Church at Home Resources – 19th of April, 2020

Hello everyone! Here I have presented some more resources for you to celebrate this Lord’s Day and worship at home, with the three core elements of family/household worship: reading Scripture, praying, and singing God’s praise. I am sorry that I don’t have a video for you today. I am currently in too much pain to record a video, but have recorded my sermon as an MP3 for you to play. Please share these resources with others if you can. I always put up the text of my sermons and reflections so that people who can’t play MP3s or videos might still be encouraged and helped by reading.

I hope you have a wonderful time of worship at home. Just remember, you are not alone. When we worship God, we join in with our brothers and sisters in the church all over the world and even with the heavenly choirs who are always praising the Lord.

Love,
John.

Read
Today we begin by reading John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, 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.

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. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Now Thomas (also known as 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.’

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!’

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

Jesus performed many other 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 Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

An audio recording of my sermon. You can play it here, or download it.

Today we’re going to look at Thomas, or “doubting Thomas” as he’s sometimes called, and his journey to faith.

I don’t think Thomas really deserves the nickname he’s been given. Yes, he doubted. Who hasn’t? I don’t think he was an especially sceptical or cynical man. He returned to his group of friends and heard the good news. News that must have sounded too good to be true: “We have seen the Lord!” The same gospel the church proclaims today. We don’t preach that we’ve personally seen the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, but we preach the good news that Christ is risen.

Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples earlier. They were all huddled in the room with the door locked. And Jesus appeared and blessed them, showed them his wounds and commissioned them to go and spread the gospel of forgiveness… and poor Thomas missed it all. So all Thomas has to go on is the message that he’s heard from the others. It’s many hundreds of years later now, but still today we proclaim the same message passed down from the original eye-witnesses. So in a way Thomas is like a person who hears the good news of Easter today — “Christ is risen!” — and he reacted like many do today. Thomas doubted in the same way that many people today doubt. I mean I believe now, but I doubted for a long time. For years! Much longer than a week, like Thomas did! And yet he’s called Doubting Thomas?!

Many people will doubt and dismiss the claims of Christianity, but while Thomas doubted, I don’t believe he was ever dismissive. Thomas stuck around. Even though it was a dangerous time when they had to keep the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. Thomas admitted what it would take for him to believe and he stuck with the other disciples. He’s still there a week later, seeking, waiting, wrestling with his doubt, hoping to see Jesus for himself. And no doubt hearing the message again and again from his friends the whole time he was there. Thomas showed honesty and courage and a commitment to engage with the extraordinary claims of the gospel. And we call him “Doubting Thomas”, like we’re in any position to scoff!

“We have seen the Lord!” is a bold claim. Jesus is risen. Most Jews believed that God was going to redeem creation one day and that meant a physical resurrection. They believed in and hoped for the resurrection, but they expected it to be in a new age when God set all things right. That resurrection had happened now with Jesus, while the rest of the world continued on as it had done, was something completely unexpected. Jesus rising from the dead would mean that something from the new age of resurrection had broken into this age. People weren’t expecting that.

Peter once said to Jesus “We’ve left everything to follow you!” (Matthew 19:27). So when Jesus was crucified, died and was buried… then what? Left everything to follow him and now he’s dead. These people must have been feeling like their lives were over too.

So maybe the good news just seemed too good to be true. Thomas was no more doubtful than the other disciples. They all thought Jesus was dead too until they met him. Thomas just hasn’t had that experience yet. Thomas, like the women on the way to anoint the dead body of Jesus, was still in the place of mourning. He was still crushed.

Thomas was honest about his disbelief. Even if it meant that he’d be the odd one out amongst his friends he wouldn’t pretend. And Thomas, right at that moment, was different to them. Belief in the risen Christ is essential to the Christian faith. It’s at the heart of our faith. A faith that denies the resurrection is not Christianity.

You might believe that Jesus was a wise teacher or a good example, but if you believe he is not risen then whatever you believe it’s not Christianity. It’s not the good news of Jesus Christ. Thomas is to be commended for his honesty. There are many in Christian circles today — and even in positions of church leadership — who will either claim that the real resurrection of Jesus doesn’t matter, and there are many who will claim to believe in it when they don’t. Give me an honest unbeliever any day over a pretend Christian. That I can respect! Thomas was upfront and honest and he stuck around to wrestle with his doubts.

A week later Thomas received an answer to his wrestling and no doubt his prayers. Jesus entered the room even though the doors were locked. His body is a resurrection body, not just the old body revived but changed now so that the old limitations no longer affect him. He comes bringing the blessing of peace to all there, including Thomas. And it looks as though he may well have come just to give Thomas that experience that he needed to move him from doubt to belief. He shows thomas the exact things he said that he needed:

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.’”
(John 20:27, NIV, Anglicised)

He shows Thomas the wounds and invites him to touch them. I wondered why it was that Thomas thought it was so important to see and touch the wounds of Christ. Perhaps it was because the other disciples got to see them. Thomas goes further, he wants to touch them. He wants to see if this is really the one who died. Not an illusion or a lookalike, but really and truly the one who died and rose again. It’s interesting that we’re reminded in verse 24 that Thomas is also called Didymus, which means “twin”. Perhaps Thomas was used to being mistaken for his twin brother growing up and the thought entered his mind as he heard his friends say “We have seen the Lord!” that it was just someone who looked really like Jesus.

