Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Sermon for This morning: John 20:24-29

I’m preaching this morning with hesitation and reluctance. First, of course, because Matt has been preaching so exceptionally on these resurrection accounts—and it is fairly impossible to preach in his wake and measure up. I had been looking forward to his next installment and am disappointed to be giving it myself. Second, this is one of my least favorite texts in the Bible. You all have been used to me saying about practically every passage, ‘Oh, This is my favorite!’ Well, today we’ve reached one of those few texts I like less well. Not only so, I have already preached several unremarkable sermons on these very verses. It seems a sadness to add anything to my already considerable pile of words on this subject. However, duty to my husband, to you and certainly to the gospel compels me to try, and now having sufficiently lowered your expectations to ensure general success, I beg you will turn in your Bibles to John 20 verse 24. Remember, for a moment that Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday first to the Marys and other women, then to the two on the Road to Emmaus, then to Peter and finally to a general assembling of disciples and friends excluding Thomas, who, I always liked to think, popped out for a late run to the shops. However, Matt says it would be impossible to get any man to run out this late, probably 9pm or so, for shopping. In other words, we have no idea why he left the group and went out into the night on his own. But go he does, and that’s when Jesus shows up. And let us also remember, before we go any further, that None of the disciples believed right away that Jesus Rose, certainly not based on the Scriptures, which should have been enough, but then on the testimony of those who had seen him, i.e. the women. Although their account certainly inspired hope, it did not bring about belief. The men on the road to Emmaus were intrigued,
but they didn’t believe them until Jesus appeared to them himself. Likewise the disciples. When Jesus appears to the group, he twice tells them to calm down—‘Peace be with you’. So it is not unusual that Thomas, having missed Jesus, wouldn’t immediately believe. Furthermore, he has missed the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed on them and filled them with the Holy Spirit. If you’re confused about this, please go look up Matt’s sermon from last week on the difference between ‘filling’ and ‘indwelling’ of the Holy Spirit. But look at verse 25: “So the other disciples told him.” The tense of the verb, in Greek here is important. The word means ‘told’ and ‘kept on telling’. They didn’t just say it and then let the matter rest, they kept on telling, over and over for a whole a week. It may have been that first telling that evoked Thomas’s harsh response, but it seems rather overblown to be the first thing he might say, more the result of being told over and over and over and over and of finally stating rather too strongly the darkness of doubt. “Unless I see the marks, and put my finder into the mark, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I want to say, before we continue much father, that nothing in the gospels indicate that Thomas is of a remarkably doubtful disposition. No more than any of us. Rather, do not neglect the terrible implications of the crucifixion itself. All of the disciples had seen it—well, I say that metaphorically, only John saw it, all the rest were hiding. But, they had understood very well what had happened. Here they had been following someone they thought was going to save them, someone they thought was the messiah, someone they thought was God. But who had died the death of one accursed. This was not lost on them. Everybody had been despairing last Sunday. Even so, we must examine the case against Thomas. Thomas has been hearing eye witness accounts of the Resurrection For A Week. And not just any eye witnesses—those of people he knows intimately. I, as Matt can verify, am frequently taken in. Several years ago, A nice looking guy and his fiancée came looking for help. It seemed he had been accused of something
And his life was ruined by the legal fees And he just really needed to be allowed to do some charitable work in the church and then have the church give him a letter on church letter head indicating that he was a wonderful person. To this end he kept bringing large amounts of canned goods. More than we could ever cope with, and always seemed to arrive just as the service was over. And I was completely taken in. Wiser heads intervened and protected the church, many of them pointing out that I should have caught on sooner and not encouraged him so much. But I am just a naturally trusting person. I think this is many a modern objection to the eyewitness accounts of the gospel—I wasn’t there, how do I know I’m not being scammed? Plus, Christians are so weird, how could I possibly trust them? But Thomas knows the other 10. He knows the women. He knows the change wrought in them over the last three years—from being morally dubious, confused, proud, unbearable rabble rousers from the back water of Galilee, to Real Lovers of Jesus. He knows them. Furthermore, the testimony of two or more trustworthy witness, according to Old Testament Law, were