and failure. They need to know, though, that there is another way – the way of the Cross where Jesus died and rose again to meet us in our place of sin and weakness. Please prayerfully consider who you will bring to church this Easter Sunday. As we take a closer look at the life of Thomas together, you too remember: it’s not about your doubt – it’s about His grace.