From the Pastor's Desk 

Don't Doubt, Believe!

4-15-18

            Let's pray.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            Most people, kids especially, seem to love the fanciful tales of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.  We're past that stage in life now, but there was a time when the boys were younger when we spent time watching shows and movies about Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit and Eeyore. 

            I would also venture to guess that probably the least loved of all of those characters, or maybe it would be more accurate to say not the most popular character, is Eeyore.  That's largely because of his rather sour personality.  The word that comes to mind that best describes this animated, stuffed donkey is gloomy.  He is not a fan of very much at all, except eating thistles.  He's always losing his tail and his house is always getting knocked down.

            There are a few catchphrases that he is particularly known for.  "It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it."  "Thanks for noticin' me."  "If it is a good morning, which I doubt."  As I'm reading these, if you're like me, you can no doubt hear his grumpy voice saying each thing.  This morning as we continue working our way through the gospel of John, we're going to encounter a character who kind of, sort of, might remind us a bit of Eeyore. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            Over the course of the past few weeks, we have looked at the core details of what is called the Passion of Christ.  It all started with His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and the subsequent trials that ensued after that.  Finally, He was nailed to a Roman cross and crucified in the most horrific manner possible.

            There were a lot of reasons why He was killed that day, depending on which perspective you look at it from.  From the Roman viewpoint, He was crucified for being a traitor to the state, even though Pilate didn't find any guilt in Him at all.  From the Jewish perspective, He was killed for claiming to be God and blasphemy in their minds deserved death.  From our perspective, He died to provide us with forgiveness of sins.  From God's perspective, Jesus died as part of His plan to provide redemption, forgiveness and salvation to mankind.

            He died on a Friday, and then three days later, on Sunday morning, His tomb was miraculously empty.  It wasn't because He only swooned on the cross and was revived in the tomb; it wasn't because someone stole His body; it wasn't because His followers were hallucinating when they saw Him afterwards and it wasn't because they went to the wrong tomb.  God raised Him from the dead to prove He is God and to provide us with victory over sin, death and the grave.

            Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus alive.  The Lord appeared to her and told her to go and tell the disciples that He would soon be ascending to be with the Father.  Then He appeared to the disciples as they gathered in a locked room, apparently hiding from the Jewish authorities fearful for their own lives.

            But not all of the disciples were there the first time that Jesus appeared to them.  Judas had already hanged himself and Thomas was not with the group at that time either.  We're given no explanation in Scripture for why he wasn't there.  But as we're going to see this morning, he soon has his encounter with the risen Lord.  Let's now read John 20:24-31.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            In the synoptic gospels, Thomas only appears as a name in the list of those whom Jesus chose to follow Him.  In John's gospel, we are given a few more details concerning this man.  In what little information we're given, we see where Thomas is an eternal pessimist.  He seems to have a knack for finding the dark cloud in every silver lining.  He's a little gloomy, just like Eeyore.

            In John 11 we find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  He intentionally waited until after his friend had died before going to where he was.  In verse 16 of that chapter, we find Thomas' reaction to the news that they're going back.  It's kind of a negative reaction, but at least he was willing to go.

            Then in chapter 14 of John's gospel, we get another glimpse into the character of this man.  Jesus is preparing the disciples for His departure and for their continued ministry after He is gone.  He mentions that they know the way to where He was going.  Thomas is the one who responds.  John 14:5.  To that, Jesus gives us one of the great truths of the Christian faith.  (v. 6).  We see Thomas in these two instances as a loyal but somewhat pessimistic disciple.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            As we begin this passage, we see where Thomas' friends and colleagues have told him and explained to him that they had seen the Lord.  But Thomas is unconvinced.  He demands to see some concrete proof and solid evidence that Jesus was actually alive.  Thomas knew He had died on a Roman cross, now he needed proof that He had been raised from the dead.

