Raven Cannon, Children's PastorAugust 19, 2019
Let's cultivate a faith that guards against the fear of believing what seems to good to be true.
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We started ‘Rise’ last week. You can follow along as I do a quick reset because last week we picked up off of where we were at Easter. We talked about Jesus rising and what we’re going to be doing in these summer months. We are tracing the rise of the early church as they begin to grow and expand in the reality of the risen Jesus at work among them. What we’re doing right now is taking a look at something that happened just a few days after our Lord’s resurrection. In fact, the first piece is on the evening of what we call Easter Sunday. I want to reconnect to that, reset everything. You can follow along and there are three ways to do that. You can use your Bible, your Bible app, or the handout. We’re going to move through this little passage in the Book of John together. Again we’re going to look at the example and talk about a man named Thomas. Let’s reset. John 20:19, “That Sunday evening,” Easter Sunday evening, “the disciples were meeting. They were meeting behind locked doors.” Those doors that were locked were locked because they were afraid. They were afraid of what the Jewish leaders were told. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them and He said, “Peace be with you.” As He spoke, He showed them the wounds on His hands and side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. I’m going to make the case as we did last week that that’s where the secret of joy is. When we see the Lord is when we are filled with joy. When we truly see Him. “Then they were glad,” the older version says, “When they saw the Lord.”
I remind myself regularly that if my love for God is not sparkling, it’s probably because I’m not seeing Him correctly. “Then they were glad when they saw the Lord.” It’s always a matter of seeing, isn’t it? But we know that there are two things to note here. One is good and one is bad. Do you see it? Do you see what’s going on? What is the good? The good clearly has to do with the fact that even after the devastation of the cross. It was traumatic and brutal. It was an emphatic end of a dream. What happened to Jesus cannot be denied. It could not be denied. It was unbelievable to see the beautiful one end up the way He did. The disciples were devastated. We experience loss in our lives. It can be deeply impactful for us. Hard to get past. They had witnessed Jesus. He didn’t just die in a way that was an accident or somehow sanitized. He died in a fabulously brutal way that was undeniably shocking and unforgettable. The Romans didn’t play around. By the time they were done with Jesus, it was so ugly. They would never forget it.
Here they are, the disciples, gathered together. They found their way. The good thing is they found their way back to one another. They were in a room, an upper room. A place where they had met before. Their friendship and loyalty to one another were still holding despite the devastation and what they had experienced. That was good, and yet they were hiding. As we mentioned, the doors were locked, the windows were shut. They’re afraid that if the enemies of Jesus had their way, they too would suffer the same kind of cruel fate as their master. They hadn’t forgotten it. It’s on their minds. On that Sunday afternoon, we may assume that also more than just the original disciples were there. We know that that room was filled with followers of Jesus. The disciples were there yes, but so were a number of women who are mentioned in the scriptures.
Women who are remarkable in their own right. In fact, if the truth were known as we look at the account of the scriptures in the gospels, it was the women who had held most loyal. The disciples had run. They had fled. The women found their way towards the cross. On top of that, they were the ones that made their way to the tomb. Their loyalty did not waver, though their hearts were broken. I see them in the room as well. We don’t know how many of them were there. We know a lot of their names, there were a lot of Marys, we know that. We also know that there were others who had attached themselves, who were part of another circle of followers of Jesus and very committed beyond the disciples. They were there, hiding in common love, but also in fear, and it was in that environment that Jesus appeared.
Remember, there were only ten of the disciples there. Two were missing. Who were they? In that room on that Easter evening, there were two gone. One had fled into the night earlier on Friday. He was gone. Judas had left, not to be seen again. We know after that beautiful evening Jesus had with his disciples, that the following day He would be crucified. Thursday night was the last time they remember seeing Judas. They weren’t sure; was he sent on an errand or what? We know what he had gone to do. We’ve explored it in depth. The bottom line is by the time Judaa was done, he realized what he had done. He couldn’t live with himself. He did what a lot of people do when they feel like there’s no point in it all. It had not gone the way he thought. He ends up killing himself. Now the disciples didn’t know at the time that that’s where Judas was heading. No one knew what was going on with Judas but he wasn’t there.
