'I'd believe in God if only there was more evidence.' Has anyone ever said that to you? Or maybe you're saying that right now. Last time someone said it to me, I said to him, 'There's plenty of evidence. And he said, 'Where?' So I said, 'The Bible.' And he said, 'That's not evidence – it was written so long ago, it's like Chinese whispers: you've no idea what really happened.' So I said, 'I disagree. There's very good reason to believe that what the Gospels say about Jesus comes from eye-witnesses, and hasn't been changed.' And he said, 'Well, maybe. But I could only believe it if I'd actually been there.' So I said, 'But plenty of people who were there still didn't believe in Jesus – that didn't guarantee faith.' To which he said, 'Then maybe writing in the sky is God's only option with me.'
'I'd believe in God if only there was more evidence.'
Well, you may be just thinking through what you believe – but genuinely wanting to make up your mind about Jesus. Or you may be a Christian feeling shaky about what you believe – but genuinely wanting to feel confident. In which case, knowing more of the evidence of the Bible, and why we can trust it, is what you need.
But that guy I was talking to didn't sound so genuine, did he? So knowing more of the evidence wasn't necessarily going to achieve anything in his case. I'm sure he thought he was willing to go wherever the evidence leads – but then why did he write off the Bible without even looking at it? That suggests a will going the opposite way – which doesn't want it to be true, because it's happy living its own way, as if God wasn't there.
And the Bible would call that his sinfulness – which always affects peoples' willingness to look at the evidence and follow it. But ongoing sinfulness also affects us who are Christians, and can be one cause of doubt. So, for example, a Christian who told me he was sleeping with his girlfriend told me he was also beginning to doubt whether Christianity was true after all. Which wasn't surprising, because sinful behaviour causes us to doubt that whether it's true, and doubt gives us permission to live as if it wasn't true – in other words, sin and doubt can play off each other.
So whether we're believing, doubting, or not believing right now isn't just to do with the evidence. It's to do with our attitude to God – because believing means submitting our lives to him, which is just what our sinfulness kicks against.
So to end this Easter mini-series, we're going to look at the supreme evidence for Christian faith – which is: Jesus' resurrection. And I've been praying that it'll help us get nearer to believing in the first place, or strengthen a shaky faith, or equip us to share our faith.
So let's turn back in the Bibles to John's Gospel, chapter 20. John 19 tells how, on Good Friday, Jesus was crucified and died, and his body was put in a tomb. Then John 20 says: first thing on the Sunday, Jesus' disciples found his tomb minus one body, and then started seeing Jesus bodily risen from the dead. And last week we heard how Jesus appeared to the whole group of disciples – except one. So now look down to John 20.24:
"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.'"
Have you ever missed the crucial moment? For example, where were you when Andy Murray first won Wimbledon? A minute before he did, I was glued to the TV, watching it with my family at another family's house. There was then a cry from outside of a child falling over, so I went to investigate. And simultaneously there was a cry from inside of people seeing a Brit win Wimbledon for the first time in 77 years. And I missed it. And there's the question for Thomas in heaven, isn't it? 'Where were you?' So, heading one:
1. Thomas Asks For the Highest Level of Evidence (verse 24-25)
Look at verse 25 again:
"So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But [Thomas] said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.'"
At which point, writers often lay into Thomas for being unreasonable. Whereas neither Jesus nor John do. And I take it that's because it's right to ask for evidence. Because Christian faith, anyway, is based on evidence.
I heard about a missionary couple working in the Middle East. And the wife was driving with their toddler when she ran out of petrol. They'd just passed a garage, but didn't have a petrol can. So she took the toddler and his potty and got a pottyful of petrol. And she was just pouring it into the car when one of the locals who knew her pulled up. And he put his window down and said, 'I don't believe in your God. But I have to admire your faith.'
And many people think faith is like that, don't they – just wishful thinking that there's a God and life beyond death and that cars will run on anything. So in that vein, Richard Dawkins says:
Faith lacks all supporting evidence… but people need a crutch for consolation.
