Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sunday sermon 28 April – As I Have Loved You

A sermon on Anzac weekend.

Readings:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 13:31-35

 31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. 34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

Message

I wonder if you remember this song:

-1-
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord. (x2)
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.


Chorus
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.


-2-
We will work with each other,
We will work side by side. (x2)
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride.


Chorus


-3-

We will walk with each other,
We will walk hand in hand. (x2)
And together we’ll spread the News
that God is in our land.

All praise to the Father from whom all things come…

copyright 1966 Peter Scholte

It was a great song. I’m not sure why songs written in the 1960s needed so many repeats! Maybe it was the 60s. People might have needed reminding of things. Who knows.

Ironically that song fell out of the book Living Praise because the owners withdrew the copyright. Not very loving – the new edition had a blank page with apologies instead of music.

So what has happened to the church after all these years?

So many times we sang this song from John 13.

So many sermons on this passage:

34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

They will know that you are my disciples if you love one another? “Yeah right” is the classic kiwi approach!

sermon outline 28 April

WE DO GET IT RIGHT THOUGH

Today we remember those who gave their lives for their country – in whatever war you think of there have been terrible losses and sacrifice.

In the face of such devastation – many have shown the love of Christ in action in the face of terrible risk and threat.

·         Like those who stuck up for the persecuted Jewish people – and hid them or rescued them.

·         Those who refused to fight as pacifists – but served in amazing ways as peacemakers or medical staff

·         Chaplains who were with their people on the front lines praying and ministering to the dying

·         And many who nursed the wounded at great risk themselves. And the endless sacrifice of soldiers…

HOW NEW IS NEW?

What is new about this new commandment that Jesus gave?

Loving your neighbour wasn’t new – that was already in the Old Testament or Jewish Bible.

Listen and look again:

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

AS I HAVE LOVED YOU – is the key.

Love for Jesus was more than words – more than his teaching about love – but an action.

God so loved the world so much that he sent a text or telegram? I don’t think so.

God so Loved the world so much that he GAVE HIS ONLY SON. (John 3:16).

Jesus laid down his life for us. In fact, when he was preparing his followers for his death he said this (in the previous chapter in John):

23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!’

You find that passage – especially verse 24 – on memorials and cenotaphs throughout the world (κενοτάφιον – empty tomb; kenos – “empty”, and taphos – tomb) – memorials that are empty because the people remembered are elsewhere – on Flanders field or some unknown place of terrible sadness and death.

…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Paul says something very similar to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Eph 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Sacrifice! A great reminder!

So as we give thanks for those who have sacrificed today – let’s commit ourselves to really love each other as Jesus loves us!

·         It’s a tall order!

·         It is possible – by His grace and through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit!

·         It is essential for Christian witness – people know we follow Jesus because of our love

·         It is not PERFECTION – real love is honest, not pretentious, and knows how to say sorry and move on when things go wrong!

But – you may be thinking – “my life is too hard – this command is too hard”. You say to me, maybe – “you don’t know the people that I have to deal with” or “you don’t know my family, pastor!”

Let’s dig a little deeper into this passage before we go home today. Go back to verse 31of John 13:

It begins with this innocuous line: 31 When he was gone, Jesus said…

And of course context is everything.

The “he” is Judas. And Jesus loved Judas – he was one of his team.

And prior to that in John 13 Jesus had washed their feet – despite the protestations of Peter.

What is coming – for Jesus – is a betrayal and a denial – a cruel trial, flogging, a crown of thorns and an agonizing crucifixion.

It’s from that cross that Jesus forgives his tormentors.

This Jesus – who will need tremendous courage and strength – is the one who says here:

33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer.

In fact some translations have “Little children” here…

It’s a tender address. No parables here – no mysteries and riddles to crack.

They knew they had to love their neighbour (Leviticus 19:18).

It probable figured that they had to love each other.

Listen to the whole passage preceding the commandment again:

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.

 It would not feel like glorification for Jesus or his followers. It would feel like defeat.

Glorification is not about success, but obedience now in the short term – and reward in the long term!

We’re back to sacrifice are we not?

Back to our soldiers who give up their lives for others.

Heroes who rescue their friends on the battle field.

One can understand the feelings of their comrades at this time.

There is a sense of enormous gratitude – when you are rescued, protected, or saved by someone. I’d like to know – we’d all like to know – that there is someone we can depend upon, someone who will defend us if we are attacked or in danger.

So too Jesus – who died for us. He saves us.

So too those tens of thousands of New Zealanders who gave their lives in war or protecting others in some way.

Love is shown in sacrifice.

