Evidence for sceptics

Would you say you are gullible, or sceptic, or somewhere in between? On one end of the scale, I can think of one friend was amazed when I told her that the world’s biggest bridge had recently been built from the UK mainland all the way to the Channel Islands. It works in a children’s picture Atlas, but not in real life. (If you’re not familiar with the geography of the English Channel the minimum travel time from the UK to Guernsey is a three-hour ferry journey).

On the other end of the scale, I can think of a discussion with my Italian father-in-law about holly. For him ‘agrifoglio’ was just a small bush. I tried to explain to him that in the UK we had proper holly trees; big trees that were as tall as houses. He was very sceptical. Perhaps my Italian wasn’t quite as good as he had initially suspected or perhaps the problem was my eyesight. But then came the day when we went for a local walk in Newcastle and saw a holly tree. In an instant, all doubts were vanquished. My reputation was restored.

When we’re talking about sea bridges or holly trees, the stakes are not that high. Unless you’re an engineer or a florist, these things don’t really matter that much. But what about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? The stakes are higher. An early church leader, Paul, wrote this in the Bible (1 Corinthians 15.14&19, NIV):

…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In Poker terms, Christians go ‘all in’ on the resurrection of Jesus. We are saying: let’s look at the resurrection of Jesus. If it didn’t happen, there’s no point us talking about Jesus, you believing in Jesus or living for Jesus and we Christians are complete losers. But, if he did rise from the dead, then the reverse is true. Before we go any further, let me pray for God’s help to understand the Bible:

Father God, please help us to see Jesus for who he really is. In His name, Amen.

1. Thomas doubts that Jesus rose from the dead

This evening I want to introduce you to a real-life sceptic who didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead. A man called Thomas. He was one of Jesus’ first disciples. He certainly believed Jesus existed. He certainly believed Jesus died on the Cross. But resurrection? No. Jesus was dead and buried. But then he met his old friends who claimed to have seen Jesus alive and well. We join the action in John Gospel, an eye-witness account of Jesus’ life John 20.24:

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.

We are not told why Thomas was away when Jesus came to visit the other disciples. Was he off harvesting olives or doing a 5k run? We don’t know. But the key point is that he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the others. What happens next? (John 20.25):

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

They are straight to the point. They are unanimous. We have seen Jesus. And they are excited! They have seen Jesus, and his pierced hands from the nails which nailed him to the Cross, and the wound in his side from the Roman spear. But now he’s alive again and they are overjoyed, and they have seen him with their own eyes and heard him with their own ears.

Maybe you’ve met people like this who are mega enthusiastic about Jesus; your Christian friend who says Jesus is secret for happiness in life. Your brother is always talking about how wonderful it is that Jesus died on the Cross, but it just doesn’t make sense to you. And here, Thomas isn’t convinced either. And he’s not just going to play along to keep them happy or even to get them to shut up about Jesus! My first point is this: Thomas doubts that Jesus rose from the dead. John 20.25:

But he 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.”

He’s a sceptic. He won’t take other people’s word for it. He needs to see and touch the facts for himself. And we can understand where he’s coming from. Think of a time when you have had to make a decision about whether to buy or rent a house. Were you willing to take someone else’s word for it, that the house was spacious and clean? Probably not. You probably wanted to see the house with your own eyes, smell for damp, ask difficult questions. If that’s our instinct with a house, how much more is it with Jesus? Jesus makes huge claims: that he is God, there before the world was created, in control of universe, he came to earth via Mary’s womb, born in a stable, lived a perfect life, died on the Cross to take away the sin of the world, rose again, went back to heaven, and will come again to judge the world! Big claims. But where’s the evidence? Maybe that’s how you feel at the moment with Jesus. That’s my first point. Thomas doubts that Jesus rose from the dead. My second point is this:

2. Thomas sees that Jesus is alive

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them...[John 20.26]

This time, Thomas is with the others! No olive harvesting, no 5k run, he’s there.

…Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus walks through the walls of the room with his new resurrection body, greets them and then he turns his attention straight away to Thomas. (John 20.27):

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.”

