(watch here: https://youtu.be/l7O8mQgemRg)
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
As I was walking with Thomas this week, I couldn’t help remembering the funny one about an elderly lady who was well-known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would stand on her front porch and shout “PRAISE THE LORD!” Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout, “There ain’t no Lord!!” Hard times set in on the elderly lady, and she prayed for God to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted “PRAISE THE LORD. GOD I NEED FOOD!! I AM HAVING A HARD TIME. PLEASE LORD, SEND ME SOME GROCERIES!!” The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a large bag of groceries and shouted, “PRAISE THE LORD!” The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn’t.” The lady started jumping up and down and clapped her hands and said, “PRAISE THE LORD! He not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!”
Life has a funny way of testing our faiths. None of us is immune to hard times. We might have a long run without any type of suffering but eventually hardship comes a calling. Each of us must rely on something or someone to help us through the hard times. Some of us rely on our family or spouse. Some of us rely on our wealth. Some of us rely on our friends. Some of us rely on our jobs or careers. Some of us rely on simply our good health to carry us through those difficult times. And some of us don’t have any of these options available and we’re left relying entirely on God like that poor, elderly lady. But the thing about God is that He often helps us in ways we’d least expect and when we’d least expect it. At least with a friend or a spouse or money we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. With God, we don’t have the slightest idea what to expect. We can ask for certain types of help and God may or may not heed our request so we really can’t know what to expect from God. We must rely on our faith if we are to rely on God. We must rely on our belief that God always works the best for those who love him. God does love us, very much so, and God only wants the best for us who love him. Of course, his understanding of what’s best for us can be drastically different than our own. Those who love him are assured of his best though.
Faith is a funny thing. It doesn’t produce benefits we’d expect and yet it can sustain us through the toughest of times. In our reading for this morning, we encountered a man who was struggling with his faith. Thomas, like all of Jesus’ disciples, was a man grieving the loss of his master. Jesus was unjustly arrested, tortured, and crucified under 24 hours. If the Roman and Jewish authorities could deliver such swift and brutal punishment to an undeserving man, then they could surely deliver such punishment to his faithful followers. The disciples were in shock, scared and alone. They had gathered in the same upper room in which they shared Jesus’ last meal. Suddenly Jesus appeared among them, risen from dead and offering words of comfort, “Peace be with you.” No doubt, the words did comfort his disciples but not all of them. For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t among the disciples, choosing instead to grieve elsewhere. When he finally did return to his friends, Thomas was told of their encounter with our risen Lord. But Thomas didn’t share in their excitement; he needed to see our risen Lord for himself before he’d believe it was possible. Jesus somehow heard of Thomas’ disbelief and came back a week later to convince him of his resurrection. Thomas saw and believed.
Jesus uses Thomas’ doubt to reinforce the importance of faith. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We want to be critical of Thomas and his lack of faith, for his need to see in order to believe. We know his faith was strong—he had spent 3 years following Jesus through his ministry! Yet it wasn’t stronger enough to allow for hope. It wasn’t strong enough to allow for God to work in unimaginable ways. Yes, Jesus did the impossible. Yes, Jesus came back from the grave. Yes, Jesus didn’t allow those nasty Roman and Jewish authorities to win. Jesus won! Jesus conquered death itself! Hope was realized!
How strong is our faith? Is it strong enough to allow for hope? Do we hope that all things will work out the best for those who love God? Do we hope to be saved from our lives here in this world? Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’” (10:9-11) All we have to do is believe in our risen Lord to be saved. There is hope in our risen Lord…hope that death isn’t an end but a beginning…hope that our identities won’t completely be erased…hope that our faith will be rewarded with new and everlasting life.
Thomas’ witness teaches us that we must have faith strong enough for hope. It’s not enough that we believe in all that Jesus said and did before his death. We must believe in the hope of the resurrection. Jesus says in Matthew, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” (21:22) Intrinsic to his statement is hope…”you will receive.” We hope to receive, God provides. The resurrection is nothing more than God providing for us with hope. Let us walk through this season of Easter faithful…hopeful.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.