18 Apr 2020 Sermon


Tim’s Sermon for 19th April 2020

Faithful Thomas!

Reading – John 20:19-29.

 

The Covid-19 plague is indiscriminate. It makes no distinction, between the rich and the poor; between those who are powerful, and those who are not. It recognises no barriers, in society, spreading its misery, far and wide! For that reason, it will be followed by another universal disease – fear!

Fear of the dark; fear of the light. Fear of open spaces; fear of enclosed spaces. Fear of the known; fear of the unknown. Fear of life, as we now know it, and, of course, dear of death! Life, is dangerous; the world, is no longer secure – and we, human beings, are frail! Nothing, will ever be the same – except one thing. When Jesus comes to us, risen from the dead, He comes, having experienced and overcome, the deepest fear of every human soul.

The fear of being utterly alone, isolated, betrayed and shamed. The fear of being completely abandoned, even by God!

Up from that hell, Jesus comes, and He speaks. As with Mary, on that first Easter morning, He speaks one word, to each one of us. Jesus calls us by name! (John 20:16).

And, as with Mary, there will be the ‘turning of tears’ – from tears of despair, to tears of joy! For we too, as she did, will know, that we are not alone – that God knows us, loves us, and will not let us go. Overwhelmed by that love, fear, will have no place in us. With Jesus, all will be well! And so, we will declare, along with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

 

That first Easter evening, the Risen Jesus, appeared to the disciples, in the Upper Room. To all, except for Thomas, called Didymus – the twin. For some reason, he was not there, in the room, with the others.

“Peace be with you!”  After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19,20)

Jesus then commissioned them, the church to carry on His work. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit..’ ”

(v 21,22).

For the next 40 days, the Holy Spirit, instructed them, (Acts 1:2), and Jesus commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4,5).

Only then, would the church, commissioned that first Easter evening, and empowered, at Pentecost, be fully equipped, to begin its’ mission to spread the Gospel.

 

But what of Thomas?

It seems that, despite the empty tomb and their eyewitness accounts, he simply couldn’t believe it!

There could have been two reasons for this.

First – perhaps resurrection didn’t fit his expectations, or his world view. Life was life, death was death! Perhaps he was a realist, living in a war zone, surrounded by violent uprising, death and execution. Life doesn’t return to those who have died, the way Jesus died! Perhaps, he was simply scared of what may happen.

Or, second – he loved Jesus too much! He’d seen Jesus tortured, nailed to a Roman cross; he’d seen Jesus, his wonderful, kind, compassionate, gentle Jesus, ripped from his side, savagely killed and buried in a cold, stone tomb. Didymus wanted Jesus, his Jesus, and no one else would do! Not a fake, not an imposter, not a ghost, or a vision – but his Jesus! How long should it take, to get over this trauma? A day, a week, a month, a year, never!

So maybe now, knowing all we know about the real Thomas, we should begin to see him, not as the 50% doubter, but as the 100% believer. The one who wants to give everything to Jesus! The one who has so much to give, that he has to know it’s really true! The one who longs to follow Jesus, with all his heart and mind and strength – the one, the only one, who insisted, “Let’s go and die, with Him!” (John 11:16).

But, if he’s got all this to give, he needs to know that it’s not a lie or a trick. He needs to know that he’s not going to be hurt again. He needs to know that he’s not making a complete fool of himself…

“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it!” (John 20:25).

Can you blame him? I can’t!

Surely, it’s compassion we need to show here, not condemnation!

Doubt is not a sin, it’s not even the opposite of faith – for the opposite of faith, which requires, ‘belief’, is, ‘unbelief’ – which is a sin!

Indeed, C.S.Lewis insisted, “You can only have doubts, when you have faith!”

Martin Luther prayed – “Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without thee. Help me, or I am lost!”

He also wrote – “The art of doubting is easy, for it is an ability that is born in us!”

 

Henry Drummond preached:

“Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt, and unbelief. Doubt is, ‘can’t believe; unbelief is, won’t believe.’ Doubt is honest; unbelief, is obstinacy. Doubt, is looking for light; unbelief, is content with darkness! Loving darkness, rather than light – is what Christ attacked, and attacked unsparingly. But for the intellectual questioning of Thomas, and Philip, and Nicodemus, and the many others who came to Him, to have their great problems solved, Jesus was respectful, generous and tolerant. But how did He meet their doubts? The church says, ‘Brand him!’; Christ said, ‘Teach him!’ ”

When Thomas came to Him, doubting His very resurrection, and stood before Him, waiting for scathing words and lashing – they never came!”

