Archives For Doubting Thomas

lightstock_63141_small_user_2741517Here is my Easter sermon from John 20.24-31.

You can listen to it below. Or, you can download it in iTunes here or, better yet, download the free mobile app here.

Romans 8.1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is my favorite verse of scripture.”

 

The most challenging verse for me is Matthew 5.48, Jesus in the sermon on the mount: “Be perfect therefore as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” 

 

     The funniest verse to me is 2 Kings 2.23:

Some boys jeered at the prophet Elisha “Get out of here, baldy!” So Elisha called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

 

But I’d have to say the biblical verse that really ticks me off, the scripture verse that irritates the you-know-what out of me is John 20.30:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, 

which are not written in this book.” 

 

He left stuff out?

Seriously?

 

You mean there were other miracles Jesus performed, other lessons he taught, other questions he answered, that John just decided…uh…not to include?

 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, 

which are not written in this book.”

 

Of the four Gospel writers-

 

Matthew’s the one whose church I’d want to attend; he’s all about life application.

 

Mark’s the one who most unsettles me; his Jesus is a bit too wild-eyed, other-worldly, and urgent for me.

 

Luke is the evangelist I’d introduce to in-laws and unbelievers; he has the best stories with the most satisfying endings.

 

But John-

John is the Gospel writer I would most like to punch in the teeth and dropkick to the floor.

And it’s all because of this irritating Easter verse:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, 

which are not written in this book.” 

 

What’s that about?

 

Did John’s first draft come back to him marked up with red ink?

Did John have a word limit?

Should our response to scripture reading be:

“This is most of the Word of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God”?

Think about it.

John believes he’s telling you the most important thing that’s ever been told- about the most important person who’s ever been and the most important cosmic event that’s ever happened.

 

Why would John leave anything out?

 

If the whole point of the Gospels is to convince beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord…

 

if the whole point of the Gospels is to prove to us that the world responded to God’s love made flesh by crucifying him but that God vindicated him by raising him from the dead…

 

if the whole point of the Gospels is to explain to us why he came and why he died and what that means for us today…

 

Then why would John not include every detail?

 

Why would John not submit every possible piece of evidence?

If the whole point of the Gospel is to convince us, then shouldn’t John’s Gospel be Stephen King long not Ernest Hemingway brief?

 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples

which are not written in this book.” 

 

Of course, the operative phrase there is ‘…in the presence of his first disciples.’ 

Because we weren’t there.

We weren’t there like John was.

We weren’t there like Peter was.

We weren’t there like Matthew or Andrew or Mary Magdalene.

 

We didn’t get to see with our own eyes the things Jesus did.

We didn’t get to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him with our own ears.

Jesus didn’t wash our feet.

 

I know Easter is a time when many of you come to church against your will- just to make your spouse or your mother-in-law happy.

 

So I realize that especially on Easter there are many of you here who harbor serious doubts about God to say nothing of God raising a crucified, Galilean Jew from from the dead.

 

I also realize that Easter is an occasion when the every-Sunday sort of Christians think they need to hide their doubts.

 

And usually we hide our doubts by acting as though others shouldn’t have any doubts of their own.

 

As my muse, Stanley Hauerwas puts it:

“We try to assure ourselves that we really believe what we say we believe by convincing those who do not believe what we believe that they really believe what we believe once what we believe is properly explained.”

 

Easter is an occasion for doubt as much as it is an occasion for faith.

So why don’t we just admit it?

 

This whole believing business would be a lot easier if we had just been there ourselves.

 

But then again-

Thomas was there.

With Jesus.

Every step of the way.

 

With his own two eyes, Thomas saw Jesus feed 5,000 with just a few loaves and a couple of fish.

 

When Jesus raised Lazarus, called him out of his tomb, stinking and 3 days dead, Thomas was there.

 

And Thomas was there to hear for himself when Jesus told Martha, the grief-stricken sister of Lazarus:

 

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

 

But all the first-hand evidence, all the eyewitness proof, all the personal experience wasn’t enough to convince Thomas.

