Archive for April, 2015

Thomas: The Man Who Missed Easter!

Thomas: The Man Who Missed Easter!

Genesis 18:10-15; John 20:24-29

 

The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – include in their Passion/Resurrection narratives a series of episodes related to the appearances of the risen Christ to His disciples. In these episodes the disciples, after passing through a phase of doubt, unbelief, trouble, confusion and astonishment, come to the point of believing that Jesus has been risen indeed.

There is, however, a special episode preserved by the Gospel of John that stands out from among the post-resurrection scenes. This is the incident of the appearance of the risen Lord to Thomas, brilliantly narrated by John. The Thomas incident as it is reported in John 20:24-29, is worth investigating and discussing. Today I would like to explore some of the causes of Thomas’ doubts that we can relate to.

Doubting Thomas or Doubting Us?

Before we name a couple reasons for Thomas’ doubt, I would like to get one thing straight right from the start: if we’re going to call Thomas “Doubting Thomas,” then we have to label all of the disciples that way. We have to also talk about “Doubting Matthew” and “Doubting Andrew” and “Doubting Bartholomew.” Certainly we must talk about “Doubting Judas” and “Doubting Peter.” As mentioned earlier, John is the only Evangelist among the four who speaks about Thomas. He mentions him in three Scripture passages: John 11:16, John 14:5-6, and here in John 20:24-29. In John 11 and 14, Thomas appears as a person loyal to Jesus and ready to die with Him.

Thomas really wasn’t the doubting kind. When Jesus’ travel plans called for Him to pass into Bethany, a very dangerous territory, in John 11:16 Thomas said, “Let’s go too – and die with Jesus.” Hardly the words of a doubter, but for almost two thousand years, we’ve been beating up on Thomas for saying very honestly, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Friends, most of us, at one time or another, have doubted like Thomas. Thomas’s doubt is our doubt too! Even the best person among us will occasionally feel the chill of doubt’s shadow. It could be as you bury a loved one, as you try to make sense of God’s presence in your life, as you work hard to mend a broken relationship, as you face a threating situation, or as you swim against the tide. Most of us, from time to time, will doubt. Two major reasons for Thomas’ doubt and ours:

First: A Lack of Understanding Led to Thomas’ Doubts

Thomas lacked understanding with regard to the Lord’s departure. On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would come again to take them to be with Him. He told them that they knew the way where He was going. But Thomas didn’t understand, so he blurted out in John 14:5, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” It was definitely a lack of understanding.

If you put yourself back into that situation, with all of the confused emotions of that night, and with the disciples’ still limited insight into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can see how Thomas would still be confused about what Jesus had meant. He lacked understanding, which led to doubt. Friends, a great deal of our battles with doubt have been due to a lack of understanding. In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Prophet Isaiah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The death of Christ caused Thomas such deep doubts, disappointment and shock. Even though Jesus repeatedly had told the disciples in advance that He would be crucified, it didn’t sink in. The disciples had expected the Messiah to be a conquering King. A crucified Messiah wasn’t their expectation. When Thomas saw the badly mangled body of Jesus on the cross, it sent him into shock. His emphasis on the wounds of Jesus in John 20:25 shows how deeply it affected him. The bloody holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, the gory spear wound in His side, and Jesus’ disfigurement from the scourging and the crown of thorns, haunted Thomas after the crucifixion and fed his doubts.

In the same way, whenever we face deep disappointment and shock because of some tragedy or something that doesn’t go as we had expected, we’re vulnerable to doubts. Years ago, a pastor friend who was my age was struck down with cancer. As I stood by his bedside the night he died, along with his grieving wife and two sons, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why, Lord? This is one of Your servants. He still has many good years left. His family is young. Why should he die so young, when so many wicked people live long, healthy lives?” Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one or faced a personal tragedy. It’s a short step from there to being right where Thomas was, to doubting the Lord: “If God really exists and is a God of love, then why is this happening?”

Second: Isolation From Fellow Believers Fueled Thomas’ Doubts

A second reason for Thomas’ doubts was his isolation from other believers. We don’t know for certain why Thomas was absent from the other disciples that first Sunday when Jesus appeared to them. For whatever reason, Thomas was not there and so missed out on this blessing. Thomas was a man who missed Easter! I think this is a reminder that there will always be a special blessing when God’s people come together. Obviously, we should make it our aim to attend as many meetings as possible, because we miss the particular blessing given at each of them. In a sense, God can give a blessing to us when we are prevented from being present, but it will not be as profound as that in the public means of grace.

When Thomas finally did see the other disciples, they told him that they had seen the risen Lord! How would you feel if you missed church because you were depressed and doubting and we all told you, “Hey, you really missed a blessing! Jesus appeared to us last Sunday!” Friends, even though we’re often bugged by other believers, the fact is, we need them. We need to be here. Whenever we separate ourselves from the fellowship, we make ourselves vulnerable to doubt.

