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April 19, 2020

Sermon John 20:25 . . .“We have seen the Lord”

“We have seen the Lord”

John 20:25

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

It seems as though we can measure almost anything.  If you want to know how far it is from the earth to the moon, for example, you can measure it with laser light, and find that it’s nearly 240,000 miles away.

We measure weight.  Which weighs more--a bag of apples or a bunch of bananas?

We measure temperature.  Will it be warmer today than it was yesterday?

We measure volume.  How many gallons does it take to fill up a bathtub?

And we measure pressure.  How much air should I pump in my car tires?

We can measure almost anything.  But there’s one thing we can’t measure, and that's grief.  Counselors say that grief is the way we respond to a tragedy or to the losses that life so often brings.

And grief, it seems, is different for everyone.  It affects our thoughts, our feelings, our faith, and our relationships with others.  And along with grief comes feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and depression.

It’s been said that grief is very much like a rainstorm.  Just when you think you can cope, that the storm has passed and that you’ll be okay, you’re surprised when it starts to rain all over again.  You smell a certain perfume, you hear a certain song, or you remember a certain birthday or anniversary, and it all comes crashing in again.

Author John Irving wrote, “When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time--the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers.  Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone.  Just when the day comes--when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone--there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”  And in his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

So it was for a man named Thomas.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1154 as I read the words of our text.  John chapter 20, beginning 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.’”

Whenever we tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection and what happened there that night behind closed doors, we often think of Thomas as a cold, hard-headed rationalist, as someone who, without evidence, refused to believe.  “Prove it to me,” he says.  “Show me.”  But that’s not the real Thomas.

Think about it.  If we had lived at that time and place, we probably wouldn’t have believed either.  After all, Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t make any sense.  No one rises from the dead--not after three days, not after being beaten with a Roman scourge, after hanging for six hours on a cross, after having a spear thrust into His side, after being wrapped in a burial cloth and laid in a stone-cold tomb.  The odds are pretty much against it.

Now anyone could have told that Jesus was a good Man.  He meant well.  Everyone loved Him.  Well, almost everyone.  But now He was as dead as dead could be.

And Thomas wasn’t alone in his doubt and disbelief.  Absolutely no one really believed Jesus had risen from the dead.

Mary Magdalene, one of the very first to come to the tomb, was sure someone had stolen His body.  She said to the One she thought was the gardener, “Sir, if You’ve carried Him away, tell me where You’ve laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  And when the women ran to tell the disciples what they had heard and seen, the Bible says, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

So on that first Easter day, really no one believed--not Peter, not James or John, not Matthew, Bartholomew, or Simon the Zealot.  And especially not the one whose name has, ever since, become synonymous with doubt--Thomas.

So why did he doubt?  It’s not so much that he was a skeptic.  Instead, he refused to believe because of his deep love for Jesus.  Out of his great sorrow, he felt he needed to run away and be alone.

And when the disciples took him and shook him and said, “We have seen the Lord!” it was simply impossible to believe.  It’s not doubting Thomas, really.  It’s confused, hurting, stricken, grieving Thomas.

Earlier in the book of John, just a few chapters before, word had come to Jesus that His friend Lazarus was dying.  He said He must go up to Jerusalem.  And He said that, when He goes, He must suffer many things from the elders and teachers of the Law, and that He must be killed, then rise again.  And it was those words, “suffer and die,” that stopped Thomas dead in his tracks.

And what did he say?  Peter didn’t say it, and neither did James or John.  Instead, it was Thomas who blurted out, “Let us also go that we may die with Him.”

While others might have tried to talk Jesus out of going, Thomas didn’t.  His love and his loyalty ran so deep, he was willing to give his life for Jesus.

But when Jesus died, he lost his faith and he lost his hope.  And when the disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, it was too good to be true.  Blinded by grief, overshadowed by doubt, he couldn’t help but say, “Unless I see it.”

