BIBLE READING:    John 20: 19-31

 

SERMON

 

In 1993 FBI agents conducted a raid of Southwood psychiatric hospital in San Diego, which was under investigation for medical insurance fraud. After hours of reviewing medical records, the agents had worked up an appetite. The agent in charge of the investigation called a nearby pizza place to order a quick dinner for his colleagues.

Agent: Hello. I would like to order 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of soda.
Pizza Man: And where would you like them delivered?
Agent: We're over at the psychiatric hospital.
Pizza Man: The psychiatric hospital?
Agent: That's right. I'm an FBI agent.
Pizza Man: You're an FBI agent?
Agent: That's correct. Just about everybody here is.
Pizza Man: And you're at the psychiatric hospital?
Agent: That's correct. And make sure you don't go through the front doors. We have them locked. You will have to go around to the back to the service entrance to deliver the pizzas.
Pizza Man: And you say you're all FBI agents?
Agent: That's right. How soon can you have them here?
Pizza Man: And everyone at the psychiatric hospital is an FBI agent?
Agent: That's right. We've been here all day and we're starving.
Pizza Man: How are you going to pay for all of this?
Agent: I have my checkbook right here.
Pizza Man: And you're all FBI agents?
Agent: That's right. Everyone here is an FBI agent. Can you remember to bring the pizzas and sodas to the service entrance in the rear? We have the front doors locked.
Pizza Man: I don't think so.
** Click **

I have no problem with scepticism, but I am always amused by the notion that Jesus resurrection was a rumour which quickly took hold of a gullible and traumatized few, who then succeeded in passing the story on to succeeding generations of willingly duped individuals.

Sometimes I think its a modern conceit that looks at people in the first century as being somewhat less intelligent than we are. You only have to study a bit about the pyramids and their construction to know there were some pretty fine engineers around long before we showed up. And we did not invent scepticism either. It's true that they did not know quantum mechanics or modern medicine, but their lack of sophistication in those areas doesn't make them stupid.

When you read the different accounts of the resurrection, you quickly learn that far from a welcome conspiracy, news of Jesus' resurrection was met with uniform disbelief. One thing that people knew as well as we do, is that dead people don't get up and start walking around.

Now there is one theory that Jesus wasn't really dead. Roman soldiers knew how to carry out capital punishment and failure would have cost them severely. That is why, before taking Jesus' apparently lifeless body down for burial, the soldier shoved a spear into his side. The water and blood satisfied him the job was done. When they buried him, he was dead.

Some current writers suggest the whole idea of the resurrection was foisted on the church many years later. You might as well say that the exploits of Alexander the Great were made up by medieval Irish monks with too much time on their hands. You might even get published.
If you want to know anything about history the first place to look is the primary sources--that is the people writing closest to the event.

Christian believers at all time intervals built their beliefs on the primary sources. The primary sources just happen to be called the gospels and the letters of Paul. They were all contemporaries of the times. Paul and Luke were about the same age as Jesus. The gospel writers accounts are based on eye-witness evidence. The New Testament manuscripts are among some of the best historical manuscripts for any time period and some can be dated to within a hundred or so years of the events.

It's one thing for Plato to tell the story about a city named Atlantis which was lost under the sea. Nothing was at stake for him in the story, and he had no primary sources or historical evidence.  The story of Atlantis lives. It's quite another matter for numerous people to tell of Jesus' resurrection and then be willing to die for their conviction. There are many mythical stories of gods and heroes dying and rising - stories like Isis and Osiris or the Phoenix, but none of them is located in a specific time or location in history that can be verified. They are stories. Jesus was born and lived in a verifiable time period in a specific town and died in a city we still can visit. The people who were there have told their stories. There is more than one account and they were willing to die for their certainty.

Thomas' story is a great example. In John's gospel, following the experience of John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, (Luke adds Joanna and Mary, Jesus mother), Jesus also appeared to a group of his disciples - minus Thomas. Jesus appears to them and talks to them, as a group. They are sufficiently convinced that when they find Thomas they tell him they have seen Jesus.

Now if this is an incidence of gullibility or trauma-induced hysteria, you would expect Thomas to fall in line with the story. He might say something like, "I knew it! I just knew he would come back!" But instead he says, Oh sure!, right....you expect me to believe that? No way! Unless I have empirical evidence that I can verify with my own senses, you can forget it. Which is pretty much how any one of us would respond.

Thomas' is a normal response, and I am profoundly grateful for his scepticism. In fact that was everyone's first reaction. Cleopas and his friend on their way to Emmaus have the same story. They said they were there when Jesus was put to death and heard that some of the women had found the tomb empty and told others who had found the same thing. But they did not believe Jesus was alive until they met him for themselves. And why would they? Would you? I wouldn't.

John tells us that Thomas was present with the others the next time they met. I think that is no accident. Jesus appears to them and says specifically to Thomas, "Here I am, check it out. Don't be faithless. See my hands and my side." There is no indication that Thomas had to touch the nail holes or the spear wound. Jesus was dead and was now alive and that's enough for him. In fact the instant he realizes the reality, all the pennies drop for Thomas. He replies: "My Lord and my God."

Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the God of creation, and that's the stumbling block. To recognize Jesus as a great teacher is really a quite obvious. To recognize him as the Lord and God of your life means an investment on your part.

Jesus had no problem with Thomas' scepticism, and neither do I. In fact, I am glad for it. Thomas wasn't afraid to wrestle with his faith and with a resurrected Jesus. The poet Tennyson wrote: "There is more faith in honest doubt believe me, than in half the creeds" The Scottish preacher William Barclay wrote: "There is more faith in the person who insists on being sure than in the person who [just] repeats things which have never been thought out, and  for which there is really no faith. It is a doubt like Thomas' which in the end arrives at certainty, which the person who uncritically accepts can never reach."

So what's this got to do with any of us? Just this. If Jesus has been resurrected, and is the God of eternity who can change my life, I would want to know. Conversely, if its all a myth, I would want to know as well. As I said, I have enough encounters with the living Jesus that it's settled for me. The man who wrestled with Jesus found out more than he counted on. Don't wrestle with Jesus unless you really mean business. Barclay is right, its not for trifling, but if you are serious just start by asking him to help find enough evidence to believe. If you do that it will come, if you are serious about it. And this is the good news. Amen

Prayer: Lord, help us to discover the things in our life that keep us from being serious. For those who are, I ask that you give them what they need to live in faith with you. Amen

Thanks to Dr. Harold McNabb