4/18/04, Easter 2C

“Believing Thomas”
John 20: 19-31

 paratrooper compared his faith experience to that of his first parachute jump. They had prepared him as best they could on the ground with jumping and rolling exercises from four foot ramps. They were all young and adapted well, but there came a day when they got them up in a big transport plane. The buzzer sounded when they were over the range at the correct altitude, and as we have all seen in the movies, they stood and one by one took that first leap of faith out the door. My friend said that his leap of faith in Christ was the same kind of experience. He had some prior evidence that the shoot would deploy. He could see others opening. He trusted his instructors, but then it was his turn to jump. By the way, he also told me that they had a name for those who refused to jump; they called them “Pushed.”

Nobody had to push Thomas into believing, for when he finally saw the resurrected Jesus on the week after Easter, Thomas avowed, “My Lord and my God!”

The Resurrection marked a new beginning for Thomas, and for the Church. Pre-Easter, the disciples had not even begun to fathom Jesus' plan for salvation. After Easter they were infused with a plan and a purpose. Most of all, they had seen the Lord!

Even critics of Christianity agree that something powerful had to have happened to transform the floundering disciples into a dynamo of fervent activity. Christians have always assumed that the thousands who actually saw the resurrected Christ received their impetus for telling the Easter story from their personal experience of seeing a formerly dead man return to life. They were convinced that He was the Savior of the world and it was their job to go out and tell everybody everywhere. Theologians have usually said that God allowed these first believers to actually see Christ's bodily reanimation so that they would be absolutely sure of the truth of their message. There was no doubt in them because most of them sat through forty days of instruction from the Risen Lord, between the Resurrection and his Ascension back into heaven. Thus, they physically saw Him repeatedly, and they were spurred on further by His instructions as to what their task would be. After their forty day “crash seminary course,” they were then further emboldened by the coming of the Holy Spirit into their hearts on the day of Pentecost. Thus, their physical questions were answered having seen the Lord. Then they had an educational overview of the history of the Old Testament and how it flowed into God's plan of salvation. (Acts 1:3) Ultimately, the Spirit of the Living Christ, the Holy Spirit, invaded their souls giving them an assurance that all that they had experienced was true.

On Easter Sunday we shared the stories of some of those who were the very first to see Jesus alive after crucifixion: Mary Magdalene, John and Peter, were at the empty tomb. That afternoon there were two unnamed disciples whom Jesus joined in their discouraged walk back home following what they thought was the failure of Jesus' death. Jesus revealed himself to them at their home as they broke bread over supper. The ten Apostles, Judas having committed suicide and Thomas being absent, saw the resurrected Christ later that same Easter evening as they gathered in a room behind locked doors. The important element in this part of the story is that they actually saw him physically alive. He appeared to them through the locked doors. He was recognizable as the same Jesus that they had traveled with for three years. He talked with them and ate with them. These descriptions are important to us because our spiritually resurrected bodies will be like his.

Thomas will always be referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” because when the ten told him that they had seen the Lord, he said that he would not believe unless he say him too. However, we should call him “Believing Thomas,” because eight days later when he was present, he saw Jesus and believed.

The point of this event, as it relates to our present situation, is that Jesus said to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven't seen me and believe anyway .” (v 29, NLB) None of us have seen the physical body of the Resurrected Lord; however, we have come to believe anyway because of several unseen factors. Our faith is based upon the testimony of the first disciples as it has come to us through Scripture. The written witness of the first believers informs us concerning the nature and reality of the vicarious nature of the atonement of Christ through the crucifixion. We have both read it and have experienced it come alive through the power of preaching. We have seen the life of Christ portrayed in poetry and song. We have been stirred by it in motion pictures. It has grabbed us. We have not actually seen the living Christ, but we have experienced him anyway, and have believed anyway .

The Gospels tell us that Jesus' Resurrection was intended to give all believers a similar resurrection. At none other than at the tender moments of the funerals of dear family members and friends we have thrown ourselves onto the hope of resurrection. For some of us, it has been in these pregnable moments that the Spirit has found an exposed access point into our inner selves. At these times we have felt him inscrutably. In those defenseless times we have yielded to God's still small voice as a whisper, we have yielded to his claim upon our lives and we have indisputably, without a doubt, become a believer. We now feel as if we too have been in that room behind locked doors with the Apostles and that too we have felt the flesh from the tomb. We have believed, and we believe still. Our turn to stand in the open door of the paratrooper's plane came, and we jumped. The parachute opened and we have soared with the Spirit. He has never failed us and we belong to him forever.

Looking back we realize that it was hardly anything we did at all. We were powerless. We did not manipulate the situation at all. We were like a leaf caught in a whirlwind. Other things in life we have handled but this one thing handled us. So, still we soar as a wind powered glider dependant upon the currents to keep us skimming the sky: We dart with wings as an eagle but are always dependant upon the unseen force. Believing Thomas must have felt the same exhilarating thrill of victory. Perhaps he wondered too, “What if I had not jumped when my time came?” But he did, as have we.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
4/18/04, Easter 2C