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05-15 - Breakfast with Jesus

          We are continuing to explore the post resurrection experiences of Jesus.  Today, we are looking at an appearance of Jesus to a few of his disciples as described for us in the 21st Chapter of the Gospel of John.

          We would read in Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John that Jesus appeared to the disciples and had said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John then added, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you [those who have not seen] may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:29-31).  John wanted his church member who had not seen Jesus to believe in the testimony offered concerning Jesus.  John’s stated purpose in writing his gospel that all would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God was relevant today.  John is encouraging us to know Jesus as the Son of God.

          John, after having felt he had established the record for Jesus as the Son of God, set out to say a bit more.  The more that John addressed was related primarily to those who had come to believe in him and were in the process of establishing the early church.  Again, what Jesus had to say about the early church remains relevant to us today.

In appearing again to the disciples, we come to see that Jesus appearance played out in two parts.  This week we will look at Jesus’ interaction with the disciples as a group and next week we will look at Jesus’ interaction with Peter.

          John, in Chapter 21, described the scene with Jesus this way.  “Afterward [after appearing to all the disciples in Jerusalem] Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee” (John 21:1).  The scene and setting for the next appearance of Jesus represents a significant change. Jesus first appeared to the disciples in the city of Jerusalem with the disciples huddled behind a locked door for fear of the Jewish leaders.  Now, sometime days after those appearances, Jesus appeared to the disciples seemed to express no fear.  The disciples were comfortable and outdoors, away from the city of Jerusalem, and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

          John continued, “It [the appearance of Jesus] happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee [James and John], and two other disciples were together [7 disciples]. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them [the other disciples], and they [the other disciples] said, ‘We’ll go with you’” (John 21:1b-3a).  There were seven disciples together in Galilee.  There was Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two unnamed disciples.  These men were likely fisherman who had returned to their hometowns to be in the company of family and close friends.  Peter decided he wanted to return to what he had done as a profession and to return to fishing.  The other men said they would follow Peter.

          John wrote that the experience of the group in fishing was not a satisfying one. “So they [the disciples] went out and got into the boat, but that night they [the disciples] caught nothing” (John 21:3b).  Anyone who has gone pleasure fishing can relate to how discouraging and irritating it can be to fish and catch nothing.  How much worse must it be for commercial fishermen to expend their energy to feed themselves and their family and catch nothing.

          John continued the story this way.  “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He [Jesus] called out to them [the disciples], ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered’” (John 21:4-5).  Jesus’ question is a bit curious.  I think most of us coming upon a group of fishermen would be more inclined to ask, “What did you caught today?” or “How did your fishing trip go?” We would not be inclined to ask in the negative.  But Jesus’ question shows a foreknowledge of the plight of the disciples.  “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  Jesus understood that the disciples had no fish and that their time was unproductive and dissatisfying.  To Jesus’ question, the disciples gave a simple answer of defeat, “No.” No excuses were offered.  The disciples offered no stories of the fish that got away.  Their response was a simple “No” as if to answer the question and close the conversation with this stranger along the shores.

          This stranger on the beach was not willing to have their conversation end.  So the stranger called back, “He [Jesus] said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some’” (John 21:6a).  The disciples now had a decision to make.  They had been fishing all night without success and now some stranger told them cast the net again, specifically on the right-hand side of the boat, and be assured that they will make a catch.  Why should then disciples do as this stranger suggested? Afterall, they were experienced fishermen, and they had no idea about the qualifications of this man on the beach.

          But something within the disciples caused them to act in faith.  Faith is action.  Faith is not some intellectual assent to a proposition.  Faith is action taken in response to an unprovable certainty.  Let me illustrate.  If I lift a half full bottle of water to take a drink, that is not faith.  I am certain on my own that I can lift that bottle and that I know with certainty that there is water in the bottle.  I am certain that if I tip that bottle while it is pressed to my lips, I will receive water. That is not faith.  Faith is trust based action of which I cannot guarantee the result on my own, but I take that action because I believe in the person who is guiding me.  For whatever reason, the disciples in this boat, tired from fishing all night on their own, cast their nets onto the righthand side of the boat believing in the words of this stranger on the beach.  That is faith.

