Well Good morning folks! And a very Happy Easter to one and all! For it is indeed Easter Sunday – just in case that little fact passed you by! And as a special Easter Sunday treat I'm going to start this morning with an 'Amazing But True' quiz. I'm going to give you five Newspaper headlines – some are lies; others sound amazing, but are true!
- The Beano to only use emoji instead of words
- Man attempts to rob shop using an ear of corn as a gun
[amazing but true]
- Honda introduces in-car emoji technology
- Woman marries herself on 40th birthday
[amazing but true]
- Woman has husband's ashes made into egg timer so he can still 'help' in kitchen
[amazing but true]
Now most of those headlines were in the newspapers a few weeks ago for April Fools' Day, but even the ones that were true still sounded pretty whacky, didn't they? They all kind of made us think: 'No way! I can't believe that! That's just unreal!' And in chatting to people about Christianity I find that many of them have the same reaction to it as that – they say: 'I can't believe that!' I mean 2,000 years ago this guy comes to earth claiming to be God and he does the most amazing things, but then gets killed on a cross – but somehow manages to cap it all by rising again from the dead, claiming to have saved us from our sins. It just seems too ridiculous. Too far-fetched to be true. 'I can't believe that!'
1. "I Can't Believe That!"
Well, that's the first of two possible responses to the claims that Christians make about Jesus. And if you share in that reaction – then can I just say that you're in really good company. One of Jesus' closest followers said just that when he heard that Jesus had risen from the dead that first Easter morning, all those years ago. We just read about him in that Bible reading from John 20 we had a few moments ago. He's called Thomas – and I reckon that if he were English he would definitely be a Yorkshireman. Because he wants the facts, not any airy fairy religious nonsense. Here's what John tells us about him in verses 24-25:
"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." 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.""
Now that's pretty gruesome, isn't it? Imagine going to visit a friend in hospital and saying: 'I think you're faking. I'll only believe you're really ill if you let me put my fingers in your wound.' If you say that, then you're sicker than your friend is! Yet that's what Thomas asks for. But in doing so he typifies the scientific spirit – insisting on information that can be investigated. He wants to see and touch Jesus or he won't believe it. And I have to say that I'm very grateful for the record of Thomas' doubt, because it destroys a very common response to the report of the resurrection – that this is an account that was cooked up by a group of deeply upset people looking desperately for hope in a hopeless situation. In their shock and grief the disciples simply imagined they saw Jesus because they missed their friend and they wanted to see him again. But tell me... do you think Thomas was a day dreamer? Look at verse 25:
"Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails..."
This is not wishful thinking on Thomas' part! Thomas had missed Jesus' previous appearance to the disciples the week before – which used to make me wonder where he had been… Was he out shopping? Doing a pastoral visit? But then I remembered that this was around Easter time so he'd probably have been watching the US Masters on the telly. Of course! That's what we all do at Easter… we watch the golf, don't we? But then one week later – what happens? Thomas is with the disciples as Jesus appears. And he says to Thomas in John 20.27: 'Oh Thomas – how you've let me down. Who do you think you are demanding evidence – Richard Dawkins? How dare you doubt me! From now on you will be known as 'Doubting Thomas' and everyone will think you were my weakest disciple... apart from Judas of course.' Is that what he said? No! Here's what verse 27 really says – Jesus:
"...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.""
And as Jesus offers Thomas the gruesome proof that he wants, Thomas goes from saying 'I can't believe that!' to:
2. "My Lord and My God!"
That's verse 28, isn't it?
"Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!""
If this were me I'm sure I'd be giving it my best Homer Simpson impersonation at this point. I'd be like 'Doh! What have I done?' But Thomas isn't the least embarrassed – he asked for evidence, he got evidence and now he responds in the only way you can when a man who claimed to be God comes back from the dead: 'You are the man! You're my ruler & my maker! My guide & my life giver! My Lord & my God!' To which you might say: 'Yes, but I wasn't there! Thomas was the lucky guy. If I got to see Jesus in the flesh – It'd strengthen my faith no end!' Well according to Jesus, we have that kind of evidence, if only we'll look. Verse 29:
"Jesus said to him [Thomas], "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.""
