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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1294

March 19, 2017 John 20:24-29

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript. This series is based on the book Jesus Speaks by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola)

 

“The Voice of Jesus: To Thomas”

 

  • The Voice of Jesus: To Doubt Our Doubt

 

Last Sunday we heard the voice of Jesus in his appearance to the disciples in the upper room. One of the disciples, Thomas, was not present. He missed out. We have no idea, according to the scriptures, why he was gone. Perhaps his doubts were such that he did not want to wait around with the others. Perhaps he stepped out to the local store for some food and drinks. We really just don’t know. But what his absence provides is another appearance from Jesus. That is a bonus for us, to see another story about the risen Lord that may reveal something more about hearing his voice.

Thomas has gotten a bad reputation over the years as the doubting disciple. We place a negative connotation on his doubt. But I believe that is unfair to Thomas. I look to Thomas as the first scientist in the Christian faith. He is always searching for proof, doubting the testimony of others, and looking for himself to see what is real and what is not. Thomas’ “doubt” led to one of the greatest statements of the Bible. It was Thomas who wondered where Jesus was going and Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thomas’ doubt leads to his confession in our story for today to say, “My Lord and my God.” Not much doubt in that!

Because Thomas missed seeing and touching Jesus with the disciples on the first appearance, he had to spend another eight days wondering if their story was true. He seemed adamant about his belief, or lack of belief, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” That is fairly definitive. He insists that he sees Jesus, sees his hands and the marks of the nails. But that is not enough. He must touch them, touch the wounds on his hands and he adds also putting his hand into the wound on Jesus’ side. Got to see it and got to touch it before I will believe it. That is quite a modern scientific way of thinking. Thomas is filled with the opposite emotions and feelings of the rest of the disciples. They are full of faith and vivid testimony to what they have seen. Thomas is full of doubt and disbelief.

But I imagine there is something going on in his doubt, something that gnaws at him in hearing the disciples tell of the appearance in the upper room. It is something that keeps them all together. Thomas does not abandon them in their story, nor do they abandon Thomas in his disbelief. They are gathered together again in the locked room when Jesus appears a second time, perhaps a second time just for Thomas. Peace be with you.” Same greeting he gave the first time he appeared. The voice of Jesus speaks again through peace. Jesus directly addresses Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” When Jesus tells Thomas to touch him, with all Thomas’ doubts in tact, he also encourages Thomas to doubt his doubt. See how your doubt holds up with the living Lord who stands before you ready to be seen and touched. This is what the voice of Jesus does for all who have doubts – it causes us to doubt our doubt. It causes us to grow more confident in the reality that is the risen Lord. The addition of this story with Thomas speaks to the doubts of all who doubt. The voice of Jesus is heard as Jesus challenges our doubts. Of all things we ought to doubt, doubt about Jesus is the first. Doubt your doubt by hearing Jesus’ voice through what he does with Thomas.

 

  • The Voice of Jesus: Through Our Faith and Doubt

 

The story does not say whether or not Thomas actually touched Jesus. Perhaps seeing and hearing the living Lord before him eliminated the need to touch. But what does happen immediately is the confession, “My Lord and my God.” It is an immediate response. It makes me suspect that Thomas no longer needed to touch since there is nothing here to suggest that Thomas took time to touch Jesus’ hands or place his hand in Jesus’ side. All it took was Jesus’ appearance and His challenge. Thomas responds with a faithful confession. Now the doubter is the believer. Faith and doubt embody the same person. Doubting Thomas is Faithful Thomas. Did Thomas ever doubt again? We do not know. I would propose he did, like any of us do. Do we sometimes doubt despite having faith? Perhaps. Sometimes. Yes. But not in a negative way.

The author of Jesus Speaks make a particular point about Thomas’ name, Thomas Didymus, that is, Thomas the Twin. They use his name as something of a metaphor for the challenge of doubt and faith. The “spiritual” twins in this story are doubt and faith. Doubt and faith go together like twins. They are not opposites but brothers or sisters, complementary even. Two quotes from Jesus Speaks are important to note. The first is this: “The opposite of doubt is not faith but certainty, which banishes faith.” Certainty has no need for faith, because certainty always sees and touches. The second quote: “Faith without doubt is not a living faith, but a dead certainty” (pg. 41). Faith is a twin to doubt because faith is not about certainty, but about a living hope. Bear with me on this! Hebrews 11 says that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is a hope, yes, a sure hope, but a hope nonetheless. Faith is a conviction of something we cannot see, even what we cannot touch. Thomas makes a confession of faith after he saw and perhaps touched. Yet Jesus gives a great promise to people of faith who have not seen or touched. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith comes, not in sight, not in touch, and not in certainty. In fact, Paul writes that faith comes through hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith leaves room for doubt because only in doubting do we seek and question and ponder and think about what we believe.

