Bible Readings: Exodus 33:12-23 & John 20:24-31

That you might believe

“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.” This is why John wrote what we now call John’s gospel. The word, “gospel” means, “good news”, and the good news that John saw in the life of Jesus as he walked the countryside of Judea with him, and heard seem speak, and saw the miraculous signs he did, and witnessed his death and resurrection, is that if we believe then we can have life, in all its fulness, forever.

Each of the people who contributed bits of writing to what we now call the Bible had their own, individual reasons for writing what they wrote. Some of them even shared why they wrote their bit, just like John does. They are all a bit different, but they are all variations on the theme. They wrote so that people may believe and trust in God and so live. This is why the Bible, this word of God, is written, full of signs and evidence of the character of God who creates, who rescues, who heals, who judges, who forgives. This book is precious to us because it points us beyond itself to God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, who invites us to share eternity and makes it possible for us to do so.

There are different kinds of writing in this book. There are eye witness accounts of Jesus’ life. There are letters from experienced Christians to individuals and churches. There are songs and poems. There are history books, there are law books, there are books of prophecy. All of these different kinds of literature all pointing in the one direction, all signposts pointing to the Almighty Creator and King of Kings.

This is why, as a church, we value being rooted in the Bible as a way of expressing our love of God. It is a source of stability, of nourishment, of water in times of drought. This is true for us as individuals and a church. It is why we read and explore the Bible together in our services and in our small groups. It is why it is central to our daily prayer meetings through the week. It is why we encourage each other to read and reflect on the Bible through the week.

Just before John wrote the verses I read to start off, he wrote this, “Jesus did many other signs…..which are not written in this book.”

Now this seems to imply to me that the thing he had just written was the last sign that he was going to write about. It’s a kind of rounding up of all the points that he had been making, and you do a round up when you’ve made your last point. So, what was John’s last point? What was the final sign?

It was Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Thomas. Jesus’ resurrection was the last sign. It was the final piece of evidence that John was presenting to his readers to persuade them that Jesus was who he said he was, the chosen one of God who defeated death and sin and gives life. If you’d like some homework, it’s worth spending some time going through John’s gospel and finding the other signs that he mentions, and reflecting on their meaning.

Anyway, back to Thomas. I feel a bit sorry for Thomas. There’s no indication that it his fault that he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. He just happened to be out. He has been through a traumatic time, and he knows that once people are dead, they are dead. They don’t come back to life.

The gospels were not written by or about simplistic or naive people. It wasn’t any easier for them to believe in resurrection than it is for us – it wasn’t any more normal or usual then than it is now. Thomas’ demand for evidence was entirely reasonable. And Jesus, in grace, gave it to him. He came again and invited Thomas to put his hands in his side, to feel the holes in his hands.

As a side note, how amazing is it that Jesus’ resurrected body still bears the scars of the wounds of the cross. Another bit of homework for you. Set aside five minutes one day this week to imagine the wounds of Christ, and what it means for them to be still visible in the glory of heaven.

Back to Thomas again. As he kneels at Jesus’ feet, acknowledging him as Lord and God, Jesus sees his belief and trust. He knows that these have flowed from Thomas’ experience of Jesus’ physical presence, but he also knows that he will be returning to the Father soon, and that his physical presence will not be available to people for much longer. So he looks forward, he looks at us, and he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

It seems to me that we live in a conflicted time.

There are those of us who have a scientific, modern, world view. In this way of looking at the world, everything could be explained if we could only gather enough evidence, see deeply enough, understand all the causes and effects of the universe. If we only had the data, we could explain things and then we could control them, and then we could fix all the problems. The universe is a machine, and if only we could understand how it all works, then we could make it work better.

For others, we don’t really care about the science, we care about the story, and our place in it. We aren’t that worried about evidence – but are persuaded by a compelling story, a story that we can see ourselves in, a story that gives us meaning and identity. It’s often the story of a community, a family, a gang of friends, that shapes what we think about things. It matters little to us if there is scientific evidence, we want to be part of story that we belong in, and which belongs to us, because that is more meaningful to us.

People who have these very different approaches to life often fall out, largely because they are communicating a cross purposes. Temperamentally, personality wise, I tend to fall into the first category. I have to work at listening to the stories people tell, when all I want to do is look at the raw data. I choose to do that, because I know that it is in those stories that there is space for mystery and the unexpected, for love, hope and wonder, things that, if I’m not careful, are crowded out in a scientific, mechanistic, world view.

It was one of things that I love about the Bible is that it is crafted in a way that provides both invitation and challenge to both of these world views.

To the scientific mind, looking for evidence, it gives signs and indications. Enough, I believe, to demonstrate that faith and trust in God is reasonable. It is not anti-reason or anti-science to trust in God. Many great and prominent scientists today and through the centuries have been Christians. Where we can get in trouble is when we read poetical passages in the Bible as scientific texts. When the Psalmist writes of the trees clapping their hands, it is not a description of a biological novelty, it is a metaphor of joy.

That is the invitation and the space for this kind of personality. The challenge comes with the fact that faith is still required. The Bible, I believe, does not provide proof – but it does provide evidence that makes a decision to trust reasonable. If that decision was undeniably proven, then it would not be a decision of faith or trust.

To those looking for a story to inhabit, it invites us to live in the greatest story ever told. The story of the whole of creation. A story of love and adventure, a story of failure and redemption. A story that began before time, and will never finish. It is a story in which we find a community, a place, our identity. It is the story of God, creation, people, angels. This is the invitation.

The challenge is that it is not our story. We are not the hero or the main character. Jesus is. Our story only finds meaning in Jesus’ story. Our true identity is only found in who Jesus is. And there is objective truth in this story. There are some things that really are, foundationally, true and they shape this story and our lives.

One of these things that is empirically, evidentially, and experientially true is that knowing the reality of the presence of God changes lives.

Thomas found this. The presence of Jesus changed his mind, his life. It took him from cynical disbelief to humble faith. Moses found this. Moses experienced the reality of the presence of God in the burning bush, and from that day God’s presence was so important to Moses that as he led God’s people out of slavery, he said this to God, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”

For Moses there was no point going anywhere if God’s presence was not going. God honoured Moses’ prayer and passed by, hiding Moses in the cleft of the rock so that he could survive the experience. God’s manifest presence and glory is not something to be taken lightly, but it is to be desired, to be sought after, and it is life changing. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on God’s people, and the experience of the reality of God’s presence broke out into the world. Jesus’ physical presence was gone, but the age of the Holy Spirit was begun, and God was present on earth.

We still live in the age of the Holy Spirit, who is present here with us today. He has spoken as the Bible was read, and, I hope, through the words that I have shared. He enables our prayers and is working in our hearts and minds, inviting and challenging us. We’re going to take a bit of time now to give him space and respond to God’s presence here.


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