I was talking to a very thoughtful man recently. I thought I would share with you my recollection of our conversation, and try to understand where he was coming from, and together come to answer his questions.
He was very respectful about religions. However, he believed in ‘facts’, not ‘faith’. He sought to build his life on ‘science’ not ‘religion’. So he believes in what he can see with eyes—otherwise, it is not real.
So is it true that science is only about ‘facts’ and Christianity is only about ‘faith’? Can a person live by what he sees?
I want to say that science and Christianity both require ‘faith’, and both are based on ‘facts’. In fact, I think that both science and Christianity encourage us to have ‘faith’ in ‘facts’. Let me explain.
When you step onto a plane, it is an act of ‘faith’ in the facts of science and in the people who worked on that plane. To walk onto the plane, you cannot live by sight. For you didn't see all the engineers as they designed the plane for its structural integrity. You didn't watch the aeronautical mechanics as they serviced the plane. You didn't see the pilots sit their exams. You haven’t checked their logbooks. You didn't read up on the science of aviation. You didn't see with your own eyes the technicians installing the electronics. You didn't even see the refueling of the plane. You don’t know whether they put in the right fuel and in the right amounts.
We don't live life based on what we see. When you step onto a Boeing 747 jumbo jet you are putting your life in the hands of a lot of anonymous people you will never know. As the jet takes off with a max weight of 450,000 kilograms, and cruises at the speed of 920 kilometers per hour at an altitude of 35,000 feet (or 11 kilometers) above the earth’s surface, travelling up to 14,000 kilometers in distance before needing to refuel, there you are, hurtling along in a glorified aluminum can, and you don't even get to see the pilot! That’s what I call ‘faith’—real ‘faith’ in real ‘facts’.
Who of you has had surgery? When I had my appendix operation, I didn’t check the doctor’s degree. I didn’t check that the anesthetist was using the correct combination of gases. I didn’t make sure that the scalpel was sterilized. I didn’t even get a second opinion! But I had so much faith in both the individual surgeon, and the medical science and surgical practice in our society, that I let a complete stranger drug me until I was unconscious, and another one take a sharp scalpel, stick it into my guts, and after fishing around in my innards for a while—hopefully doing me some good while they were there—then I trusted them to sew me back up again. I even paid them for the privilege. If that is not faith, I don’t know what is! (Interestingly, I did make sure that my wife took my wallet so that no one would steal it). But we have to have faith in people and things all the time. We can’t live without it.
If it were true that we only can believe what we personally see and experience, then we could not send people guilty of crimes to jail. Every week, judges and juries across Australia decide on whether people are guilty or innocent, based not on what they as the decision makers saw, but on what other people—eyewitness or other types of witnesses, or pieces of evidence—say and suggest.
If you only believe what you see with your eyes, you would never get married. I trust that my wife Sandy is faithful to me. I’m not with her 100% of the time. I take what I do see and trust her for what I can’t see. This is life, that we must have ‘faith’ in ‘evidence’ and ‘facts’, whether they are scientific ‘facts’, the ‘evidence’ of someone’s love for us, or the evidence for the facts of Christianity.
Christianity is simply ‘faith’ in the ‘facts’ about Jesus. The key fact of Christianity is that for the first time in the history of the world, a man has been raised from the dead never to die again. This event confirmed that Jesus is the Son of God as he said and that he paid for your sins at the cross. On the basis of what he has done in the past, we believe that he will come back to judge the living and the dead, just as he said.
So let’s now turn to the facts based on the eyewitness evidence found in John chapter 20. There we find one man who also has his doubts.
By the time of the events our passage recounts, Jesus was well and truly dead. He had already been crucified on the cross on the first Good Friday. That afternoon he was buried in a cave with a large stone rolled across the entrance. The Romans stationed armed guards outside the cave to make sure no one stole the body.
Then on the first Easter Day, a Sunday, some of the women came to the tomb and found it empty. Angels told them that Jesus was not there—that he had risen from the dead. So Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They indeed found that it was empty, and that Jesus’ grave clothes were folded neatly.
Then on that night, the first Easter Sunday night, Jesus appeared to ten very scared disciples. This happened in a locked upper room. Jesus had hand picked these men—originally twelve—to be apostles. They had been with him for three years. But one of the twelve, Judas the betrayer, had killed himself.
In John chapter 20, the disciples take us into places we cannot go. They take us into the empty tomb, where Jesus was buried. The bring us into the upper room, where Jesus appeared. We can’t go there, not because these things didn’t happen, but because we live in the twenty-first century, and Jesus came in first century. We live in Sydney and Jesus was crucified and buried in Jerusalem. But the disciples take our doubts and our questions, and in this chapter, those doubts and questions are forced to stare into the eyes of the risen Lord Jesus.