I don't know if you guys were around for some of the great events of history.
- Like who can tell me what happened in 1066? – Yes, it's the Battle of Hastings! But how do we know? Was anyone here old enough to see William the Conqueror romp across the channel and give King Harold a right good kicking?
- Or about what happened in 1666? Anyone know? – Yes… It was the Great Fire of London. But how do you know? Were you there? Maybe you started it?
- Or what about 1966? – Ah yes, England winning the Football World cup. I have to say as a Scotsman I never tire of hearing all about Geoff Hurst and the day England won the Jules Rimmet trophy. But even I'm not old enough to have seen it happen.
No, we rely on other people's reports for the truth about those events. We believe without seeing. And we do that all the time in life don't we? What Jesus is saying here is that it should be no different when it comes to believing in him. Jesus expected people to be able to believe in him without actually seeing him like Thomas did. Because people like Thomas and his other followers didn't just witness these events, but they wrote them down so that those of us who weren't around at the time, could see them too. And that's the final thing John writes here – did you see that in verses 30-31?
"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 may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
What he's saying there is exactly what Jesus said to Thomas: 'Come on and have a look at the evidence and believe on the strength of it.' For Thomas that meant running his eye over the resurrected person in front of him. For us, it means running an eye over one of the eye-witness accounts of Jesus' life contained in here. John and others have written down everything that Jesus did and said so that we can see him for ourselves. So if you wake up one morning (as we all do from time to time) and think: 'What if it all never happened? What if it's all just a fairy story? What if we get to the end of life and that's just it... and I find out I've been had?' – Well Jesus says: 'Then look at the evidence! Investigate it. Check it out.'
- Like if you're wondering how you could base your life on a 2000 year old book – then get a hold of a copy of 'The Case for Christ' by Lee Strobel.
- Or if your faith has taken a hammering from friends or family members claiming science disproves Christianity, then check out books like John Lennox's 'God's Undertaker' or Andrew Wilson's brilliant 'If God, So What?'
- Or if you're struggling to believe because believers seem to be in a minority and Christianity seems so out of sync with the culture – then check out Tim Keller's 'Making Sense of God.'
- Or if you're not the reading type – then why not grab a Christian friend who you think might be able to understand and answer some of your questions, and go out for drink with them, and ask them? Maybe you think that might be a bit daunting – but I dare you! If someone asked me to do that I'd be delighted.
But let's just say that you're waking up... not doubting the truth… but doubting God's character? Thinking God seems distant, powerless and not worth following for even one day more. Well the answer is just the same! Jesus says: 'Look at the evidence!' It changes everything.
When I was a kid I remember hearing a talk about doubt that featured three cats walking along a wall. I kid you not, but it was so helpful. The three cats were called Faith, Facts and Feelings. And if Faith followed Feelings along the wall, it would leave Facts behind and fall off! Because feelings go up and down and all over the place. If however Faith turned around and followed Facts, then Feelings would follow and Faith would stay upright.
And I have to say that the evidence for the resurrection is so compelling that it reassures us that we can trust Jesus not only when we says he will die and then rise again from the dead, but also when he says:
- That he will come back to judge the world (Mark 14.62)
- That he will keep us in him until that day (John 17.12)
- That on that day if we trust in him, we will be ushered into glory (Luke 23.43)
His scars speak of those facts - so powerfully that Thomas and the rest of the disciples' faith is amazingly strengthened, so that they go from cowering in an upstairs room to preaching to thousands in the market place. Do you see? The resurrection changes everything! Not just 2,000 years ago for Jesus' first disciples, but for those of us who follow him too now. How might Jesus' resurrection reassure us to live boldly in faith for him this Easter?
Let's take a moment to pray that through right now. Let's pray folks. Here are the words of Jesus:
"Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Father God thank you for giving us both the evidence we need to believe and the scars of Jesus on the cross. They are hope and salvation to us. We pray this Easter that you would enable us to find true faith on the basis of your faithful witnesses and because of the work of Christ at the cross. And may we also be transformed by the great assurance of his resurrection. Amen.