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Sunday sermon 21 April – My Shepherd, His Sheep

My Shepherd, His Sheep

Readings: Psalm 23;  John 10: 22-30

The Lord is my shepherd.

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’

So what is a personal pronoun?

The teaching of grammar seems a strange way into a sermon, does it not?

Grammar is such a neglected art. Many young people today haven’t a clue what it means.

So what is a personal pronoun?

Are there any other kinds of pronouns? And what difference does it make?

Actually there are quite a few kinds!

Grammarians classify pronouns into several types, including the personal pronoun (I, he, she, it, we you, they did it), the demonstrative pronoun (that boy did it), the interrogative pronoun (who did it?), the indefinite pronoun (anybody could have done it), the relative pronoun (the boy who did it), the reflexive pronoun (he did it to himself), and the intensive pronoun (I myself think).

That was fun. Look at all of them in this passage:

. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’

So pronouns (which are used in place of nouns) are quite useful! (Try putting nouns in their place and see how clumsy it sounds).

There are two personal pronouns that jump out of the passages set for today!

The Lord is MY Shepherd. (23:1)                (My Shepherd)

MY sheep listen to my voice. (10:27)       (His sheep)

The intimacy of our relationship with the Lord Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith and experience.

While it sounds selfish, we are entitled to say with King David – the Lord is MY shepherd.

And he claims us as HIS sheep.

Of all the things I do – the one thing that matters most is that this becomes real to you!

I want you to KNOW this shepherd – and I want you to be his sheep – his followers – because you will hear his voice and KNOW HIS VOICE.

From the crazy days of David the shepherd boy – with real wolves and lions and bears – to the insane dangers of the world we live in  (what a terrible week it has been for the most innocent of people across the globe) knowing the Lord as my Shepherd and hearing and knowing His voice is vital and essential.

Of course the different English translations battle with this word – listen to his voice, hear his voice!  Respond to his voice – recognise his voice – you get them all.

It’s a personal thing – arising out of a personal relationship expressed with personal pronouns.

The Lord is my shepherd.

My sheep hear my voice!

Nothing else matters really.

And he speaks. He spoke this week – at prayer – and the person who shared what became his voice had no idea how He spoke into my life.

And verse 27 has more: . 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

I know them!

This is quite disarming really. And a relief all at once. I hardly know myself really. I wonder if any of us really do?

He knows us!

He knows me – and you! (O my all these pronouns!!)

He knows our deepest fears, our deepest needs, and our deepest hopes.

And then – this simple consequence:

They follow me!

The rest is profound – there is good reason to follow this Jesus:

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’

How does that make you feel?

I was chatting to our previous pastor here at BBP – who is working in a new kind of model of ministry in a more rural region. He shared some good thoughts with me – about the church being over taught and under active – in general.

I would say the modern church is over-taught, and under-engaged emotionally.

This verse should make you feel something!

It should be comforting – strengthening – and encouraging! It should move our hearts.

Jesus’ words – listen: Change the pronouns a bit – make it the second person singular rather then the second person plural!

·         I give YOU eternal life!

·         YOU shall never perish!

·         No one will snatch YOU out of my hand!

·         No one will snatch YOU out of my Father’s hand!

Good? I think so! Remember the context of John 10:

John 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

·         We need a protecting shepherd with a rod and staff to comfort us!

·         We need to know his voice!

·         We need to follow him!

And knowing that we cannot be snatched out of his hand is a wonderful truth. Yes it is part of our heritage – the belief that we are chosen by God and one of his elect.

No-one can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand because, he says, 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all…

As we come to communion today may you rediscover this personal relationship we have with the Lord.

May he fill you with His love and power – and his assurance.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 14 April – Peter restored, Peter prepared…

Reading: John 21:1-19

Message

There are three possible ways into the conversation and story today as we look at this text.

1.      Fishing and braai(barbeque) on the beach

For those who come from the same wonderful country as me – this is great! It’s a fish braai! Barbeque on the beach. (Let’s go – shall we! we are so close to the beach here we could walk out of church and soon be there enjoying ourselves).

Nope. That didn’t work. I thought you may be too comfortable! Getting church people out of the pews is not easy really! So you should consider coming to the picnic today and getting to know people better in this family.

But there is something rather nice about Jesus doing the fish thing again – like he did when he called them in Luke 5:1-11. “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some… says Jesus this time in John 21:6.

It is all about listening to Jesus really. And of course he told them they would be fishing for people. (Remember the song? I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me….)

People have tried to make this passage about numbers – trying to account for the 153 fish. I think they go to far. That’s the first option as we approach the story. The second is this:

2.     Resurrection appearance number three.

I think you had a brilliant time with our preacher last last week as you considered the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not sure if I will visit that again today- although it under-girds our whole faith. This is, according to John, the third appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples (v14).

