Introduction Here are ten reasons that might be given by people who do not wash:
(1) I was made to wash as a child and that turned me off. (2) People who wash are hypocrites, thinking they are cleaner than other people. (3) There are so many different places to wash I couldn't choose between them. (4) I used to wash but it got boring so I gave it up. (5) I only wash on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. (6) I'm only young now. When I get older and dirtier then I may start washing. (7) I really don't have time to wash. (8) None of my friends wash, so why should I? (9) The bathroom's never warm enough. (10) People who encourage washing are only after your money. [Listed in Close Encounters, Melvin Tinker 1996]
You may have noticed that they are all similar to reasons given by people for not attending church. Another reason that is commonly given for not attending church is that Christians are gullible. Christians believe too much. The resurrection, the virgin conception, the miracles of Jesus for instance, are all steps too far for some people. These things are not open to proof, so they cannot be believed. To such people faith is entirely unreasonable, and so they will have nothing to do with it. There are some Christians who are very happy not with the outcome, but with this judgment. They are very happy with the view that 'I believe because I believe'. They are not interested in whether there are reasons or facts to support the Christian faith. They would say that true faith is not tied in any way to anything, it is simply faith. There is no evidence that demands a verdict, only darkness that the Holy Spirit must lighten. Fine as that view sounds, it subtly cuts faith off from reality. Christianity is just one of the things that can be believed by people, there is no way of judging between them. This is the sort of approach that our post-modern age is only too happy for us to have. But the other extreme is to find rational explanations for everything, so that there can be little excuse for not believing. The Christian faith is contained in a series of propositions that are objective and open to argument. So coming to faith is simply a matter of debate and being won with arguments. The weakness of this approach is that there may be nothing of encounter with God, and no real grasp of our inability to understand unless God lightens our hearts. It is the middle line that we need. God has supplied ample evidence, so that men and women are without excuse for failing to turn to him; and yet even given the persuasive evidence, the mind that is not opened by the Holy Spirit will fail to believe. Faith is not opposed to facts, in fact it rests on them. In the reading from John's gospel we will learn what coming to faith looks like. There are three headings: first, EYE-WITNESS TESTIMONY; secondly, FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE; and thirdly, AN INVITATION TO FAITH. First, EYE-WITNESS TESTIMONY (vv 24-25) Let's remind ourselves of the first two verses of the reading:
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
Thomas had every advantage for belief. He had spent years in the company of Jesus. He had heard his teaching, seen his miracles. No doubt he wholeheartedly believed Jesus died on the cross. But it stopped there. We do not know why Thomas wasn't present on Easter evening with the other disciples. Verse 19 above tells us that the disciples were afraid of the Jews, and that is the reason that they met behind locked doors. Their leader had been executed. Probably they felt vulnerable and dejected. When Jesus came among them they were overjoyed. The transformation must have been evident to all. Surely you had only to look at their faces to know that something had happened. But not for Thomas. They gave him their eye-witness testimony, "We have seen the Lord!", but his response is not, "How fantastic, how wonderful, that's what he told us" or anything like that. His response could have been, "Are you sure, could you have been mistaken?". It could have been, "I would love to see that for myself!". Instead, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe." Thomas's response rules out belief unless the proof is certain. The sticking point for Thomas was the death of Jesus. He reminds us the death of Jesus was absolutely certain: he was crucified, his side was pierced with a spear that let out the separated blood. Thomas is often called 'doubting Thomas'. I'm not sure it is the right name. In home groups this week we looked at the first chapter of the book of James. In it James wrote,
he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1.6-8).