 

Because on Easter night, after the women in Mark’s Gospel have run away from the tomb terrified and not breathing a word to anyone, the disciples hide.

 

They hide behind locked doors and the Risen Christ comes and stands among them- just as he’d predicted he would- and says “Peace be with you.”

 

But Thomas wasn’t there.

 

The Gospel doesn’t give even an inkling of where Thomas was.

It just says “Thomas was not there with them when Jesus came.” 

‘Seeing is believing’ we say, but three years of seeing for himself, of hearing for himself, of being right there with him- it wasn’t enough to convince Thomas that Jesus really was who he claimed he was.

 

Afterwards when the disciples tell Thomas what had happened, Thomas doesn’t respond by saying:

All ten of you saw him? Alright, that’s good enough for me. 

 

No.

Thomas says: ‘Unless.’ 

 

I will not believe unless.

Unless I see his hands and his feet.

Unless I can grab hold of him and touch his wounds.

Unless I can see for myself what Rome did to him.

 

I need proof. I need facts. I need evidence before I will believe.

Just this week, my boys and I drove to Ohio.

To help bury my grandpa.

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     The night before the funeral the boys and I camped out in a tipi, which seemed like an awesome fatherly idea until, as I put the kids to bed, I discovered that an inch of snow was forecast that night.

 

We woke up the next morning, wet and freezing cold, and drove to my grandpa’s funeral, smelling like smoke and ‘smores.

My grandpa was 93.

He’d led a good and interesting and fruitful life. And so my family wanted the funeral to be a ‘celebration of his life.’

For a full life like his- they didn’t want it to be a sad occasion.

 

Except it always is.

Before the funeral service I was standing in the lobby of the church, greeting people.

 

My cousin, Paul, a lawyer in Denver, was standing next to me doing the same.

After a few handshakes with strangers, he said to me ‘I bet you do this sort of thing a lot.’

I said ‘yeah.’

‘How many have you done?’ he asked me.

 

‘About 200’ I said, rounding it off.

‘How many of those were difficult ones?’ he asked.

 

’13’ I answered without needing to think.

13: 8, 3 and 2.

The babies, children and suicides respectively on whom I’ve tossed dirt and said ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’

 

‘This is my first funeral’ he said, and after nervously clearing his throat he shook his head and said: ‘I couldn’t do what you do.’

 

I assumed he meant funerals, couldn’t do funerals, couldn’t do the sorts of funerals where the caskets are less than 4 feet long.

‘Couldn’t do what?’ I asked.

 

‘Believe’ he said, ‘as much as I’d like to have faith I just can’t.

I have too many doubts and questions.’

 

Thinking especially of my grandpa- and the loose ends we’d left between us, I replied: ‘What makes you think I don’t have any doubts and questions?’

 

‘I guess I’m just someone who needs proof’ he said.

 

The first Easter wasn’t just a day.

The Risen Jesus hung around for 50 days, teaching and appearing to over 500 people.

 

7 days after the first Easter Day, Jesus appears again in that same locked room as before and Jesus says ‘Peace be with you.’ שלום be with you. שלום which is the Bible’s shorthand way of saying ‘God’s power to restore and heal and forgive and make all things in creation new again…שלום is yours Jesus says.

 

And this time, this time Thomas is there.

 

Jesus offers Thomas his body: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 

 

     And Thomas reaches out and Thomas touches Jesus, grabs at the wounds of Jesus, to see the proof for himself…

 

Actually no.

He doesn’t.

     That’s the thing-

We assume that Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds.

Artists have always depicted Thomas reaching out and touching the evidence with his own hands.

 

Duccio drew it that way.

Caravaggio illustrated it that way.

Peter Paul Rubens painted it that way.

Artists have always shown Thomas sticking his fingers in the proof he requires in order to believe.

Rubens_The_Incredulity_of_St_Thomas-custom-crop-0.3-0.07-0.71-0.95-size-700-440

And that’s how we paint it in our own imaginations.