The other person that wasn’t there was Thomas. In a way, the fact that Judas wasn’t there wasn’t really a surprise at this point. But the fact that Thomas wasn’t there, no one really knows why. Where was he? What was he doing? It’s not clear. All we know is that evening when Jesus shows up in this believable way, Thomas isn’t there. We made the point that Thomas has for centuries now, somebody brought up to me and said, “It’s been thousands of years and his nickname still holds.” Whenever we think of Thomas, the first thing that comes to our mind is, “Oh, you mean Doubting Thomas.” It stuck with him, Doubting Thomas. Wherever he goes, it’s Doubting Thomas.
One of the things that’s fun to do is to do a character study of the disciples. It’s insightful as well. You read how they’re described and different incidents that occur. Thomas actually has a couple of them that really stand out. It’s important to remember that although he’s kind of designated the doubter, the fact of the matter is the disciples had another nickname for him, they called him Didymus, which means twin. We don’t know who this twin was. Did he have a twin sister or twin brother? Were they the same kind of personality or polar opposites? We don’t know. We know Didymus was his real nickname. His own peers and friends called him Didymus. We also need to point something out about Thomas. It is revealed earlier in the gospels. It is that he was someone who really did believe in Jesus. Thomas was actually a fiercely loyal follower. It wasn’t that he was so much of a doubter like we would say in the classical sense. No, he was more of a realist. He had a bit of a negative cynical bent to him. But he was a realist. He loved Jesus. Thomas had a problem saying things that he didn’t believe. There were certain moments when everybody else is thinking something but nobody really wants to say it. Thomas stands out and just says it. That’s who he is. That’s the kind of guy he was.
I was looking at different examples of one memorable occasion. It is listed in your handouts from John 11. Let me set up what happens there. It shows us a lot about who Thomas was because in John 11. Jesus has friends named Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. They are close to the Lord and Jesus loves them. They support His ministry. It’s rare to have people described as being that close to Jesus and we know that this family was. Word gets back to Jesus that Lazarus is very sick. Maybe even on the verge of dying. The message comes from Mary and Martha, his sisters, that they want Jesus to come immediately. The hope is that Jesus can heal Lazarus. At this moment, as we hit John 11, Jesus is not in the region that we call Judea. Judea is the part of Israel where Jerusalem is located. Jesus had been in Jerusalem. If you go one chapter earlier, the 10th chapter, Jesus is in Jerusalem and they are having all these confrontations. In these confrontations, there are people who are getting so angry with Jesus in the temple. They actually pick up stones and are about to stone Him. I mean literally, a melee is about to break out on multiple occasions. People want Jesus dead.
Jesus leaves Jerusalem and crosses back out. He leaves Judea and crosses over the Jordan River to the region where John the Baptist originally ministered and baptized. It’s there when the messengers come to him and say, “Hey, Lazarus is sick.” Here’s the thing. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are in a town called Bethany not far from Jerusalem. It means that if they go back, they are going back into the region where so many people have been angry with Jesus. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. So there’s this conversation that ensues. All of a sudden the disciples are saying, “Lord, we just don’t think it’s prudent for us to go back. Lazarus is fine.” Jesus says something like Lazarus is sleeping, and they all say, “Oh, that’s good.” What Jesus meant was he’s dead and I’m about to change that equation. For many Lazarus is a foreshadow because it’s just weeks before Jesus’ own death and resurrection. A foreshadow of what Jesus Himself is going to do.
