Sermon from 24th Apr 2022 (Easter 2)

John 20:19-31 (EHV)

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.”

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

29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we too may believe in our risen Lord and God, Jesus Christ. Amen.

You may have heard of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, well, imagine you’re at a meeting of ‘Believers Anonymous’…

Hi everyone, my name’s Thomas, …and I’m a believer.

Of course, I didn’t always believe. In fact, I had a bit of a reputation around town for being a bit of a doubter. You know, people would tell me things, but I didn’t believe them!

Like, they told me they liked me. But how was I supposed to believe them?

They seemed to talk about me behind my back. Of course, they didn’t always tell me they were doing this, but there’s enough clues to make me think this was happening. I mean, they’d go quiet while I was around, as if they didn’t know what to say to me. They didn’t always include me in their groups. Even the disciples met without me at times…like that night!

I remember it was a terrible time for all of us. We were all very afraid. We thought the Jews were out to get us, so wherever we went, we’d lock the doors. Of course, there was a time when we never used to lock the doors, but this was different! We were in danger! Our teacher was dead, and we thought we were next!

Anyway, that night I wasn’t with them. They say it was my fault I didn’t get the message. But how was I supposed to believe them? I reckon they just didn’t want me there with them. But that’s when it happened. Apparently ‘he’ was there with them.

I thought they were pulling my leg and having a good laugh at ‘poor old doubting Thomas’, so why should I believe them? How could our teacher be alive again? Why would they say such a thing?

But they seemed so sure it was really him in the flesh. It was as if…I don’t know, they didn’t seem afraid anymore. I didn’t get it. I was still scared out of my wits!

Anyway, I didn’t believe them. I told them the only way I’d believe was if I could touch the hole-marks in his hands and…well, you have to understand I was angry…but I told them I even had to put my hand into the hole in his side where the spear went into his body! I know! That sounds gruesome! But I wanted to believe! I wanted to be absolutely certain it was really him!

Then about a week later we met again, and this time I was with them. And it happened…just like that night!

I know the doors were locked, because I had checked them myself.  I also checked all the cupboards and under the table, and no, Jesus wasn’t hiding anywhere. I wasn’t going to be fooled by anyone! While I wanted to believe, I didn’t want to be fooled either! And then, suddenly, he was there!

He looked straight at me and offered me peace. It was as if he was reading my mind! Well, maybe that’s not quite right. It was if he was reading my heart and saw all my doubts. But as he was looking at me, I realised all my doubts were just a front for what was behind them. You see, behind all my doubts was…fear!

I never realised how afraid I was, but that’s why I was so doubtful! My fears had even tried to fool me that fear was good! Fear had also fooled me into justifying all types of wrong things because I was so afraid.

For example, I’m afraid of what people think of me. So I tried to make out I was a good person, hoping people would accept me. Of course, I couldn’t always make people accept me, so in order to avoid the pain of disappointment, I avoided people. I also avoided placing myself in positions where I might fail, or get in trouble, or let people down. I figured if I didn’t fail at anything (because I never tried), then people would think I’m as good as I made out I was!

What a cruel master fear is!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been afraid, but I came to realise I was more afraid of people than I was of God. Fear was the idol I had been sacrificing so much of my life to, and I was slowly being destroyed by my fears. My fears were also destroying my relationships with those around me.

Jesus, seeing how fear was controlling and smothering my joy and hope and love and peace, he offered me his peace. He offered me his wholeness and security and love to soothe and replace my fear with trust.

But he knows I struggle to believe. He knows how my fears have become the master which stopped me from believing.

So he graciously invited me to put my fingers into the hole marks in his hands and side. I saw and touched those dreadful sores which he wears as a result of people’s doubts and fears and anger and sin.

Then it happened! I can’t explain it, because it remains a mystery to me. In fact, it defied logic.