 

Yet, read it again, it’s not there.

The Gospel gives us no indication that Thomas actually touches the wounds in Jesus’ hands. John never says that Thomas peeked into Jesus’ side. The Bible never says Thomas actually touches him.

 

No.

That’s got to be important, right?

 

I mean, the one thing Thomas says he needs in order to believe is the one thing John doesn’t bother to mention.

 

Instead John tells us that Jesus offers himself to Thomas and then the next thing we are told is that Thomas confesses: ‘My Lord and my God!” 

 

     Which is kind of a strange thing to say. If it’s all about ‘proof,’ if it’s all about believing, if it’s all about getting answers to your questions and getting over your doubts then you’d expect Thomas to say something like ‘Oh, it’s you! You’re really back!’ 

 

But Thomas doesn’t say anything like that; he says “My Lord and my God!”

     The one thing Thomas says he needs before he can believe is the one thing John doesn’t bother to give us.

 

Which, I’m willing to bet, is John’s way of telling us that:

 

Thomas doesn’t need the proof he thinks belief requires.

He doesn’t need to hold the hard, tangible evidence for himself.

He doesn’t need exhibits A and B of Jesus’ hands and side.

He doesn’t need to have all his lingering doubts and questions resolved in order to have faith.

 

The one thing Thomas says he needs before he can believe is the one thing John doesn’t mention.

 

Which, I’ll bet, is John’s way of saying that Thomas, even if he doesn’t realize it, has already been given everything he needs in order to believe.

 

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As much as it ticks me off and aggravates me, I think that’s why John does not bother mentioning “the many other signs” Jesus did in the presence of his disciples.

 

John doesn’t tell us more because he’s given us all we need. He’s given us everything we need to take a chance, to say “My Lord and my God” and then to have life in his name.

 

John doesn’t tell us more because the Gospel is not meant to be information about which we make up our minds.

 

The Gospel is an invitation, an invitation to have life, to live life in his name.

Which just means to live as though your name is Jesus.

To have life in his name is to live as though your name is Jesus.

 

We think we need proof.

 

But being a Christian-

It’s not about being convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It’s not being able to prove that Jesus fed 5,000 hungry people.

It’s not about being able to explain how God created, how Jesus undid Death or why our world isn’t what God wants for it.

 

If being a Christian is about knowledge or facts or certainty then, by all means, John should give us every detail he’s got.

 

If the point of Christianity is eliminating our every doubt then John should leave nothing out.

But if it’s about living life in his name, living as thogh then John’s told us everything we need.  To live.

If it’s about proving the resurrection, then John hasn’t provided nearly enough to convince me.

 

But if it’s about living the resurrection- living our lives as proof of the resurrection- then John’s already told us everything we need.

 

Look, I remember what it was like- to go to church on Easter before I became a Christian and I remember what it was like to feel put off by the black-and- white, rock-solid faith everyone else seemed to possess.

 

So I want to make it plain:

 

To follow the Risen Christ is not to be certain.

It’s not to understand or to know.

It’s not to have had something proven to you to the point where you can prove it to others.

 

To follow the Risen Christ is to take a chance, to take a risk, to trust that whatever we mean by ‘Lord and God’ is found in Jesus.

 

To follow Christ is to risk that trust and then to have life in his name- to live in such a way that makes absolutely no sense- no sense- if God has not raised Jesus from the dead.

 

‘Seeing is believing’ we say.

Except when it comes to Jesus, it works the other way round: believing is seeing. Believing gives you a whole new way of seeing.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing the world the way God sees it: as broken and sinful and corrupt yet precious and loved and worth redeeming.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing you as God sees you: as beautiful and beloved and worth dying for and worthy of a more interesting life than our culture even asks of you.

Believing is seeing.