However, the disciples don’t know that. Let’s look at what it says here in Verse 7, “Finally He said to His disciples, ‘Let’s go back to Judea.’” Remember we just talked about that? In the eighth verse, we read about something that’s not common. It’s very rare that you see the disciples saying, “No, no, don’t do that. We object. We don’t believe it’s right. No.” Literally, look at that. It says, “His disciples objected to it. ‘Rabbi,’ they said, ‘Only a few days ago the people in Judea, they were trying to stone you. Are you going to go there again?’” Look at this, “And so he told them plainly, ‘Look, what, Lazarus is dead. And for your sake I’m actually glad I wasn’t there for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go, let’s go and see him.’”
Thomas, here he is, nicknamed the twin. There it is, said to his fellow disciples. They’re trying to stop Jesus from going. “It doesn’t make sense, it’s not prudent. They just tried to kill you, Lord. I don’t think it makes sense for us to go back.” Jesus says, “We’re going back.” Thomas says, “Oh, that’s great. That’s just great.” I love it. I mean the Bible just throws it in there. Let’s just go and die with him. Let’s just go to die with Jesus. We might as well. It’s that whole thing, Thomas just throws out there. It’s such a real statement. “All right, we’ll go in and go with you, Lord. This is crazy. Let’s just all go and die with Him.” The thing about it was he wasn’t actually that far off. Even though this wasn’t the incident that is going to happen. It will happen weeks later, and he’s right. They will kill him. But at this moment, Thomas was frank. It was honest and kind of cynical. It was hardly faith-filled, right? Let’s go and die with him then. But what was it? It was utterly loyal. Do you see that? It’s true, it was all those things, but if you look closely, you see it was loyal to the bone. “Fine. Then we’ll go meet the end with you. Let’s do it.”
Think about that. It’s so cool. It was accurate. So now, moving back through time a little bit, pushing up to the day of the resurrection. For whatever reason, Thomas was with the rest of them when they all ran. Everybody regrouped but Thomas wasn’t there on that Sunday afternoon for whatever reason. We don’t know, look at Verse 24, “Now Thomas, one of the 12 called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came on that night.” The other disciples told Thomas, “Hey, we have seen the Lord and He is alive.” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see his hands, the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of those nails, and then I place my hand in his side I’m not going to believe that.” It was a reaction that was consistent and true, wasn’t it? He could not confess what he didn’t believe. They said, “We have seen the Lord. Thomas, you’re not going to believe it. He is alive. He appeared to us.” Do you know what Thomas basically says? “Uh-huh. Sure you did. Okay, how about this? I know you believe that you believe you saw the Lord. I’ll give you that. But come on. Are you crazy? You saw the Lord.” “Yes, we saw the Lord.” “You saw the Lord? No, you saw something. I don’t know what you saw with your head and mind, or what you’re making up right now. But I’m going to tell you this right now. I’ll tell you what. Unless I can touch that, put my finger in His hands that I saw hammered onto that wood, unless I can put my fingers and my hand on that wound I saw made with that spear, I’m not believing one thing you said. That’s it, don’t even.” That’s what we get, that’s what we’re talking about.
In verse 26, “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again.” Eight days passed, Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came, just as He had done before, and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you. Shalom upon you.” The peace of God upon you. Eight days later Jesus reappears, this time Thomas is with Him where he should have been the first time with his brethren. Jesus appears, speaks the peace, right? Jesus scans the room and what does He do? What does Jesus do? Jesus looks around the room. “Thomas,” and Thomas is incredulous. “Yes?” “Thomas, please put your finger here. Put your finger here. Come. Come. Put your finger here. Put your hands on my side. Come on. Place it on my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.”
