Some years ago my son and I went on a holiday touring the Scottish Highlands, my son had written a to-do list of must see and do subjects.
Which to honest was extensive and to be absolutely honest I doubted we could actually see all the things that were on that list.
But like all parent’s we have to believe that we can in order to keep our cherubs happy,
I drove overnight from Colintraive to The pentland firth in order for us to get the early ferry to Orkney and we made it.
But on route we seen the northern lights a bright glowing light of bright green dancing around on the night sky, indeed a sight to behold and to treasure.
And that was one box ticked on his endless list of amazing things to see….
After our ferry sailing we motored over the islets and made our way to Kirkwall.
Alas we reached our hotel and then further planning ensued while I was reading about a brewery and a distillery I was abruptly reminded that this holiday is mine and you, dad are my driver.
So we set off on his adventure visiting museums and archaeological digs sites of great interest like Ness of Brodgar, Skara brae Maweshowe.
Entering Maweshowe was an interesting experience down that long tunnel like shaft, no problem for the then skinny 11-year-old, maybe not so much fun for dad……
I was glad when we ticked that off the list. Another fascinating place was the St Magnus cathedral also known as the light of the North. Also gave me the opportunity to visit a friend who is a minister there.
We found these Islands rich and Full of history. Telling stories of Pagans and their settlements and also about invading Vikings who settled and later become Christian and so around these island we seen so much, visiting the museum about Churchill’s barriers and the ww2 Italian Chapel.
We visited the round Church built by the Vikings which had a brewery attached and ruins of settlements. But in my mind I doubted we would see everything on this holiday.
As we left Orkney my son said “Off now to Loch Ness “
Yes, people guess what was next on the list of must see
yes, the Loch Ness Monster. Maybe at this point dad was thinking how do we explain this, if it does not show up. How do we explain to someone who believes in Santa Claus?
We arrived at Fort Augustus and settled into Maisie’s cottage B&B, and munched our way through much of her fantastic Shortbread and selection of baking.
Well we spent the next day getting eaten alive by those lovely midges and by the second we had bought the “Argyll” nets that cover your head as we trolled the banks of the loch.
I was trying to explain there was a possible chance that The Loch ness monster is mythical and really it doesn’t exist that it is maybe too fantastic of a story to really exist.
“In the name of the Father, The son and the Holy Ghost”.
The word fantastic has a dual meaning in our culture. It can mean something that is made up and thus not to be taken seriously. It can also mean something that is exceptionally good.
Today, on the second Sunday of Easter, our gospel reading takes us to the story of the disciple Thomas’ encounter with the risen Lord Jesus.
To Thomas, the story of Jesus’ resurrection told by his fellow disciples was fantastic in the sense of being unbelievable, too good to be true. In an increasingly sceptical world, Jesus’ resurrection is often viewed as even more fantastic than it seemed to Thomas.
Our Scripture readings today paints a different picture. They tell of a Christ-centred spiritual family, embracing together the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
In Acts 4:32-35 we learn of that family sharing life together, and of the apostles proclaiming the story of Jesus and his resurrection to the world.
1 John 1:1-2:2 we Learn of the apostles’ witness to Jesus and of the reality of Christ. The people in these readings share a common belief in a story that outsiders tend to view as being fantastic.
My sermon today is from John 20:19-32 is about that story and its effect on one apostle in particular who begins doubting and ends up believing and worshipping.
The story begins in the evening, as the Sunday on which Jesus was resurrected drew to a close:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
You will recall that Jesus’ tomb had been found empty early that day, and reports of his appearances had circulated among his disciples, who now were assembled in the Upper Room where they had met with Jesus on Thursday night for the Last Supper.
Since Jesus’ arrest late Thursday night and his crucifixion on Friday, they had lived with the fear that the enemies of Jesus might come after them. Now, as they were cowering in fear in the Upper Room, Jesus appears.
Have you ever been startled by someone suddenly, unexpectedly, appearing close by? The surge of adrenaline that hypo experience? can cause sweaty palms, goose-bumps, and even hair standing on end. The sudden appearance of Jesus in the midst of these already nervous disciples might have drawn such a reaction.
Jesus acted quickly to calm them with his greeting, “Peace be with you.” Just a few days earlier, these “friends” had abandoned him; one even denied him. Yet, the first thing Jesus said to them was full of grace and forgiveness.
His next actions—the showing of the crucifixion wounds— would have reassured them that the person talking to them truly was Jesus. Instantly, they flipped from shock to joy!
Words are inadequate to describe this experience. Imagine someone you believed was dead, now standing before you alive!
Consider the agonizing death of a loved one, now reversed into life! Visualize your joy when a devastating loss turns into an indescribable victory!
All of these thoughts, feelings, and more were overwhelming the disciples at this moment. With emotions filling the room, Jesus spoke profoundly:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The repetition of “peace” was deliberate for emphasis. With it he quelled any uncertainties about his attitude toward them. He relieved them about their standing with God, despite the failures and fears of the previous few days.
How gracious is our God! In the person of Jesus, he stood among them with a loving, patient and friendly tone. Then, he got to the point: they were to go on mission, just as the Father had sent Jesus on mission.