            Unfortunately for him, Thomas has come down in history with the nickname "Doubting Thomas."  That nickname is not exactly fair.  If he had been present when the risen Christ first appeared to the disciples, he would have believed then just like they did.  If any of the other disciples had been absent at that time, they probably would have doubted, too.  In fact, the women had come to tell the disciples what they saw and the men didn't believe their testimony.  So Thomas isn't any more of a doubter than any of the other disciples were or would have been.

            Thomas wanted a personal experience with the Lord, the same kind that the other disciples had already experienced.  That is not a bad thing for Thomas to desire.  However, it wasn't good for him to lay down conditions for the Lord to meet. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            Jesus first appeared to the disciples as they huddled together on the evening of the first Easter Sunday.  We're not given any information about what they did or how they spent their time over the course of the following week.  Sometime during that week, is when they were telling Thomas about seeing Jesus and his request for some proof.  Otherwise, we don't know if they stayed in the room or if they were coming and going.  I'm guessing that if they were afraid for their lives, they probably tended to stay close to that room hiding from the Jews.

            Whatever was going on over the course of that week, the scene in John shifts to the following Sunday.  This time all of the disciples are there together, including Thomas.  They were again behind not only closed doors, but behind locked doors.  They were still afraid of the Jewish authorities, fearful that they would be arrested and executed for being followers of Christ.

            Just like He did on the evening of the first Easter, Jesus suddenly appears to them.  He doesn't come through the door; He doesn't climb in the window; He is unexpectedly among them.  His glorified body just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

            Just as He did the first time He unexpectedly appeared to the group of disciples hiding behind locked doors, Jesus greets them by saying "peace to you."  After engaging the group as a whole, Jesus then turns His attention to Thomas.  Jesus is all-knowing.  He knew what Thomas had said and He knew what Thomas was thinking and even feeling. 

            Thomas has that unfortunate moniker of "Doubting" attached to him for all of history.  But notice that Jesus doesn't rebuke him for doubting; He rebukes him for his unbelief.  "Don't be an unbeliever, but a believer." 

            Thomas had demanded physical proof before he believed that Jesus was alive.  Then Jesus shows up and offers him that exact proof.  It doesn't tell us in Scripture whether or not Thomas actually took Jesus up on His offer to touch the marks of the wounds in His hands and His side.  The impression we get from reading the text is that the sight itself proved sufficient.  Thomas appears to be so overcome with awe and reverence that he immediately uttered his confession.

            He simply says, "My Lord and my God."  Thomas' affirmation is one of the most dramatic and powerful statements in all of Scripture about Jesus' deity.  Jesus isn't only Thomas' Lord and Thomas' God.  But these words were a personal confession of faith. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     

            Jesus says that Thomas believed because he saw, but blessed are those who believe without seeing.  The word blessed does not simply mean happy.  It's deeper than those folks who believe in Jesus being in a happy mood.  That word actually pronounces the person who believes as accepted by God.  Jesus was soon going to ascend to be with the Father permanently.  All those who believe after that will do so without the benefit of having seen the resurrected Lord.

            In other words, blessed are those who cannot share Thomas' experience of sight, but who in part because they read of Thomas' experience, come to share Thomas' faith.  For us, faith comes not by sight, but from what is heard and what is heard comes through the Word of God.  Rom. 10:17.

            Verse 30 basically is saying this:  Those who have not seen the risen Christ and yet have believed are blessed; therefore this book has been composed so that you may believe.  There are a lot more signs Jesus did that could have been reported.  On the other hand, these have been committed to writing so that we may believe.

            Everybody lives by faith, whether we recognize that or admit it or not.  The difference and what really matters is the object of that faith.  Christians put their faith in God and in His Word.  Unsaved people put their faith in themselves. 

            It is not necessary for us to see Jesus in order to be saved.  It was a blessing for those who did see Jesus, but seeing isn't salvation.  The miracles and signs that Jesus performed prove His deity; they are important.  But sinners are not saved by believing in miracles; we are saved by believing in Jesus Christ.