to be believed. The Bible is remarkable in the vastness of its First Hand Eye Witness accounts—accounts, no less, that agree with each other. Most other primary source material is not nearly so impressive. To have one eyewitness is usually considered very helpful. Thomas had them All in one room, over many days—details, agreements, a timeline. And yet he persists in unbelief. “I will not believe” he says. I think this is where the average Christian, like me, becomes frustrated with poor Thomas, with this text, and with the culture at large. How intransigent! I think, What is your problem? Just believe. The fact that the disciples keep on telling Thomas for 8 days indicates that they were similarly frustrated. “What’s not to believe?! I’m here telling you. Are you calling me a liar?” Recently I came away from speaking with someone about a serious moment of doubt they were experiencing,
and I found that I was feeling personally insulted. They must think I’m an irrational idiot. That’s the implication. I’ve built my entire life around this fact, this knowledge of a risen and living Jesus. I’ve been willing to suffer, though not, perhaps, as much as some. My entire life would be sheer lunacy if this wasn’t all true, objectively, not just true for me. Its not enough for it just to be true for me. My truth—what is it that Britney Speers said? “Can you handle my truth? No, it has to be true for everyone to justify the kind of life the Christian is called to live. But we live in a culture that cannot accept this claim. Doubt is the only acceptable life choice—It might be true, maybe, but I don’t want to know for sure. I’m not going to accept it unless I can see it. You telling me, the Bible telling me, the Bible being coherent and measurably and historically verifiably true isn’t enough. I will not believe. And this deep societal cultural and sometimes personally encountered unbelief, or persist doubt, for those of us who really believe, can feel like a stunning personal indictment. Our word, the word of the Scriptures, isn’t good enough. But it must not be so. Helpless and frustrated the disciples Keep On Telling Thomas, even though nothing will change his mind but Jesus himself. John says that it was 8 days later which, by the way of counting days at that time Puts us again to Sunday, one week after the resurrection. `Verse 26: “Jesus came” again into the same locked room, and said again “Peace be with you” and then, because he perfectly well knew what the problem was, he addressed Thomas directly, inviting him to do what he boasted would be necessary for belief. “Put your hand in my side, your fingers into my nail wounds.” This is the painful reality of conviction and Truth. Whatever you have been so proud and stubborn about—that will be what brings you to your knees before the Lord. I doubt very much that Thomas had to actually do those things. Seeing Jesus, alive, was enough. It is always enough. And it is the reason we must not give into frustration and discouragement in our proclamation of the gospel. Jesus is enough, Not only so, it is only Jesus who is enough. No words, no actions, no intention, no Chicken BBQ, no pony rides, no perfectly written guest letter can achieve what Jesus does in a look, a word, himself. But no means do I mean that our striving for the sake of the gospel is useless, unnecessary, or in vain. The disciples Kept On Telling him. But rather, we strive, we preach, we welcome, we organize parties, we persist, we go into all the world knowing that at the critical moment, when the time is perfect, when everything is ready, Jesus will show up, Suddenly, and he will be enough. Jesus gently rebukes Thomas and then encourages us—everyone of us who hasn’t seen Jesus in his flesh, though the eyes of our hearts have seen him, though we have heard his voice in the scriptures and seen his over powering action in our lives. ‘Have you believed because you have not seen?’ one of those terrible questions that are really statements of fact. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.’ Not irrationally leapt into a psychological ‘faith’ with no basis in fact, but rather who have been honest enough to consider the evidence as it stands, who have submitted to the evidence, who have seen the truth, acknowledged the truth and who are then welcomed into an amazing relationship with Jesus all without seeing his flesh, the color of his eyes, the expression of his face, the wounds in his hands. Blessed—well are you who believe. But I have skipped over practically the best part, verse 28: “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God.’” Certainly Thomas believes that Jesus is alive, but he also gets the full implication of that fact. Do you remember how John starts his gospel? Right, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ John makes sure we know that Jesus, the Preincarnate Word, is God, but he doesn’t bring it up again for 19 chapters. ‘Lord’ slips in here and there, infrequently, sometimes meaning ‘Sir’ sometimes more than that, but finally in chapter 20, out of the lips of the Greatest Doubter in all Scripture, we get this thunderously resounding adoring acclamation, ‘My Lord and My God.’

I’m going to stop there.
Matt will pick up from this point next week.

1 comment:

r said...

Miss your sermons, thanks for posting!