April 6, 2016

April 3, 2016 - John 20:24-29

Theme: Thomas Teaches us About Faith
1) Faith is Logical and Reasonable.
2) Faith grants Christ’s blessing.

We have this promise from the Lord, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,” so shall the effectiveness of His Word be in our lives (Isaiah 55:10-11). We pray for the Lord to bless that message of His Word in our hearts today as it comes from John 20:24-29:

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

In the name of the One whose hands and feet were pierced, and whose side was opened, and who lives to tell about it, dear fellow redeemed:

Do you ever feel like Thomas gets a bad rap? He’s forever called “doubting Thomas.” He’s held up in the Scriptures as an example of how not to act. His attitude of doubt is even mentioned in many other areas of life than just faith and religion. Many people think only of doubting in connection with Thomas. Most don’t know that he was very likely the Apostle who took the Gospel to India for the first time. They don’t know that he was killed for his faith and even today, you can visit his tomb there. He is forever, “Doubting Thomas.”

But in that moment with the disciples wouldn’t have you done the same thing? Everyone knows you don’t believe something so significant just because someone tells you to, even if it is someone you trust. God has given us common sense and reason to help us determine the truth. We shouldn’t just throw those tools out the window because a statement is made in the name of the Apostles, or in our case, perhaps, the name of the church. The Christian faith is not blind faith. Perhaps you’ve been led to think it is though. In our age of high sophistication and critical scholarship Christians are continually put on the defensive for their faith, especially the miraculous parts of their faith. We should be clear, we simply cannot be Christians without believing things that go into the realm of the miraculous and the supernatural. The very concept of God tells us that He is a spirit, a being that goes beyond mere material. Last weekend we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of our own one day. We were reminded that without the resurrection there is no Christian faith, period. Doesn’t get much more supernatural than the idea of life after death.

Because it takes faith to believe these parts of the Bible, opponents often try to pit reason against faith, as if they are completely opposed to one another. But that isn’t true. If we understand God as the source of all wisdom, logic, and reason; then His plan of salvation, the way He has revealed that plan, and the way in which people receive it is definitely reasonable. It’s actually the most reasonable thing there is. Faith and reason are so often pitted against one another because reason is often associated as coming from the human individual only. But true reason comes only from God. Therefore, faith is entirely reasonable and there is more than enough evidence of the claims that God makes in His word. The only difference is that it is not evidence based only on man’s perception. If God is perfect, almighty, and eternal, then He is certainly different than we are. He is something that none of us has ever experienced before, therefore our reasonable way of describing Him will always fall short. Could it be that true reason, reason unadulterated by sin, operates on a completely different level than what we often understand as reason? And could it be that we’ve been pressured by the world into accepting the notion that faith and reason are opposites? I don’t think that’s just likely, I believe that’s the way it has been for many Christians.

Thomas wasn’t wrong to question the other disciples. Thomas wasn’t wrong for seeking evidence. Where he went too far was that he also questioned the word of Jesus. He didn’t have to blindly trust without any evidence. He did have proof. It just wasn’t the kind of proof he wanted. The reason that Thomas, and all people have, to believe in Jesus is the Scripture testimony from Jesus Himself, and that of the Holy Spirit long before Jesus came to earth.

There is this side of God’s nature that is entirely different and foreign to us. A side that we will only see once we get to heaven. As the righteous God; as the source of reason and truth, there are things about truth that remain a mystery to us. Human intuition has discovered much about the natural world that God created, and we continue to learn more day by day. But we’ll never reach perfection in our understanding of natural truth, let alone spiritual truth. And the only resource that tells us about the person of God, is the Bible. The neat thing is that God gives us a tangible connection to that side of His nature now through His Word. We don’t get the whole thing, but we get a lot and we certainly get enough to know that God is our Savior from sin. So, yes, at the same time it was completely reasonable and completely unreasonable for Thomas to doubt. It simply depends on what you mean by reason.

So often we hear the argument that sensible and rational people could never belief such a fanciful tale as the Bible. In fact, the more education a person has in this world, often the more stumbling blocks to faith come along with that. The higher education goes, the more one is taught to question things and to look for irrefutable evidence, especially in those areas in which we have been taught from early on. There exists the assumption within higher learning that what we learned as children could not possibly be accurate until we can explain it as adults. Because of this way of thinking, we see a trend of young people, often those first introduced to higher academics, cave in and forsake their faith in Jesus.