            Many Jews in Jerusalem believed in Christ's miracles.  Great crowds followed Him for awhile because of the miracles they saw.  Even the religious leaders who plotted His death believed that He did miraculous things.  All of that belief and all of that faith did not save them.  The masses in Jerusalem didn't believe He was the Messiah.  The crowds eventually all deserted Him.  The religious leaders certainly weren't saved. 

            Believing is important.  Salvation comes through our belief and trust in the work of Christ that He did on the cross and through the empty grave.  We need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah who grants eternal life to all who believe in Him for it.  Sinners prayers don't save; baptism doesn't save; repenting without believing doesn't save; confessing Christ is important but by itself isn't a salvation experience; commitment of our life also doesn't result in a person becoming a born again believer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

            Lost sinners are dead.  They need the life that only Jesus Christ can provide.  That life comes through the Great I Am:  Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else.  Eternal life is not endless time; even lost people are going to live forever in hell.  Eternal life means the very life of God experienced today.  It is quality of life not quantity of time.  It is the spiritual experience of heaven on earth today.  We possess eternal life through Christ as we live our lives here on the earth.

            Jesus was calling Thomas to a deeper life; a deeper relationship with Him as His Savior and Lord.  That's what God is calling us to:  a deeper life and a deeper relationship with Him.  If we're going to have that deeper life, we're going to need to believe in who He is:  the Messiah; Master, Savior, Lord, God.

            Once we come to that point in our lives, we can then begin to go deeper.  Go deeper in your reading of the Word.  Matt. 7:24.  It's not just reading God's Word.  We need to go further and deeper than just hearing the words or reading them.  We need to understand; we need to pay attention and heed what it is God is saying to us.  Beyond that, we also need to act on what He says; we need to obey that Word we are paying attention to. 

            Go deeper in your prayer life.  Romans 12:12.  Be persistent in prayer.  Would you consider yourself to be a persistent pray-er?  Do you keep on keeping on?  Or do you tend to ask once or twice and then give up?  Don't stop.  As it says in Matthew 7 we need to keep asking; we need to keep searching; we need to keep knocking. 

            Prayer is so much more than offering up short sentences to God about someone who is sick.  I hope that your personal prayer life goes deeper than our corporate prayer life tends to go.  Spend time regularly, daily, praising God for who He is; thanking Him for all that He has done for you; confessing known sins and also praying for all other prayer requests that you have to lift up to Him. 

            Go deeper in your fellowship with others.  Acts 2:42.  One of the things that the early church was devoted to and committed to was spending time together.  Fellowship is more than simply hanging out together and sharing a meal.  It is being intimately involved in each other's lives.  It is spending quality and quantity time together making a difference in each other's lives for the advancement of the kingdom. 

            How much time to you spend with other believers?  Is it just time that you spend when you're here at church?  Or is it more than that?  It really needs to be beyond the walls of this building.  It's good for us to be here, obviously.  But we should be spending our quality and quantity time with other born again children of God.  We should be investing in each other and living together, helping one another in whatever way we can.

            Go deeper in your service, ministry and witnessing.  Luke 22:27.  This is Jesus speaking to the disciples after they had a dispute about which one of them was the greatest.  His point was simple:  it's not about being great; it's about being a servant.  We need to die to self and put others first.  It's not what's in it for us, it's what's in it for others and how we can be a part of that. 

            It's easy to become pretty content and settled in the routine you are in.  Try to break out of that a little bit.  Instead of just doing the same old thing all the time, try something new.  Do something different.  Break out of your comfort zone.  Witness to someone you don't know.  Do a service project or ministry that involves work that you're not comfortable doing.  Get up earlier to read and prayer; get up earlier to be to church on time, or maybe even early.  Go out of your way to show love to someone who needs it. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            If you have already experienced this life-changing event, thank God for the precious gift of eternal life.  If not, now is the time to respond to God's working in your life as our singers and musicians come now and as we stand and sing.

 

            Prayer.