The first appearance we read about in John chapter 20 will be one of ten appearances of the risen Jesus over a 40 day period. John 20:21:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (NIV)
Jesus appears to the ten disciples, empowers them with the Spirit, and authorizes them to forgive sins. But importantly, Thomas, one of the twelve, was not there when Jesus appeared in the upper room. So naturally they ran to tell him. John 20:25:
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” (NIV)
If you were Thomas, you might be saying to yourself, “Darn it! I missed out. Late again. I’m always late to prayer meetings. I hate being disorganized! I must use the alert on my electronic diary.”
This could have been the first and last time Jesus was going to appear to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. But regret was the last thing on Thomas’ mind. Rather, his reaction was total and utter disbelief. There was not a shred of faith. He thought it was a whole lot of bull. John 20:25 again:
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.” (NIV)
This is hard-core doubt. And I have to tell you that I am kind of glad that Thomas is like that. Because I am a modern man I like you have doubts. I have real questions. But Thomas doesn’t even say, “Unless I see I won’t believe.” He needs to grab hold of Jesus before he believes in Jesus. He wants the full 3-D experience. He is like my granddaughter, Grace. Babies relate to the world by touch. If they can’t touch it, hold it, and put it in their mouths, it’s not real to them. So out of Thomas’ price range is a resurrection that nothing less than sticking his fingers into Jesus hands where the nails went in, and his hands into his guts where the spear went in, will satisfy him. You don’t say that if you think there is any chance of it going to happen. You only speak such crude words if you are absolutely sure Jesus won’t turn up and take you up on the offer.
Friends, it’s common for us to look down on first century people and think they were gullible, ignorant, and filled with superstition. Thomas was not gullible. He was a hard-core cynic. Even though he knew that Jesus had healed everybody who came to him, that Jesus himself had raised from the dead at least three people, and that at least on three separate occasions Jesus had predicted that he would rise from the dead, Thomas would not believe unless he sees, touches, pokes in, and prods around the body of the living Jesus. That is not doubt. That is 100% disbelief.
Thomas had no expectation of a resurrection at all. But what makes Thomas’ disbelief so willful is that he had received the eyewitness report of the ten disciples. The word of his ten friends and fellow disciples should have been enough. Jesus expected it to be enough for Thomas because he expects it to be enough for you.
So when you hear about the resurrection, and read the accounts of Jesus’ appearances—just as you are doing now—Jesus expects you to believe and know that they are trustworthy.
Thomas didn’t miss out the second time. John 20:26:
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!” (NIV)
Notice that Jesus had given Thomas a full week to change his mind and believe. He has had seven days, but he is not budging one bit. Does that sound familiar? So Jesus appeared again to the disciples in the upper room. Jesus’ first words to everyone including Thomas were, “Peace be with you”—all of you. Jesus is a forgiving God.
Jesus then, in an awkward moment, calls out Thomas by name, John 20:27-28:
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.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (NIV)
Jesus rapped Thomas over the knuckles. And it’s a warning for you and me. Why do you see the facts and have no faith? You hear the truth but you do not trust? You listen to the eyewitness reports and still won’t believe. Stop doubting and believe.
Jesus then turned his attention from Thomas to those who will come after him—to those who won’t get to see what Thomas saw, but who are left reading the Gospel of John. Jesus turns to us back then, and says, “Lucky them Thomas! They get to believe without seeing! 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.” (NIV)
Believe what? Believe that Jesus is alive. Believe that Jesus is Lord and God.
From the greatest doubter, the biggest sceptic, the man who had more doubts then you will ever have, came the biggest claim about Jesus. Jesus is not just ‘saviour’, ‘king’, or ‘Christ’. He is not just ‘Son of God’ or ‘Lord’. Jesus is ‘God’. More than that, Jesus has now become for Thomas, “My Lord and my God”.
That is why Jesus is truly alive and well, and ruler of the universe. Jesus is God.
Thomas shared your doubts. You now need to share his faith in the facts presented. Jesus is alive and he is God. Forgiveness is only found in him, and him alone. Jesus is God whether you say so or not. The question for you is, will you say that Jesus is “my Lord and my God”? That is why the evidence is before you. John 20.30-31:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 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. (NIV)
Jesus is alive and well and ruling the universe. These selected miracles were written for you. As far as God is concerned, there are enough facts to demand your faith. God won’t take any thing less than your trust. God expects these signs written down by John to be enough for you. Jesus said earlier in John’s Gospel that “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And Jesus is now saying to you, “If you want facts, then I’m your man. Truth is a person. I am the way and the truth.”
I look back on when I became a Christian at age 20, and what I didn’t realize then was how hungry I was for truth. Yet I found that what Jesus said was true. He said, “the truth shall set you free”. And now it’s time for you to be set free. It’s time to be set free from lies, guilt, living without purpose, fear of judgement and death, and now to be free to love, to trust Jesus, to serve and live for God’s pleasure.
I finally and fully accept that you Jesus are God. I am persuaded because you rose from the dead. You are my Lord and you are my God. I confess that you are alive and ruling the universe. I confess that I have lived apart from you all my life. So please forgive me. Thank you for giving me life, and forgiveness. Thank you for setting me free to serve you.