First Mennonite Church
April 8, 2018
The Disciples and Their Own “Resurrection”
Text: John 22:19-29
There are things that are simply hard to believe. But as people used to say, fact are facts. I do not know about you, but as for me, reading facts about things has always fascinated me. Here is one about animals: the ostrich has the largest eye among all land animals; in fact the eye of an ostrich is larger than its brain. Here is a fact about the English language: did you know that the first letter of the months from July through to November spell the name JASON? Here is the last one for today: for all of us who use the computer keyboard or if you still use a typewriter, the word “stewardesses” is the longest word you can type with the left hand only.
We know very well that people often believe in something only if there is “enough reliable data” to prove it is true. When there is not enough or dependable data, the veracity of anything is put into question. That is why for many people faith in God is impossible because this kind of faith requires believing in someone unseen which is beyond logic. And that was precisely the problem with the disciples, according to John’s gospel. The disciples knew the dead never come back to life. And although Peter and John were able to verify the words of Mary that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb (20:2, 8), they did not believe Jesus was alive, but only that his body had gone missing. In verse 10, we are told that “the disciples returned to their homes.” The empty tomb was not “enough data” for the disciples to believe Jesus had been raised from the dead. In fact, the missing body of Jesus from the tomb only added to their fear of the fall out of Jesus’ perceived intentions as seen by the Roman and Jewish authorities. The disciples were dreading the consequences they could suffer for having been associated with Jesus even to the day of his death. So, they did what was expected of them to do. They locked the doors, pulled down the window blinds and huddled together, hardly breathing. In other words, they entered into their tomb of fear.
Since the empty tomb did not convince the disciples but only added to their already stressed hearts, Jesus came to them in the evening of that Easter Sunday. He said to them, “Shalom! Peace be with you.” And he said it twice to them. He then proceeded to show them the marks of the nails and of the spear that pierced his body at his crucifixion. That convinced his ten fearful disciples. They were overjoyed to see the Lord, bearing the marks of the nails in his body. It was the same Jesus they had followed, but now, glorious and unrestrained by any means, not death, not tomb, and not even locked doors. But Thomas was not there with them when Jesus came. Maybe he went to have a cup of coffee. Or, maybe he went out to clear his mind by gazing up into the skies looking at the stars. Neither the disciples nor John tell us where Thomas went, but only that he was not present when Jesus came.
Most likely, when Thomas came back he could not believe his fellow disciples were the same group of people he left just a while ago. The Ten were all over the place with excitement. They could hardly wait their turn to tell Thomas what had happened and that he had missed. But Thomas was no easy guy to be convinced. He was and had always been a man with his feet on the ground. He was and had always been a man who used his reason for everything.
There are two previous incidents where Thomas revealed his down-to-earth character of a man he was. In John 11, Jesus was called to go see his friend Lazarus who was dying. But Jesus instead of going right away waited for two days. And when he told his disciples that he was going to wake Lazarus up, Thomas said, “Well, if he is sleeping, let him sleep. He will wake up on when he is fully rested.” But Jesus said, “No. Lazarus is dead.” Thomas sarcastically said, “Right! Now you want us to go there to die as well?” The other time was the night Jesus gave his farewell speech to his disciples. Jesus began by saying that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples and that once it was ready, he would come back to take them to be with him. And he added, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” And while all the other disciples did not dare to admit they had no idea what Jesus was talking about, Thomas said, “Lord, I have no clue what you are talking about. How can we know the way?” And on that occasion Jesus simple said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But that did not help Thomas either.
Thomas listened to what his fellow disciples wanted to tell him, but he was not at all convinced. And in his usual exaggerated way he revealed what it would take for him to believe Jesus was alive. 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.” If you notice, Thomas increased the intensity of his demand if he were to believe. Thomas went from seeing the marks of the nails, to putting his fingers on the wounds of the nails, to putting his whole hand into the pierced side of Jesus. Thomas’ demand was thorough; nothing less would suffice. He wanted to believe but his demands could only be met by Jesus himself.
One week later, Jesus presented himself once again to his disciples, even when the doors were locked. And this time Jesus singled out Thomas. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus said to Thomas. Poor Thomas, he either forgot what he had demanded or was so overwhelmed at the presence of Jesus that his only reaction was that of worship. “My Lord and my God,” Thomas exclaimed.
The disciples were buried in their own tomb. Fear and unbelief became the tombs of the disciples. Fear had paralyzed them to the point of being sequestered for days. In the case of Thomas, logic and reasoning overpowered his ability to have faith. But Jesus came speaking peace to them. He removed their fear and demand for signs with his very presence. And who would not believe if given the opportunity to witness Jesus and the marks of his crucifixion? How can anyone resist the evidence of a resurrected Christ? Even I should not be troubled if I begin to feel somewhat envious of Thomas! Jesus appeared to his disciples to bring them out of their own tombs. And they believed and were overjoyed by his presence.
What about us? What kind of a tomb might we have buried ourselves in? Could it be that without realizing we might be looking for evidence of the Living God? It seems as if there is not much good news out there in the world. In fact, the contrary seems true. Bad news seems to abound, from the smallest personal pain to the world-wide worrisome problems. I have a friend whose child is being treated for a brain tumor. There are a lot of families living in fear of being separated due to deportation. We hear about teachers demanding a living salary. Every day the world seems to be on the brink of war of some kind, besides military. Violence and abuse of power never cease. And the list can go on and on. In short, there is fear everywhere. Fear can be a paralyzing force or force that makes people to act irrationally.
One of those days when it was raining and cold I saw two homeless men by our church door. One of them comes often, but on that particular day he had company. Sometimes when it is cold and it is lunch time, I give him a cup of coffee with cookies. So on that cold rainy day when the two of them were out there I thought of sharing with them some hot chocolate. As I was heading towards the door with two cups of hot chocolate the thought came to my mind: What if these men get burned with the hot chocolate? They can sue me or the church. I better not! Fear. I almost dumped the chocolate and gave up on doing something for these cold men. When I gave them the hot drinks, these men profusely thanked me and wished me God’s blessings.
Dear brothers and sisters, if people in our day refrain from acting friendly because of fear of being misinterpreted, we should not. Jesus showed mercy even when his love for others was on occasion misinterpreted. If people in our day live as if their lives depend only on their ability to survive, we should not because the source of our life and joy comes from the Lord. If the unbeliever is restless and worried about where the world is heading to, we should not. We can sing with the Psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Psalm 46:1-3)
Let us not blame Thomas for his demands in order to believe. Had the other 10 disciples acted the way they should after having seen Jesus, Thomas would have believed. But even after seeing Jesus and the marks of the nails and of the spear, the disciples remained for seven more days in their tomb of fear. But as for Thomas, he believed the moment he saw Jesus. He worshiped the Lord. He surrendered his life to the work of his Lord. Let us not be like the ten who even after seeing Jesus remained locked in fear. Jesus wants to free us from any locked door that prevents us from living the freedom, joy, and compassion of knowing him. Jesus is knocking at our doors. He wants to give us his peace and to empower us with the Holy Spirit. Let us open to him the door of our hearts. He wants to revive our heart and renew our faith in him. Amen!