It’s been said that, in the realm of spiritual truth, there are two kinds of doubters.  There are those hard-boiled rationalists who say, “I don’t believe it and there’s nothing you can say or do that will ever make me believe it.”  They talk about their doubts, they seem to enjoy their doubts, and they get angry when anyone tries to refute them.

They aren’t looking for answers.  They’re looking for an argument.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were very much like that.  When they asked for a sign, He refused to give them a sign, then called them, “an evil and adulterous generation.”

Then there’s the other kind of doubter, the one who says, “I don’t believe, but I’m willing to believe if I can see it for myself.”  Thomas was this kind of doubter.  He’s no unbelieving skeptic.  He’s a wounded believer.

He had never doubted miracles before.  He had already seen so much of what Jesus had done.  But this one, resurrection, was too big to take someone else’s word for it.  He had to see it for himself.

No one wanted to believe more than Thomas.  But he had seen too much, and knew too much, and all the facts pointed in one direction.

No wonder he said, “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.”

Back in the early 1600s, an Italian artist named Caravaggio painted a portrait of Jesus after He had risen from the dead.  He called it, The Incredulity, (the wonder, the astonishment), of St. Thomas.

Before I say anything more, you should know that Caravaggio wasn’t like other artists.  He depicted life as he saw it and experienced it.  Art historians tell us that when he needed a model for his paintings, he used ordinary people off the streets, like prostitutes and beggars.  He liked to “paint it like it was.”

So when he painted The Incredulity of St. Thomas back in 1601, he didn’t portray the disciples wearing beautiful robes or with halos hovering over their heads.  Instead, he gave us three old common laborers with tired, weathered, and wrinkled faces, coarsened by wind and sun.  Their clothes are working clothes.  Thomas’ are coming apart at the seams.

And if you’d look at that painting, you’ll see a typical Caravaggio--light beaming in from the side, the surprise and wonder on the disciples’ faces--it depicts an absolutely incredible moment.  Light is bathing the body of Jesus.  Peter and John peer down as Thomas reaches out to put his finger into Jesus’ side.

And as Thomas touches his Savior, there’s a sense of awe and wonder on his face.  His eyebrows are raised, his forehead is wrinkled.  He can’t even lift his eyes up to look at Jesus.  He’s too enthralled by the wound in His side.

But better than the face of Thomas is the face of Jesus.  He isn’t looking at Thomas really or the wound or Peter or John.  Instead, it’s as if He’s thinking, “Thomas, if this is what it takes for you to believe, if I have to let you press your finger into My wound, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.”  “Go ahead,” Jesus seems to say.  “Touch My wound if you must.  For though I’ve died, I’ve risen.  And if this is what you have to do to believe, then reach out and touch My side.”

What Caravaggio wants us to know is this--this is how grace works--Jesus going out His way to bring us to faith, to keep us in faith.  And as we walk with Him, and He with us, He uses us frail and faulty doubters that we are, as His hands and feet.

Several years ago, an icon of the Russian Theater, Alexander Rostovzev, was cast to play the part of Jesus.  The play was called, Christ in Tuxedo.

And as he walked out on stage dressed in a robe, carrying a New Testament, impersonating the Savior, the audience roared with laughter.  And as he held the Bible in his hands, he read, on cue, the words of Jesus’ Beatitudes:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It was then that he should have thrown off his robe and shouted, “Give me my tuxedo and top hat!”

But that’s not what he did.  Instead, he kept on reading:  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The other actors were getting nervous.  They cleared their throats and whispered under their breath.

But Rostovzev wouldn’t stop.  He kept reading to the very end:  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

Then before a very stunned and confused audience, he said what he had learned in church as a child:  “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

For the rest of his life, Rostovzev would claim that, at that very moment, he placed his trust in Jesus as his Savior.

Can you too kneel like Thomas once did and confess, “My Lord and my God”?  For when you do, you’ll know the power of Christ’s resurrection.

 

Dear Father, we thank You for bringing us to know Your Son, our Savior Jesus.  Whenever we doubt or despair, grant us the grace and the strength to believe, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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