Revelation 1:4-8 and John 20:19-31
You may have heard the story of the Yugoslavian judge who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. This guy’s poor wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a preparation room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial.
In the middle of the night, the judge came to. The judge looked around at his surroundings and suddenly realized where he was. He got pretty excited and rushed over to alert the guard. But instead of being any help, the guard was terrified and promptly ran off.
Fortunately, though, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge. The judge’s first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her that he really wasn’t dead. Unfortunately, he got no farther than, “Honey… it’s me,” when his wife screamed and fainted.
So, he decided that the best course of action was to enlist some friends. He went to the houses of several friends; but because they all had heard the news from his distraught wife, they all doubted that he was really alive. They were all convinced he was a ghost.
Finally, in a last desperate effort, he contacted a friend in another city who hadn’t heard about his death. And that person was able to convince his family and friends that the judge really was alive.
That story almost sounds like one of the Gospel writers could have written it, doesn’t it? It sure sounds like the passage from John this morning.
In John 20:19-20 we read, ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.’
There were just ten disciples, Thomas was not there, perhaps out running errands. The disciples had been running and hiding, sure their Rabbi, their teacher was dead and their mission of building the kingdom of God was finished; when Jesus suddenly appears through a locked door! My first reaction would be, how can this be? I saw Jesus die on the cross, Mary Magdelene said she had seen Jesus and that he was alive, yet how can this be? Something like this had never happened before!
Jesus is not a ghost and yet he appeared in a locked room! The disciples saw the wound in his side and the nail marks in his hands, how can this be? Jesus is present in physical body form, how can this be?
I have a theory. Jesus retained the scars in his side, his hands and his feet so the disciples would recognize that it was Jesus. They saw the guards nail his hands and feet to the cross and they saw the guard thrust his sword into Jesus’ side. And now Jesus is standing before them with those same scars. Of course, they were overjoyed! Wouldn’t you be if someone you loved had died and came back to life?
I remember when my father died. He was in a hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My mother and I had gone home that night to a restful sleep, because he was out of intensive care and in a regular room. At 2 in the morning the hospital called and said he’d had a massive heart attack and died. We had a service at the funeral home in Grand Rapids, because that is where he had been working for about 10 years. Then they brought his body here to Ontonagon, where he had a funeral service at the Ontonagon United Methodist Church.
We were renting my parent’s house during this time. Joe and I were sleeping in my parent’s bed. One night I was awaken in the middle of the night by my father’s presence in the bedroom. I saw him clearly, yet I was not afraid. He walked into the bedroom, looked around and left. It was like he knew he was home now and could be at peace. He had built the house on the land he had been raised on, his family’s homestead.
You know that peace I felt? The 10 disciples in that locked room were given that same kind of peace by Jesus. And they were given the Holy Spirit’s power at the same time.
In verses 21-22, we read, ‘Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”’
The disciples would need the Holy Spirit’s power to do what Jesus called them to do, build His church. Many of them were martyred because they were trying to build the Kingdom of God. Jesus also gives them the power to forgive sins. In verse 23 we read, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The power to forgive or not to forgive sins, that’s a lot of power! I sure wouldn’t want to get caught not forgiving the people who have sinned against me!
Thomas was not there and when the 10 disciples told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, Thomas replied, in verse 25, “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.”
I don’t know about you, but this seems realistic to me. Wouldn’t you want to see Jesus in order to believe?
Jesus said that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed and we will be able to move mountains (Matthew 17:20). It’s not how much faith we have that makes the crucial difference in life. Yet, if we have faith, it’s easier to love our neighbor as our self. It’s easier to believe in the risen Jesus.
The poet Robert Frost once spoke of the founders of this country and how they journeyed forth without a map saying: They “…did not believe in the future, they believed the future in. You are always believing ahead of evidence,” Frost continues. “Where is the evidence that I can write a poem? I just believe a poem in. The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in.”
Then Robert Frost says, “The ultimate example is the belief in the future of the world. We believe the future in. It’s coming because we believe it in.”
Think about those words: “The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in.” We believe in God, and we see God’s presence and power everywhere we look. We believe in God’s kingdom. But the real meaning of our lives, as Christians, is to believe God’s kingdom into being.
Pope John Paul once told of an encounter he had with a Russian soldier in 1945. It was just after World War II, many years before John Paul was elected Pope. A young Russian soldier came to him one night and announced that he wanted to enter the seminary.
The soldier had grown up under atheism. He had rarely ever entered a church. He wasn’t even sure of the purpose of a seminary. He only knew that he had a yearning for God and for knowledge and for truth, and so he had come by night to ask for John Paul’s help. This atheist became a priest because he believed God into his life.
A week later, when Jesus again appeared to the disciples in a locked room, Thomas was there. We read in verse 27-29, “Then he (Jesus) 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!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
A pastor friend of mind told me a story about a miracle that happen in the life of a 15-year-old girl during a weekend retreat. Quiet, reserved, shy, brilliant and troubled: that’s how he described her. All weekend her hollow, lifeless eyes searched for answers to gnawing questions that had eroded her life and spirit, and made her appear dark and despondent. But then something happened: As the weekend progressed, her eyes became more restless and alert. She was searching and she somehow knew she was close to something.
The group had spent the weekend on the theme “Discovery” and had talked about discovery of self, of others, and of God. And as another 15-year-old shared the pain of her older sister’s recent suicide, the dam broke and water, like baptism, washed a face that hadn’t cried in a very long time.
Later on that evening, the group did a Bible study around Luke 9 where Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” (vs.20) And later in the chapter where Jesus lays out the conditions for discipleship: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (verses 23-24). When the pastor asked the group what that sounded like — a commercial, a Sunday school lesson, a parent laying down another rule — the young girl with the tear-stained face responded: “It sounds to me like something worth giving my life to.”
The pastor said “I sat with Thomas that night in the form of a 15-year-old girl and we shared some bread and wine in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Do you see? Out of the struggle with honest doubt, a faith can be reborn, and new life can begin.
In Revelation 1:8, we read the words of Jesus to John his disciple, who was there in that locked room that day, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, “says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Sometimes it takes believing faith into our lives. If you have any doubt, I encourage you to try spending one-on-one time with Jesus in prayer. If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, that is a good place to start.
Jesus said to Thomas, “-blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vs.29) Start small and your faith will grow. I know because at one time I was just where you are, at whatever stage your faith is.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we cannot see you, but we see your beautiful creation all around us, and the beautiful people you put into our lives. Help us to put away any doubts we have about you’re being a real presence in our life. We want to believe in you. We pray this in your precious name. Amen
Pastor Rosemary DeHut