But that's not true of Christian faith. Because Christian faith doesn't say, 'I simply choose to believe in God because I need to – despite there being no evidence for him.' It says, 'I believe in the God of the Bible because of the evidence of the Bible.' And the supreme evidence is Jesus' resurrection.
So Thomas was right to ask for evidence. And if you're just thinking through what you believe, or wanting to strengthen a shaky faith, you may also need to ask for more evidence. And a first step might be to read this booklet I wrote, Why Trust them? – about the four Gospels. Or here are a few other suggestions:
Can We Trust What The Gospels Say About Jesus? Andrew Errington, Matthias Media (booklet, 30 pages)
Can We Trust The Gospels? Peter Williams, Crossway (book, 140 pages)
Search on www.bethinking.org > homepage > Engage > Is The Bible Reliable?
But, coming back to Thomas, isn't it understandable that he wanted the highest level of evidence? Because think what he'd just been through. The crucifixion had shattered his faith in Jesus. Because, like the others, Thomas hadn't been expecting it and couldn't understand it – even though Jesus had predicted it. So the crucifixion left him thinking maybe he'd made a big mistake believing in Jesus, and his scepticism was a way of protecting himself from maybe an even bigger mistake of believing Jesus had risen from the dead.
And for some of us, what we've been through has also made us untrusting and sceptical. And we need to learn to manage that temperament (or temperament damage) and not just give in to the doubt and cynicism it can create in us. And with many people we're trying to share the gospel with, what they've been through – especially relationally – has made them untrusting and sceptical. And we need to be patient with that. So, for example, they're unlikely to be satisfied with the evidence by the end of a few sessions of Christianity Explored. It may take a long time for them to trust us, let alone the Bible. So onto heading two:
2. Jesus Gives Thomas the Highest Level of Evidence (verses 26-28)
Look on to verse 26:
"Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.'"
When I was at uni I had a mains alarm clock which sounded just like the fire alarm. And the alarm clock went off one morning. So I pressed the stop button, and it kept going – which unnerved me. And so I pressed the stop button harder, several times. And it kept going. So I switched it off at the wall, and it kept going – which really unnerved me. So I unplugged it, and was standing with it in the middle of the room – and still it kept going. And I was just feeling really spooked at this kind of zombie alarm clock with a life of its own which wouldn't die whatever I did – when I realised it was actually the fire alarm going off, and it was 1am.
So how unnerved and spooked do you think Thomas felt as he saw the Jesus who had died on a cross nine days earlier, standing in front of him, alive, and inviting him to touch him?
Which means Jesus still had a body – and clearly with some kind of continuity with the one he'd lived and died in (since the wounds from the crucifixion were somhow recognisable). But it was also a transformed body – which, for example, could just appear like this in a locked room. Because Jesus was now in the kind of body you need for heaven. And although he now belonged to that parallel reality to ours, he became visible temporarily in our reality – so that we could realise he'd gone through death and out the other side.
So now look at John 20.28, which is really the high-point of John's Gospel:
"Thomas answered [Jesus], 'My Lord and my God!'"
Now just turn back to John 14.18. This is what Jesus said to his disciples the Thursday night before the Friday he died. And he'd been saying he was about to leave them. Because he knew he was going via his death and resurrection to return to his Father in heaven. But they didn't get that, yet. So he says, in John 14.18:
"I will not leave you as orphans"
In other words, my death won't leave you without me, as the death of parents leaves orphans without them. Instead, he says:
"I will come to you."
Which I think must mean 'come to you in resurrection appearances' – because look at verse 19:
"Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live."
And then just clock verse 20:
"In that day [in other words, the day you see me risen from the dead] you will know that I am in my Father…"
In other words, 'You'll know that I and God my Father are one' – 'one being', as we say in the creed; one God.
So now turn back to John 20.28 – to 'that day' when Thomas saw Jesus risen from the dead. And through doing that, he realised for the first time who Jesus is – his Lord and God. Why? Because only God has eternal life and cannot die – so Thomas realised that it must somehow have been God who went through the cross, since he came out alive the other side. Because as God-become-man, Jesus could undergo a human death to pay the penalty for our sins. But as God-become-man, he couldn't die but could only live through that human death, and come out victorious the other side.