Jesus had sent them out on mission temporarily before, but this time was different. They were now going to go with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Jesus had spoken to them about the Holy Spirit a few nights earlier at the Last Supper. He said,
Reading from John 14: 16-17
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
The Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, who would be with them and in them forever, would provide the guidance and power they would need to fulfil their mission on which they now were being sent.
In breathing on them, Jesus demonstrated that he was a flesh and blood, breathing human.
At the same time, his breathing was symbolic—acting out what would be fulfilled almost 50 days later on the day of Pentecost, when the sound of a rushing wind would accompany them being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jewish words and thought depicted the Holy Spirit as the breath of God, which imparted life to Adam and prophetically to the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. As recorded in John 14 and 17, Jesus had explained that the Spirit would come forth from the Father and be sent by Jesus.
What did Jesus mean by his statement concerning the forgiveness of sins? Referring to Jesus, Paul wrote this: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7). Paul was not contradicting Jesus’ words to his disciples.
Jesus himself had said to his critics, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins Clearly, forgiveness of sins is through Jesus. Neither the apostles nor anyone since has been given that role. However, through the gospel, forgiveness of sin is proclaimed. Note what it says in Acts 13:
Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
The mission on which the disciples were being sent involved proclaiming the gospel, which means proclaiming the forgiveness of sin in and through Jesus.
If the message is not delivered or not received, the forgiveness is not experienced and thus has no power in the person’s life. Paul reiterates this in Romans 10:
How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
Thus we see the vital role of the proclamation and reception of the gospel.
For unexplained reasons, Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples. Jesus knew he was absent, and remembered that Thomas, upon learning that Jesus was returning to dangerous Jerusalem, had pessimistically stated, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). John’s account continues:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.”
Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples was dramatic, and he showed them the same evidence that Thomas demanded. Thomas knew that an unexplained apparition could deceive people into believing that they saw something else.
But he took what might have been healthy scepticism all the way to cynicism, dismissing the testimony of his closest friends. As a result, he was given the nickname Doubting Thomas.
We now fast forward a week: (John 20:26)
A week later [Jesus’] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Jesus then addresses Thomas directly: (John 20:27, NASB).
“Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
Thomas must have felt like a child caught with his hand in the Sweetie jar. Jesus gave him the evidence he demanded, taking away Thomas’ reasons to disbelieve. In doing so, Jesus rebuked Thomas for being overly sceptical and illogical
The doubt of Thomas in the face of the witness of the others was not a proof of his superior intelligence. Sceptics usually pose as persons of unusual mentality.
How could Thomas have been disbelieving in the company of friends who believed? More importantly, how could he persist in being clueless about Jesus? You would think that all Jesus had said and done should have prompted at least a reaction from him.
Whatever the case in the past, Jesus’ words and actions now broke through to Thomas who voiced his now-famous acclamation of faith: (John 20:28)
“My Lord and my God!”
Not only did Thomas snap out of doubt and acute scepticism, his revitalized belief moved him to worship!
Thomas’ dramatic turnabout shows the transformational effect of Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas had been with Jesus for three years and witnessed the power of God in all Jesus did, but all that he witnessed and experienced did not compare to seeing Jesus, who Thomas knew had been dead, standing alive before him—wounds and all.
Jesus’ appearance after his resurrection so convinced Thomas of Jesus’ divinity that he worshipped him on the spot!
Thomas was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle—a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. But what about the rest of us? Do we need to see Jesus and feel his wounds to believe that he is the risen Lord? Of course not!
Don’t we believe all kinds of things without seeing evidence first-hand? The earth is round; the sun is 93 million miles away; the oceans are thousands of feet deep. Do we need to personally witness these facts to believe them?
Most people believe such facts because they believe in the credibility of those who told or taught them. God our Creator graciously granted humanity the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection through 12, rather ordinary, witnesses.
History tells us that these ordinary men gave their lives insisting that their witness was true.
Theirs is not the only evidence; others also saw Jesus alive after his resurrection from the dead. Why wouldn’t these witnesses be believed?
Evidence notwithstanding, notice what Jesus said about all who believe him without seeing first-hand evidence?
Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
For Thomas, the saying “seeing is believing” described the way he approached faith in Jesus. But as the author of Hebrews notes, real faith is believing what is not immediately visible: “Faith is… assurance about what we do not see”.
Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who believe without seeing (or touching) the evidence of the resurrection in the way Thomas did. What does that blessing entail? Peter answers: (1 Pet. 1:8)
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
A blessing is a gracious outpouring of good from God. The recipients of this blessing are able to love Jesus, though they have not seen him. Their grace-endowed faith and love results in exuberant joy that expresses confidence in the salvation they have been granted. This is the blessing upon all who love Jesus and trust in him for their salvation.
Here is how John concludes the story of doubting Thomas, who became believing Thomas:
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)
All around us is a world that views the claims of Christianity with scepticism, even hostility.
They defend their scepticism as being logical and scientific. But Thomas’ story reminds us that there is hope for sceptics.
Just as Jesus confronted doubting Thomas in love, so too will Jesus confront a doubting, sceptical world.
In fact, he is doing so all the time, and the evidence he presents involves us—the faith-filled testimony of our lives and words.
For all who love and trust in Jesus, the fantastic, yet true promise of eternal life awaits—life in communion with our triune God in the fullness of God’s kingdom—a life filled with love, joy and peace.
And so we pray, come Lord Jesus. Amen.