It’s really the difference in a living faith and a dead faith. People can be right and certain about everything the Bible may say but be dead in faith. I think of doubt as a way of seeking to affirm our faith. It may be that doubt can lead us to a great faith as it lead Thomas to a great confession. What came to mind for me as I contemplated all this is that faith leads us to obedience, doubt leads us to humility. Thomas embodies both in his confession, “My Lord and my God.” The expression of Lord is a recognition that Jesus is our Lord and Master, the one to whom we are obedient. The expression of God is the realization that we do not know everything (our doubts) and we stand before God in humble reverence. Well, it is something for us to think about! The good news is that Thomas heard the voice of Jesus through his doubt and his faith, and so can we.

 

  • The Voice of Jesus: Through Our Confession of Faith

 

In the end, Thomas makes this wonderful confession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus speaks through confessions of faith because it is the testimony of Jesus himself. Matthew gives the account of Jesus asking the disciples who people are saying he is, and after they reply Jesus asks them who they say He is. It is Peter who responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:16-17). Peter’s confession is revealed to him by God, not in what Peter has come to realize by himself. I submit that the same is true for Thomas in our story today. God revealed to Thomas his confession and that also makes it one of the ways we hear the voice of Jesus, through our own confessions that God has revealed to us.

Have you ever blurted out something and then said or thought “I can’t believe I said that!” In a similar way God has revealed the confession to us that we might hear the voice of Jesus even from our own lips. The voice of Jesus speaks through our confession of faith.

 

  • Hearing Aids

 

Some of the hearing aids we have talked about have concrete aspects, like Scripture. It is something we can see and hear in reading. Other hearing aids are more abstract, like walking in the Spirit because it takes a more subjective tone of hearing. One of the aids I spoke about last Sunday was the conscious and another was our spiritual instinct and I want to revisit those by sharing four ways we might tune in our hearing more precisely. We can discern the Lord’s voice through content, disposition, confidence, and impression.

*Content. By content I mean the content of what we believe we are hearing from Jesus. That content will always be in harmony with the Scriptures. Jesus’ voice is always consistent through time. If we think we are hearing Jesus tell us something about being kind to someone, that content is consistent with what the Bible teaches us. If we think Jesus is telling us something that is not loving, then it is not the voice of Jesus, because we know that Jesus told us to love one another and even to love our enemies. The content of what we hear will always be in line with what Jesus has said in the past in the Scriptures. Content involves the “what” of what Jesus has said.

**Disposition. Disposition means that what we hear will be consistent with how the voice comes. Jesus spoke in love and kindness, in gentleness and peace. He did not snap at the disciples. Yes, he sometimes rebuked them, but not in a cruel manner. His disposition was one of goodness and hope. Disposition involves the “how” of what Jesus has said.

***Confidence. Confidence is a way we perceive His voice. This relates to what Paul said in Romans 9:1 that his spirit bears witness to the truth. I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.” If it rings true within our spirit, we can have confidence that we are hearing the voice of Jesus. I think of that as the times in our life when we know what we know as truth because the knowing is sure within our soul, or as someone once expressed, it is as deep as the marrow of our bones. Confidence involves the “way” of what Jesus has said.

****Impression. The authors of Jesus Speaks lift this as simply what it is, the impression Jesus’ voice makes upon us. We can ask ourselves what impression we have in our spirit and person in what we believe Jesus may be saying to us. Is it leaving us with an impression of joy or peace or inspiration? Or is it leaving us with an impression of discord and strife? Impression involves the “imprint” of what Jesus has said.

 

These four markers can help us discern when we hear the voice of Jesus. Think of it in this way: as we read the Bible we have content to hear. There is a disposition in how it is revealed. We come away with a confidence in what we have heard. And we certainly have an impression upon our hearts. This is what happens in reading the Scriptures and it is also the way we hear the voice of Jesus in our lives. Amen.