Seeing forgiveness and mercy and grace and loving your enemies and turning the other cheek and blessing those who curse you as the building blocks for a New Creation.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing the future Kingdom Jesus taught about as something that can be lived and made present in the here and now.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing God, the infinite, eternal, all-powerful God, in the face of the poor and the weak. Seeing that whenever you do something for one of them, the least among us, you’ve done it to God himself.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing the sin you committed and knowing that it’s forgiven.

Seeing the broken relationship in your life and knowing it can be repaired.

Seeing the despair and forsakenness you feel and knowing you’re not alone.

Seeing the hurt and abuse you’ve suffered and knowing it can be healed.

Seeing Death, staring it straight in the face, and knowing that Love wins.

 

Believing is seeing.

Seeing that the proof of Resurrection isn’t in touching the wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet. The proof of Resurrection is in our being Jesus’ hands and feet. It’s in reaching out, in his name, to the wounded places and people in our world.

 

Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed.

Just imagine what you can see if you take a chance and believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some reason, Christians tend to celebrate Easter and then move on to preaching the Cross every Sunday, as though Jesus rose from the dead but then immediately disappeared into vapor. Somehow we forget the Risen Christ sticks around for more than a month. Teaching.

One such episode of the Risen Christ is the story of Doubting Thomas- poor Thomas- in John’s Gospel. Here’s a sermon from a few years ago on that passage.

thomas

Romans 8.1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is my favorite verse of scripture.”

Psalm 73.26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” is my most comforting verse.

The most challenging verse for me is Matthew 5.48, Jesus in the sermon on the mount: “Be perfect therefore as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” 

But I’d have to say the biblical verse that really ticks me, the scripture verse that irritates the crap out of me is John 20.30:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” 

     He left stuff out?

     Seriously?

     You mean there were other miracles Jesus performed, other lessons he taught, other questions he answered that John just decided…uh…not to include?

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”

     Of the four Gospel writers-

Matthew’s the one whose church I’d want to attend; he’s all about life application.

Mark’s the one who most unsettles me; his Jesus is a bit too wild-eyed, other-worldly, and urgent for me.

Luke is the evangelist I’d introduce to in-laws and unbelievers; he has the best stories with the most satisfying endings.

But John-

John is the Gospel writer I would most like to pimp-slap and dropkick to the floor.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, 

which are not written in this book.” 

What’s that about?

Did his first draft come back to him marked up with red ink?

Did he have a word limit?

Should our response today have been: “This is most of the Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God”?

     Why would John leave anything out?

If the whole point of the Gospels is to convince beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord…

if the whole point of the Gospels is to prove to us that he is God-in-the-flesh and that he is Risen…

if the whole point of the Gospels is to explain to us why he came and why he died and what that means for us today…

Then why would he not include every detail?

Why would he not submit every possible piece of evidence?

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his discipleswhich are not written in this book.” 

But we weren’t there.

We weren’t there like John was. We weren’t there like Peter or Matthew or Andrew.

We didn’t get to see with our own eyes the things Jesus did.

We didn’t get hear with our own ears Jesus teach or prophesy.

      This whole faith business would be a lot easier if we had just been there ourselves.

Of course, Thomas was there with Jesus, every step of the way.

With his own two eyes, Thomas saw Jesus feed 5,000 with just a few loaves and a couple of fish.

He saw for himself Jesus restore sight to a man who’d been blind since he was a baby.

Thomas was there and saw Jesus raise Lazarus up from the dead, called him out of the tomb.

Thomas heard with his own ears Jesus say:

“I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats of me will live forever.” 

Thomas heard Jesus say to his flock:

“I am the good shepherd who will lay his life down for his sheep.” 

Thomas heard for himself when Jesus told Martha, the grief-stricken sister of Lazarus:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

But all the first-hand evidence and eyewitness proof wasn’t enough to convince Thomas.

Because on Easter night, when the disciples gather behind locked doors and the Risen Christ comes and stands among- just as he’d predicted he would- and says “Peace be with you,” Thomas wasn’t there.

The Gospel doesn’t give even an inkling of where he was. It just says “Thomas was not there with them when Jesus came.” 