I suppose it was a bit like that room: the doors were locked, but somehow Jesus came and stood among us. Well, my heart was that room, locked with fear, and somehow the peace of Jesus’ words got past my fears. The peace of my risen Lord Jesus now stood among my fears…and when that happened, my fears seemed to become smaller and fade away.

So, I don’t know how else to say it, but…I became a believer!

Faith had now replaced my fears! I was no longer afraid because I believed Jesus is my Lord and my God. Fear was no longer my master and my idol. Jesus was now the peaceful ruler of my heart, and therefore he is also the ruler of all my actions.

I’m now free because I’m no longer ruled by my cruel and demanding fears. Because I believe, I now willingly submit to the reign of my Lord Jesus Christ who freely forgives all my sins, including all those sins I had committed as result of my fears and all the other idols in my life.

I’m now at peace because I trust Jesus Christ is the Lord of my heart and mind and actions. He’s proved to be victorious over sin, victorious over the devil, victorious over death, and even victorious over my fears!

But then the people around me wanted to put my belief to the test. They wanted to write my story down. This means all my doubts and fears would be exposed for everyone to read about and speculate about for the rest of time!

Therefore, even though I’m now a believer, I’ll forever be known as a doubter. I could feel my fears surfacing again. What will people think of me? Will people accept me? Will they talk about me behind me back?

I didn’t want all my doubts and fears to be broadcast for everyone to read about for the next two thousand years or more, but I know others will be in the same boat as me. They’ll also be afraid.

You might be afraid. In fact, you weren’t even in that room. I get what Jesus said to me now. I was blessed to see him in the flesh, but you weren’t. You didn’t get to see or touch him and his dreadful scars which he wore because of all our fears and doubts and anger and sin. Yet you too are blessed when you believe, even though you don’t get to see and touch.

So, even though I was afraid, I thought that maybe through my story, others like you will also be led to believe.

I can’t control what you think of me. I’m no longer afraid of what you think of me. I’m secure through my faith in Jesus. You may think I’m a doubter, but I know I’m a believer. But, what about you?

What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of letting people down? Are you afraid of getting hurt? Are you afraid of trying something new? Are you afraid of what people think of you? Are you afraid of letting people know about your own doubts and fears which lead you to sin against God and against those you love?

In this case, I encourage you to believe the words of Jesus. He offers you peace. He offers you forgiveness. He helps you forgive others. He wants you to fear him more than other people, but I promise you, Jesus isn’t scary!

Fear, and all the other idols which control our lives are scary, but Jesus is a kind and gracious master. He loves us all, and lovingly bears the wounds of suffering and death for you and me. He comes to offer you his love and peace to replace the fearful idols and prison bars of your heart.

But even though we’re now meeting here in ‘Believer’s Anonymous’, I don’t want you to remain as believers anonymous. We shouldn’t stay anonymous. We need to let others know, so that they too will believe and no longer be afraid!

This is a world filled with fear, especially when natural and man-made disasters threaten us. Others in this scary world are still afraid and controlled by their fears but don’t want to admit it.

Their fears are controlling them and they’re not free. They’re stuck in their prisons of fear and hate and unforgiveness. So many have still got so much guilt or shame or anger. They need to hear Jesus has forgiven them and washed away their shame. They need to believe the peace he offers them. Because they’re afraid, they don’t believe this can happen. But it can! All they need to do, and all you need to do, is believe in Jesus.

Like me, tell your story of how Jesus came to break through your barriers of fear so he may offer you peace through his forgiveness and cleansing and holy presence. Don’t be afraid to let your doubts and fears and sins be known through Confession, so that the glory of Jesus’ words of forgiveness will prove greater than any sin or barrier of fear and hate.

So, brother and sisters, do you believe the love and mercy and peace of Jesus can defeat your fears? Do you believe Jesus is your Lord and your God?

Then, may the peace of our risen Lord Jesus Christ drive away any doubts and fears, and guard your hearts and minds as we confess our faith together…

Recite the Creed