          John wrote, “When they did [disciples cast their net to the righthand side of the boat], they [the disciples] were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:6b).  The faith of the disciples was rewarded for the disciples caught so many fish in their net that seven men working together could not manage to lift the full net into the boat.  In the previous twenty chapters of the Gospel of John, nothing like this had ever happened to the disciples.

          Miraculous things had happened and been recorded by John.  John recorded that water was turned into wine, people were healed of illness, thousands of people were fed from two small fish and five barely loaves, people were able to walk on the water, a blind man was given sight, and a man named Lazarus was raised from the dead.  Central to all these miracles was their friend, teacher, master, Lord, and God, Jesus the Messiah.  John had said earlier that he wrote about these miracles so that people who had never met Jesus would believe Jesus was the Messiah.  Now this miraculous catch had occurred after Jesus’ resurrection. This miraculous catch of fish was inspired by the words of a discerning stranger upon the beach on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

          John wrote, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he [Peter] wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they [the disciples] landed, they [disciples] saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:7-9).

          Suddenly, the miraculous catch of fish made sense.  The man on the beach in who the disciples had placed faith in by casting their net was no stranger at all.  That man was Jesus their friend, teacher, Lord, and God.  The catch was magnificent but not as magnificent as being in the presence of Jesus.  The fish and the other disciples meant little to Peter.  Peter could not contain himself and he jumped into the water to swim ashore.  Peter wanted to the be first on the beach with Jesus.  The other six disciples, without Peter, continued the work to bring the boat and catch to shore.  Within a short while the disciples landed the boat and discovered that Jesus had built a fire that was now coals and that Jesus already had fish and bread ready for them.  The disciples must have been puzzled at first that breakfast was ready.  But then it was Jesus, and the disciples would know that Jesus was prepared and ready to meet their needs.

          But before breakfast began, Jesus had a request for the disciples.  “10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore” (John 21:10-11a). This time, Peter was eager to respond to the request of Jesus and bring those fish to the shore.  Peter was not interested in the help of the other disciples. Peter wanted to meet Jesus’ request on his own, in his own strength.  And so, without the help of the other six men, Peter worked to drag the net to shore.  Peter who ran to Jesus’ tomb when it was reported the tomb was empty did not hesitate to crawl into the tomb to see where Jesus lay.  Peter moments ago, when he realized that Jesus was the man on the shore dove into the water to get to shore first.  Now, Peter willingly, almost greedily, worked alone to get the net full of fish onto the shore.  We will have more to say about Peter next week.

           In the balance of verse 11, we encountered a very unusual report about those fish in that net.  John wrote, very specifically, “It [The net] was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn” (John 21:11b).  There are four facts here that we need to consider. First, the catch was accomplished by all the disciples working together.  Second, the fish in the net were large.  Third, the net was not torn.  Fourth, there were exactly 153 fish.  Let’s consider each of these four facts.

          First, the catch was accomplished by all the disciples working together.  But more importantly the catch came about by the disciples’ faith in action by obeying Jesus.  The story opened with six disciples following Peter’s leading to go fishing.  The spent all night and accomplished nothing.  Then came the twist in the story.  The disciples were unsuccessful until the disciples, including Peter, were guided by Jesus’ direction.  Jesus had previously told his disciples, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  This fishing expedition served as an illustration to the disciples, the church, must remain obedient and faithful to Jesus for their efforts to bear fruit.

          Second, the fruit of the disciples’ effort was large fish.  The Sea of Galilee contained good fish and bad fish.  Good fish, in the thought of those days, were those fish that were consider clean and worth.  Bad fish were those fish that were not suitable and must be thrown away.  The implication that all the fish in the net were large fish that counted suggests that the disciples caught up only good fish. The disciples following Jesus’ instruction had separated the good fish from those who were unsuitable.  Some commentaries see reference to the large fish as an indicator of the true work for the disciples as fishers of men. Meaning, the disciples were to call out those people who would be made suitable for the kingdom of God by the work of Jesus.