Here doubting is described as being in two minds: hesitating, being indecisive. In medieval philosophy the story was told of a hungry dog placed exactly midway between two delicious bowls of food. The dog needed to make a decision which one of the two to eat. In the end it couldn't make up its mind and died. Doubt means keeping options open when they should be closed. Doubting is not knowing whether to believe or to disbelieve. The conflict is between faith and unbelief. Thomas at this moment was not a doubter but an unbeliever. He would not believe the resurrection had taken place, unless the evidence was of a kind that suited him. There are unbelievers today that are the same: they say things like 'I will not believe unless God mends my marriage, ...heals my child, ...secures my job' or some other thing. Thomas had eye-witness testimony from friends he could surely trust but he did not believe them. What of his own first hand experience?, the second point. Secondly, FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE (vv 26-28) Thomas is given first-hand experience, a personal testimony. Let's read the verses again (verse 26):
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
It was the following Sunday, the one after Easter. Today, if you like. Despite his rejection of what the other disciples had seen, Thomas hasn't left them, nor been left by them. He is staying in the most helpful place an unbeliever can be. Thomas has his first-hand experience of the resurrection body of Jesus. We don't know what he was thinking when Jesus came again through the locked doors, but it seems he was not yet convinced. Then Thomas also has a first-hand experience of the risen Christ's greeting, 'Peace be with you!' This greeting is full of meaning now that the crucifixion had made possible peace between man and God. Then Thomas has a first hand experience of the way Jesus Christ knows all things, for he knew exactly what Thomas had said that week before. In love, it is as though Jesus has returned just to let Thomas see the truth. Jesus administers that mild rebuke, 'Stop disbelieving and show yourself a believer' , as the words could be translated. There would be some people who say that the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is false because we know that humans do not rise from the dead. The argument goes, 'Science has established that people do not rise from the dead, at least not except on occasion during a very short time after death and with massive medical intervention. Since science has established that, then Jesus did not rise from the dead.' Such a view is surprisingly unscientific. There is a theory (that the dead do not rise), and a claimed observation (that Jesus rose from the dead). Scientific theory would suggest the best practice is to reassess one's theories in the light of observation. That is how most of the great advances in science have taken place. Galileo observed that the phases of Venus didn't fit in with the Ptolemaic theory of the sun going round the earth, and so the theory had to be changed. Madame Curie discovered an ore with a raised radioactivity, which did not fit into the theory that elements cannot transmute into other elements - and the theory had to be changed. Science is about modifying our theories on the basis of evidence. So the theory that Jesus rose from the dead cannot be dismissed just like that. It is necessary to consider what evidence there is that Jesus rose from the dead. In the 1930's a young British lawyer was convinced the resurrection was a tissue of fable and fancy. He thought with his legal brain he could sift the evidence to sort out fact from fiction. Remarkably while Frank Morrison was doing his research and examining the evidence, he became persuaded against his will, of the fact of the bodily resurrection. He called the first chapter of his book Who moved the stone?, "The Book That Refused to Be Written." It is available on the special bookstall display along with some others on the theme. If we find that there is enough evidence, we must modify the theory. Although humans do not normally rise from the dead, Jesus did, which shows something special about him. We must then also take seriously the other claims he made about himself, for instance that he is God himself come as a human being to die and rise again for us. It doesn't seem as if Thomas actually needed to put his hands in the wounds once it came to it. There could be no doubt that Jesus was risen from the dead. And Thomas utters not a profanity, 'My Lord and my God!', but a deep personal profession of faith, 'My Lord and my God!' that has to be uttered by anyone who wants to become a true Christian. Thomas addresses Jesus with the words with which Israel had addressed God in the Old Testament. This monotheistic Jew addresses a human he knows well, as Lord and God. There is something here of the first verse of the gospel,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1.1).
and something of chapter 5.21-23:
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
Thomas doesn't just display his faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but points to the deepest meaning of the resurrection. Jesus Christ is for him Lord and God. Do we say to Jesus in our hearts this morning. 'My Lord and my God?'. If we do, do we realise the hope that this gives us, whatever our present circumstances? As it says in verse 29 "blessed" are those who have not seen and believed, that religious word that we can't translate 'how happy, enviable, fortunate, or lucky', but which we know means 'accepted by God.' Which brings us to the third point, Thirdly, AN INVITATION TO FAITH (vv 29-31) We read again verses 29-31:
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus accepts the worship of Thomas without turning him aside, without upbraiding him for his blasphemy. He goes further, he pronounces his blessing on all who do likewise and recognise him as Lord and God, that is especially those who come afterwards, those who believe through the message of the apostles (as 17:20 puts it). That blessing is only open to us in this life. There will come a time when all will see Jesus in his glory, some with blessing, some with shame. There is now a limited time when we do not see him, and this is the period to enter into the blessing. The purpose of what John has recorded is that we would believe in Jesus. To find what it says in chapter one verse 12,
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--
Or what is says in 1 Peter 1:8
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Faith is exercised daily by all of us. When we cross a bridge, we are putting our faith in the engineers who built it. There are many things that we have not seen for ourselves, but which others have, and which we take on trust. Faith is not 'believing what you know is not true', it is not 'believing what cannot be proved.' Faith means having confidence or trust, so that we are committed and obedient. Faith in the context here means accepting the evidence of the apostles, as recorded in this gospel. Faith is about recognising and trusting God. There are some people who accept the truth of Christianity. They believe that there is a God, even for instance a God who is able to forgive sins, but they do not know themselves forgiven. Imagine that you were suffering from blood poisoning. Antibiotics such as penicillin can cure it. But believing that penicillin can cure isn't going to do anything to cure you. Only when you take the capsules can you be cured. It is the same with the gospel: believing that it can transform our life is one thing, allowing it do so is different. Conclusion I began with reasons some people give for not attending church. Some of the reasons for attending church might also be found wanting. I attend because I always have. I attend because I feel like it. I attend because it makes me feel good for a week. I attend to see everyone. This incident with Thomas asks us have we come to faith? Do we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Not as a verbal proposition, but as a reason for, and source of, life? If we are not sure, or not ready, could I recommend a look at the bookstall, and especially a 'Just Looking' group, that will give you a chance to look at the evidence, and where any question is a good one.