Friends, some of us may be going through some doubts right now. You may be wrestling with difficult issues. It could be unanswered prayer. They could be doubts related to issues of sufferings. Whatever the source of your doubt is, the Lord understands it. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, did he criticize him? Did he put him down? Did he yell at him? Did he scold him? Not at all. He allowed Thomas to take the test he suggested; that he touch his wounds. He said, “Put your fingers here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” Jesus opened his arms in love to Thomas, and Thomas believed. He said, “My Lord and my God.” I will say more about Thomas’ confession another time, Lord willing. But for now, if you’re wrestling with doubts of any kind, please open yourself to understand how the Lord works behind the scenes. If you’re wrestling with doubts, do not isolate yourself from the fellowship of fellow believers. In fact, this is when you need it the most. “For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore” as Psalm 133:3 says.   In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

The Uncomfortable Truth of Easter

The Uncomfortable Truth of Easter!

Jobs 19:25-26; Matthew 28:1-10

 

The Easter stories are full of people getting the wrong end of the stick. For example, Mary thinks Jesus’ body has been stolen. Peter sees the linen wrappings and can’t work out what it’s all about. The disciples didn’t understand the Scriptures. The angels question Mary and she still doesn’t know what’s going on. Then she thinks Jesus is the gardener. Then, it seems, she reaches out to cling on to Him, and He tells her she mustn’t. The list can go on and on and on of people who misunderstood the reality of Christ’s Resurrection.

And the point is, of course: Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history and real people and real life, but our minds and imaginations are too small to contain it, so we do our best to put the sea into a bottle and fit the explosive fact of the resurrection into the possibilities we already know about.

I think the first Christians weren’t prepared for what actually happened. Nobody could have been. As one leading scholar has put it, “It looks as though they were struggling to describe something for which they didn’t have adequate language.” But this problem isn’t confined to the first century. Ever since then, people have tried to squash the Easter message into conventional boxes that it just won’t fit.

I wonder if we’ve got the Easter message right. The resurrection of Christ is so powerful and fascinating, yet it is the most uncomfortable and inconvenient truth. For me, the uncomfortable and inconvenient truth revealed itself in at least two ways on the First Easter morning:

First: The Strangeness of the Message

Imagine yourself one of those early disciples. You are coming with a really awkward message. Your message goes like this: Jesus of Nazareth, the well-known Jewish Galilean Rabbi, who had been crucified in Jerusalem three days earlier conquered death. He is risen. What the heck is that? Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes or the first audience of the Easter story. The Easter message did not make too much sense. In fact, it is still does not make too much sense to so many people today. It was the most inconvenient and uncomfortable truth. No one has ever heard of someone who died and rose again after three days. It is the unusual truth.

Friends, the Bible, God’s amazing Word, is not shy of voicing uncomfortable truths and many Bible passages are full of them. The Old Testament prophets preached uncomfortable truth. The New Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and Paul’s letter’s also contain a deep and uncomfortable truth: there is no way of following Christ and enjoying the benefits of salvation without first dying to self and those habitual patterns of behavior which are as destructive as they are comfortable and familiar. For Paul, Jesus is not an optional extra but a presence in our lives, which completely transforms and re-molds us.

We, the Church, the body of Christ, should not shy of voicing uncomfortable truths. Let me tell you the truth. When we preach the Lordship of Christ over all things in our lives, we preach uncomfortable truth. When we challenge ourselves to live a Christ-centered and Bible-based life, we swim against the tide. When we put God first, we are in war against the values of our culture. When we live in faithfulness to the Scripture, we live the most uncomfortable and inconvenient truth. Yet, full joy and abundant peace are the outcome of embracing and pursuing this uncomfortable truth. The Christian Church has the strangest message any messenger may deliver: death is the way of life, suffering is the way of glory, taking the yoke of Christ upon us is our ultimate freedom and rest. Friends, this is both the most uncomfortable and comforting truth of Easter!

Second: Our Call to Live as Easter People

There is a second way we see how Easter was and is still uncomfortable truth for so many. For us, Christians, the resurrection of Christ Jesus is the central tenant of our faith. Without the resurrection the feeble messianic movement associated with an itinerant teacher from Nazareth would be nothing more than an obscure footnote in human history. But I often wonder if my faith and the way it’s lived out reflects the uncomfortable truth of a resurrected MessiahIt’s no accident Matthew’s account of the authorities’ cover-up is followed so closely by the Great Commission. It simply hammers home what many would rather deny: that Jesus is Lord – He possesses all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18) and that kind of authority makes what are often uncomfortable demands – to go … to disciple … to teach … to obey.

This Easter I pray you’ll not only experience the wonder and celebration of knowing that Jesus lives, but that you’re also uncomfortable … at least a bit.  I pray that the joy of knowing that Jesus died for our sins and lives that we might live eternally is coupled with an acute awareness that He has called each of us to continue the work He started – to proclaim the good news of the Gospel and to live lives that honor God.

In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Killer, the Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, NY, says, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what He said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like His teaching but whether or not He rose from the dead.” Friends, a true understanding of Easter will indeed make us uncomfortable. Friends, Christ’s Resurrection changed everything. May we all have the courage to face the uncomfortable truths we need to face and so be brought out into the healing, forgiving light of God, for it is only in this way, as we feel uncomfortable, that we can truly receive the comfort for which our souls and bodies are longing. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Thanks be to God!