1Co 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 1Co 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 1Co 15:6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 1Co 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 1Co 15:8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 1Co 15:11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Mar 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Mar 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb Mar 16:3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Mar 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. Mar 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Mar 16:6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mar 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Mar 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
MESSAGE: “AND PETER“
We mentioned on Thursday night how depressing it must have been for Jesus.
It’s hard to imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind that night. But consider this:
After the institution of the Lord’s supper, we read these words:
Luk 22:21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. Luk 22:22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.
- His disciples of course question among themselves who it could be. As if unmoved by this shock announcement, they then debate which of them was considered to be the greatest. So he has to teach them about serving again.
- And then, just to add to the pretty daunting scene, he predicts that Peter would betray him. Peter replies, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
- They go to the mount of Olives – to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays. And of course, they fall asleep.
It’s interesting that Jesus in Gethsemane was so troubled. Mark tells us: “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. Mar 14:34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”
Someone said that he was troubled because he knew what was coming. We on the other hand get anxious because we don’t know what’s coming.
What must have been really troubling was how these disciples would cope.
Especially Peter – who would still have to lead the group.
Mar 14:27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mar 14:28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Mar 14:29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Mar 14:30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
There’s something quite nice about the message given to the women at the empty tomb:
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mar 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter…
And Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians 15 says this: 1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
Peter, some suggest, might have been a Zealot. I’m not convinced about that. But he is the one who takes out his sword and cuts Malchus’ ear off in the garden.
I think what Peter didn’t understand was the idea that Jesus would suffer and die. He argued about it from the beginning – straight after his confession of faith ”you are the Christ” – rebuking Jesus.
Graham Greene in one of his later novels Monsignor Quixote, has this Spanish priest Father Quixote in debate with the communist ex-mayor of their town. I guess triggered by the mayor’s Marxist utopian ideals, the priest has a dream. In this dream, in short, Jesus doesn’t die on the cross but calls down legions of angels who get him off alive. Everyone is happy, and the whole world rejoices and bows down. There is no death, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and resurrection. When he wakes up, the priest is relieved that it didn’t happen like that. He would have been without a job.
The point is – easter would be meaningless for us if there had not been that awful day when our Lord Jesus suffered the agony of the cross.
Think of all the pagan easter symbols which are in Spring in the northern hemisphere.
- If flowers didn’t die, seeds producing new plants wouldn’t matter.
- If rabbits didn’t get old, you would need new baby bunnies.
- New life only means something because the old life dies.
- Spring following spring would not mean much either. Light is useful because of the dark.
Peter wanted it all to be successful. He had to fail to learn to grow stronger and face the greater challenges that would await him. He’s the New Testament Job in a sense. Only Luke records these important words of Jesus to Peter: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
Peter was never able to read Martin Luther sadly. One writer puts it like his:
Luther suggests that if all were quiet and one had the promise of peace and prosperity, then one could be sure that the devil was very near.
If on the other hand it appeared as tough all hell were breaking loose and one were likely to suffer pain and hurt, one could be very sure that God was very near.
Luther’s view was that it is the cross of Jesus that enables us to be realistic about the way things really are.
Father Quixote’s dream is a nightmare for him because his ministry would have no meaning for anyone. In fact, no one would remember who Jesus was. Another messianic dot in history.
William Lane in his commentary writes:
Were it not for his resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth might have appeared as no more than a line in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, if he were mentioned at all. The witness of the four Gospels is unequivocal that following the crucifixion Jesus’ disciples were scattered, their hopes shattered by the course of events. What halted the dissolution of the messianic movement centered in Jesus was the resurrection. It is the resurrection which creates “the good news concerning Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” – which is what Mark’s gospel starts with.
Mark’s gospel ends with these words: Mar 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
- That stone, the tomb, the young man in white – mix that with the grief and torment of those three days, and you would understand their response.
- And in any case people didn’t believe women in those days. They were not accepted as witnesses in a law court.
Luke writing his historical account puts it like this:
Luk 24:9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Luk 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. Luk 24:11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (I preached on this in Easter 2019 – how their words seemed like rubbish. Leyros is the word. Literally a load of …. I’m sure you remember!)
Mark’s account makes sense. He was a disciple of Peter – so would be thinking about his mentor. And he of course ran away naked from Gethsemane. He would have been sympathetic with the terrified women.
The resurrection is first importance stuff, says Paul in the reading from 1 Corinthians we heard.
- The failure and restoration of Peter is a great help to us when we fail.
- The hope of resurrection is hugely helpful in a pandemic where people are dying in their droves.
- The promise of Easter – victory over death – is our only hope when we stare into the grave, or face our own mortality, or the challenge of aging or degenerative diseases..
- The power of the resurrection now means we live life in the light when things are dark, in spring when it is winter, and in permanent daylight saving when the night is long. We can steal Ben King’s words then: “When the night has come; And the land is dark; And the moon is the only light we’ll see; No, I won’t be afraid; Oh, I won’t be afraid; Because we know you will be there for us!” (The orignial song has: Just as long as you stand, stand by me).
He is risen indeed. Peter had to hear this. So do we.
Text: John 20:19‑31
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.