A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Mary Magdalene’s experience at the tomb is the focus of the Gospel of John’s Easter narrative. She reported to two of the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing and she suspected that someone had taken it away and she didn’t know who or where it had been taken. She actually may have thought that they had done it not wanting Jesus’ body to have fallen into the hands of detractors. They ran to the tomb, looked in, went in and saw the linen wrappings and when Mary caught up with them they said that they believed. And the question was what did they believe?
We know what they didn’t believe and we know what Mary didn’t believe. None believed that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. It wasn’t on their screen. It hadn’t even crossed their minds. Those two disciples believed what Mary had told them, that Jesus’ body wasn’t there.
In Gospel of John the actuality of the resurrection isn’t question. To the evangelist is seems of little importance. God chose to resurrect Jesus. It’s a testimony to God’s awesome and humanly unimaginable power. So why does it seem to be so important to us?
Have been so thoroughly deluded by our own fearful agenda, our own fear of death and the mystery beyond that we’ve made resurrection the big question. Or like the young earth proponents we’ve become fascinated by having faith in faith. God put things which look pre-historic into creation to test our faith. Faith in faith is spiritual cyanide. There’s a tragic story of a young couple so influenced by “word of faith” teachers that they withheld insulin from their diabetic son who predictably went into a diabetic coma. Their spiritual guides warned them about the impropriety of making a “negative confession,” so they continued to “positively confess” Wesley’s healing until the time of his death. And even after their son’s death — undaunted in their “faith” — conducted a resurrection service instead of a funeral. Eventually, they were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse. Just believe….
The text doesn’t support those conclusions. Of course, if you’re as convinced as am I that Lazarus was the source for the faith tradition found in the Gospel of John, we have one actually resurrected himself testifying to the fact that the question most on the mind of the evangelist is revealed in our scripture for today.
What kind of God do you have? For us it’s impossible to imagine resurrection. For us as finite individuals, for whom each day is a step closer to death, resurrection is a really big deal. I have to think that for God the act of resurrection was no big deal.
The issue for Thomas and for us has never been do you believe in the resurrection. Let’s go back to the moments recorded in this passage. Thomas is in the room with the gathered disciples. Jesus shows up – mysteriously—through the walls or locked doors. Recall that a week before, when Jesus had shown up just as mysteriously Thomas was absent and later reportedly said he couldn’t believe unless he touched the marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand where the spear had pierced Jesus’ side. Even then the question of what he did or did not believe wasn’t about resurrection.
With only Jesus’ preliminary remark of “Peace be with you” he gives Thomas license to do what Thomas had said he needed. He did it. And Jesus’ charge to him was ‘Do not doubt be believe’. Thomas’ response was “My Lord and my God.” In that moment Thomas believed – but the question is still the same: What did Thomas believe? Was it about the resurrection? He had witnessed Jesus’ death and here Jesus was close enough to him to be touched and evidently alive. “My Lord and my God “Thomas says.
Jesus asks him did he believe because he had seen Jesus and adding “Blessed are those who have not seen but believed.” Here is the important line: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Oh, there’s the question answered. …that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This Easter season has caused me to re-think my understanding of who Jesus was. There is a lot a speculations about that. Before the council of Nicea and the Nicean creed, after which a lot of early Christian writings were burned, there was a multiplicity of beliefs as to who Jesus was, God or man, and the meaning of his teachings. For one large segment, the Gnostics, they didn’t care whether Jesus was a god or not, or what his life meant. The Gnostic core belief was that only the teachings of Jesus are important.
After the Nicean council, the Christian establishment ordered the heretical scrolls burnt, to create a unified belief. The most famous Gnostic text survived is the Gospel of Thomas. There are several key elements that differentiate Gnostic beliefs from the stream of Christianity which survived. It focus on Jesus’ teachings. The God of the old testament was a separate entity from the true God. And the material world was a prison in which our souls were trapped and that the only way out of the prison of materiality into spirituality were secret teachings passed from member to member typified by Jesus. Gnostic metaphysics has strong undercurrents of Platonism. For them the spiritual world, the world of God, is the most pure and sublime, and as you descend into matter the spirit takes on increasing levels of grossness and corruption. There was no way for the divine Jesus to be fully human. According to Jewish belief the Messiah had to be human. The challenge to belief raised in the Gospel of John is the question of Jesus being the long awaited Jewish messiah. Thomas says ‘Yes’.
Believing, the text says, you have life in his name.
Where does all this go? In Jesus’ absence, after his ascension, as he promise, we have his spirit bearing with our spirit. Were Jesus not the Messiah that would not be the case. We would be left still worrying about the end of the world and the end of time on it. We wouldn’t be able to embrace the promise Jesus made that we quoted in the memorial service yesterday. But I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am you shall be also.