We had quite a crowd here last week. Thank you for being here today.
And what a marvelous opportunity to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus! More than any other message – I love to share the good news of Jesus risen from the dead. Because quite frankly – that is the basis for our faith. Christianity is based on this one thing and this one thing only. The Resurrection of Jesus. Everything else we teach and practice stems from that one event.
So that leaves us with a fundamental question that everyone has to answer for themselves. Is Jesus alive, or is he dead? That is THE key question we all need to wrestle with. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, there is no Christianity – there is not church – and our faith is in vain.
Even the first disciples needed to answer this question. Is Jesus dead, or is he alive? There was no question that he had died as a result of crucifixion. There was no question that he had been buried, and they knew exactly where his tomb was.
As we learned last week, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb and found that it was empty. She saw the risen Lord face to face. She runs to tell the disciples. Actually she ends up telling Peter and John that she had seen the Lord. They run to the tomb – and again, it’s the right one. They know where the tomb is. And they find it empty. But the Lord they do not see.
Well, later that night, 10 of the disciples – and there may have been others with them – were all huddled together in a room with the doors locked. These were frightened men and women. Their Lord and Master was dead. And they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know where to go. When suddenly – Jesus appears to all of them at one time. And when they see the Lord – hear him, touch him – their fears are turned to joy. SO the question – is Jesus dead or alive – was no longer a question they needed to answer. They had their answer. Jesus was very much alive – having been risen from the dead.
But one guy was missing. Most of you know who I’m talking about. Thomas. When the disciples told Thomas that the risen Jesus had appeared to them – Thomas would not believe them.
Now, I think most of you know how I feel about this. Because Thomas doubted what the others told him, he has become known around the world as Doubting Thomas. Most of you know that I think this is a bum rap. After all, we all know Peter denied Jesus three times, and yet no one calls him Denying Peter.
And Thomas wasn’t the only one with doubts. Do you think when Mary ran and told Peter and John that the tomb was empty and that she had seen the Lord, that they believed her? No. They ran to the tomb to see for themselves. Quite frankly – I would have run too. Although not quite as fast as I used to. I would have wanted to see for myself. So I would have run to that tomb too! So Peter and John have doubts about what Mary tells them – and they run to the tomb to check it out for themselves.
And if you remember from another post-resurrection story – from Luke’s gospel – there’s the story of Jesus who joins two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. What did these two disciples tell Jesus – and remember – they don’t yet recognize him – they tell Jesus that some women from their group found the tomb empty – but it seemed to them as if what the women told them were an idle tale.
You see – Thomas is not the only one who has doubts. And yet, he’s the one who gets the unfortunate label of Doubting Thomas.
So I’d like to say something positive about Thomas. For instance, in John chapter 11, Jesus goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. But the disciples are shocked. Bethany is just a stone’s throw away from Jerusalem. And the disciples look at each other. They look at Jesus, and one of them says, “Rabbi, are you nuts? The Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” For Jesus to go anywhere near Jerusalem where the religious leaders are extremely hostile towards him is absolute lunacy to the disciples. But it is Thomas who says, “Let us also go with him – that we may die with him.”
Now – of all the disciples – Thomas is the one who shows loyalty and devotion. And quite frankly – courage. What I want to know is, why don’t we know Thomas as Courageous Thomas?
But, unfortunately, we remember him as Doubting Thomas. But we shouldn’t be giving Thomas a bad rap. And let me tell you why.
In some ways I suspect that when we hear about Thomas, most of us are saying to ourselves, “Oh yeah. I get that.” And we think that – and maybe some of us have been bold enough to say out loud – “I understand where Thomas is coming from. Because that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now,” – or – “I used to feel that same way too.”
Let me be clear. Thomas is not a bad guy for doubting – and neither are you! There’s nothing wrong with having doubts.
Notice that when Jesus appears to the disciples again – and this time when Thomas is with them – somehow Jesus knows that Thomas had expressed his doubts. And when Jesus confronts Thomas, he doesn’t scold him. He doesn’t yell at him. He doesn’t call him a nincompoop.
No. He invites Thomas to examine the evidence. “Put your finger here in my hand. Touch the wound in my side. Don’t doubt. Believe.” Notice, Thomas doesn’t reach out to touch the wounds of Jesus. He doesn’t have to. The presence of the risen Lord is all he needs. And I love Thomas’ response. A simple declaration of faith. “My Lord, and my God!”
Thomas and all the disciples were moved from fear and doubt to belief and joy.
SO – let me invite you to step somewhere into this story. At one time – ALL of the disciples were frightened – or skeptical – or had their doubts. And I suspect at one time or another – so did we. I hope that you have questioned this whole resurrection thing. And I hope you’re still bold enough to ask questions. I trust that you are aware of the evidence for the resurrection, and that you’ve given the evidence a fair hearing. And after examining the evidence, you’ve come to a conclusion. One way or the other.
But I want you to know that I am here to help you with those questions. With your faith struggles. And if I ever get that book finished – the one that I’ve been working on for over a year now– the one I’ve entitled “Examining the Evidence – Why We Believe What We Believe” – I am hopeful it will help believers – doubters – skeptics – or wherever you find yourself today asking questions and looking for answers – I am hopeful this book will be a resource for you – or for someone you think could benefit from it. If I don’t finish it before I retire in June – I will focus on it this summer until it’s done.
Anyway – Thomas struggled. All of those first disciples struggled somehow, someway. SO I’d like to think that when we struggle that we’re in good company.
And since we’re in good company, let me ask you, where have you struggled? When has your faith been tested? Did you ever want to give up on this faith thing? And maybe you did for a season. But you came back. Years ago – or as recently as – I don’t know – last week. But you came back. Like the Prodigal Son – or the Prodigal daughter. You came back.
Because – as I like to say – because you know that something must have happened that first Easter morning. The church has always proclaimed that something must have happened that first Easter morning to change those first disciples of Jesus from fear and doubt to belief and joy. Something must have happened. How else do you explain that the church spread like wild fire? It could not be based on a lie. It had to be based on something that actually happened.
Those first disciples really, truly, sincerely believed that they had seen Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. A literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This could not have been the result of wishful thinking, a mass hallucination, or a desire to make something good come out of a bad situation. Something extraordinary must have happened. Because you need something – something extraordinary to explain the very existence of the church.
The resurrection is the basis for our faith. If it were not for Jesus – crucified and risen from the dead – we would not be here today.
The resurrected Christ changed the lives of those fearful and doubting disciples. And the amazing thing is – is that the resurrected Jesus – through the power and the presence and the person of the Holy Spirit is still touching hearts and changing lives today. A dead Messiah – a dead Jesus can’t do that.
Only a risen Savior – a living Christ – can turn our fear and doubt into faith – belief – and joy. That’s what a risen Savior does!