You Had to Be There – April 15, 2018
Isaiah 35:1-10, John 20:19-29
April 15, 2018
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. You’ve known me long enough to know how I feel about Thomas. When Thomas heard from the others that Jesus was alive again, he wouldn’t believe it. But! It wasn’t because he was the “skeptic” of the group, as many have said over the years. It was simply because Thomas wasn’t therethat first time Jesus appeared. (And remember, Jesus appeared to them the evening of that first Easter Day!)
I’m amazed that, for centuries, People have created an entire personality profile of Thomas, based on his doubting in this story! He has even become the metaphorfor skepticism. “Well, you’re a ‘doubting Tomas,’ aren’t you?” Well, I personally don’t believe he was any more of a doubter than anyof the others would have been, had theybeen the one missing during that first encounter with the risen Christ! The problem of Thomas was not one of personality, but of location! To believe what the others had now believed about the risen Christ, the old expression was true. “You had to be there!”
I wanted to say that right away, because for some of you, you might not have heard me say it before. But for others, I wanted to remind you. And I’m not saying there aren’t other ways of thinking about this. That’s just my opinion. But I feel pretty strongly about it. Because this story is so incredible, it is so un-believe-able, that, if you remember, it was hard for all of them to fathom. This is still that first Easter day! It is the day of Jesus’ resurrection! And when the disciples – all of them – first heard the story from the women who had gone to the tomb, they thought it was “an idle tale” – a fairy tale! And they would not believe it! That’s what Luke tells us. (And the others as well!) This is nota story today about one person’s skepticism. It is about how unbelievable and incredible this event was – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Ok, so that’s the first thing. And maybe that isthe most important. Because skepticism or not, this ishard to believe. In a way, “you had to be there!” And of course, we were not! And it takes more than just understanding it in our minds. It takes more than just an ability to “fathom” what had happened. We have to believe it, where? In our hearts, as I said last week! Remember Paul’s words. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heartsthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
That leads me to another thing I want you to see about this story. And that is that once again, there is high dramahere! And it is drama I believe God intended. Why? He intended it because he wanted to touch their hearts, and to touch our hearts, too!
Think about what’s happening here. Jesus knows – in his “supernatural” power – what Thomas saidwhen he refused to believe. And then, in the second part of this story, he confronts Thomas with his own words. There’s God’s “flair for the dramatic” I was talking about again last week. And the impact it had on Thomas at that moment is sodramatic, that Thomas doesn’t even dowhat Jesus offers. He doesn’tput his finger in the holes in Jesus’ hands, or his hand in the spear wound in his side! He doesn’t need to! This is not, “Hey Jesus, you arealive. Let me see those wounds!” No, it’s “My Lord and my God!!!!” Thomas’ heart was cracked wide open!
So, what about our hearts? Do we believe like that? As I’ve often said, most people know the story of Jesus. “He was born on Christmas, he did miracles, he taught people, he was put to death, he rose from the dead on Easter.” They don’t deny the resurrection. They can tell you about it like it’s a fact. But say it like they’re saying the names of the State Capitals!
Are we ever there? Have we ever forgotten the “heart” part of this? That’s easy to forget! We can too easily get to a point where our heads know it, but our hearts are unsure. Or maybe they haven’t considered it. Or perhaps they’ve grown a bit hard to it. God’s people often had that problem. They grew “hard hearted” about God. When they had turned aside from God in the wilderness, and made the golden calf, God said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold they are a stiff-necked people!” That was God’s word for it.
Centuries later, when they were in exile, God told the people through the prophets that he would restore their nation. But, as partof that restoration, he said this through the prophet Ezekiel. “A new heartI will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh!” Do we ever need that heart of stone replaced in us?
Jesus touched Thomas’ heart! He wants to touch ours, too! And I want you to be thinking about how he does that. And that brings me to the last thing I want to sayabout this. The last thing I want to think about is aboutlocation. And I suppose that goes back to what I started with. Thomas was not in the room when Jesus appeared. Again, his was not a problem of skepticism, but of location. Because he was not there. He was not in a position to experience Jesus. So, I ask you, are we? What about our “location?”
A pastor of mine once said that the best way to experience God is to make sure we are in a place– in a position – where we canexperience him. Think about how we do that. And think about the things that distract us from it! We put ourselves in a position to experience God when we spend time in Christian fellowship. We do that when we take time to notice God’s hand in the world around us. We do that when we spend quiet times in meditation and prayer, and in the reading of the scripture. Even Jesus needed to “go apart by himself” to experience God. So, I remind you today, that, unless we put ourselves in a place or a position where we can experience God, we can’t really expectto experience God?
So I encourage you to do that. Be intentional this week about how you experience God. Be intentional about placing yourself in a position where you can. Be intentional about “quiet time” with God. And I encourage you to do that early in the day. It sets your “spiritual mood” for the entire rest of the day. For me it’s the time when my mind is most free. It’s the time before I look at the schedule for the day and realize how many things demand my attention. It’s a time before the worries of the day becomethe worries of the day!
Thomas was not there with the others. It was hard for him to believe. What about us? Do we believe? Do we put ourselves in a position to believe? Do we allow God to touch our hearts?
Eternal God, you know our hearts. You know the hardness that sometimes creeps into us. Help us to see. Help us to know your touch. Speak to our hearts by your spirit. Encourage us and lift us up. Grant us the strength we need to be your people, and to follow Jesus Christ, our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen!