Monday, April 21, 2014

Believe It - He Has Risen!

They say, “Seeing is believing.” I guess that means the opposite is also true. If you cannot see it, it must be false, or better yet, a hoax. Dave Munger, a well-known atheist has had a field day recently on his website. Like Christians, Easter is one of his favorite times of the year, but for different reasons. He takes this occasion each year to point out the absurdity of the Resurrection specifically, and Jesus generally. He recently took a careful shot at the Easter sermon, saying…
In it, the preacher feels obligated to run through the Incontrovertible Proof that Jesus rose from the dead. The proof seems to be a few witnesses to the event: but only the “chosen” witnesses. If other people didn’t see it, it’s because God didn’t “choose” them. Next these chosen people banded together and formed an incredibly powerful charitable organization, and put themselves in charge. They wrote down rules for their group, and called them “sacred texts.” The most important rule is that only through “faith” will you be “saved.” If that’s true, why do we need the “proof”?
Why the need for proof? Because, as they say, “Seeing is believing!” But with God, that has always been difficult, hasn't it? You and I cannot simply walk up to God face to face and have a conversation. We can’t send the worldwide band of atheists to His physical address to dispel their doubts. One little boy from a missionary family articulated well our frustration. He lamented the fact that his mother always made him wash his hands before dinner. But, he was a little boy; he didn't want to wash his hands! So, that little boy consistently scowled, “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus, that’s all I hear, and I’ve never seen either one of them!”

If it’s any consolation, our generation is not the first to struggle with this problem…

Shortly after Jesus raised Himself from the dead, He began appearing to those closest to Him. They saw Jesus with their own eyes. On one particular occasion, some of Jesus’ best friends were huddled together behind closed doors. That was the only “natural” place to be at such a time. After all, Jesus had just been killed and those responsible for His death were still out there! These followers of Jesus were hiding from Jews and Romans and I imagine that room was quiet. Quiet out of fear, certainly, but quiet also out of disappointment! They had hoped Jesus was the King, the Messiah. But now, Jesus was dead! And in that place of fear and disappointment, Jesus appeared. The doors were locked, but He got in anyway. He came and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He gave to them the Holy Spirit. These disciples saw Jesus and they believed! But there was one disciple whose eyes did not see Jesus that day…
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”—John 20:24-25 (NRSV)
Can you really blame Thomas here? I think sometimes Thomas gets a bad rap. We are in the habit of ridiculing this long dead disciple, saying his faith was weak. He should've just believed, end of story. But, I'll be honest with you, believing in something you can't see is difficult. If I had just seen Jesus nailed to a cross…if I had been told by a group of people that they saw Him a couple of days later…and I had not seen it with my own eyes, I have to tell you, I think I'd have a hard time believing their story!

For 8 days, Thomas had to hear their stories. He had to listen to Peter and John and Mary tell that story over and over again. Probably all the while trying to convince Thomas that Jesus really was alive. Have you ever thought about this? Why do you suppose Jesus waited 8 days to finally appear to Thomas? It was probably actually one week later. Jews counted the first and last day here. So, Jesus appeared again to them one week later, one week after Easter Sunday. But why did He wait? Surely, he knew what Thomas was feeling. And surely Jesus knew He would eventually appear again and dispel Thomas’ doubt. But He waits an entire week to do so. Why!? Maybe Jesus wanted to see if Thomas could be persuaded to believe without seeing.

But in the end, Thomas turned out to be like the rest of us…
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.” Then 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.—John 20:26-31 (NRSV)
Here, Jesus appeared just as He had before. He entered a locked room where the disciples were gathered together on the first day of the week. He gave them the same statement of Peace. The only difference this time: Thomas was there and on this occasion, Thomas saw Jesus and believed. Upon seeing His hands and His side Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” You see, when one comes face to face with the risen Lord, that is the only appropriate comment. After His interaction with Thomas, Jesus makes a prophetic comment to the rest of them, and to us as well.

Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.

I guess when you and I read those words; we should gain some sort of encouragement. You and I are among those to whom Jesus is referring. We have never seen Jesus. I've never seen the nail marks in His hands. You've never stretched out your hands to touch the scars on His side. Here, in the 20th chapter of John, Jesus offers you and me a blessing. So, I guess we should celebrate that Jesus has given us a blessing.