          Third, the net did not break.  Again, this reference is seen symbolically that though many will be drawn into kingdom, none will be lost.  The net was not torn.  John said earlier in his gospel account of Jesus that Jesus said, “39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39).  The net will not break and none who follow Jesus shall be lost.

          Fourth, there was a specific count of fish, 153.  Many books have been written trying to understand why John wrote the exact number of fish and why there were exactly 153 fish.  There are two options for us to consider.  First, there were 153 fish period and there is nothing more to it. Second, the number 153 is a cypher, a code for the early Christians.


In Hebrew and Greek languages, each letter has a number value.  Use of a number value in writing allows the writer to convey by number the identity of a person, for example, without using that person’s proper name.  So for example, in the Book of Revelation we would read, “18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (Revelation 13:18).  Some biblical scholars point out that the name Nero Caesar yields the number 666 when translated from Greek into Hebrew.  The number 666 may have been the way for John, the author of Revelation, to speak about Nero Caesar, who persecuted Christians, without using his name directly.  What then might have John meant by 153?  There are many theories but the one I liked is that John used in cipher form, the number 153, to numerically represent the letters, Iota, Chi, Theta which is an acrostic way of saying “Jesus Christ is God.”  This might at first seem farfetched but it is well documented that in the early church the Greek word for fish, comprised of the letters Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, and Sigma, was an acrostic for “Jesus Christ God’s Son is Savior,” and expression found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verse 31, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” It is also well documented that the sign of the fish was used extensively in the early church for Christians to identify one another.  We can speculate as to the meaning of 153 fish, but it seems most likely John intended to communicate something of value to the early church and its need to remain faithful to Christ because of who Jesus was.

          When Peter was done dragging and counting the fish, Jesus fed the hungry disciples.

          So what then can we draw from this story about fish or this story about breakfast with Jesus.  I think there are three things.

          The first thing deals with who we follow.  In this case, the disciples followed Peter into fishing and worked in their own strength to catch fish for consumption. They caught nothing until they once again began taking direction from Jesus.  Who it is that we choose to follow matters.

          Second, the work of the church, the work of disciples, is centered on gathering the church to Christ.  We should do this as a corporate enterprise that continues from one generation to the next.  The work of the church is centered on the proposition that none in Christ are ever lost, the net cannot and will not break.

          Third, Jesus is prepared ahead of time.  He knows our struggles and he knows our needs. Jesus knew the disciples had struggled on their own and he gave them the wisdom that they needed.  Jesus knew the disciples needed the provision of food when they landed, and he fed them breakfast.

          To the believer in Christ, we need the continued direction in our life offered by Jesus.  If we are trying to live this life on our own, Jesus may well appear as a stranger on the beach.  But when we start listening to Jesus, we will see that he is our friend and Lord.  Then our desire will be to be with him and feed on what he has for us.  So today, let us be willing to listen to Jesus and be blessed in doing so.  Amen and Amen.

05-08 - Mothers of Faith

Today is Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day in the United States was first celebrated on May 10, 1908, by a church service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  It was a day established to honor all mothers, living and deceased. It was a day established to honor the women who nourished us even before we were born and began nurturing us after we drew our first breath.

Today, in honor of Mother’s Day, I would like us to explore and honor the mothers of our faith.  Our faith mothers had some common names for their times.  There was Joanna, Salome, and three women named Myriam or Mary. 

Who were these faith mothers of ours and why are they important?  These women are important to Christians not because of books or letters they wrote as the Apostle Paul did.  These women are important to Christians not because they gave great sermons that led to thousands accepting Jesus in the same moment as the Apostle Peter did. These women are important for two reasons.  First, these women were steadfast in their faith when they stood on the ground near Jesus’ cross as silent witnesses against the injustice of evil men who inflicted death to Jesus.  Second, these women were steadfast in their faith when they stood their ground and refused to be silenced as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.  Joanna, Salome, and the three women named Mary nourish us in our faith walk by their witness with and for Christ and thus represent our faith mothers who should be honored today.

