Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: John 20: 19-31 'My Lord and my God'

Every so often, new words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary, reflecting the way language is changing, and new words are being coined. The word of 2016 - do you know what it was? Post-truth - ‘in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ So some would argue that’s what we saw with the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump - facts were forgotten, and instead personal beliefs and emotional arguments won the day.

Now, if this is the world we’re living in, then where does that leave the truth of the resurrection? Can we still believe in the resurrection of Jesus at all? And if we can - how is it possible? How does the truth of Jesus’ resurrection speak to a post-truth world?

After all, if society is saying things like ‘This is my truth tell me yours’ (as Manic Street Preachers entitled one of their albums) and Paloma Faith asks ‘Do you want the truth or something beautiful?’ How can we reply? If personal beliefs are top - then our neighbours and friends don’t want to hear about facts, they only care about how they feel. How can we provide an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus? What can we say in the face of death?

Well, to help us face up to a post-truth world, we’re going to look at one man’s experience of the very first Easter. And if post-truth is a fairly recent word, then another that applies in his situation is this one - a four letter word, spelled F O M O - fomo. Anyone know what that means?

FOMO is the fear of missing out. It’s the anxiety that comes, particularly on Facebook, that you’ll be sitting at home, missing out on something exciting. Can you picture the scene, or maybe you’ve experienced it. You’re sitting at home, nothing to do, scrolling through Facebook, when you see that all your friends are at a party, but you weren’t invited. They post loads of pictures, updates, and you feel left out. You’re missing out.

Well, even if FOMO was only added to the dictionary last year, it’s a perfect word for Thomas on that first Easter day. You see, our reading this morning begins on the first Easter Sunday. The disciples were all together, locked inside a room, for fear of the Jews. They still didn’t really understand that Jesus was risen - even though the women had reported the empty tomb, and then Peter and John had gone to explore it, and had also seen the empty tomb. The disciples were gathered together, when suddenly Jesus stood among them. He speaks a word of peace, shows them his hands and side, and commissions the disciples, sending them as the Father had sent him.

No wonder the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Their fear was gone. They really did have hope. They could rejoice that Jesus had defeated death. All the disciples were glad. All, that is, except for Thomas, the first feeler of FOMO.

Look at verse 24. ‘Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.’ The disciples were all there, but Thomas was missing, and missing out. Where was he? Had he popped out to the shop? Was he having dinner somewhere else? We don’t know where he was, but he wasn’t there.

John tells us that Thomas was also called the Twin. But we have another name for him - a name that has stuck: Doubting Thomas. And he gets that name because of verse 25. Yesterday evening, we were watching the FA Cup semi-final. It was all tied, 2-2, very exciting match. And we went into the kitchen to get dessert. In the couple of minutes we were away from the TV, Chelsea scored not once, but twice. So when we told H, he wouldn’t believe it - until he saw the score on the top corner of the TV. He’s a Spurs supporter, so it wasn’t good news.

But the other disciples give Thomas some really great news, and he still won’t believe it. ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But do you see what he says? ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’

He’s been with the other disciples for three years - he knows what they’re like, yet he won’t believe what they say. He wants the facts - he wants to see, and he wants to touch. Think how the conversation would have gone that whole week after Easter. But Thomas, we’ve seen Jesus. We know that he’s alive. Why won’t you believe us?

One whole week passed. Thomas is still unbelieving, still doubting. The disciples are gathered, v26, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, yet Jesus came and stood among them. Again he says those words of peace. And then do you see what he says next? The risen Jesus invites Thomas to do everything Thomas had said he would have to do to believe. Jesus had heard Thomas, knew what Thomas needed, and so provides Thomas with the opportunity to not disbelieve, but believe:

‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

Up to that point, Thomas was sceptical. He wanted physical proof. He wanted to see, touch, and then he would believe. But look closely at verse 27 and into 28. Does he touch Jesus? Does he take up the invitation to touch his hands and put his hand in his side? No! He simply replies, ‘My Lord and my God.’

Thomas hadn’t believed the word of the other disciples, but he did believe when he saw Jesus face to face. His doubt was gone. To misquote the Monkees song, ‘then he saw his face, now he’s a believer.’

Do you see how Jesus replies? ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Now Jesus is not saying there that you’re blessed if you switch off your brain and accept any old story about Jesus being raised. No, we may not have seen Jesus, but we can believe that he is alive, because of the eyewitness testimony of the first disciples. We can believe that Jesus has defeated death because Thomas and the other disciples met him, touched him, and shared food with him.

Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life, Jesus is exactly who Thomas recognises him to be - Lord and God. But even that isn’t enough (and isn’t even what Thomas said!). Is Jesus ‘My Lord and My God.’ Is he your Lord and your God?

Thomas might have missed out on the initial excitement of the first Easter Day, but within a week he too knew that Jesus was alive. Thomas speaks to our post-truth world, not only through his dramatic turnaround, his emotional appeal, but also through the undeniable facts - that Jesus died and rose again.

And John tells us why he writes about Thomas, and everything else that he has written in his gospel book. ‘These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God...’ Take some time today, or over this week, to read through John’s Gospel. Everything John writes is to show you who Jesus is, so that you can be sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. But having that head knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, isn’t enough. Here’s the rest of his purpose: ‘... and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And through John’s gospel, he says of himself: ‘I am the resurrection and the life...’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life...’ Jesus died in our place for our sins, but Jesus has defeated death. He is alive, and so we too can receive his life as we trust in him. This is the hope we have as we stand at a graveside; as we feel the pain of loss - that Jesus is the life, and will give us eternal life.

We can believe it because doubting Thomas became trusting Thomas. He gives us truth for a post-truth world. He didn’t miss out. And neither will we, as we trust in Jesus Christ, and say to him and about him: ‘My Lord and my God.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd April 2017.

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