Sermon the the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20:24-25
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

Seeing and believing

Harriet, the town gossip, knew everything about everybody.  People didn’t like the way she talked about everybody behind their backs, but they were afraid to say anything because they knew they would be her next topic of gossip. 
But Harriet made a mistake, when she saw George’s ute parked all afternoon in front of the town’s only bar. She commented to George and others in no uncertain manner that since it was parked there so long everyone knew that he was an alcoholic. 
George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and then just walked away.  He said nothing.  Later that evening, George quietly parked his ute in front of Harriet’s house and left it there all night.

Seeing is believing.  Harriet believed that and would jump to all kinds of wild conclusions from what she saw.  Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, thought the disciples had done the same – seen something and jumped to some wild conclusions. 

Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes for a minute.  After someone whom you have loved dearly has died, you were there when this happened, and then some other friends come to you and say, “You know so and so who died yesterday, well we have seen him.  He is alive.  Isn’t that exciting?” 

If someone said that to you, how would you react?  Would you join them in their excitement or perhaps say, “That’s nice”, but think that the person has become a bit delusional, perhaps too much stress that comes with grief. 

The Gospel writer John recalls the time when the disciples told Thomas how seeing the wounds in Jesus’ hands and in his side convinced them that Jesus was really alive again.  Excitedly they told Thomas that there was no doubt about it – the crucified, dead and buried Jesus is alive. 

But Thomas can’t believe what he was being told.  Jesus was dead.  He had seen this with his own eyes.  It isn’t logical – when you’re dead, you stay dead.  This defies all human reason. 

Thomas doesn’t want wishful thinking; he doesn’t want to believe something that will turn out to be just the wild imagination of some over-stressed friends. 

Grief can do some strange things to people’s minds and so Thomas is adamant, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.  
“I want to believe what you guys have seen, but I need proof.  I won’t believe it’s true until I see the scars in his hands and his side for myself.”

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Thomas doesn’t dismiss the possibility that the disciples had seen Jesus.  He could have said, “You’re all mad.  I don’t want to hear another word of this nonsense.” 

Thomas wants to be convinced.  He wants proof that what the disciples had witnessed was true and real and not just some trick. 

Let’s think about this for a moment.  There are times when our faith in God is strengthened and we become convinced more than ever before of God's presence because we have seen the hand of God at work in our lives. 
Perhaps you have had a prayer answered in an amazing way.
Or you have experienced a healing – someone has had a wonderful recovery from a serious illness that could have taken their life or left them with a serious disability.
A family member whom you have encouraged in their Christian faith suddenly opens their heart to the saving news of the gospel and become involved in the church.
Some of you have had amazing experiences of the closeness of God at a time when you were feeling lonely, or sick, or grieving.
At times like this, we are convinced that God is real and that his love and care for us could never be doubted.  We have experienced his love and power close at hand.

But there are also times when our experiences cause us to wonder, even doubt, whether God knows us at all. 
We struggle to find the love of God when a child, who is just starting out in life, meets a tragic death. 
Someone who is loved and very much needed in a family is struck down with a terrible disease.

We lose our jobs; we are broke; our marriage breaks up, a child causes us terrible stress.  How many people have prayed for healing but nothing happens.   

Thomas had experienced Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial; he had become confused about who Jesus was.
Like any of us in the face of a senseless tragedy (as Jesus’ death was) Thomas’ experience of the closeness of God was at an all-time low.
Like any of us, most likely he too was asking, “Where was God when all this was happening?”  Even when the disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead, he still would not believe until he had experienced this for himself. 

Can you see that there is a bit of Thomas in all of us?  The strength or weakness of our faith often depends on our experiences, - on the evidence which convinces us that God is real and that he loves us, or on the other hand, our experience tells us that God is distant and doesn’t care.  We like to have positive experiences of God in our lives.  We like it when our faith is bolstered by the clear evidence of the power of God at work in our lives.  Thomas needed to experience it, to see with his own eyes the scars of the nails and feel the wound in Jesus’ side.