This third appearance of Jesus is earthy. It has none of the certainty of Thomas’ confession after really seeing and touching the Lord Jesus – “my Lord and my God”. In fact they seem a bit stunned really – listen again:  12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

A good thing really – in case people might suggest that they were having a once-off hallucination!

The real thing that challenges me in this passage today is this:

3.     Believing that God can actually use me (like he used Peter) to change the world.

This restoration of Peter is stunning. Amazing and beautiful all at once. Listen once more:

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said…

I think Jesus had a way of gathering people around food – because food disarms you. You lower your guard – you are intimate.

I think he did it with Zaccheus the tax collector. Invited himself for tea, as it were – while the guy was up a tree. And I’m sure the hard conversation took place – and the man’s life was changed – with the fruit of repentance! He gave back what he stole.

And so in this comfortable and safe setting for a fisherman – around a charcoal fire, Jesus engages Peter on the important issues of the day:

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said…

Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’

16 Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’

He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’

17 The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.

On Good Friday three of our number shared in the Ecumenical service. Our task was to portray the betrayal of Peter.

Peter’s denial – for the leader of the group and the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah – is an awful failure and would have really disabled him and his confidence.

This whole passage starts with Peter doing what I have felt like doing at times. When it is tough – you want to go back to what you know best and what feels safe.

Peter still is the leader – listen to it again:

‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Jesus meets them in a double failure – no fish and no future.

And he tests Peter. He calls him by his given name – Simon son of John. That’s like Robin Palmer. It’s who you are in relation to your dad.

It’s not the name “Peter” which means rock – that was Jesus’ name for him. It was the name “Simon” meaning reed. He had wavered.

I don’t think we should read too much in the different words for love used. We are reading something in a second language here. Jesus and Peter would have been speaking Aramaic anyway. The Greek may have different words but they are sometimes used interchangeably.

More important than the words for love used – the restoration of Peter is part of the preparation for his future. And it’s deliberate – three questions about love for Jesus matching the three denials. Both these questions and the denials take place at a charcoal fire (the word for this fire is only used these two times in the New Testament). It’s a key moment in the history of this movement because it’s about Peter restored, and Peter prepared…

We are moving towards Pentecost now – and it is there that the fullness of God’s love and power really brings Peter to life.

Before that, is this grilling, the re-test from Jesus:

Do you love me more than these? This is about the seriousness of his love and also his leadership role. When you are called to lead you are called to love more. You can’t be mediocre or business like about the things of God. It can’t be a soft option or something on your too do list way down in terms of priorities.

It’s passion!

It’s something that we as leaders are moving towards. Without leaders of passion the church is in trouble.

Passion is love and love is passion. Passion for God and the things of God is seen in love for Jesus – a greater love than the other things that drive us!

So Jesus keeps pressing in – Simon do you love me? Then be the leader of the sheep and lambs you were meant to be.

This Pastor role is not just standing around with a big shepherd’s crook looking out for marauding wolves – or making sure the nice sheep eat their grass!

The nurturing, guiding, comforting, sustaining and teaching role of the shepherd is a very challenging load.

And of course Peter was the preacher on Pentecost – that big launch of the church! He confessed his love for Jesus on this day on the beach, and then waited on God for that powerful upper room experience on the later day of Pentecost – that release or touch of the Holy Spirit – when he would be filled with power  that would catapult him and this fledgling group into history.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If God could use Him – he can use us too!

When we fail – and we will and do – he calls us back to this commitment of love – and commissions us – puts us to work to be the ones that actually change the world in which we live.

I think he wants to ask us the same thing today.

Do you love me? Then do it! “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep”

This begins here – and if we love Jesus then we are to love the sheep too! Even though people fail us in the church – we are to love them. There is no escape from this. The local church is the place where we do this – where God’s people gather and where they serve him and worship him! And where we need to live out restoration and forgiveness for all who fail.

And through the local church – through us together – we can reach out to the lost sheep too. We can change the world where we live.

Amen.

Tuesday Church sermon 9 April – Born again

Reading: John 3: 7-15

I love to read about Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night – possibly because of privacy or secrecy (Jesus was a controversial person in the ruling Jewish Council) – possibly because he was a prayerful student who studied late at night – who knows really?

I also love the details about Jesus’ burial – in John 19:38 – Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  John 19:39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. So good to see that Nicodemus does become a disciple!

The idea that you can be born again is perplexing to him. But Jesus is clear: You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”

When Nicodemus says: ‘How can this be?’  – Jesus is more direct: 10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?

