“A Message for Skeptics” – John 20:24-31

This is the final message in our Gospel of John study which was preached on Easter Sunday, 2016.

Sermon Notes:

Today is a message for skeptics… After all, this is Easter Sunday, which we know is not primarily about brightly colored eggs and bunnies, but rather is about the claims in the Bible that Jesus was not only crucified and buried, but that three days later, he rose from the dead.

Can we be honest? At first glance, and second glance, that story sounds photoshopped. 

It’s like the viral Facebook photo of the guy standing beside the 40 foot alligator that he caught on his ultralight reel while fishing for bream in a pond in central Florida. A picture like that may fool some folks, but we know that it has been Photoshopped. The image we see has been altered and does not represent reality.

If you are a skeptic, the resurrection sounds like that. It sounds—looks— photoshopped. Like the alligator photo, we hear about the resurrection and say, “Yeah, if you are gullible enough to believe that, go right ahead.”

But what if – WHAT IF – what we see, or read, in the gospels, is really what happened?

C.S. Lewis, the late professor at Oxford University, once said, Christianity, if false, is of no importance, but if true, it is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

  • In fact, in his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul tell us that if the resurrection is a hoax, then Christianity is a lie and totally meaningless. And if that is the case, why are we here?
  • But… if it is true… If it did happen… [pause]

Whether you are a skeptic or not, I want to challenge us today to take these claims as seriously as we ever have. It is not overstating the fact to say that everything in your life hinges on this message today – everything. These next 30 or so minutes are not moderately important for you; they are infinitely important.

So let’s look at John 20, starting in verse 24, where someone who knew Jesus deals honestly with the resurrection from the perspective of a skeptic. What may surprise you is that this skeptic was one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples. His name is Thomas, the guy from whom we get the phrase “Doubting Thomas.” He was filled with…

I.  A Deep Skepticism (vv. 24-25)

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus- the twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. [For some reason, Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection]  25 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.” 

It’s hard to be more skeptical than that. But you know, I think I would have been Thomas. If I had been one of the 12 I would have been Thomas, because there are days when I still am? There are times when I have doubts. Maybe this characterizes you today?

Even if you are not an outspoken skeptic, it is possible that your life is undermining your profession of faith in the reality of the resurrection.  I can say anything. But how I live gives my true faith away.

 

  • For example, when I worry, I am saying, “He didn’t really rise. There is no living, reigning Jesus whom I can trust with my life, or the lives of my children, or with this church.” 
  • When I feel condemned in my sin, I am saying, “He didn’t really rise.”
  • When I refuse to forgive, but hold a grudge, I am saying, “He didn’t really rise. The gospel really isn’t true. I can say it with my lips, but my heart doesn’t really believe what I am saying.”

To admit these things out loud sounds blasphemous. But can we admit that, like Thomas, we struggle to believe this? If we can admit this struggle, then we are in position to receive what Jesus offered to Thomas, which is… 

II.  A Personal Challenge (vv.26-27)

26 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!” [Jesus knows exactly what we need to hear when we need to hear it!]  27 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.” 

We should be so thankful that we have this account of Thomas’s demand of evidence recorded for us. Thomas was not interested in a myth, a fable or a legend. He would only believe the truth – truth backed up by evidence. For him, and for me and I assume for you, in order to believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, it must be verifiable. Thomas demanded proof. And Jesus gave it to him. In this way, Thomas serves as a “reality check” for modern day skeptics. Skeptics like Frank Morrison.

Frank Morrison was a British investigative journalist and an agnostic skeptic who decided to write a book proving that the resurrection account in the New Testament was a myth. However, after completing his research, he unintentionally came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus was in fact… a fact. It was historical and verifiable. Like Thomas, Frank Morrison, the staunch skeptic, became a believer.

After all, consider just some of the evidence… 

  • The tomb was found empty, which previously had been sealed and guarded by Roman centurions. Ancient MMA style warriors. For anyone to steal the body in their charge, or for them to have fallen asleep on duty, would have resulted in a death sentence for a centurion. They were to guard the tomb with their lives.  This is why we read in Matthew 28:12-15, 12When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’14If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.
  • And so you have an empty tomb. Furthermore, the New Testament record claims that the first witnesses of the empty tomb to be women. Now, in that day, women were not allowed to give testimony in court, only men. So, if you were trying to photoshop an account of Jesus’ resurrection, why would you base it on a woman’s testimony? You wouldn’t. You would never make up a story like this.
  • Additionally, there were over 500 witnesses who all had seen Jesus alive at the same time. Most of whom were still alive years later and could corroborate the claims.
  • Then we have to consider the lives of the apostles, such as Peter, who went from being a fearful coward who had denied knowing Jesus to a fearless martyr who would willingly be imprisoned and ultimately killed for preaching about the resurrection.
  • And there is the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament. Yet, before he became the most prominent preacher in the church, he had been the most notorious persecutor of the church. A modern-day comparison would be like the leader of ISIS becoming a global Christian evangelist!
  • Then there are the hundreds of Old Testament predictions and prophecies. Read Isaiah 53 and be blown away by the detailed description of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, foretold six hundred years before it happened.
  • And there are books filled with historical, biblical, and archaeological evidences! Like John says in verses 30-31, 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  31 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.”

This is what happened to Thomas. He began to live a new life. In fact, his new faith activated…

III.  A Shocking Transformation

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 

This is the point at which everything changed for Thomas, as this hardened skeptic became an impassioned believer. No longer burdened with doubt, Thomas is utterly convinced, and willingly, and humbly, yet enthusiastically submits himself on the spot to the Lordship of Jesus.