Instead, He said to Thomas, “Put your dinger here; see my hands. Reach our your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting, and believe.” (John 20:27).

Ever wondered, why Jesus wasn’t raised to life with healed hands; with a healed side?

I think this may be why:

“Many years ago, in the little English village of Brackenthwaite, there lived a quiet and lonely man, named William Dixon. His wife had died years before, and later, he lost his only son. Dixon often sat by his window, watching the world go by, smiling at the happy families on the street.

One day he looked out, and saw a neighbour’s house on fire! People were gathering, scrambling for water, and shouting for help.

Dixon ran out and joined them, just as an elderly woman was pulled from the flames.

‘Who else is inside?’ someone shouted above the commotion.

‘My little grandson!’ she gasped through smoke filled lungs. ‘Upstairs, trapped!’

The people groaned, knowing that the burning stairway was impassable. But William Dixon hurried to the front of the house, and found an iron drainpipe, running up the wall. Taking hold of it, he climbed up to a window, and found the terrified boy. He scooped up the bewildered child, and scrambled back down to the ground. A few days later, the poor grandmother died of her injuries, leaving the little boy as an orphan, with no home, and no guardian. The village held a public hearing to determine his fate. When the meeting was called to order, two volunteers stepped forward. One good citizen answered all the standard questions, giving every assurance that he would provide a good home, for the lost boy. The second volunteer, was William Dixon, the rescuer. He said few words, but his hands spoke for him! They were heavily bandaged: the red-hot iron drainpipe he’d chosen to climb, had burned them, severely and permanently.

When it came to a vote, the man with the terribly scarred hands, went home with the little orphan, a loving father once more! His love, everyone agreed, was written, on his hands!”

 

The love of Jesus, is also still written on His hands today; two hands, stretched out and nailed to a cross, flowing with the blood, that indelibly wrote His love for us, for all eternity!

John’s Gospel doesn’t tell us whether Thomas actually touched Jesus, or not. Seeing Jesus before him, seems to have been enough for Thomas. The biggest doubter; the last to hold out against belief, ended up being the one who made the strongest declaration of who Jesus is – God – in all the Gospels! “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28)

So the biggest doubter, became the boldest confessor!

Then Jesus spoke again to Thomas – clearly having us in mind too:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed”.

(John 20:28)

 

We are among those who are called to believe, though we have not seen. I doubt anyone, no matter what our demands, will ever have a material experience of Christ – though, some, may have a visionary one!

If you find the bodily resurrection of Jesus, difficult to accept, I hope you will find Thomas, to be your friend and advocate – attach yourself to him; be with him, in his fear, his loss and his disappointment. Feel your own need for concrete evidence. And then, be with him, as Jesus comes again, by His Holy Spirit, and shows you His hands and His side – His wounds of love. I hope that you too will declare, “My Lord and my God!” and that you will follow Him.

Tradition has it, that Thomas spread the Gospel and planted churches, in latter day Parthia and Persia, right on into India. And there, at last, Thomas, the ‘Doubter’, was martyred – impaled, upon a 12 foot lance! ‘Faithful Thomas’, would seem more appropriate – don’t you think?

One final point. Thomas stayed in the company of believing, serving, worshipping disciples, even though he doubted!

He also kept close to the place where Jesus was known to have ‘shown up’! We too, even as we struggle in so many ways, must go to, and remain, in the fellowship of God’s people, the church. And to God’s Word, as places where Jesus is known to have come.

There, if we wait, with an open, seeking heart, Christ will come to us, enabling and increasing our belief, and shining the light of eternal life into our lives.

Covid-19 will pass – we will meet again. And Jesus will heal us of all the fear, the pain, and the loss, that we have suffered. The resurrection power, that raised Jesus from the dead, will change our future – our eternal future.

And if we are willing, it can also change our present; and if we are willing, it can also heal our past.

Christ rose from the dead, to set us free from all the fear and to live in ‘New Life’.

Jesus, who is ever faithful, will do this, for us, because He loves us….if you don’t believe me, look at His Hands!!!

                                   

Before the throne of God above,

I have a strong and perfect plea,

A great high Priest, whose name is love,

Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,

My name is written on His heart,

I know that while in heaven He stands,

No tongue can bid me thence depart,

No tongue can bid me thence depart.

                                                            Charitie Lees Bancroft (published 1863)

 

AMEN.                                                                                                                                   TCR

                                                                                              

 


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