Welcome to our live streamed service today!
This morning, our Pastoral Assistant, Lucy Frost, continues our series on Encounters With The Resurrected Christ, where Jesus appears to Thomas.
The Bible reading is from John 20:19-29.
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This week we are continuing our series on encounters with the Resurrected Jesus. Often after Easter, churches move on to other sections of the Bible, but I am really enjoying that we are continuing chronologically.
But first a little detour. Its 72AD in Madras (now Chennai) in India. We watch as one of Jesus’ earliest followers is killed for his faith. This man had travelled from Palestine to India, spreading the Gospel to many Jews and Hindus living there. He established the first church in India and several others, creating the first Christian communities in India. Today there are said to be 24 million Christians in India. All from the faith of one man who accepted God’s missionary call, and with the help of the Holy Spirit spread the Good News. His faith was so strong that he was willing to die for it and indeed did. People like this, with such immense faith are very inspirational.
They can also make us feel quite inferior. Most of us have periods of doubt or even lose faith altogether. So, it is a relief to realise that this man had doubts on occasion. In fact, you have all read about this man- he is the most famous doubter in history.
This man of immense faith is known the world over as ‘Doubting Thomas!’ Learning of his story is a reminder to us that we are all works in progress. Thomas’s faith started of shaky, but it became mighty. Although he has been much maligned in history God actually used his doubts to strengthen the resurrection accounts and give God glory.
We next see the disciples assembled at a secret location. They were all there except Thomas. Jesus appeared to them and they were over- joyed. Why wasn’t Thomas with them? Although Thomas is mentioned in the other Gospel accounts by name, everything we known about him is from John’s Gospel. We learn about his character and this perhaps explains his absence.
We first encounter him as word reaches the disciples that Lazarus, Jesus’ beloved friend is dying. Jesus tells the disciples they must travel to Judea to be with Lazarus. The last time they were there, people wanted to stone Jesus to death. In returning he would be placing himself in grave danger. Yet it’s Thomas who says Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ (John 11:16). Thomas was worried and expecting the worst, but he was still ready to follow Jesus.
We next see Thomas in John 14. Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he is going away and will prepare a place for them. None of them understand but its Thomas who is honest and brave enough to question Jesus; “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:5) This gives Jesus the opportunity to say one of his most famous quotes; “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Thomas was sensitive, a worrier, he was cynical but also honest. If he didn’t understand something he said so. While the other disciples want- ed to be together to try and work out what had happened, he hung back but eventually joined them. They had just seen Jesus and they were overjoyed. What courage it must have taken for Thomas not to go along with their accounts but instead question them and admit he wanted proof.
In Thomas’s time there were many false prophets and Messiahs as there are today. I think that is why God supplied over three hundred prophecies in the Old Testament to provide assurance that Jesus’ really is the Messiah. I have no doubt that the devil also tries to use doubt and scepticism to his benefit too. He would have been desperate to prevent them understanding and believing. He wanted to prevent them bringing glory to God and spreading the Good News. Still to this day the enemy wants to prevent us being in a right relationship with God and achieving fulness of life.
In his book ‘Doubting Towards Faith’ Bobby Conway writes that doubt is a process that can lead us in two different directions- towards God or away from God. What comes across in scripture is that God can cope with and indeed encourages questions. It’s how we respond to the answers that matters. If we become mired in doubt, we can become paralysed or depart from God alto- gether.
How can we ensure we use our doubts in a positive way that lead us towards God?
In Mark 9 we learn of the father and son with an impure spirit. The father brings the son to the disciples, but they are unable to exorcise the demon. So, the father asks Jesus for help if he can (9:22). Jesus has a dramatic response to the word if- that one little word reveals the father’s shaky faith. Jesus wanted the father to believe completely. The father responds: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (9:24). His cry is a prayer for help and with that Jesus is ready to perform the miracle. Spending time with God and bringing our concerns to him is so important. God can an- swer our questions and strengthen us.
Being Rooted in the Word
When Jesus was in the wilderness the devil tormented and tempted him constantly. Jesus kept responding by quoting scripture. When we are struggling, we often want a sign from God to reassure us and make us feel better. Sometimes we get one but often God wants us to return to His Word. It’s there we are reminded of God’s character, love and provision. It reorientates our thinking away from our distorted world view and towards God.
Trusting God’s Promises
Because God is unchangeable His promises cannot be broken. Peter writes that when we face trails God “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). God read- justs our focus and thinking, strengthens us and establishes us on the firm foundation of His Grace.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Thomas. Pope Francis has said doubts are a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply. Thomas may have been the last disciple to have seen the resurrected Jesus, but he was the first to declare Jesus as Lord and God. I pray that as we continue exploring these resurrection narratives God will reveal Himself to us and strengthen our faith.