Thomas answered him. “My Lord and my God.” He couldn’t go any higher than that. You can’t go higher than that. That is the highest you can go. My Lord and my God. Jesus calls him up, passes on his skepticism into the highlands of faith. Thomas is overwhelmed and the honest doubter becomes the great confessor. “My Lord and my God.” No one else has ever been recorded saying quite that way, and Jesus said, “Blessed Thomas, blessed are you because you believe because you see me I know. That’s why you believe but I tell you blessed are those.” You believe because you see me but blessed are those. Blessed are those who have not seen, and they yet believe. Jesus, we should point out, did not say, “Thomas, Thomas, you’re getting carried away a little bit here.” He didn’t say that. He received that praise. “You are my Lord and you are my God.” Jesus received it, but also he says this. Again, it’s like Jesus peers down the corridors of time down through history. It’s like He sees you and me. It’s like He’s looking right into our eyes and says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Let’s talk about that. Let’s wrestle with this. Let’s talk about keys for rising. I want us to hit it and go with this. Let’s talk about a principle. I’m going to put it this way. Let’s cultivate faith and guard against the fear of disbelieving what seems too good to be true. For Thomas, the idea that Jesus was as He said He would be alive, seemed just too good to be true. Thomas did not want to be a fool. He was afraid to believe. In one sense he’s to be admired. But in another, he is a reminder that a relationship with Jesus can never be reduced only to what is logical or can be scientifically or physically proven. It’s not a mathematical formula, there’s no way, it can’t be. Spiritual matters cannot be evaluated in a test tube.
I say that also with this. As an early follower of Jesus in my early life, one of the things that did affect me was an articulation of what I called a rational faith. I remember specifically reading certain writers. C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity where he talks about the journey of his faith from an unbeliever to a man who ultimately becomes one of the most advanced thinkers on behalf of Christ in the 20th century. Maybe even the most singularly well-written apologetic of why following Jesus makes utter sense. There have been other books written since. Things like Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ. A small little book that actually really affected me early on, when I was in high school and seriously wanted to decide; do I follow Jesus as my Lord and savior, and what does that mean? In another small little book called More Than a Carpenter by a man named Josh McDowell, he refers back to C.S. Lewis and talks about rational faith. How actually the historical record of Jesus is rooted in things that can actually be acknowledged and be rooted in history.
There can be no question that the band of followers of Jesus was utterly transformed by something that is almost inexplicable to the extent that they were willing to die for something that they would have known was a lie if it was. It’s one thing to die for something in different places of the world. To just be deceived because you believe in zeal. It’s another thing to know, and they would have known if it was true or not. They gained nothing. All they gave was their lives for this testimony.
There are other things like that that you begin to realize. Like even the words of Jesus. People in both those books and C.S. Lewis makes the case beautifully. The one thing we cannot say about Jesus is that He is a good man only. That He’s just a good teacher is one of many ways. Because He didn’t give us that option. The claims He made, the praise He accepts. He either is who He says He is or He isn’t. If He isn’t then He is not a good man. He is a liar or is crazy. That’s the point that is being made. You cannot say what He said and receive the praise that He received, telling other people to be truthful, and then you yourself are a liar or worse crazy. Yet out of His words come the most balanced teachings that have altered human beings ever. That’s why people like Lewis will say, you can do one of two things, you can accept Him or reject Him. But you cannot just call Him a good man in one or many ways because He didn’t leave that option open. He either is who He says He is or He isn’t. If He isn’t, reject him. If He is, get down on your knees with Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God.” That’s the point.
What am I saying? There is a case to be made for rational faith. I have been affected by it. Faith in Jesus, in the end, is really a matter of the heart. It really is. It’s where faith, trust, and love reign supreme. Pascal, the philosopher, who was himself a believer said, “The heart has its reason that reason knows nothing of.” A lot of us look at that statement and think, “Oh that’s about romance. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t have to. The heart has its reasons.” But actually, Pascal was making a statement in a case that he was saying that it was actually something inside of us that draws us towards God. It’s something deeper, different than logic. It’s intuition, instinct, and sensitivity. It’s a yearning deep within a human being that yearns to know why it’s here and wants to live. Why it loves. It’s like he’s saying that the heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of, there’s something more. We’re more than just reason. We are that but more. That moreness is what draws us towards the Lord.
Jesus talked about that as well. The reason I’m saying that is I think some of us are holding back on committing our life to Jesus because we don’t want to be duped. We get Thomas, right? I’m not going to be duped by that. Maybe some of us think part of me wants to follow but then the part of me says I’m not going to do it. Part of me wants to do it. I’m going to come right to the edge if I can, but I don’t know if I want to go all the way in because I don’t know. I don’t know. As if what we’re saying here is that if we’re not careful, you’re going to miss your moment. You’re being invited to a celebration. Jump in. If you’re going to do it, don’t just go half in. That’s what the people are doing tonight that are going to get baptized. They’re saying, “I’m in. I’m going down with Him, I’m coming up with Him. I’m taking His name over my life, I’m in. I’m in. I’m committing myself to follow you.”
The second piece of this that we notice here about rising, growing, flourishing, is to remember the value of fellowship and coming to church. Whatever the reason, Thomas wasn’t there with his brothers and sisters at a critical time. As a result, he missed the blessing of our Lord’s first appearance to His disciples. It’s true, we have all become the beneficiaries of Thomas’ absence, reaction, and Jesus’ corrective admonition. What I’m saying is we get blessed by the fact that Thomas wasn’t there. We would never have had the exchange that ends up showing up like we’re looking at it right now without it. Yet we need to acknowledge that the principle of fellowship still holds.
In crisis times, when our faith is assaulted with fears and doubts, we will have those moments. Now it’s been almost 40 years since I was in a small group with my youth group. I say that because it actually has been 40 years. I’ve seen a lot of people start out on fire in their faith for Jesus. I’ve watched them sprint out of the gate and I just saw, “Oh my goodness, they’re growing their knowledge base, their love for God, the ferocity of their commitment.” It was a full-out sprint. Fly. Then over time, I’ve watched that thing as it got pressed. It’s like it started getting hit. As time went on, that faith that was so vibrant, started to diminish and decay. In some cases, I saw people lose their faith.
I’ve seen other people who I saw come off the runway wobbly. It was, “Whoo.” I’m thinking, “I don’t know if they’re going to make it. I don’t know if they’re going to make it. I don’t know if they’re going to make it.” Eventually, they found their way. They’ve been going pretty well for a long haul. That’s dirty faith. One of the principles is when we come into these moments where we struggle, we will have those moments. Sometimes it comes because of things that happen or are happening around us. Things that we start thinking about. Concepts, feelings, or disappointments we start having. I’ve been doing this for a while and it doesn’t work. All that stuff starts to flow. People say other stuff, “Why are you doing all that stuff?” When that happens, in these places in life, I think a lot of times the hardest place is just when things are hard for us. We start to get doubts. Is God really good?
When that happens, do you know how important it is, and it will happen. All of us will have times where our faith is not strong. There will be times when we struggle to really believe and trust God. I understand Thomas, I get it. We’re not always going to be on our game. If you don’t believe me, did you watch the Warrior game last night? Okay, I’m just saying. Do you know what I mean? We’re not always on our game. Even the best in the world can have an awful game. I’m venting right now. I am getting it out of my system. But you know what I am saying. We will always need the other. Do you know what the value is in having fellowship? Do you know the value of having church as a rhythm of our life, the one in seven? Some of you follow me on the Rise and Shine which is that daily video devotional we do. That’s based around the idea that gives us this day our daily bread. Jesus taught us the daily life of the Christian life. It works well. The one in seven is that on that seventh day, we do what we’re doing right now.