So are you? Born again?  Jesus says – You should not be surprised at my saying this!

It’s very clear that the Christian life is about a new beginning. Two things are very clear from today’s reading:

  1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth!
  2. It involves the cross!

1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth! We are born of the Holy Spirit – listen again to Jesus:

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

The word for spirit and wind are the same in both bible languages.  In the NT it is pneuma – here are various English words that come from this. The point is – you can’t actually see the wind, but you can see its effect. So too the Holy Spirit.

We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive assurance of faith (Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.) We experience the love of God through the Spirit: Romans 5:5 – because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. We are told to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,) which is about on ongoing relationship with God who is spirit (John 4:24 – God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” ) and who empowers us with his transforming presence.

And it all begins with the spiritual rebirth – we are to be born again (from above) and born of the spirit – a touch and regeneration by the spirit – a bringing to life of our spirits so that we begin to experience the things that are in a different realm – the realm of the spirit. That realm – using another word for realm – is the Kingdom of God.

The Christian life is a spiritual life!

2. The Christian life also involves the cross – there is no escaping Easter here!

John also records these words of Jesus: 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

This spiritual life – being born again by the spirit – also involves our being saved from a life of sin and death and being launched into a life in the spirit.

This is also referred to as “eternal life” and it is found in Jesus (verse 15  – “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him”).

The reference to Moses is interesting here. The Israelites were in trouble – condemned to die because of their sin – which interestingly was not the breaking of the 10 commandments directly, but GRUMBLING. Listen to the account from Numbers 21:

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;  Num 21:5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Grumbling against God and against God’s leaders gets people into trouble! They looked to the bronze serpent – and they were saved from death!

The parallel is clear. The bronze snake was lifted up – just as Moses lifted that symbol up in the wilderness, so to the Son of Man was to be lifted up “15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

They confessed their sin and asked for prayer – and Moses prayed for them. “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  ” (Numbers 21:7.) We too look to the cross – and confess our sin! Well we should.

And of course this story is told to Nicodemus as a warning. One commentator, James Philip, puts it like this:

This was surely one element in Nicodemus’ situation: his was a willing blindness. He did not want to see the truth about the necessity for rebirth, because seeing it would have been at that point much too costly a thing for him. He resisted the truth because his heart was in rebellion against God, as much as the Israelites were. (James Philip was the minister of the Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He died in 2009. A great pastor-teacher)

That’s a warning to us when we say “oh we don’t need to be born again! We don’t need this Holy Spirit business. We’re just fine!

We need to really seek this fullness of life – the new birth – the fullness of the Spirit – a full understanding of what eternal life is – with our eyes firmly fixed on the cross.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 7 April 2013 – “Doubting Thomas”

Text: John 20:19‑31

Sermon

Children aren’t afraid to ask questions or even to express some doubts.

David Heller in his little book, DEAR GOD: CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD, has some questions children have asked…

 Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they’re kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)

 Dear God, When Jonah was in the whale, was it a he whale or a she whale? Mike (age 7)

 Dear God, What do you do with families that don’t have much faith? There’s a family on the next block like that. I don’t want to get them in trouble, so I can’t so who. See you in church, Alexis (age 10)

 Dear God, When I grow up will I have to fight in the army? Will there be a war? I’m not chicken or anything. I just want to know in advance. Terry (age 10)

 Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is ‑ if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods too. I’ll try to believe more, Ian (age 10)

 Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)

Today’s Gospel reading  is about a man who was like a child when it came to questions. If he had one, he asked it. If he had a doubt, he expressed it. His name was Thomas. Most of us know him as “Thomas ‑ the Doubter” or “Doubting Thomas.”

I want us to take a little closer look at Thomas, for I think he’s not always been treated fairly. In fact, I think we who live in an age that questions everything can learn something from Thomas about how to handle our questions and doubts. And we have them. It’s not always easy for us to believe. We are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit. And I suggest to you that that’s not so bad. For if we can use our doubts and questions like Thomas did ‑ to help strengthen our faith ‑ then we will be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we had only the first three Gospels, the only thing we would know about Thomas is his name ‑ for that’s all they tell us.  Thomas is often paired with Matthew as one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose. “Thomas” is the Hebrew word for “twin.” He is also called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.” Obviously Thomas had a twin brother or sister who is never named. (One tradition says his twin was Lydia of Philippi, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul).

So we have to look at the Gospel of John to get real insights into just who Thomas was.

Turn with me to John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die  with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life. Thomas loved Jesus and was ferociously loyal to him. How many of us have been willing to follow Jesus, to let it be known that we are one of his disciples even if it might cost us greatly?

