Today I was invited to preach at Trinity United Reform Church in Upminster (http://haveringurc.wordpress.com/trinity-church-upminster/who-are-we/).
As we are still in the Easter season, I preached about people’s reaction to the resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Day.
Firstly a young people’s talk dealing with believing things that seem too strange to be true and then the main sermon with the Bible reading.
Do you believe it?
Have you ever been to see a magician or conjurer at work?
They produce silk hankies, rabbits, doves and so on apparently out of thin air.
Or they find the playing card you’ve just put back in the pack.
Or their assistant walks into a cabinet and disappears to appear somewhere else in the theatre.
And we say “I just don’t believe how they did that!”
Some things we find really hard to believe.
This is a conversation from Alice in Wonderland:
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Let’s see if you believe any of these:
Do you believe its possible to eat more than 40 slices of pizza in 10 minutes?
Californian Joey “Jaws” Chestnut eat 41 slices in 10 minutes on 6th June 2010
Do you believe you can drink a bottle of ketchup in under a minute?
Guinness Rishi drank his way through a giant 490 gram bottle of ketchup in just 39 seconds.
Do you believe its possible to eat 20 pickled onions in a minute?
Peter Dowdeswell eat 24 in one minute
Do you believe that someone could eat 275 Pickled Jalapeno Peppers in 10 minutes?
Patrick Bertoletti did this on 2nd May 2010
Do you believe that someone can turn their head through 3600 ?
No. It can’t be done
Do you believe that someone can eat Six Pounds Baked Beans in under two minutes?
Don Lerman managed it in One Minute, 48 Seconds!
Do you believe its possible to put your left hand where your right hand can’t touch it?
Yes it is. (Demonstrate)
Do you believe that people came come back from the dead?
Well, Jesus did. And according to Paul, Jesus appeared not only to the disciples but to some 500 people at one time.
Just because something is hard to understand doesn’t make it impossible to believe!
John 20:19 – 31
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.” 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!” 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.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous 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 Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Life is full of incredible events. Things we find hard to believe let alone understand.
We thought about a few with the young people a few minutes ago.
People believe all sorts of things which are weird or wacky or just plain daft and yet when it comes to a known historical event such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ that first Easter Day, its beyond their understanding. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he listed people who had seen the risen Jesus mainly between Easter day and the day Jesus ascended into heaven: 1 Corinthians 15: 4 – 7 ” that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
When I was in my teens, the books to read were by Erich von Däniken who said amongst other things that God was an alien who had visited earth in his spaceship and hence kick-started civilisation.
Or people happily go to spiritists or mediums to seek their guidance or to make sure that Granny is okay in heaven. Or slavishly follow their horoscopes in the newspapers or magazines.
Others quite happily apply feng shui to their house to improve the harmony in the home. Or they believe in the healing powers of crystals but they just cannot believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. Its a fairy tale to them.
In the gospels we find the reactions of a wide cross section of humanity.
The chief priests wouldn’t believe it. They were determined that no word of it would get out. So we read in Matthew’s gospel that the chief priests bribed the Roman guards to say that Jesus’ disciples had come at the dead of night and stolen the body. That’s in Matthew 28:11 – 15. This was a high risk strategy for the priests as well as the Roman Soldiers. The guards were going to admit that they had fallen asleep at their post which was a serious offence in the Roman army. They would be risking certain punishment or imprisonment. It must have been one heck of a big back hander for the soldiers to take that risk.
The chief priests’ decision to deny the resurrection has far reaching consequences. Not only are they totally ignoring all the weight of scripture that predicted who the Messiah would be and how he would die and rise again but they had stirred up the population to curse themselves and their children when they had proclaimed in Matthew 27:25 “All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” “
Who knows how history would have turned out for the Jews if their leaders had faced the facts that Jesus who they had had killed had come back from the dead? Maybe the terrible fate that came upon them in 70AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed could have been avoided. But then they would have to admit they were wrong and that Jesus truly was the Messiah the son of God. They were afraid that they would lose their power and influence, so they dare not admit to belief that Jesus had risen!
