The Man Who Wanted To See The Risen Christ
Easter Sunrise Service
April 4, 1999 John 20:19-29
Scripture Reading: John 20:1-18
First Mary Magdalene, and then Peter and John, discover the empty tomb that first Easter morning. Jesus was gone. They were now witnesses to the resurrection. John says that he believed it, although he inserts in hindsight that he and Peter did not yet fully understand it from Scripture. Mary however stands outside the tomb weeping because Jesus’ body is gone. She suspects foul play. She thinks the body has been stolen. She doesn’t yet attribute the empty grave to the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples have gone to their homes no doubt to tell others and sort out the details.
Jesus was probably invisibly there outside the empty tomb watching individual reactions. No doubt his attitude was one of humor mixed with pity and compassion that these with whom he had spent so much time teaching were so slow to learn. After Mary curiously peeks into the tomb, her heart is exposed to angelic inquiry regarding her emotional state. Being consumed with her emotions, she was not really shocked that she has just seen angels or why they may have been there or why they were talking to her. She answers them honestly and plainly without second thought.
As she turns around, Jesus compassionately appears to tease her with his presence. Not recognizing him, she continues to pour out her tale of woe, when Jesus then calls her name in a way that only he could. He knows each of us intimately. Mary bursts out in a passionate display of devotion and worship, now believing the good news of the resurrection. Thinking she only has him for a little while, she holds on tightly. Jesus cautions her that things are not as they were before but assures her that he is not quite yet returning to the Father. She will see him again and she must tell the others that they will too. We must believe that he is now eternally ours. She then returns to the disciples with her own personal testimony. Once we have seen Jesus, he becomes ours, whether by sight or by faith.
With this, we embark on a side trip with the disciple, Thomas, who had his own issues of sight and faith to work out. It is a journey that each of us must take for ourselves. Whether we have seen the empty tomb and believe, or see it from Scripture, or by angelic conversation, or by visible sighting of the Lord Jesus, it is all by the eyes of faith. Whether he appears to you as the caretaker of your garden or as the stranger on the road or comes to you miraculously in the midst of your cell group, each must see with eyes of faith to recognize that he is Lord. He must be your personal sighting. Some will believe quickly, and some will need convincing. But if we want to see Jesus, we must not bury our heads in the sand.
I think that is what Thomas did. His name “Didymus” means ‘twin’. Perhaps he was a twin, but we also see his twin natures. We see it in two other verses where John mentions him. He was capable of extreme devotion as well as ridiculous doubt. I think it dramatically describes most of us. Oh, the patience that God must have!
John 11:16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
John 14:5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
It was evening of that first Easter. The disciples had gathered together, probably in the Upper Room, behind locked doors. They were justifiably afraid. Certainly there would be a search for the body by the Roman and religious authorities, and they would be the number one suspects. Mary had already told them she had seen Jesus. He had also appeared to the women (Mt. 28:9), and to Peter (Lk. 24:34; 1Cor. 15:5). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had also told them Jesus appeared to them. Even though the disciples were afraid, they must have certainly hoped that Jesus might appear to them too. At least they knew that he was alive. But they had locked themselves in. Somehow or for some reason, Thomas was locked out, perhaps by his own choice. Given this account in John, Thomas must not have been present with the disciples when the two returned from the journey to Emmaus. In Luke 24:33, it says that they told the Eleven of Jesus appearance to them. That must have merely been a categorical reference to the group of original disciples.
But why was Thomas not there? Was he skeptical of the news that Jesus had risen? Did he absent himself in order to nurse depression? Were his expectations thrown way out of adjustment? Certainly his worldview needed some radical readjusting, just like the other disciples, and this separation was how he chose to handle it. Perhaps he wanted to believe what he had heard but just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He needed time and space. He had to handle it in his own way. He desperately needed to see Jesus. But look at what happens when we choose to be so independent. He missed what he so desperately wanted and needed.
I. The man who wanted to see absented himself
A. He left the disciples. He left fellowship and worship
B. He left the presence of Jesus. He missed a special blessing
II. The man who wanted to see stayed home
A. He stayed home from service while others served
B. He stayed home on the Sabbath while others were blessed
III. The man who wanted to see was doubtful
A. He doubted his friends and doubted their word
B. He doubted that they had seen Jesus and that Christ had risen
IV. The man who wanted to see declared his position
A. He said, "I must see to believe, " "Except I see His hands"
B. He said, "Except I see the nail prints," "Except I see Jesus risen
V. The man who wanted to see wanted to feel
A. He wanted his finger to feel Jesus' scarred hands
B. He wanted to feel the nail prints
C. He wanted to thrust his hand in Jesus' side
The rest of the disciples had the right idea. They waited in community and Jesus appeared to them through locked doors, showing them his hands and side. It would be a week later before Thomas would see the Jesus he had fretted over all alone. Thomas had brought himself back into community. If you recall, this was Jesus prayer for all of us in John 17:20-23. Our faith is encouraged by others around us. We receive it personally, but we express it corporately. We need each other. There is strength in numbers. Why is it that we sometimes take ourselves away from that which we need the worst? Do you want to see Jesus? Come to church and participate. The church will triumph! We are the body of Christ!
Even still, Thomas said he would not believe Christ had risen until he saw the scars and the prints of the nails in His hands. The doors were locked once again. And again Jesus came right on in. This was a replay of the previous scene. But this time he came for Thomas. Except for Peter first and Thomas last, Jesus had appeared to his Eleven disciples together. There was something unique about each of these two personalities. They each denied the Christ, and yet each was capable of profound faith. Jesus will go after the lost sheep, and he meets us each at our point of need. Jesus’ word to Thomas is appropriate to us all. He said, “Stop doubting and believe.” He offers his hands and side to Thomas to do as he had previously boasted. We don’t know if Thomas actually did as he said he wanted by putting his hands in the wounds. He probably did not. But one thing for sure, he finally proclaimed his faith in the risen Lord. Faced with the game plan, he found he didn’t need to make Jesus jump through the hoops of his proof tests after all. Why is the story of Thomas in the Bible? Perhaps to show the most hardened skeptic that the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real event as the importance he placed upon the wounds testifies.
VI. Thomas’ great opportunity finally came
A. He came to see the Risen Christ, he hear the voice of Jesus
B. He came to feel His hands and side
C. He exclaimed, "My Lord and my God" (a leap of faith – for no one has previously addressed Jesus this way) Jesus was alive although he had died, and he must be addressed in the language of adoring worship.
Conclusion: John 20:29
And what is Jesus’ word to us here today? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And yet, by believing you are able to see. Let us worship the risen Christ today! He is Lord! He is Lord! He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord! Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord! He is ‘my Lord and my God’, for I have seen him by faith.