We also see here that Thomas leaned toward pessimism. “Let us go along with him, so that we can die too!” Thomas tended to expect the worst.

Someone said: pessimist is someone “who can look at the land of milk and honey and see only calories and cholesterol.”

Thomas instructs us even in this. It was difficult for him to follow Jesus for he was a natural born pessimist. It’s easier for an optimist for he always expects the best. But for Thomas, certain as he was that disaster awaited them, this was a tremendous act of faith and loyalty. Just because he was pessimistic, that was no reason to stop following where Jesus led. We, too, must not let a pessimistic attitude keep us from following Christ’s lead, even if we have grave doubts about just where we’re gonna end up.

Now turn to John 14.

Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away to prepare them a room in the Father’s house. “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going,” he says. But notice what Thomas says in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Thomas  wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even to Jesus, when he didn’t understand something. And I’ll tell you this, Jesus never put him down for it or anyone who came to him with an honest doubt or question. For such a person is seeking to believe. The honest doubters and questioners did not bother Jesus as much as the know‑it‑alls, those like the Pharisees who would not open their hearts and minds to the truth he taught.

Thomas had questions. He asked them because he wanted to understand. I can identify with that. All my life I have been full of questions and even some doubts from time to time..

Doubts, questions does not have to be the enemies of faith, but can be an allies. And I tell you something else, if someone has never had any doubts or questions, I wonder if they have ever really thought about their faith or know what they believe. Often we do not really understand what we believe until some question, some doubt arises that makes us pray, study, talk, search for answers.

And I’ll tell you something else. A person who asks questions and even doubts doesn’t mean he or she has no faith. To the contrary, I think it shows that they take their faith seriously, so seriously that they want to understand and grow ‑ just like Thomas.

Now turn with me to John 20.

It’s the first Easter evening. The disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the authorities. Suddenly, Jesus is with them in the room. They see his hands and side. And they are filled with unspeakable joy. But look at verse 24. It reads,

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin),  was not with them when Jesus came.

I think Thomas wasn’t with them because his heart was broken. He was in deep pain. Just as he thought ‑ it had ended in a disaster even worse than he had imagined. Jesus had been arrest, tried, crucified and been dead three days. It was over. The man he had followed for three years, the man who he loved more than his own life, was dead. To gather with the others was just too painful a reminder of all this. So Thomas chose to withdraw and suffer alone.

Seems to me, my friends, that when we are hurt or in deep distress like Thomas, we have a tendency to do one of two things ‑ withdraw and suffer in silence, cut ourselves off from others, or reach out and embrace our family, friends.

Thomas chose to withdraw. And because he did, he missed out on the one thing that would have turned his sorrow into joy ‑ the presence of the Risen Christ!

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To withdraw from the fellowship of the Christian family is to miss out on that special sense of the presence of Christ that gives us tremendous peace and joy. And, I think, as Thomas discovered, it is only within that fellowship that we begin to have our questions and doubts resolved.

The disciples, so excited, rush out and find Thomas. They use the very same words that Mary and the other women had used, “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas makes that reply for which he has become famous or infamous, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).

Thomas gets a bad rap because we think he’s the only one who felt this way. Wrong! Luke 24:11 says that when the women came to them and said, “We have seen the Lord!” that no one one believed them. The disciples thought it was nonsense! And here in John 20 we see that they did not believe until they had seen the Risen Lord, his hands and his side. THEN they believed. Thomas was acting no differently than they had. In fact, he’s just more upfront and honest about his doubts.

A week later the disciples gather again and this time Thomas is with them. Like before, Jesus appears to them, “Peace be with you,” he says. Then Jesus turns to Thomas and offers to allow him to touch his hands and his side. We’re not told if Thomas did this. I personally do not think he did. He fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas openly admitted his doubts, he faced them, and worked through them to the greatest confession of faith in Christ in the whole New Testament!

Tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up the world for evangelism. Thomas got India. There is a church in India that traces its roots back to Thomas. And I understand there’s a Saint Thomas Mount where, I believe, tradition says Thomas was killed while praying. We don’t know if any of this is true, but such faith, loyalty, courage and love for Christ would certainly be in keeping with what we know about Thomas.

So don’t let anyone tell you to stop asking questions or to suppress all your doubts. Ask them. Talk about them with those you trust. Don’t let them drive you away from the Christian fellowship but to it, for chances are the Risen Lord will help answers your doubts and questions as you gather with his people to worship, share, pray and serve. Make your questions and doubts lead you, like Thomas, to a greater faith.

Amen.

(From the archives)