Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sermon: John 20: 24-31 Doubting Thomas becomes Trusting Thomas

In recent years, we’ve seen the invention of lots of new words and phrases. So, for example, if you haven’t had your dinner yet, then you might be getting a bit ‘hangry.’ My spell-checker didn’t like that word, but it’s the word to describe when you’re angry because you’re hungry. Hangry - see if you can use that one tomorrow!

Another recent addition was the word of the year in 2016: post-truth. It describes the way society seems to be moving away from truth and facts, to focus much more on personal preferences and opinions. And, when you think that 2016 was the year of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, perhaps it was the perfect word to sum up the year.

But what will it look like to live as a Christian in a post-truth kind of world? Perhaps you’ve already had the encounter with someone who doesn’t believe. They reassure you that, if Christianity works for you, then that’s nice and good, but it’s certainly not for them. It might be true for you, but it’s not true for everyone. But is that really true?

You see, at the heart of the Christian faith are a series of facts, of things that are true. We’ll affirm them later in our creed - that Jesus died; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day. That creed is either true or false. Those things either happened or they didn’t happen.

But how can we be sure? If you’ve ever wondered about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, then Thomas is your friend. You see, we know him by another name - not Didymus, as the passage suggests, but rather his supposed full name: Doubting Thomas.

Of all the newly invented words like hangry or post-truth, there’s another one that perfectly applies to Thomas. It’s a four letter word, spelled F O M O - fomo. Anyone know what it 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 our on something exciting. So, imagine the scene. You’re at home, doing nothing much, scrolling through social media, when you see that all your friends are at a party, but you weren’t invited. You have the fear of missing out.

FOMO was only invented fairly recently, but it perfectly describes Thomas’ situation. From verse 19, we hear of what happened on the first Easter Sunday evening. The disciples were all together, doors locked for fear of the Jews. They still didn’t really understand that Jesus was risen - even though the women reported the empty tomb, Peter and John had seen the empty tomb. Then, suddenly, Jesus stood among them. He speaks word of peace - to transform and commission.

No wonder the disciples were overjoyed when the 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 FOMO feeler.

Look at what verse 24 says: ‘Now Thomas... was not with the disciples when Jesus came.’ The disciples were all there; the twelve, well, eleven since Judas wasn’t around, and well, ten, since Thomas was somewhere else. Thomas was missing, and he missed out. Where was he? Had he popped to the shop? Visiting family? Out for dinner? We don’t know where he was, but he wasn’t there.

The other disciples don’t wait to share the good news when they see Thomas: ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he won’t believe them. Do you see his threshold of proof? The kind of evidence that he’ll require before he’ll believe that Jesus is alive?

‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ (25)

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 conversations would have gone that week. But Thomas, we’ve seen him. We know he’s alive. Why won’t you believe us?

One whole week has passed. It’s now tonight, a week after Easter. Thomas is still unbelieving, still living up to his Doubting name. The disciples are gathered, and Thomas is there this time. The doors are locked, yet Jesus came and stood among them. Again, he speaks those words of peace. And then do you see what he does next?

The risen Jesus invites Thomas to do everything Thomas had said he would have to do in order to believe. Jesus had heard Thomas, knew what Thomas needed, and so provides Thomas with the opportunity to stop doubting and to believe.

‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ (27).

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

Thomas didn’t believe 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.’

And you might think - well, that’s all right for Thomas. He could remove his doubts by seeing for himself. Seeing is believing, isn’t it? And we won’t be able to see, so how can we believe? Do we need to take a leap in the dark?

Do you see how Jesus replies? ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (29).

Jesus isn’t saying that you’re blessed if you switch off your brain and accept any old story about Jesus being raised. No, we may not have see Jesus, but we can believe 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, saw him, touched him, 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 about everything else he has included in his gospel: ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (31).

Take some time tonight, 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 St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 8th April 2018.

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