What about the women who followed Jesus? We read in the gospels that they went early to the tomb and met with an angel who told them what had happened. Mary Magdalene stays behind and she meets with the risen Jesus. She is overwhelmed with joy that Jesus is alive.
The women simply believe. I’m not sure whether they understood the “hows” and the “whys” but they just believed.
How many people here have ever switched on an electric light?
Any of you researched exactly what goes on when you throw the switch? Did you look into how the power station works to generate the electricity and the intricacies of the electrical distribution system involved in delivering the juice to your home?
Anyone proclaim to their spouse or children “As I am not sure how power generation works, I really don’t think I can try to switch on the light right now” ?
God calls us to believe that his mighty power has overcome death and that Jesus the son of God has risen from the dead. He doesn’t call us to understand the mechanism of how it happened.
The women believed and they told the disciples, who according to Mark 16:11 didn’t believe them. One of the problems of living in 1st century Palestine was that women were regarded as unreliable and hence could never be called as witnesses in a court of law. So from a cultural point of view the disciples wouldn’t believe them.
We know that some of the disciples went to the tomb to see for themselves. Luke 24:10 – 12 says”10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
You could say that the disciples didn’t believe because they couldn’t believe it. They knew something had happened but what?
If it had been grave robbers or someone malicious, would they have taken the time and trouble to unwrap the corpse there and then? There was not only the linen grave clothes to consider but what about the 75lbs of myrrh and aloes put around the body when Jesus was buried as we are told in John 19:39.
So here we are in John’s gospel and its the evening of the first Easter day, with the disciples hiding in an upper room, afraid of the Jewish authorities. You can understand it. The Jews have already killed Jesus, their leader, so who’s next?
But Jesus appears in that room. I think I would be more than surprised if I had been there. And maybe the disciples were frightened, they certainly were according to Luke’s gospel 24:36 – 40.
But Jesus proves to them who he is, by showing them his hands and his side. And they believe In fact our reading from John, says they were overjoyed.
Jesus gives them a commission in 21 – 23 ””Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.“”
And now we come to the subject of Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas” who wasn’t there with the other disciples. We know from previous mentions in the gospels that he is the one who says what the others are thinking but dare not say. Back in John 14 Jesus had talked about preparing a place in heaven for his followers. He said, talking of heaven “You know the way to the place where I am going” And Thomas the man who had been with Jesus for three years, who had been taught by him and no doubt familiar with Jesus’ teachings and indeed the scriptures says “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus’ reply was very simple “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is only one way to God and that is though faith in Jesus, no matter what well meaning will tell you about how sincere other religions are, they are not the way to heaven.
So Thomas is not content to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead just because his fellow disciples tell him its happened. He wants proof . And that is what Christianity is really about. Its having a relationship with the risen Lord Jesus. Merely adopting Christianity as a philosophy or even a lifestyle is not it.
Some time ago I was talking with a man who’s aunt’s funeral I was going to conduct. He assure me that auntie lived a Christian lifestyle. She hadn’t made a public profession of her faith or had a believer’s baptism or indeed indicated any faith in Jesus, just she lived a Christian Lifestyle.
The man ran a bike shop. So I asked him if I adopted a biking lifestyle ie wore a spandex cycling suit and a cycle helmet and made pronouncements about my preferred gearings etc did that make me a cyclist? Well of course not. Until I got on a bike and rode it I was not a cyclist.
Until we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he died for our sins and then he rose from the dead, we are not Christians. Even if we are in and out of church like nobody’s business.
Thomas is fortunate. The risen Jesus appears to him and shows him the wounds and Thomas believes. This is what we read in John 20:29 “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
So for Thomas “I don’t believe it” becomes “I believe” and from the stories of the early church it is understood that Thomas took the good news of Jesus to India where he was martyred for his faith.
I doubt that any of us have physically seen the risen Jesus although many of us here know him and love him and follow him. So our job is to present Jesus to people, so that they too can believe in him.
All of us know and meet people that perhaps no on else here can reach. So we each have a responsibility to take the good news of Jesus wherever we go and through the power of the Holy Spirit help people turn their “I don’t believe it” into “I believe!”