Some of you may remember Paul Harvey, who would read the morning and mid-day news on over 1,200 radio staions from the 1950s through the 90s.  In addition to the news, he was famous for his radio spots that he would introduce by saying, “You’ve heard the news. Now for… the rest of the story.”

Early church historian, Eusebius, among many other sources, tell us about the rest of the story for Thomas, who became a missionary to India and, quoting Eusebius, “to the farthest seas.”

Do you see what this means? The reality of the resurrection had not only transformed him spiritually, but propelled him missionally to the farthest known recesses of the world to proclaim the glory, greatness and grace of Jesus. In fact, there is a Christian community in India that exists today that traces its origin back to 52 AD, when Thomas first arrived preaching the gospel of the risen Jesus.

But we don’t have to live in India to be the recipients of Thomas’s testimony, do we? The missional propulsion of the resurrection has made its way here to Dahlonega.

The question is: what impact is this going to have in your life? How is it going to transform and propel you? In other words, what is the rest of the story going to look like for you?

This is the question that we all have to ask, because in the final verse of our passage Jesus not only makes a personal invitation to Thomas, but makes…

IV. A Universal Invitation (to each of US in v. 29)

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

This is invitation for us to believe. To be as convinced as the skeptic Thomas had been. To move from skepticm to impassioned belief! But let’s be sure of this. This faith is not blind faith.

Twentieth century Christian apologist, Francis Schaeffer, established a ministry to young intellectuals in the Swiss Alps after WWII. These young people were disillusioned with both secular humanism as well as traditional Christianity, and they had questions. They had doubts. So, Dr. Schaeffer made it his life mission to help people move from skepticism to belief. He would often use an illustration of a man hiking in the Alps who had become surrounded by fog and stuck on a ledge. He couldn’t see where he should step in order to get down, and was paralyzed by the fear of taking a blind step into the fog, making a mistake, and falling to his death. At this point, another hiker, sees him from below and can clearly observe where the stuck hiker needs to step in order to safely make his way down the mountain. The hiker who is stuck now can ask the man below details about the path and where to step. Even through he himself cannot see where he is stepping, he can make a reasoned evaluation based on the other man’s testimony. So yes, he must take a step of faith, but not a blind step of faith. There is evidence. There is a witness.

That is who Thomas is for us—a skeptic turned believer based on the evidence.

So, are you ready to take that step from skeptic to believer? It may be that you’ve said you were a believer all of your life, but you know that you haven’t really lived your life as if Jesus really rose. You’ve been kind of religious, but have never experienced the kind of total transformation that propelled Thomas to “the farthest seas.”

The kind of transformation that empowers you to trust Jesus as a living, sovereign King right now, over all of history and the details of your life and the lives of your children. Even the hard things. Even the parts of the story that we wish weren’t being written. But Jesus is the author of the beginning and the end. He rose and reigns, and we can trust this living Savior with nail scarred hands.

It is the kind of transformation that empowers us to move beyond condemning others and holding grudges, where we are able to forgive our debtors as we have been forgiven – gladly, freely and fully.

We are talking about the kind of transformation that sets you free from the temporal pursuit of comfort, money, success and personal advancement, because life for you is no longer temporal, it is eternal!

  • You don’t have to waste your life trying to make your name great. You can live your life to make his name great!
  • I don’t have to choose a career that I hate just in order to make a lot of money. And I can endure a job that I do hate because I have to have it to support my family. Because I can do anything and everything for the glory of God as I live before a risen Jesus – whether as a student, a school teacher, an entrepreneur, a journalist, a politician, a cashier, a physician – whatever!
  • And if I make a lot of money, well, there is just more to contribute to the mission of the gospel so that I can financially propel others to the farthest seas!
  • Ultimately, the kind of transformation that we will experience is where we are able to live as if there really is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ. Because the resurrection of Jesus confirms the promises of the Jesus, that on the cross he satisfied God’s full judgment that our sins deserved so that we could experience God’s full mercy and grace as beloved, dare I say treasured, sons and daughters.
  • Can you imagine a life like that? Where there is no more condemnation. We are free from the penalty and the power of sin. We stand forgiven and righteous before the Father.

This is the blessing of new life Jesus promised in v. 29 for those who believe. The blessing is not primarily health, or wealth or success. It is the blessing of reconciliation with God. It is hope. It is purpose. It is the blessing of grace. And the cross shows us that we can’t earn this new life and we’ll never deserve it. We can only receive it. But how? How can I have this blessed life? Jesus tells us, in a simple yet direct way: “Stop doubting and believe!” Consider the evidence, then take the step of faith, resting your entire life – every moment of every day – on the historical, verifiable fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

This past Friday evening, Chuck Bell Music and the Creekstone worship team hosted a Night of Worship at Camp Glisson – an event that I’m trusting will become an annual blessing for our community. Anyway, the final song we sang on Friday was Forever, by Kari Jobe, where she writes this:

The ground began to shake.
The stone was rolled away.
His perfect love could not be overcome.
Now death where is your sting.
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated!
Forever, He is glorified!
Forever, He is lifted high!
Forever, He is risen!

 And forever he reigns, and one day will return.  Until then, he invites us, like Thomas, to believe.

Prayer.  Now come, Jesus, our Lord and our God, and roll away the stone of doubt from our hearts that we would be spiritually transformed… and missionally propelled into the extraordinary adventure of living as your disciple – fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, dearly loved and supernaturally empowered to live a life of resurrection awareness and resurrection power, all for your glory and our joy. Amen.

 

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