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Second Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, April 12, 2015

Surrendering to the Truth

TEXT: John 20:19-31

“My Lord and my God.” That is the bottom line of the story of doubting Thomas. We read this story from John’s Gospel every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. That’s how important it is. It is about doubt. And it is about belief. And it is about surrendering to the truth.

It may be that this story is more important now than it has ever been. In the Western world, we are suffering from a sickness of the spirit. What has made us sick is doubt, skepticism and an unwillingness to surrender to the truth. This sickness has spread to the Christians.

•  We doubt that everything God has revealed to us in the Bible is true, and so we have no certainty as to what is true and what is false.

•  We doubt that we can impose Biblical moral values on other people.

•  We doubt that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; and so we have no passion for sharing the Good News.

The result of all of this is that we walk around in a cloud of “whatever.” That is a very painful place to be. When we say to one another in a society, “You do your thing, I’ll do mine,” where is the community? Where is the togetherness? Where is the consensus? When we walk on eggshells trying not to say anything meaningful for fear of offending, where is the authenticity? Where is the depth? And where are the answers to the ultimate questions in life? Questions like:

•  Where did I come from?

•  Why am I here?

•  What difference does my life make?

The truth that sets us free is right in front of our noses, but our doubt keeps us locked up.

Thomas was a faithful disciple. He was one of the Twelve, one in Jesus’ inner circle. We hear about him three times in the Gospels. In one instance, he urged the other disciples to join him and go to Jerusalem with Jesus, expecting that they might all be killed there. (John 11:16) But he was a man who wanted answers to his questions. The time Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for His disciples—He said, “You know the way to where I am going.” Thomas challenged Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) He trusted Jesus enough to lay his question out there.

The incident we read about today happened the day Jesus rose from the dead. Mary Magdalene had told the disciples that morning that Jesus was alive. Peter had seen the empty tomb and didn’t know what to think. It was now evening. The disciples were huddled in a room in Jerusalem, with the door locked for fear that the authorities were coming for them. And through the locked door walked Jesus. He stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

There were almost certainly more disciples there than just the inner circle. But Thomas was not among them. We don’t know where he was. Later, when he showed up, an excited disciple said, “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.” But Thomas refused to believe. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

Remember, Jesus said several times that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life again. (See, e.g., Matthew 16:21) And now, Thomas’ fellow disciple is telling him that Jesus has done just that, and Thomas’ first reaction is, “I don’t believe you.” Thomas’ doubts were wounding him. One, he was calling his friend a liar. Two, he was separating himself from the others. Three, he was questioning whether Jesus had done what He said He would.

What was going on in Thomas that made him react that way? First, it may have been his personality. We tend to see the world in different ways because of our disposition. Is the glass half full, meaning it is on its way to being a full glass of water? Or is it half empty, meaning that soon there will be none left? The answer for most people is a matter of temperament.

Some people are temperamentally disposed to question grace. They will experience a moment of great blessing, and say, “Oh, oh. Watch out. Something bad is about to happen.” Some say the Gospel is just too good to be true. When Thomas walked in to that astounding good news, he might have thought, “We all want Jesus back, but wishful thinking isn’t going to do it for us.”

Another thing that could have opened Thomas to doubt was isolation. Why wasn’t he there with the others that night? We don’t know, but it is possible he just wanted to brood on his own. He might not have been up to being with the others. Maybe he didn’t want to have to feel everyone else’s grief. It might have been easier to deal with his grief on his own. But Jesus told us otherwise. He said that “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” He made us to be in community. He gave us the Church as a gift where we can share our faith, our ordeals, our celebrations and, yes, our doubts. The New Testament warns against giving up our gathering together. (Hebrews 10:25) J. C. Ryle, in his commentary on John’s Gospel, raised the question of— much Christians may lose by not regularly attending gatherings of God’s people.... The very sermon that we needlessly miss may contain the message our souls need. The very assembly for praise and prayer from which we stayed away may be the very gathering that would have cheered, established and uplifted our hearts.” [J.C. Ryle, John, p. 380 (Marshall Pickering, 1990)]

The third thing that may have pushed Thomas toward doubt is contradiction. For Thomas, Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life. How could He now be dead? He was the power of God manifested in the world. Look at all the healings. Look at the demons He cast out with a wave of His hand. How could He have been unjustly convicted and then ushered off to the cross as if He were helpless to prevent it? It didn’t make sense. It was contradiction.

So now, to be told that Jesus had appeared to the disciples was too much to believe. He could have said, “Aha, that is the answer to the contradiction.” Instead, Thomas said to himself, “I don’t believe the power was really there, so I can’t buy that He rose from the dead. It’ll take a lot more than my brothers’ testimony to convince me. I’ll need to see his wounds and touch them with my own fingers before I believe.”