But, I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I’d trade that blessing for just one glimpse of Jesus!

I visited two sites in Israel in February that have been linked to Jesus’ Resurrection. One of them was likely the place where Jesus defied death. As I stood in those places, I tried to imagine what it must have been like on that first Easter morning. I wish I could have been there at the empty tomb. I wish I could have seen those angels with my own eyes. I wish I could have been among those to whom Jesus gave His Spirit that first Easter Sunday. I wish I could have seen Jesus’ resurrected body! Because, whether we care to admit it or not, seeing is believing! And seeing Jesus with my own eyes would certainly erase all doubt from my mind.

Some of you may be a bit nervous at this moment. “Are you saying you don't fully believe? You just said if you couldn't see Jesus’ resurrected body you would remain even the slightest bit skeptical.”  You heard me correctly. And yet, still, I believe. You may ask, “How?”

Church, I believe with all my heart that Jesus did in fact arise from that tomb on the third day…because I have seen His Risen Body!

Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection is all around us, we need only to open our eyes and see!

They were young and in love. They grew up in the same town. She was a cheerleader. He was a football player; it seemed like the perfect fit. They dated, they married, and a child was born. It was perfect. But often times what seems perfect on the outside, is less than perfect on the inside. He was addicted to alcohol. He was unfaithful. Just a few years after this storybook marriage began, it ended. And in most people’s eyes, that is where this story should end. That is where most of these stories end. A single mother, a young child, alone on a new, difficult journey. But that is not how this story ended. This young girl did not give up. He may have been unfaithful; but she was faithful. She prayed and she prayed and she prayed. And she never gave up. Finally, that relationship, even after a painful divorce, was restored. That young child grew up with two parents who loved her, and that couple had three other children. And because of that woman’s faithfulness, because not everything in this life ends in death, because there is resurrection still today. One of that young couple’s children became a minister and he eventually became the preacher at Glenwood Church of Christ. He told their story on Easter Sunday. I have seen the power of resurrection in my own family.

That doesn't mean all of the pieces always fall into place the way we would want them to. I see Jesus’ resurrected body every time I look into the eyes of my dear sister, Kathryn McNeese. A few years ago, Kathryn experienced a horrible accident. Now, she is spending her life in a wheel chair. And last year, Kathryn lost her dear husband, Dave. Church, it’s not natural for someone who has experienced those things to be that happy! Unless…unless those eyes have been fixed for decades on a man who is supposed to be dead! You've seen Jesus’ body alive and well in the hospital room of your mother and father. When desperation and mourning is inextricably mixed with hope and expectation! Or maybe you're like me and see Him in the face of your children every time they pray. I have seen the power of Jesus’ resurrected body and so have you.

In the 1997 film, Contact, Dr. Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, is a radio astronomer trying to fulfill a lifelong quest to discover life on other worlds. The death of her parents, especially her father when she was young, contributed to her rejection of God and her staunch atheism. She didn’t believe in God because she couldn’t see Him. Later in the film, radio telescopes pick up a message from space. It turns out to be a plan to build a machine to "transport" one person to make contact with the alien beings. After a long series of events the machine is built, and Ellie is the one chosen to go. She is transported through a wormhole, a tunnel through space and time. She finds herself on a beach where an alien being appears, having taken the form of her late father so she could feel more comfortable. This experience reshapes her life.

But here is the problem. When she is transported back to the machine and to earth, mission control had not observed her to be gone at all. With no proof of her fantastic experience, she must convince the world and an international review panel that she experienced something real. When your eyes can finally see, you can do nothing else, but believe.

She said, “Everything about it tells me that this is real.” Why? Because she saw it with her own eyes. They say, “Seeing is believing.” Well, church, I have seen and I believe! I have seen the signs of resurrection everywhere! So, I can proclaim, “Jesus is risen.”

Jesus is Risen! And today, He is not lying in a grave. He is before the throne of God, victorious! And as we look around, we see His resurrection power everywhere! And if that’s not good news enough, here’s something better. He invites you to unite with Him in that resurrection.

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