If there is any man or woman in the John 20 with whom I most identify it is the disciple named, Thomas. In so many ways, I am Thomas.
Do you find that a startling revelation? You might have thought of me more akin to Peter, in his brashness and overconfidence. Peter, in his passion and powerful voice. Peter, in his aggressiveness and masked cowardice.
True. There is some of Peter in me, the weaker parts, the foolish parts, the parts that long to be the first in line, the last to leave, the one to know. Yet in a deeper way, I have always been Thomas, that is to say, the Thomas of the “upper room.”
The great Christian writer Philip Yancey once said that faith is best defined as “Believing in advance in something that will only seem logical when seen in reverse.” That was Thomas, convinced of the logic of it all when seen in reverse. That is me, often living my faith with perfect 20/20 hindsight. Perhaps, that is you, too, if you’ll admit it.
“There’s no one in the tomb!” They shouted. “Thomas, did you hear us? We have seen the Lord!”
Yet, all that rang in his ears, then, and keeps ringing in our ears, today, are the loud voices of disbelief: “This can’t be possible!” They say. “It must be a trick. They must have stolen the body. How can we trust these witnesses? Show me the holes of His hands and the holes of His feet.” Or in the vernacular of today’s materialistically obsessed culture, “Show me the money!”
Isn’t it a wonder, with all these voices clamoring in our ears, that people actually come to church on this day, year after year? That you’ve dressed yourselves? Given up the comfort of your beds? Perhaps the warmth of a lover’s grasp? The children’s playful tickles? The morning paper? The pre-game shows? For myself, it is always an awesome wonder.
You see, I never started out to stand in this pulpit. I never dreamed I’d be a spokesman for the Almighty. I had other plans. Simpler plans. I wanted the tangible, the graspable. I longed to know the world like a banker knows the smell of currency or the scientist the elements of the earth. I never dreamed of knowing the world the way a painter knows the canvas or a player the notes of the score. I wanted what I could hold in my hands, feel against the flesh of my skin, see and behold with my very own eyes! “Seeing is believing,” I would say. “Give me a life without mystery, without ambiguity, without vulnerability!”
Yet, as A. B. Simpson reminds us, “Easter is the New Year’s Day of the soul.”1 It was Thomas’ New Year’s Day, when after the resurrection he touched the holes in the hands of our Master, and saw the logic of the resurrection unfolded before him through the lenses of hindsight. It was my New Year’s Day, a number of years ago, when I pledged, again, my fidelity to Him, after years of seeking after my own gods and my own purposes. And it can be your New Year’s Day, too, if you would but look at the wounds of His body with believing eyes!
Just look again with me at the sequence of events: “Risen from the dead, therefore alive forever; therefore our contemporary; therefore able to confront us face to face!”2 He does confront us, you know. You cannot escape it. The Nazarene is in this room to show us the holes in his hands and side. Believing is seeing, you know!
There is a scene in Stephen Crane’s challenging novel, The Red Badge of Courage, where Jim, one of the young soldiers still smitten with the foolish notion of the romance of war, runs to his unit, excited with the news of their impending movement into battle. But, it seems, the men have heard similar rumors before, so they argue with him. One even comes close to throwing punches at him over the news. Still another asks how Jim knows that it is true. How does he know? Jim simply replies that they can believe or doubt as they please; he doesn’t care. Then the narrator confesses to us that in the end, “He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs.”3
Yet, we all want proofs, don’t we? We are all of us hanging on the garden fence to see if the stories they tell are true. He is risen? Is this the case? We are fearful, hesitant, uncertain about our response. We want someone else to decide for us. Perhaps the minister will convince us. Perhaps the music will move us to believe it.