I believe that’s the way God made us to be – practical, down-to-earth people who rely on the experiences of this life.  God has given us feelings and emotions and these feelings and emotions often determine how we experience the presence or absence of God in our lives. 
We have learnt at Sunday School, confirmation classes and Bible studies all the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 
Maybe you have learnt Bible verses off by heart, and can quickly find the promises of God in the scriptures – this is the foundation of our faith.  This kind of head knowledge is good but if it doesn’t have an impact on our daily lives, then of what use is it? 

Our experience of God is extremely helpful in our relationship with God.  It’s good to experience a prayer that has been answered in the way we had prayed. 
It’s good to be certain of the presence and power of God at work when we are recovering from sickness, or getting over a tragedy.  God gives us these experiences to show us that he does what he promises. 

The experience of the disciples that day when they saw the risen Jesus must have been amazing and their faith and trust in Jesus rose to new heights.

When Thomas didn’t have that same experience and he was still left sad and depressed, Jesus could have taken the attitude, “Well, Thomas, you have the word of the disciples that should be enough.”  But Jesus isn’t like that.  He doesn’t ridicule Thomas for wanting to experience firsthand the resurrected Jesus.  He invites Thomas, "Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!"  He goes out of his way for this one man and lets him experience the resurrection first hand.  Jesus provides this experience to reassure the troubled and doubting Thomas that the disciples were speaking the truth.  Thomas believes and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

This incident tells us clearly that seeing, touching, experiencing God in dramatic ways strengthens our faith, confirms our understanding of God, reassures us of the power and love of God but is not the basis of our faith.  If our faith in God rested only on our experiences then our faith would yoyo up and down every day, depending on whether our experiences were good or bad.  If we depended on our experiences of God to prove his love for us, then what would we do when the only evidence we see is sadness, tragedy and death.

You see, there comes a time when we have faith in God in spite of the circumstances we are experiencing.  Even when there is no immediate proof from your experience that God is powerful and that he loves you, you continue to trust in him.  We believe even though we can’t see it.  Faith keeps on trusting in spite of the fact that we can no longer see God's hand at work.  Faith keeps on believing that God is faithful to his promises.

In spite of being jailed and his life threatened, Paul continued to trust God.
In spite of being imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued to trust God.  He became pastor to fellow prisoners, spoke about God's love and prayed with them. 

Mother Teresa continued to help the poor and dying of Calcutta.  All she saw, day in and day out, was human misery.  She never lost sight of the loving God.
A mother continues to trust God even though her two small children were killed in a car accident.
A man continues to pray to God even though his body is filled with disease and daily struggles with pain.  He says, “God knows what he is doing”.

There comes a time when we believe even though there’s no immediate, obvious evidence that God is nearby.  We believe even though we can’t see.  That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”  Faith in the New Testament is just this – trusting and relying on God even when our experience of God barely exists.  This is where Thomas came unstuck.  He should have believed that Jesus would rise again because Jesus had said he would.  In fact, all the disciples should have believed this in spite of what they had experienced. 

Faith has to do with relying on a promise, trusting a word, holding on to what we know about God and believing that, regardless of what happens.

Faith believes that God is true to his word.  He never deserts us.  His love always burns strongly for us.  Even when the circumstances in our life might tempt us to think otherwise, faith holds on to believing that God knows what he is doing. 

Jesus came to Thomas with understanding and compassion.  He helped Thomas in his faith, just as he helps us when we begin to wonder about God's genuineness. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us when our faith wavers. He helps us trust God's promises even though our experience tells us otherwise.

From time to time, we are actually allowed to see him touch our lives and feel his presence; other times we rely on our experience of God from the past.
That’s okay but there will also be times when we rely solely on God's Word of promise.  He said that he would always be our helper and strength, and we need to simply rely on the promise. 

Jesus says to us as he said to Thomas, "Do you believe because you see me?  How happy are those who believe without seeing me!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th April 2012
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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