That is how it works. Satan is there telling us that none of this is true. “Did God really say you would die if you ate that fruit? Did God really say that Jesus is His only begotten Son? Did God really heal those lepers and blind men and dead people? Were those really demons that seemed to erupt from the bodies of those people?

A lot of times we set ourselves up for Satan’s lies, and for the doubts that can lead us into unbelief. We do that by the things we tell ourselves about the Christian faith. We have our own individualized attitudes about God. Our own immature reasoning leads us to have false expectations. And then when those expectations are defeated, we say, “I no longer believe.”

•  If Jesus loves me, He won’t make me suffer.

•  If Jesus loves me, He will give me everything my heart desires.

•  If God is real and God is powerful and God is good, He won’t let bad things happen to good people.

The circumstances and the outcomes contradict a person’s assumptions about God, so now they doubt. They rarely doubt their assumptions; instead they doubt the existence of God.

Another contradiction for Thomas might have been the disparity between his fellow disciples’ words and their actions. They claimed to love Jesus. But in His greatest crisis, they all fled. James and John were known as the “sons of thunder.” They must have been loud and brash men. And yet they ran away from danger on Good Friday. Peter said He would never abandon Jesus. But He denied three times that he even knew Jesus. You can’t help but wonder if all this might have affected Thomas’ willingness to take them seriously.

The same phenomenon is at work today. I have heard many stories about people who have separated themselves from the Church and questioned their own faith in God simply because of things they have seen Church people do. God has chosen to use us weak, sinful human beings to spread the Good News. Our biggest impediment is that often we are not credible witnesses.

•  When people see us acting like pagans, they ask, “Who are you to tell me what God commands?

•  When people see us unwilling to get down and minister to the suffering, they ask, “Who are you to talk about God’s love?

•  When people see us living fearful and anxious lives, they wonder, “Where is this peace that passes all understanding that Jesus promises to those who put their trust in Him?”

But there is great hope in the story of Thomas and his doubts. Jesus knew what His disciples would do. He predicted how cowardly they would behave. And yet, He was determined to make them into credible witnesses. And He is determined to do so today. He came that night ready to heal Thomas’ doubts, and to restore him. When Jesus said, “Peace be with you, Thomas,” that wasn’t just a friendly greeting. It was an invitation: “It’s me, Thomas. I’m here to heal your doubts. Let go and be at peace.”

And Thomas surrendered to the truth. Thomas saw Jesus, and suddenly, he surrendered to the one who is the Truth—“My Lord and My God.” He was proclaiming not just that Jesus was back, as he had been told. He was proclaiming that Jesus Christ is divine. “My Lord and My God.”

Many of us have had doubts. Some have left the Christian faith for a time, and have come back. Some have hung in there, and found their answers in Christian resources. Some are wrestling with doubts right now.

If you left and came back, Alleluia! Welcome home.

If you searched and found your answers, Alleluia! May you trust that God has all the answers.

If you are doubting right now, rethink your assumptions about God. Where did they come from? Are they Biblical? Do they stand up to scrutiny? And as you wrestle with all this, take notice of how Jesus treated Thomas—“Peace be with you,” and He held out his hands to show Thomas it truly was He.

After Jesus had healed Thomas’ doubts, He said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.” (John 20:29.) And as John leaves us with those words, he tells us why he wrote this Gospel:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. [John 20:30-31]

John was Jesus’ witness. You and I are Jesus’ witnesses. God wants to heal the doubt that afflicts the people of this western world. My friends, it is painful to be in doubt. It is a deeply troubled spirit which cannot surrender to the truth. It is an unsettled heart that cannot find a satisfactory answer to the big questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? What difference does my life make? If we are to love as Christ loves us, we have to feel the pain of those who do not know Jesus. And we need to be credible witnesses, so that our testimony will draw them to Him.

The greatest truth in all the universe is that Jesus Christ is Lord.

•  Through Him all things were made.

•  He is the Word made flesh.

•  He is the Son of God.

•  He is the one who sacrificed His life for our sins.

•  He is the one who rose from the dead, and opened the way to eternal life.

•  He is the one who sits upon the throne and judges the living and the dead.

•  He is the way, the truth and the life.

There is nothing more noble, nothing more right, nothing more pure, nothing more beautiful, nothing more admirable, than the spirit that humbles itself before God, surrenders to the truth, and proclaims, “My Lord and My God.”

©2015 Jeffrey Cerar

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