(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
How much evidence do you need?
21st April 2017
1,987 years ago, on the Sunday following the Passover festival, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This was impossible, but it happened, because with God even the impossible is possible.
He appeared to Mary in the garden, near the tomb, and then to the other women who had gone with her, as they were on their way home. Later that first day, He appeared to Peter, and to Cleopas and his companion who were on the road to Emmaus.
But his disciples were confused. They were unsure of what they'd seen. They didn't understand.
So often in our lives, God does things that we don't understand. Sometimes He does things that seem to us to be unwise, or even cruel. But there's always a reason, and it's always a good reason, because He's a good God, although we may never find out what that reason is.
The disciples couldn't understand why Jesus allowed himself to be arrested. They couldn't understand why He refused to defend Himself at his trial. They couldn't understand why He didn't come down from the cross and confound His persecutors. They couldn't understand why He died. He'd told them in advance, several times, that all this would be necessary, but they couldn't grasp what He was saying. It all seemed too weird.
They couldn't understand that the way to life is death, the way to victory is defeat, and the way to glory is suffering. And sometimes we can't understand it either.
When Jesus rose from the dead three days later, they couldn't grasp the meaning of the empty tomb. The men failed to believe the women when they reported that they'd met the risen Jesus. How could it possibly be? They'd seen Him crucified. They'd seen the soldier stick a spear in His side to ensure He was dead. They'd watched Him being buried.
Some things seem just too wonderful to be true. Could Jesus be alive? Were they imagining it? Was it some kind of trick? What on earth was going on?
So they hid. They locked themselves in an upper room for fear of the Jewish authorities. If they'd killed Jesus, maybe they'd kill His followers, too. The disciples decided to wait until the heat died down.
They were joined that evening by Cleopas and his companion, who told them of the time, that afternoon, when Jesus had met them on the road and revealed Himself to them, and they'd hurried back to Jerusalem to share the news. Thus they added their testimony to the testimony of Mary, and the women, and Peter. But the disciples stayed in the locked room.
It seems they believed, and they didn't believe. They had faith, and they doubted. They'd seen the risen Lord, or maybe they hadn't. But they had, hadn't they? Or was it too good to be true? Are our spiritual experiences real, or imaginary? How can we know?
Their hope was rising, but they weren't sure.
Then Jesus appeared in that locked room, before their very eyes, and said, "Peace be with you".
This is what Jesus came to do. It's what Jesus died to do. It's what Jesus rose from the dead to do. He came, and died, and rose again, to give us peace.
Jesus gives us peace with God, by paying the price for our sin with His own blood. Jesus gives us peace with each other, as we learn to love and forgive one another. And Jesus gives us peace with ourselves, as we learn to accept who we are, because Jesus accepts us as we are.
Jesus gives us peace about the past, because we know we're forgiven. He gives us peace about the present, because He's here with us, even when we're in the valley of the shadow of death. And Jesus gives us peace about the future, because we know He'll be with us there too, and we know our future in heaven is assured by the New Covenant in His blood.
The testimony of Mary, and the women, and Peter, and Cleopas and his companion, was not enough for the disciples to believe. At first, even the appearance of the risen Christ in the locked upper room wasn't enough. But then He showed them His hands and side, and then they truly believed. Then they were overjoyed. Oh, the joy we receive when we realize and admit who Jesus is and what He's done for us, when we understand that He truly died and truly rose from the dead, for us!
We don't put out faith in Jesus because somebody tells us about Him. We don't put our faith in Jesus because we've seen Him perform a miracle. We put out faith in Jesus when we receive revelation that He died on the cross and rose from the dead - when our mind's eye sees and understands that He died for us, and conquered sin and death - for us.
If you've heard the stories about Jesus, experienced worship, seen miracles, but still haven't really put your faith in Jesus - haven't entrusted your life on earth and afterwards to God - haven't surrendered your doubts and failings, your sadness and pain, and hopes and dreams, to Jesus, then ask Him to show you Himself, risen from the dead with the marks of the nails and the spear - to convince you that He died for you and rose from the dead so you could share His eternal life. Ask Him, and He will.
Jesus said a second time, "Peace be with you". He came to give us peace.
And then Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you". As William Hendriksen says in his commentary, "every believer has... the duty of bearing witness joyfully and incessantly". Both our lives and our words should speak about the love and power of the risen Christ.
Then Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit". The church is powerless without the Holy Spirit, but with the Holy Spirit, we can - and will - change the world.
Then Jesus said, "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven". The power of forgiveness is enormous. No matter what a person has done to us, Jesus calls us to forgive them, and He promises that every sin against us that we forgive, He will also forgive. But if we will not forgive, then neither will He. What a responsibility we carry to forgive others! But if we have true faith in the risen Lord, then we know God has forgiven our sin, so how can we refuse to forgive those that sin against us?
What a momentous evening! The conclusion of the most momentous day in all of history! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead in the morning, and appeared to His gathered disciples in the evening, and gave them peace - the peace of God. And He told them to bear witness to His life, His death and His resurrection. He breathed his Holy Spirit on them and reminded them of the fundamental importance of forgiveness, which is the heart of the gospel and the heart of the Christian life.
And Thomas had missed it.
We don't know where he was that evening. Perhaps John was being delicate when he just wrote that, "Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came". But we do know, and it's not surprising, that when the other disciples next saw him, they told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
They'd struggled to believe. They didn't really believe until they saw the holes in Jesus's hands and side. But now they were absolutely convinced.
What will convince you?
Thomas most definitely didn't believe. He set a test for God. He really shouldn't have done it, but perhaps he thought he needed to. 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". He thought he needed proof.
How much proof do you need?
His friends and fellow disciples, with whom he'd lived and served and learnt for three and a half years, had told him. A week ago they were terrified, and now they were full of joy. That should have told him. If he'd cast his mind back, he'd remember that Jesus had told him and the others in advance that all this would happen. That should have told him. He knew Jesus personally, saw His integrity, love and power. That should have told him. But he said, "I will not believe, unless..." unless God submits to Thomas's test.
Jesus made him wait. Thomas was left in that no man's land between faith and unbelief for a week.
And then, such is the grace of God, the following Sunday evening, when they were back in the locked upper room (they had faith now, but they still didn't trust the Jewish authorities) and Thomas was with them, such is the grace of God that Jesus appeared to them again, and again He said "Peace be with you" to them all, including Thomas.
And then, such is the grace of God, Jesus turned to Thomas and said, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Jesus knew that Thomas needed to touch his hands and side. Or perhaps Jesus knew that Thomas thought he needed to. So Jesus invited him to do it. What grace! What love! What compassion for the one who finds it difficult to believe! The change in Thomas was enormous and instantaneous. He went from doubt to faith in a second. Once he'd experienced the risen Christ, he addressed Jesus as "My Lord and my God".
This is the common experience of people who become Christians. One day we're not sure who Jesus is, or why He died, or if He rose again. The next day we're absolutely certain that Jesus is God, come in the flesh. We know Jesus is Lord - King of Kings - Maker of the universe. We realize He's the absolute authority in heaven and earth, and we want to obey Him, because we know He's good, and we know He loves us.
What about you? How much evidence do you need?
Will you ask God to show you the truth? Will you ask Him to reveal Himself to you? If He lets you touch Him, will you reach our your hand? Will you, like Thomas, stop doubting and believe?
Jesus told Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed". Can you believe? Will you believe? Will you reach out for the living Christ?