And once they'd seen that, Thomas and the others would have gone back over everything, and seen it all in a completely new light – resurrection light. For example, that time when people had brought the paralysed man and Jesus had said 'Your sins are forgiven' – and the critics had said, 'Why does he talk like that? … Who can forgive sins but God alone?' (Mark 2.5-7) And now, after the resurrection, it's obvious why he talked like that: he is God. Or for example, the calming of the storm – after which the disciples said, 'Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him!' And now, after the resurrection, it's obvious who he is, and why creation did what he told it to: he is God. So the upshot is: if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus; if you want to know God's opinion on anything, listen to Jesus.
But we weren't there to look or listen. So heading three:
3. Jesus Provides Written Evidence For Those of Us Who Weren't There (verses 29-31)
Look at verse 29:
"Jesus said to [Thomas], 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'"
In other words, it's perfectly possible to believe what Thomas believed without actually seeing what Thomas saw – and Jesus expects us to be able to.
But the Lord Jesus was not saying, 'Thomas, real faith doesn't ask for evidence – and you should have believed without evidence.' What he was saying is, 'Thomas, you came to believe in me because you saw the evidence with your own eyes. But countless others will believe in me not by seeing the evidence with their own eyes – but by reading the evidence from eye-witnesses like you.' Which is what we're doing in John's Gospel, right now. So the contrast isn't between believing on evidence, and believing on no evidence. It's between believing on evidence you've seen with your own eyes, and believing on evidence that eye-witnesses have seen and written down for you. Which is why John writes verse 30 and 31:
"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you [who weren't there and didn't see with your own eyes] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
And we mustn't feel dissatisfied by that – although I realise we inevitably feel a sense of distance between us and these events – because believing on the evidence of what other people have seen is something we do all the time. So for example, most of us haven't been to Paris in the last two weeks. But most of us believe that Notre Dame Cathedral has been damaged by fire. Why? Because of eye-witness reporting. Not that we should believe news reporting unthinkingly. My point is simply that we're doing it all the time – that's life. And Jesus is simply calling us to do the same when we come to the Gospels – the news reports about him. And, again, not unthinkingly, but asking, 'Who wrote? When? Can they be trusted? And does it have the ring of truth? So last heading:
4. How Jesus Wants Us to Respond to Him (verse 31)
Look at verse 31 again:
"but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
Now people argue over whether John was writing for non-Christians, with the aim that they'd believe in Jesus for the first time. or for Christians, with the aim that they'd keep believing. I personally think John reads more like something aiming to lead people to faith in the first place. But by definition, what does that will also keep Christians believing, and strengthen faith.
And if you're a Christian, as and when you're flagging in your faith or doubting (which you will, sometimes) one of the Gospels is almost certainly the best place to turn – ideally with the help of another Christian – either in person, meeting one-to-one to look at the Bible together, or in the form of a book that takes you through a Gospel. Or you could join our next Christianity Explored group – those groups are great for Christians wanting to strengthen their faith as well as for people just looking into it for the first time.
So how does the risen Jesus want us to respond? Well, verse 30, he wants us to believe that he is
"the Christ, the Son of God"
In other words, the divine King whom the Old Testament promised would come to put right a world that's turned away from God – the divine King we heard about in Isaiah 9 verses 1-7 – who is going to establish God's kingdom and peace and justice… forever.
And to pull that off, for one thing, you have to live forever – which Jesus' resurrection says he will – because death couldn't kill him and now can't ever touch him. And for another thing, you have to be stronger than everything that's wrecking peace and justice in this world – which Jesus' resurrection also says he is. Because it says he's stronger than the false religious leaders who condemned him and thought they'd got rid of him. Think again. And it says he's stronger than the Roman government that crucified him. Of course this didn't happen, but Jesus could have walked, risen from the dead, into Pilate's courtroom and said, 'So what are you going to do about me now?' But the next time they meet will be in Jesus' courtroom, not Pilate's. And, ultimately, the resurrection says Jesus is stronger even than death itself.