But no this is the real Jesus, the one whose hands were nailed to the cross and whose side was pierced with a spear. And he keeps those scars in his resurrection body. In those scars he shows us that God knows pain, God suffered and he is not ashamed of it. God paid a price to redeem his people and he doesn’t regret it. Seeing the scars brings joy to his disciples and moves Thomas from doubt to faith and to his most beautiful confession:

Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
(John 20:28, NIV, Anglicised)

Thomas believes now and look how he believes! He leaps from doubt to the most beautiful true praise. Jesus is Lord! Jesus is God! My Lord and my God!

And Jesus accepts this worship because he is indeed Lord and God. His response is not to say “Oh no, you’ve gone too far there, Thomas!” He recognises this statement as a sign of Thomas’s true belief. Thomas says “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus responds:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
(John 20:29, NIV, Anglicised)

This is belief, to know the crucified and risen Jesus as Lord and God.

Thomas has come to believe now because he heard the message and had the experience. Jesus says that those who have not seen, like Thomas and the other apostles have, and yet come to believe, are blessed. He’s talking about us. He’s talking about the original readers of John’s gospel who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection and still came to believe. And modern readers too, like you and me.

And so John goes on to say why this book was written. The eyewitness accounts are there so that you might have the blessing of faith in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, and have life in his name. This book was written so that you would have that message, so that you would know who Jesus is and believe in him and have life — true life — in his name. You are not second-class to the apostles and the eyewitnesses, you are blessed.

But what about those of us who have heard the message, and like Thomas, we doubted? You might be tempted to wonder why you can’t get a house call from Jesus like Thomas did. But I think that in a way we do have the same two things available to us as Thomas had, although not in quite the same way.

We have the apostolic witness and we have experience. Thomas received that apostolic witness from his friends the apostles. We can read it in the Bible. It’s the same message.

Thomas’s experience was to see for himself the wounds of Christ as he appeared to him and spoke to him. Where is our experience?

I can only speak for myself. The word of God is my authority, but I didn’t always believe it. I had to see for myself how the good news of Jesus Christ was true. I decided I wouldn’t dismiss the Bible as just some old religious book, but would take it seriously. I mean if it is true then that changes everything, so it deserves to be paid attention to, it deserves to be wrestled with. I began to read it for myself and, as I did so, I prayed to a God I didn’t really know and I asked him, if he was there, if he was real, to help me to find him, to show himself to me.

And he did. He showed himself in the people that I encountered who shared their lives with me, who showed me what difference their faith made in their lives. They really lived like it was true. They lived like they were committed to grace because God had shown grace to them. And as I trusted in God and his word I began to live like it was true too. And as I did so I found that it was. I took steps of faith and found God right there, supporting me, growing me, changing me, challenging me to take the next step. I had prayers answered and the word of God coming to life to me, speaking to me, changing me

But you’ll never know the experience if you dismiss the message. Doubt it, okay I kind of expect that, but don’t dismiss it or you’ll miss out on seeing that this isn’t just some story about a wise and kind teacher who lived long ago and preached about love. This is the story of the One who is God, who was in the beginning, through whom all things were made, who came into the world to save us, to die for us. This is the story of the One who died for us and rose again. He is risen indeed and he offers life, true resurrection life, to all who will believe in him. This is the story of God’s redemption breaking into this world in the resurrection of Jesus.

I pray that even if you doubt, you would have the honesty to admit it and the courage to seek after Jesus anyway. That you would wrestle with it, listen to the message, pray for Jesus to show himself to you. If it’s true you can’t just let this pass you by. Thomas knew that and so he stayed with the other disciples in that room in Jerusalem, despite the danger, despite being the odd one out. He stayed and he wrestled and he prayed until he saw for himself that Jesus is risen indeed, and he believed and confessed him as his Lord and God. I pray that those of you who doubt would do the same.

For us who believe, do not forget the importance of our role. We are charged by God with delivering this message and living in such a way so through us people might come to know and experience God for themselves. The Spirit of Christ dwells in you and empowers you to witness to the gospel and manifest God to one another and to the world.

Pray

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you come to meet us where we are. Even when we lock ourselves up out of fear, you can enter into our lives and bring peace. We thank you for the blessing of faith and that we can know and worship you. Fill us now with your Holy Spirit and may he make us bold to share the gospel.

In times of darkness and doubt may we, like Thomas, refuse to give up and keep searching. May we press on and keep wrestling, and like Thomas may we know the reality of our risen Lord and God in our lives.

We pray for all those now who feel fear and those who feel doubt. Come and meet them Lord and turn their fear into joy and their doubt into praise.

Amen.

Sing

Some videos which you might find helpful to sing along to at home as you worship.

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