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April 8, 2018

Sermon John 20:19 . . . “Bible places:  the Upper Room”

“Bible places:  the Upper Room”

John 20:19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Actor and comedian Tim Allen isn’t afraid to talk about his faith in God.  And while he’s best known for his handyman humor, there’s a side to him that many haven’t seen—the deep struggles that brought him to Christ.

He didn’t have it easy.  When he was eleven, his father was killed by a drunk driver.  That’s when he began to question if he should have prayed harder, or been with his father that day.  Maybe somehow he could have prevented his death.

He said:  “I knew my father was dead, but I was never satisfied with why he was dead.  I wanted answers that minute from God.”  And he said, “I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my Creator ever since.”

For years, he struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, until finally, in October of 1978, he was arrested for possession of cocaine.  He served two years in a federal prison.

Then when he left prison, he turned to comedy which, he says, helped to save his life.  He starred in the sitcom Home Improvement, as well as movies like The Santa Clause, Toy Story, and Wild Hogs.

Now after a decade of sobriety, he speaks of God’s redeeming grace and goodness, proving that no one is “too far gone.”

Easter is all about faith and fresh starts and getting your feet on solid ground.

So it was for a man named Thomas.

Please turn with me to the words of our gospel reading for today, on page 1154.  John chapter 20, verse 19:  “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”

But as the disciples met together that night, afraid, locked behind closed doors, there was one who was missing, one of the Twelve.  Look at verse 24:  “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  But he said to them, ‘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.’”

I don’t know why, but ever since those words were written, the disciple Thomas has gotten a bum rap.  Whenever we mention his name, we never just say “Thomas.”  We always say “Doubting Thomas.”  It’s as if there were all kinds of Thomases in the Bible, so we say “Doubting,” to be sure we got the right one.

Well, here’s a news flash--in all sixty-six books of the Bible, this Thomas is the only one.

So who was he?  He was a Hebrew by birth and he loved and worshipped the God of Israel.

Then he met Jesus.  And just as soon as he heard Him speak, he knew he had to follow Him, even if it meant leaving everything behind.  So off he went, in the power of God, to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead.  For the next three years, there were thousands of things that he was privileged to see.

Today we read about the feeding of the 5,000, and we wonder how it must have been.  But Thomas was there.  He met that little boy with his five loaves and two fish.  And he saw Jesus raise them up toward heaven and bless them to feed a multitude.

And the miracles!  To hear a blind man speak of things he had never seen and a lame man jump for joy—it was beyond words.  A woman bled for twelve years and spent everything she had.  And all she did was touch a tassel on Jesus’ prayer shawl and she was instantly whole again.  Thomas was even with Him in Bethany as He spoke a word and Lazarus came out, alive, from his tomb.

But on Thursday, Maundy Thursday, that’s when the nightmare began—at the trials before Annas and Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate.  Soldiers mocked and a crowd shouted, “Crucify!”  And by 3:00 Friday, it was done.  With a great voice, He cried, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit,” and He breathed His last breath.

Never in a million years did Thomas ever think it would end like this.  His heart was broken.  His dreams had died.

And that’s why he hid from the disciples that night.  They were the last people on earth he ever wanted to see.

But you know what’s so beautiful about these words from John chapter 20 is that, a week later, when Thomas came looking for proof, proof came looking for him.  For it was there, in that upper room, that Jesus came once more, risen from the dead.  “See My hands,” He said.  “Reach out your hand and put it into My side.  Stop doubting and believe.”

As much as we might hate to admit it, there’s a little bit of Thomas in all of us, for we too are often quick to say, “I will not believe unless…”

We have intellectual doubts—is the Bible really the Word of God?  And is Jesus the Son of God?

We have spiritual doubts—am I really a Christian?  And why is it so hard to pray?

And we have circumstantial doubts—why did my marriage fail?  And why did my child die?

Today, just as He did for Thomas, Jesus continues to come through the locked doors of your life to say, “I lived for you.  I died for you.  That’s all the proof you could ever need.”  And He takes you past all your doubts, no matter how deep, to a life of following Him.

That is, after all, what Jesus said to Thomas that night.  He didn’t say, “Thomas, I counted on you in the garden and you ran away afraid,” and neither did He say, “Where were you when I needed you the most?”  Instead He said, “See My hands…touch My side.  Stop doubting and believe.”

In an article entitled, Seven Ways to Deal with Doubt, author Ray Pritchard wrote:  “Most Christians struggle with doubt at one time or another.  It’s not sinful, but it can be dangerous.  And it can be a spur to enormous spiritual growth.”  And he wrote:  “It’s what you do with your doubt that matters.”

So how can we deal with doubt?  First, admit your doubts and ask for help.  God isn’t fragile.  He can handle all your questions.  And even more, find some Christian friends who can help.
Second, act on your faith, not on your doubts.  Noah had never seen rain, still he built the ark.  And Abraham had no idea where he was going, still he left Ur of the Chaldees.  Sure, the Bible is full of heroes, but they were flesh and blood people just like you and me.

And rest on the promises of God.  As Paul wrote to a pastor named Timothy:  “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed.”  And he wrote to the Romans:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

At the end of World War II, the Japanese government had a problem.  Even though peace was declared, there were literally thousands of soldiers hiding in the mountains and jungles of the South Pacific who refused to surrender their arms and return to a life of peace.  They were afraid they’d be tortured and put to death.

Until finally, the emperor of Japan made a speech explaining the situation and pleading with his men to come home.  He said, “The war is over.  Peace is established.  You will not be harmed, but welcomed and protected.”  Then that speech was recorded and boomed toward the mountain caves and jungles where the men were hiding.

Since it was the voice of the emperor himself, almost all of the troops came out.  Within months, all but a few surrendered.

And for years, everyone assumed that all the living had been accounted for.  But it wasn’t until March of 1974, twenty-nine years later (!), that the last soldier finally came out.

When they asked the man, now in his sixties, why he had waited so long, he said it took him that long to get over his fears.

“Put your finger here,” Jesus said, “and see My hands.  Put out your hand, and place it in My side.  Stop doubting and believe.”

You know, the story of Thomas didn’t end there in that cold, dark room.  When he saw Jesus, he believed and he couldn’t help but share the good news.  Tradition tells us that he went as far as Iraq, Iran, and India until he died, a martyr, pierced by a spear.

If Thomas were to speak to us today, what would he say?  He would speak to anyone who doubts, whose hopes or dreams were destroyed.  And he would tell the story of Jesus.  And with a radiant face, he would speak of the joy of seeing and knowing Christ risen from the dead.  

As Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

Almighty God, heavenly Father, we thank You for the amazing gift of love and grace we find in Jesus, that He willingly suffered death for us and was raised to life eternal.  Help us to recognize His presence among us and to find strength in His plan and purpose.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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