Remember that Thomas had pushed the burden of proof back to Jesus (John 20.25):

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.

It’s almost as if Jesus was in the room with the disciples eight days beforehand and had recorded those very words that Thomas had said.
But Jesus doesn’t crush Thomas. He doesn’t shame him publicly. He is gentle. He is kind. He invites him to touch him. Thomas now has the proof that he asked for. Jesus challenges Thomas to overcome his prejudice. It’s now time for him to move with evidence and recognise who Jesus really is. And Thomas didn’t even need to touch Jesus in the end (John 20.28):

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas sees that Jesus is alive.

3. Jesus invites you to receive life

At this point, you might think, well, that’s a great story, but it’s hardly convincing as evidence to believe in Jesus today, precisely because Thomas was able to see Jesus face to face back then and we are not. In fact, surely the argument from Thomas works the other way, we cannot believe in Jesus today because we have no opportunity to see and touch Him? Well, let’s look at what Jesus says to Thomas next (John 20.29):

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Who is Jesus talking about there? Who are these blessed people who have not seen Jesus and yet have believed? This is my final point: Jesus invites you to receive life. Look on to John the Gospel writer’s editorial comment in John 20.30-31.There’s a flow of logic here: Evidence > Faith > Life:

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 may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Evidence > Faith > Life.

So, to start with, where’s the evidence for Jesus? No history book is exhaustive. All history books are written with a purpose. John knows this. There’s no way he can include everything he has seen about Jesus in his Gospel account, but he has written down and set out the material, so that people like you and I might be introduced to Jesus. So, yes, in 2021, we cannot see Jesus face to face. But the point John is making is that we don’t need to! We have everything we need to know about Jesus in His Gospel account. And isn’t that a relief? We don’t need to dig around in the British library archives to find old theological tomes to wade through. We don’t need to travel to Palestine to see the places Jesus travelled through. We don’t even need to step into a church building. Because we have John’s account.

Now perhaps what I’ve been saying is all very new to you and, apart from Religious Studies Lessons at school, you’ve never really thought much about Jesus. Will you look at the evidence? In our busy social media age, it’s tough to make time to think things through for yourself, but why not do that? Read John’s Gospel. The Bible is supernatural, but the Bible is not irrational. Read the evidence for yourself.

Now let’s look at faith. People get very confused about the words ‘belief’ or ‘trust’ or ‘faith’. The idea of faith is simply placing your confidence in something. So if I sit down on this chair, I believe that this chair will hold my weight. And in this case, I’m right! John’s Gospel is written to persuade us to trust in Jesus. To stop hiding from the fact that we have ignored God, to stop ignoring his warnings of the judgement to come. And to place our confidence in Jesus to save us. Maybe you’ve read about Jesus from the Bible. You’ve asked your questions. It’s now time to make up your mind. Did Jesus rise again? John the Gospel writer was convinced that He did. Thomas was convinced, after he saw the risen Jesus. I am too, after reading the Bible. Are you?

Finally, life. When I was at school, one of the most cutting insults which did the rounds was “Get a life!” It meant: “You’re a loser! You have no friends! No life!” That was a statement of harsh condemnation which was meant to sting. But John is inviting you to have life forever with God to make you sing. He is saying to you that there is the possibility of eternal life with God starting now if you believe in Jesus. He is saying that you can be made spiritually alive now and experience the wonder of being in God’s family now. Through Jesus.

And it might be that you are ready to commit your life to Jesus today. You now believe he came as God’s promised Saviour. You now believe He is God. You now believe He died and rose again to adopt rebels like you into God’s family. Well, if so, it’s now time to come to Jesus and receive life. If you’d like to do that, I’ll read out a short prayer in a moment. If it’s something you’d like to echo in your heart, you can do so when I read it out a second time:

Father God, I thank you for the evidence you have given me about Your Son Jesus in the Bible. Thank you, that you didn’t leave me to die in rebellion against you and face the consequences. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for my sins and rise again to make me right with you. I want to turn back to Him and trust in Him now. From now on, Jesus is my Lord and my God. Amen.

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