We gather together with others minimally to strengthen ourselves in our faith, to keep the rhythm that Jesus himself modeled, as a way of staying connected. Jesus had a small group, that’s why we talk about the value of small groups and being in a ministry. It’s out of those contexts where friendships and relationships are established because it’s basically coming to one other conclusion. We will not always be on our game. We will have seasons of doubt, discouragement, and seasons when our faith is not strong. In those places, having these patterns, rhythms, and rituals established in our life and the relational strength that comes out of it is what carries the day frequently. The tendency is to do what Thomas does. When things are hitting, we isolate. When things aren’t going well or we come to trauma, the tendency is actually to pull away instead of pulling into a community. Remember, we are always better when we’re together. You’ve been hearing me say that a lot, haven’t you? You know what? I’m going to have to have you do it. Can you do me a favor? Look at the person on your left and right and say, “We’re better together.” Go ahead, say it. We’re better together.
That’s the Christian life. We’re better together. It’s not a solo walk, it was meant to be done together. Someone might say, “I don’t really like relational stuff, and people, that’s not my thing.” The value of being known and doing the hard work of connecting doesn’t even really show up when we’re doing well. It really shows up when we’re not on our game. When we’re struggling in our faith. The value of rhythm sustains us. The value of the other can hold us, encourage us. I bless you, you bless me. You might be running well, I might be struggling. If we can stay together, strength will come when we need it most.
Here’s the last thing. I didn’t know exactly how to say this but I’m going to say it this way. Honest faith is better than honest doubt. Honest doubt is real and it will not confess fully. What am I talking about? What is honest doubt? What will not confess fully what it isn’t convinced of. Honest doubt says I will not be fake. Honest doubt has an aversion to pretense. I will not do it if I don’t believe it. Honest doubt says I want to believe, but I just can’t fully confess right now what I’m not convinced of. To some degree, I get it and I find it admirable. But it pales in comparison to honest faith. Because honest faith always tilts towards God. Honest doubt tilts away from Him. You know what? I was trying to think of the image in my head. Imagine this is God and this is us. Honest doubt tilts this way. Do you know what honest faith does? With doubt, it tilts this way. Honest faith tilts this way. Honest doubt tilts that way. It pulls me away.
Honest faith pulls me in, and look at that. Look at what that becomes. There’s a strength in that. There’s a leverage point, and some people said to me after one of the services, “And God’s leaning our way as well.” That’s powerful, but the idea is this. When we are in these places, which way do we lean? It’s not about not having doubt. It’s not about having questions or struggles. Which way are we going to lean? Are we going to lean this way? Or are we going to lean this way? Without faith, it is impossible to please God. But when we do move His way, lean His way. Tilt His way and strength comes. Do you see what I’m saying? Again, honest faith doesn’t pretend things are good when they’re not. It doesn’t mean that we never struggle with doubt. That happens every now and then. I will say this. The more and more we feel the presence of Jesus, you’ve heard me say this before, you get ruined. Ruined for grace. Because you can’t ever be the same, and you really feel the Lord’s presence at work in your life. What can I go back to? It’s like Peter saying, “You have the words of eternal life, where am I going to go?”
Someone said to me, “you can’t always feel God. What happens when you don’t feel God?” I said, “Okay, I came to church early this morning. I looked up at the sky. It was just clouds. Clouds overcast. I couldn’t see the sun. But guess what? The sun was there. I just couldn’t see it because the clouds were covering it.” Some things don’t always make sense to us. It doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. We don’t always see the sun, but it’s still there. Remember that and let faith rise up in us. Tilt towards God. We’re better together.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your promise. We thank you for your words. We thank you for the power of your truth at work in our lives. I ask that you would help us, meet us where we are, and remind us that ours is a rational faith but in the end it’s a matter of our heart. Help us to lean towards you, not away from you, and to give you Lord the blessing of investing in the relationships to build that community that will support us in the times when we need it most. I pray for a vibrancy of faith and a blessing over everyone who is in this room. As we close out this time, I ask that you not only bless our quick time of giving but also Lord, our closing song, let it be a nice way of bringing everything back together. We love you, and for those of us who are right there, help us to jump in and not be afraid. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Rise up among us, we pray. Amen.