Acts2:14a, 36-41; 4:19; 1 Peter 1:17-33; 5:7; John 14:6; Luke 24:13-35
The final words of last week’s sermon ended with Jesus reassuring everyone, through Thomas, that any barrier to faith can be overcome and bring life through Jesus’ name in all its fullness. We still call Thomas the doubter or “doubting Thomas” – a name given to him because of just one week in his life when he struggled with his faith – one week which has lasted for two thousand years. Are you a doubter?
The disciples of Christ, including Thomas, launched the early church. And for each of these men, there was one big life altering, reality event that changed everything for them: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Think about this for a second… Before the disciples met Jesus, they were nobodies. Nobody knew them. They were not accomplishing great things at all. They were fishermen. Even up to Pentecost, the disciples were fearful men who were more afraid of the religious council than they were of God. But when the resurrection happened and the Holy Spirit fell on them at Pentecost, the disciples changed as a result of experiencing the resurrected Jesus.
That is why, after being threatened not to talk about Jesus anymore, their entire perspective changed! The disciples have gotten a bad reputation for their post-Easter behavior – especially poor Thomas, who has been somewhat unfairly dubbed “doubting Thomas” for all Christian history. But can you blame them? At this point they have only heard once that Jesus is alive. This they have heard from Mary Magdalene, who had been running all over town talking about an empty tomb and a dead man walking; Who would believe that? Would you have believed that? Would you have believed the story of Easter, the first time around? Would you have started the party already?
They looked at the religious council in [Acts 4:19] and said, ”As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” They could not help it! These followers of Christ went from being timid and fearful to being bold and courageous. They went from saying, ”I don’t even know who Jesus is” on the night Jesus was arrested… to preaching the Gospel in the Temple courts and seeing thousands of people converted. just a couple weeks later. What was the cause of the transformation? The resurrection of Jesus Christ! The resurrection was the event that changed everything for these men; it changed everything. It changed their entire lives.
The disciples were like us: often skeptical, practical, sensible. IN fact, they tended to be a bit thick-headed. These are mostly fishermen, after all: blue-collar, working-class, salt of the earth kinds of people. So, it is no wonder that after hearing Mary Magdalene’s witness, they do not believe it right away. According to the Gospel of Mark, “Mary … went and told those who had been with him … who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”
They did not believe it!! And that is precisely why on Easter morning, instead of celebrating, the disciples are holed up in some little room, a place I imagine being somewhat like a bomb shelter: narrow, no windows, bad air, no light, a palpable atmosphere of panic and fear. There, the disciples are huddled together, locked into a living nightmare, making sure that everyone and everything stays away.
Except Jesus never stayed away from his disciples; suddenly, amid them, stands the risen Christ. One minute they are alone with their terrors and their doubts, and in the next minute they would never be alone again. Peace, he says. Shalom. Peace. And when Christ grants them his peace it must have come rolling over them like an ocean wave, washing away all their fears.
What is Christ’s response to all of this? Well, let us have a look. When the disciples fail to believe Mary’s eyewitness, Christ comes to visit them right where they are, holed up and locked up. When the first visit proves unconvincing, and because Thomas still does not believe, Christ, with apparently infinite patience, simply pays them a second visit. The disciples do not deserve a second visit by Jesus, but they get one. Jesus comes, and comes again, to his trembling disciples. Week after week, he shows up in the space of fear and doubt and stretches out his wounded hands, full of mercy, to invite them to believe.
But according to John’s gospel, you can depend on the fact that when you begin to doubt and fear – whether this week, or next week, or a decade from now — the risen Christ will not stay away from you. You can put as many locks and dead bolts on the door as you like, but the risen Christ will come to you anyway. Your doubts will not keep him at bay.
Everything feels uncertain. My mind often jumps to worst-case scenarios. I have no control over this pandemic. No control over who visits my parents. No control over what germs are in the area. No control over whether a loved one will contract COVID-19. No control over whether my city locks down. No control over whether another recession is on the horizon.
I am worried! I am a Christian and I am worried. And, what, if anything, can I do about it? One minute I hear, “It’s not that bad.” And then I hear the constant stream of updated numbers ,of countries on lockdown, travel restrictions, cases and deaths, reports on the global economy. The uncertainty turns into anxiety.
Remember that God enters your anxiety and tells you to share our concerns with Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Remember to go to Him with your burdens, and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Remember that He has provided you with perfect peace through a living hope (Philippians 4:6-7). And remember that God-given peace does not make natural sense.
The Bible describes a God who is not indifferent to the details of our lives. It describes a God who knows us personally, who cares for us deeply, and for whom nothing is out of His control. We live in a world broken by sin, and unfortunately, the consequences of sin remain.
God is not content for us to continue to live in a broken world. That may be our present, but it is not our future. God gives us a promise that, in God’s Kingdom; something better awaits. A world with no sickness. A place of security and stability. Loss and grief will no longer overtake us. Death will no longer reign. And the God who made you so you could know Him will wipe away your every tear.
God is no stranger to suffering, devastation or carrying heavy burdens. God entered our hurting world to rescue us. Through His Son, Jesus, He walked among us and experienced all we have gone through and will go through.
Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6, New International Version). Through dying a humiliating death on a cross, He took the penalty for our shortcomings. Through His resurrection, Jesus has made the way for us to have a relationship with God. Because of Jesus, we have a hope that extends beyond the short window of our lives. And if we have experienced the forgiveness that Jesus offers, we can look to the future with peace and joy, regardless of the present circumstances.
This certainty with God brings me back to the peace that does not make sense. Regardless of someone’s faith, anxiety and fear are natural tendencies. This world was not created for sickness, for death, for sorrow, for instability. But through Jesus, you can have peace within all the uncertainty and still hope for the future.
Peace does not mean you ignore the risks or avoid thinking about the situation. Peace is not saying, “Oh, everything will be fine.” Peace does not mean you should not take proper precautions for your safety and the well-being of others. (We still need to take responsibility and follow the guidelines of health experts and officials.)
Peace is acknowledging that the circumstances are bad and may get worse. By trusting in Jesus, resurrection hope during those circumstances provides spiritual strength for any circumstance for all humanity.
We can live unafraid because of a hope that is not based on wearing a mask or the development of a vaccine but that rests in a relationship with the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. That is right – a person who believes in Christ is full of stories and songs about God – a person who believes is beautiful – and is full of gifts that God has given. Each one of us helps others learn about Jesus, his love, his gifts to them so that they may have a better life and be able to live in peace.
Everyday millions of things go right and only a handful go wrong. What will we focus on? Will we look right at the signs of our blessings and call them burdens or will we bless the Lord? Do we live lives that are reactive and negative, or do we live reflectively, remembering that the Lord says that even our burdens are gifts in strange packages? And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Do we know this, or are we like the disciples on that early morning, when it is still dark, looking right at the blessings but drawing only negative conclusions, reacting and failing to reflect? Amen!