Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seeing and Believing: John 20:19-31; The Octave of Easter, April 15, 2012


On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."

Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
John 20:19-31
This is a wonderful story, one of the 7 post-resurrection stories in the gospels. It’s a perfect set of bookends in John 20. Mary Magdalene starts out with her cry, “We have seen the Lord!” and Thomas’ statement of faith and trust, “My Lord and my God” frame John’s gospel. The story of Thomas, called Didymus, or “twin” is a perfect one for us this morning. It’s a perfect story about taking responsibility and owning your doubts and unbelief. We give Thomas a hard time, call him doubting Thomas, but that’s not what history records. He went from doubter to doubtless because he was honest with himself.

It’s also a perfect story to clear up any fuzzy thinking about the resurrection. Here we see, through the eyes and inspired memory of John, what they meant by resurrection—bodily, touchable, visible, tactile. The Christian Church is built not on the memory of a dead founder, but of a risen savior.

We can’t afford to be fuzzy on this anymore.

People want to talk about the resurrection of hope on Easter; they want to talk about the resurrection of Christ’s teachings from the depths of hatred. They want to talk about everything but a physical, bodily resurrection—the one thing that Thomas said he was looking for, the one thing that changed the minds of the apostles, the one message that turned the world upside down, and we can’t afford to fuzzy on this.

You know, changing these words around can get us into trouble. Reminds me of a story I read a few weeks ago.

The top marketing director of the Washington State Apple Growers
Association, a devout Catholic, managed to arrange a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican.

After receiving the papal blessing, the official whispers, 'Your Eminence, I have some business to discuss. We at the Washington State Apple Growers Association have an offer for you. We are prepared to donate $200 million to the church if you change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily apple'." You know, “an apple a day”, it’s better than bread, it’s good for you, all that starch and those empty carbs, aren’t good for you anymore, you know.”

The Pope looks deeply troubled. “My son, that is impossible. The Prayer is the word of the Lord, It cannot not be changed."

Well," says the man somewhat chastened, "We anticipated your reluctance. For this reason, and the importance of the Lord's Prayer to all Catholics, we will increase our offer to $500 million. All we require is that you change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily apple'."

Again, the Pope tenderly replies, "That, my son is impossible. For the prayer is the word of the Lord and it must not be changed."

Finally, the director says, "Your Holiness, we at the Washington State Apple Growers Association respect your adherence to your faith, we realize that tradition is essential to your beliefs, we fully understand the importance of the word of the Lord........but we do have one final offer. Please discuss it with your cardinals. We will donate $1 billion to the great Catholic church—consider all the good you can do with this generous gift—if you would only change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily apple'. Please, please consider it."

The next day the Pope convenes the College of Cardinals.

"My brothers, I have some good news," he announces, "and some bad news .......

The good news is, he continues to a hushed assembly, ' that the Church will get one billion dollars to continue its good works around the world."

"And what is the bad news, your Holiness?" asks a Cardinal.

"Sadly" says the Pope, "It looks like we are going to lose the Wonder Bread account."

We don’t want to fool around with the Scriptures here. We are talking about the bodily, physical resurrection of Christ. The first of the sacred writings after the resurrection, probably the first written in the New Testament, was Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, in First Corinthians 15, we read:

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

Later on, in verse 14

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised,  your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:1-8; 14-19)

So we are not taking about anything that is negotiable, or doesn’t really matter. It was a resurrected Christ that convinced Saul of Tarsus that faith in Christ was not an option, but an essential. It was not an additive for life, it was the only alternative.
The real problem, is, like Thomas, we don’t believe it.

Like the 8 year old girl said, “faith is believing something you know isn’t true.”

That’s the way it is for some of us.

Thomas said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

People give Thomas a hard time, but I like Thomas. He was honest with his doubts, he was sincere with them. He didn’t fool himself with jive distractors like, “well, what about those Rabbi’s in Jerusalem who were abusive in that school a few years ago? That’s why I can’t believe? Or “how could a loving God allow Tim Tebow to be traded?” (okay, sorry about that…) but you get my point. Making up things instead of really getting to the heart of our doubts. And we see something else here. Thomas said, Unless……and then…I will not believe.”

So often in our life, belief is an act of the will. For some of us, if we are really honest, faith in Christ would mean a change in life. I would have to start acting differently. I would have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend. I would have to stop swearing at people on I-25. I would have to change the way I look on others. I would have to give up drugs, hatred, laziness…and I am comfortable with all these things that are really just killing me. So it’s not that I “can’t” believe, it’s that I won’t believe.”

So the lesson this morning…own your doubts. Be true to them. Be honest about them. God can handle a whole lot more that what you got. But you have to make an effort to resolve them. It may take some research, it may take a few e-mails, it may take some reading…but those answers are there. Shoot me an e-mail; as one who has done his share of wrestling with doubt, I would be glad to explore your questions.

Notice that Thomas came back the next week, and was with the disciples. He hung in there. He had that confrontation with Christ, and Jesus spoke to him, and he finally realized that this was not a good teacher, a good religious figure, a prophet…he was the only one who walked on this earth worthy to be called both “my Lord and my God.”

Tradition says that Thomas went on to preach the gospel in India, and died there as a martyr for his faith.

Great story this morning, and it ends with a promise:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Hold up the Bible, pinch fingers around only the Gospel of John

My challenge to you this morning...test God, take Him at His word; start with reading John, or recommending to someone else that it be read.
  
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.