So as we look at the world 2,000 years later, full of apparently successful false religions and apparently successful false Christianity, and apparently successful anti-Christian governments and movements, and with death taking our loved ones and ultimately coming for us…we can trust that Jesus' resurrection means he is reigning over all that – he's the ultimate Lord – and that the clock is ticking to when he'll come again to wrap up history and end everything bad and sad.
So he wants us to believe that he's King and coming back. But he also wants us to have life through relationship with him. Look at the end of verse 31:
"and that by believing you may have life in his name."
And John, in his Gospel, mainly calls the 'life' he's on about 'eternal life'. And that's not just talking about quantity of life. I was talking about life beyond death to someone in his eighties. And he said, 'The idea doesn't appeal at all. I mean, who'd want to live forever with all the aches and pains and sadnesses and evils of this world?' And I realised he thought I was on about this life going on forever – which would be grim. Who'd want that? But 'eternal life' isn't just about quantity. It's about a totally different quality of life – which Jesus will bring when he comes again, and ends everything bad and sad, and creates a place which is perfect and unspoiled because everyone there is finally living for God as King. That's the life he wants us to have in the End – but we can only have it if we come into relationship with him now. Which is what the end of verse 31 is on about when it says:
"you may have life in his name."
Which means 'life on account of being in relationship with him.' And the Bible's top illustration of that is marriage. So I'm married to Tess. And you could say I have married life in her name – on account of my relationship with here –and she has married life in my name. And one thing married life means is having all that your partner brings to the marriage. So on our wedding day, Tess and I said to each other: 'All that I am I give you, and all that I have I share with you.' So I got her new Toyota Corolla and she got my geriatric Ford Focus. I got her cello and she got my guitar. I got her substantial savings and she got my basically non-existent ones (which isn't why I married her – it wasn't the Jane Austen poor curate marries rich lady plot; I knew nothing about her finances). What else? She got my wardrobe of bachelor clothes and I got her dress-sense – which is why most of my clothes were soon in second-hand shops.
And when we turn to the risen Jesus and put our trust in him, the spiritual equivalent happens. And the biggest thing the Lord Jesus 'brings to the marriage' for us to have is his death on the cross. So remember how Thomas realised that it must somehow have been God who went through the cross, since he came out alive the other side. And if it was God – God the Son – then he can't have been paying the penalty for his own sins. He must have been paying for ours. Which is why the last thing Jesus said on the cross was, 'It is finished' – the word they used back then for saying, 'Debt paid.' Because on the cross, Jesus anticipated and paid for all the forgiveness we'd ever need – for both our past and future sins. Which means he now has an infinite capacity to 'soak up' the debt of our ongoing sinfulness. So spiritually speaking, when you 'marry' Jesus – when you turn to him and put your trust in him – he gets your sin and gets rid of the penalty it deserves, and you get his acceptance with God his Father – his permanent standing in his Father's love.
So 'life in his name' means forgiven life – where we know that, although our ongoing sinfulness spoils our relationship with him, it can never split it. And 'life in his name' means life without fear of death – life that just sees death as the doorway to seeing Jesus face to face, as Thomas did all those years ago this exact Sunday after Easter. And 'life in his name' means life where he's with us and in us by his Spirit – not just forgiving our sin whenever we need it, but moving us inwardly to walk away from sin and walk his way instead. And that's why, looking back to verse 28, Thomas didn't just say, 'Wow! You must be Lord and God!' No, verse 28:
"Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'"
Which isn't just Thomas saying something about Jesus. It's Thomas saying something about himself. It's Thomas saying, 'I submit to you. I'll obey you. I'll do what you want me to do, I'll be what you want me to be, I'll go where you want me to go.'
So let me ask: is that what you're saying in your heart to the risen Lord Jesus tonight? Because that's ultimately where the evidence leads. And that's why not everyone wants to follow it.