“To believe, or not to believe, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune …”4 or to trust … to believe, if the Bard will allow … that God Himself has kept His promises. Like the batter at the plate, these are “split-second” decisions we face. To believe, or not to believe. How few seconds he has when the ball leaves the hand of the pitcher before he must decide to hesitate or swing!5
Believing in God is seeing God as He really is. Faith in Christ is more than mere intellectual assent. It is believing with the fullness of your being; with the heart and soul, body and mind:
William Blake: “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God.”6
John Donne: “He that sees God sees everything else.”7
St. Augustine: “God is more truly imagined than expressed, for He exists more truly than is imagined.”8
Theodor Christlieb: “God is an unutterable sigh in the innermost depths of the soul.”9
William Adams Brown: “Piety is unity, and the final proof that we have really found God is that all the discordant elements in our life fall into place and we are at peace.”10
Listen, men and women, listen! You must believe it! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without it, the believer has no hope for this life or for the life to come. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”11
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality. Countless men and women are living proof of the amazing power of our resurrected Lord! Just look at them, won’t you?
Yet, are we still skeptical, you and I? Do we still long to touch the outstretched wound with the tip of our uncertain fingers? Oh, what we miss when our eyes are blinded by the foolishness of our skeptical minds!
It is said that in the last months of her life, Helen Keller was heard to express a deep and profound pity for the real unseeing of the world, for those who have eyes yet who do not see. Deprived nearly all her life of the gift of sight, nevertheless, her long years of physical blindness had given her a spiritual insight that enabled her to enjoy life to its fullest. Commenting on the nature of true blindness she said this: “When the blind put their hand in God’s, they find their way more surely than those who see but have not faith or purpose.”12
Daniel Webster once said that there is “nothing so powerful as truth, and often nothing so strange. If the resurrection is true, it must be the most strange event of all.”
I am not going to try to prove to you the truth of the resurrection. But I will tell you, today, that I believe it with all my heart. And I will not argue the fact of the resurrection from shrouds, or witness reports, from tradition, or even from an empty tomb. I don’t have to!
The truth or falsity of this event can only be proved in the lives of those who believe it! In the faces of men and women, young and old, who come to be in worship each Sunday and especially on Easter. It is proven in the anticipation of the singing of that first hymn, and confirmed in the rousing voices, and stifled tears of the sweet refrain: “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
It is proven when year after year comes and goes and that song cannot be stopped. It is proven when heads are turned and hearts are moved. It is proven when the tomb is empty for us as well, and we rediscover our need to seek His presence in our lives!
Finally, it is proven when we no longer need to touch the wounds to see the risen Lord.
Believing is seeing! That is the truth of this day. And, yet, if you still do not believe me, let me close with the wise words of the late, former atheist, Malcom Muggeridge. He writes:
“Plenty of great teachers, mystics, martyrs and saints have spoken words full of grace and truth. In the case of Jesus alone, however, the belief has persisted that when He came into the world, God deigned to take on the likeness of a man in order that men might reach out.
“For myself, as I approach my end, I find Jesus’ outrageous clam ever more captivating and meaningful. Quite often, waking up in the night as the old do, I feel myself to be half out of my body, hovering between life and death, with eternity rising in the distance. I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from the chrysalis stage and ready to fly away Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth-crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads — no, it can’t be; it’s a fantasy.
Yet, in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: ‘I am the resurrection, and the life,’ and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.”13
Jesus Christ is risen, today! If you would only believe it, you will see that it is so.
1 A. B. Simpson, Inspiring Quotations.
2 James S. Stewart, Who Said That?, Moody Press, George Sweeting, ed.
3 Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, 1895.
4 A paraphrase of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
5 Clinton C. Cox, “To Be Or Not to Be” in Seven Hundred Illustrations & Ideas for Speakers.
6 William Blake, There Is No Natural Religion.
7 John Donne, Sermons.
8 St. Augustine, De Trinitate.
9 Theodore Christlieb.
10 William Adams Brown, The Life of Prayer in a World of Science.
11 1 Corinthians 15:19.
12 Helen Keller, The Western Recorder.
13 Malcolm Muggeridge.