It should be said clearly that this is a multi-faceted issue. People on all sides have a part to play. It’s easy for the church to blame everything on secular education, but the reality is that pastors and teachers don’t always provide the best foundation of God’s Word. They aren’t always equipped at facing and answering tough questions about the faith. Parents might be tempted to place the blame on others too. But instructing a child as to why they believe is just as important as showing them what they believe. And the single individual is also responsible, just as Thomas was. Really, in the end, whoever may be looked at, it is something that each person must wrestle with in his or her heart. And when we can recognize that, most importantly, about ourselves, we see that in the end it is not a question of evidence that leads us to doubt but a question of source.

God has given us plenty of evidence of the truth; but the source is His, not our own. The Christian faith is entirely reasonable when viewed in light of what the Bible tells us about who God is and who we are. When God is allowed to define the parameters of understanding and logic, salvation through Christ alone makes complete sense. It’s only when we replace the source that things change. People, by nature, want to be the boss. They want to make the rules. They want to define truth and what is right and wrong. Who doesn’t like to have the last word?

Sometimes human will overlaps with God’s will because He is the one who created us. He set His law in our hearts and we all have it and often we still used most of it to define morality and to judge what is reasonable and what isn’t. But as soon as sin entered the scene there was a plight upon our natures that would continually lead us away from God. What we experience now in present time is the result of generations upon generations of sinful thoughts and actions wearing upon the law of God in the human heart. In many ways we changed this source and therefore our ideas of what is reasonable and moral have changed also.

In this account about Thomas, we see that change manifest itself when it came to believing the resurrection of Christ. Thomas’ sinful nature, combined with many other factors, as we mentioned, but ultimately the sinful nature, led him to doubt the absolute truth. By thinking he was being totally reasonable he was actually being the most unreasonable one of the bunch. Because his source had changed, or at least, was altered for the time being.

What was it that brought Thomas back? Jesus, of course, and quite literally! In love to Thomas, Jesus allowed him to see the actual marks of the nails and the wound from the spear. That had to have been powerful. But Jesus also gave Thomas words. Words that reminded Thomas that he already had everything he needed before seeing Jesus. Words that told him that faith trusts in God’s way of proving truth, not the man-made variety. Words that Thomas would go out and continue to use for the rest of his life. Thomas would reach many people in many distant lands. He wasn’t able to take Jesus with him everything he went, and yet, people still believed.

The same thing has been happening ever since, all the way up to our day. We are living proof of Jesus’ promise to Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” God would not have His own Son die in our place, just to give us a flaky faith that is blind and without substance. Our faith is reasonable! Reasonable according to the riches of God’s wisdom in Christ Jesus. He is the source of our salvation and our logic! He, all He did, and all He gives us through His Word is the basis of what we deem as reasonable.

But, in the end, reasonable or not, what does that get us? We’re scorned for trusting by faith. We’re labeled as foolish when we deny ourselves and admit we aren’t the end all, be all of authority and truth. Thomas himself, like many of the disciples, is believed to have been killed for his faith. What does Jesus get us? Those things for sure, just as He received from the unbelieving world, but much more. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find our answer from nothing less than His Word. What we have, our greatest treasure, is the state of blessedness. That’s what Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those…” Many people don’t realize this but the word, “Blessed” in the Scriptures literally means “happy.”

We have to use the word “blessed” when speaking about this because, like reason and logic, happiness has such a shallow meaning in our world. Happiness from Jesus is not fluffy or temporary. It is extremely powerful and strong. Jesus says that faith in Him grants us the label, the gift, of being happy. Contentment, security, peace, forgiveness hope, all of those things and more are contained in being in the state of blessedness. That’s why we close our worship every weekend by sharing the blessing that God gave us in His Word. To be a Christian is to be in a constant state of happiness. Not the shallow, external, temporary happiness that our flesh and the world craves. But happiness, blessedness, by faith in our crucified and Risen Savior. And there is abundant reason for that truth.    

Paul touches on this very subject in his letter to the Romans, which I would like to use as our closing. In it, he describes in the best way possible through using human terms, the state of blessedness, by faith.

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39).

Still need more proof after that? If you do, you might to check your source. Amen

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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