‘Seeing is believing’ we say, but three years of seeing for himself wasn’t enough to convince Thomas that Jesus really was who he claimed he was.

Afterwards when the disciples tell Thomas what had happened, Thomas doesn’t respond by saying:

All ten of you saw him? That’s good enough for me.

     Thomas says: ‘Unless.’ 

I will not believe unless.

Unless I see his hands and his feet, unless I can grab hold of him and touch his wounds.

I need proof.

I need evidence before I will believe.

 

Last week I was at the gym exercising this remarkable specimen of a body.

My head was covered in a bandana. I was wearing running shorts and a ratty old t-shirt and sneakers and looked, I thought, unrecognizable from the robed reverend I play up here on Sundays.

I was grunting and sweating and listening to the Black Keys when a man, not a lot older than me, came up, tapped me on the shoulder and asked: ‘Don’t I know you?’

I told him I didn’t think so.

Maybe it was my voice that placed me.

He told me he’d met me at a funeral service- the funeral I did for a boy in my confirmation class.

I put the weight in my hand down on the floor, wiped the sweat off on my shirt, and shook his hand.

And I suppose it was the mention of the boy’s name, his memory sneaking up on me like that, but neither one of us spoke for a few moments. We just stood there in the middle of the gym looking past each other, and probably we looked strange to anyone else might be looking at us.

‘I couldn’t do what you do’ he said, shaking his head like an insurance adjustor. 

     I assumed he meant funerals, couldn’t do funerals, couldn’t do funerals like that boy’s funeral.

‘Couldn’t do what?’ I asked.

‘Believe’ he said, ‘as much as I’d like to have faith I just can’t. I have too many doubts and questions.’

Thinking especially of the boy, I replied:

‘What makes you think I don’t have any doubts and questions?’

‘I guess I’m just someone who needs proof’ he said.

A week after Easter, Jesus appears again in that same locked room as before and this time Thomas is there.

 

Jesus offers Thomas his body: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 

     Here’s the thing-

We assume that Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds. Artists have always depicted Thomas reaching out and touching the evidence with his own hands. Artists have always illustrated Thomas sticking his fingers in the proof he requires in order to believe.

And that’s how we paint it in our own imaginations.

Yet, read it again, the text gives us no indication Thomas in fact touches the wounds in Jesus’ hands or his side. The passage never says Thomas actually touches him.

Instead John tells us that Jesus offers himself to Thomas and then the next thing we are told is that Thomas confesses: ‘My Lord and my God!” 

Jesus offers himself.

And Thomas confesses.

Thomas doesn’t need the proof he thinks belief requires.

He doesn’t need to hold the hard, tangible evidence for himself. He doesn’t need exhibits A and B of Jesus’ hands and side. He doesn’t need to have all his lingering doubts and questions resolved.

All he needs is to hear the promise that Jesus offers himself.

To worship this God is not to be certain. It’s not to understand or know. It’s not to have had something proven to you to the point where you can prove it to others.

To worship this God is simply to trust that he gives himself to you.

For you.

As much as it ticks me off and aggravates me, I think that’s why John does not bother mentioning “the many other signs” Jesus did in the presence of his disciples.

John doesn’t tell us more because he’s given us all we need to trust. To trust that in Jesus Christ God offers himself to us. He’s given us everything we need to say “My Lord and my God.”

And the surprising thing is..it is enough.

Take it from someone who never thought he’d be standing in a pulpit on a weekly basis: it’s enough to change your life forever.

We think we need proof.

Being a Christian- it’s not about being convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s not being able to prove that Jesus fed 5,000 hungry people. It’s not about being able to explain how God created, how Jesus undid Death or why someone like Jackson was taken from us.

     If being a Christian is about knowledge or facts or certainty then John should give us every detail he’s got.

     But if it’s about loving God, if it’s about trusting that God in Christ offers himself for us, offers us a way of life to follow ourselves, then John’s told us everything we need.

     Because it’s not that ‘seeing is believing,’ it’s that believing will give you a whole new way of seeing.