Sermon from April 15th, 2018

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“Thomas: An Honest Start to a Fearless Faith”

Psalm 33:12-22; John 20:19-31


By Pastor John Bent



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Sermon Text
Good morning!  Have you ever second guessed yourself?  You started out confident, sure, and then ‘bam’ you’re confused, insecure, hesitant, apprehensive. You choke!

Every athlete knows about this. One minute you’re on your game, the next you’re tripping over two left feet.  Take golf for example. You boom the ball straight down the middle hole after hole then all of the sudden, your confidence disappears and you can’t get past the women’s tee box. It takes 4 tries to sink a 2 foot putt.

You’re about to marry the love of your live and suddenly you’re frozen with doubt. You finally get the dream job you’ve wanted for years!  Then your confidence disappears and you’re overwhelmed by doubt and fear. “If this for real? Am I just fooling myself? What if this doesn’t work out? What if I can’t do this!”

Today we continue our study of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Let’s open our Bibles to John 20:24.   It’s a week after the resurrection. Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the disciples in Emmaus, then to the 11 disciples minus Thomas. They talked to him, touched him, ate with him – all except for Thomas.

“Jesus is alive, in the flesh, we saw him!”
But Thomas was adamant. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Jn 20:25

They must have wondered, “What’s wrong with this guy?”  But then again, maybe they didn’t. Thomas had always been kind of weird. When Jesus announced he was going to Jerusalem, James and John started arguing about who would sit on his right and left on his throne.  Thomas simply said, “Let’s go die with him.” Thomas was a little strange.

He’s been called “Doubting Thomas” but I don’t think that’s fair. To doubt means to be “double-minded” - to waver in our convictions.  I think if there was one disciple who refused to waver in his convictions, it was Thomas. He didn’t say “I might not believe”, he said, “I won’t!”

When Jesus told the disciples he was going away and that they knew the way to the place he was going, the other disciples all nodded their heads pretending to understand. Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. Tell us and we’ll be there.”

I don’t believe Thomas was a waffler, nor was he double-minded. I think he was a realist. He was honest. He also knew Satan was a master of deception. Maybe that’s why he was skeptical about the reports of the resurrection. Was it really Jesus or an imposter? He refused to be taken in by rumors they all were desperate to believe.

Thomas knew it was impossible for Jesus’ mangled body to return to life. He knew simply wishing it were so wouldn’t change that.  So he told the others who seemed to have been carried away by their enthusiasm, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

Let me put this another way. Scholars list at least 37 separate miracles done by Jesus in the Gospels. The disciples were eyewitnesses to all of these. That’s why they wrote them down.

John writes. “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

Imagine the big hug fest the disciples must have with Mary and Martha after Jesus raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. Martha had asked Jesus not to open the tomb because Laz was going to smell so bad. Not only was her brother raised from the dead but he smelled as fresh as a daisy! They hugged him, sniffed him. This is unforgettable stuff!

For 3 years the disciples watched Jesus cleanse lepers, drive out demons, still the storm, open blind eyes and deaf ears, heal paralytics, multiply bread, change water into wine, teach like no one else had ever taught, claim to be God, raise the dead.  The miracles were daily stuff for them for 3 years!

Yet no matter how much Jesus did, often the very next day they doubted what they had seen, heard, and experienced. They said they believed, but then they waffled, they clutched, they froze up, they doubted what their eyes had seen. Doubt isn’t a new thing.

The OT is filled with miracles. God parts the Red Sea, gives 40 years of manna in the wilderness, collapses the walls of Jericho and in many cases the very next day the people ask God for another miracle just to be sure. I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve done the same thing.

I pray! God answers! I’m so excited, I tell everyone what God has done but as the days go by, instead of trusting, I fall back into doubt and wavering. I lose my confidence. I ask, “Are you really there God or am I only fooling myself? Give me another sign. Maybe it was just a fluke!”

Why is that? Why do we start out so excited and then fall back into fear and uncertainty? Why are young churches and young believers so full of fire but as they age they all too often lose their passion?  In Revelation, Jesus warned the church in Ephesus that they had lost their first love. He warns the church in Laodicea that their fire had grown cold. He told the church in Sardis, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”

What is he saying that to us as a congregation this morning? What is he that saying to you? Many of you have walked with the Lord for many years.  You’ve seen him do amazing things. Why then is it so easy to fall back into doubt, to wonder if he’s still there for us?

One answer is this - faith isn’t something we generate. It’s a gift from the Holy Spirit and we leak. The Bible says we must be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit. How does that happen? It happens through continually reading and listening to God’s Word, prayer, and meeting together with God’s people. Without these things we leak and doubt fills the void.

You see we have a real enemy of our faith who is continually whispering in our ear the same lies he gave to Eve. “Did God really say?  Did that really happen? Maybe it wasn’t a miracle, maybe it was just an accident!”   The strength of your faith will depend on who you listen to! 

When Thomas was told by the others that they had seen the Lord, he refused to be carried away by their enthusiasm. He refused to put the reality of the cross behind him. That’s why he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

Any Jesus without those wounds is a fake.  Thomas was a realist. He wasn’t interested in a Pollyanna faith that denies the reality of evil and the sacrifice of the cross.

Satan does everything in his power to strip the Christian faith of the centrality of the cross. But without the cross there is no admission of the reality of sin. There is no redemption from the debt of sin. There is no salvation. There is no resurrection.

I’m thankful for Thomas’ honesty. He refused to be an environmental Christian. For Thomas it was all or nothing. He admitted he couldn’t generate faith in his own strength.

When the others invited Thomas a week after the resurrection, he agreed to come. Suddenly Jesus was among them even though the doors were locked. “Peace be with you!” he said.  Then he went to Thomas. Using Thomas’ own words, he said, “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. It’s me, the real deal! Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Matthew tells us that at Jesus’ ascension some of the disciples still doubted. “Did we really experience what we thought we experienced?”
 
I doubt Thomas was one of them. Tradition tells us that Thomas went to India and established the church there where he was later martyred. Thomas was a waffler when it came to the reality of Jesus risen from the dead. I think what Thomas doubted was himself - his own ability to generate faith and even the enthusiasm of his friends. That’s good.

Real faith is never anchored in our ability to hang onto Jesus, its anchored in Jesus ability to hang onto us. When we are faithless, he is faithful. Listen again to Psalm 33:13-22

“From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those who hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you.” Ps 33:13-22


My faith, my spirituality, my understanding, my enthusiasm are all gifts from God but they have no power to save me, in fact, there are times when these things will fail me. But Jesus will never fail me.

It’s Jesus who saves me when my faith is strong and when my faith is gone. When I’m filled with confidence and when I’m shaking with insecurity! Have you turned it over to Jesus? Not once, but daily, moment by moment. Be honest with him. He will meet you where you are. He is the bedrock, the only bedrock on which the Lord can build a fearless faith.

Amen.

Christ Lutheran Church • 5150 River Lakes Parkway, Whitefish, MT 59937 • 406-862-2615


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