These mothers of faith were central figures in the story of Jesus.  And yet, they were a first unknown to the early Christian church.  One of the earliest letters we have from came twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  Curiously, whatever Paul had received about the resurrection appearances of Jesus did not include anything about Joanna, Salome, or the three women named Mary.  What Paul received and wrote about centered primarily on the men, beginning with Peter.

It would not be for another 15 years before the gospels were written and introduced us to these mothers of faith.  Whatever attempts, accidental or purposeful, to denigrate the role of these women and women in general, into the story of faith would not stand.  For Holy Spirit, inspired the men who wrote the gospels to acknowledge the role of women, and in particular, these mothers of faith.  The Holy Spirit of Jesus made noble the work and the contribution of women to the body of Christ, his church.

And so we begin our exploration of these women with the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, which set the stage for the climatic events surrounding Jesus’ hours before his death.  Mark wrote, “46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.  51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:46-52).  Desperate men who hated Jesus seized Jesus and arrested him.  Desperate men who loved Jesus fled from Jesus, at least one steaking away naked.

          After Jesus’ arrest, the trials of Jesus began. The trials of Jesus involved shouting of more and more desperate men.  At the trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent of all charges.  The Gospel of Matthew says that Pilate came to understand that the accusations against Jesus were born out of the jealousies of men.  Pilate’s belief of Jesus’ innocence was then affirmed to him, curiously enough by a woman, whose name is lost to history.  Matthew wrote, “19 While he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his [Pilate’s] wife sent word to him [Pilate], ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him’” (Matthew 27:19). With Pilate holding court among these desperate, angry, jealous men accusing Jesus, it would have been impossible for Pilate’s wife to appear in person to Pilate with her plea. Nevertheless, Pilate’s wife born witness of what had been revealed to her.  Jesus was innocent.

          Yet despite the belief in Jesus’ innocence, Pilate succumbed to the pressures of the mob and sentenced Jesus to death.  This is injustice.  From this injustice, Jesus was led away to be publicly executed by crucifixion, a horrible and humiliating death reserved by the Romans for the enemies of the state. Jesus hung on the cross.  Mark wrote, “40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mark 15:40-41).  The women stood as silent witnesses of the injustice of angry men toward the innocent Son of God. 

I think we can understand this scene in context through the words found in the Gospel of John.  “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:19-21).  These women, our faith mothers, understood Jesus was the light of hope, peace, and innocence and that they, as Jesus’ followers, must stand in the light of the truth.  Even though they could not stop the execution of Jesus, they could by faith stand in the light of Jesus and could by their presence convict the evil of these men who tried to stay in the dark and desperately wanted to put out the light. 

But these women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, Salome, and many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem would not allow the light to be extinguished.  These women were faithful not to the end but faithful to the understanding that Jesus brought a kingdom of based upon love that would not end.    These women are the ones who stood silent in the truth when every hope in Jesus seemed to be dying before them.  This part of their story should encourage us to persevere against all of life’s challenges, difficulties, and injustices that could cause our faith to waver.

          Matthew reported to us that Jesus died on the cross. “57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:57-61).  Did you notice?  Jesus’ death did not cause the women to abandon Jesus.  The women, at least Mary Magdalene and another Mary, remained at the cross and then followed those who now entombed Jesus.  These two Mary’s lacked the power and resources to bury Jesus, but they did not lack in love to care for him however they might.  The conduct of these two women named Mary is a powerful testimony of loving and faithful mothers.

          But we know that the burial of Jesus was not the end of the story.  On the third day following Jesus’ death and burial, we learn that women went to the tomb of Jesus.  All four Gospels speak to the women going to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body.  All four Gospels name Mary Magdalene as being present that morning at the tomb.  The Mary Magdalene who stood silent watch at the cross and at the tomb where Jesus was buried was now at the tomb again early in the morning to care for Jesus’ body.  Other women present as named in the gospels were Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and perhaps one more Mary.

          None of the men who followed Jesus came with the women to do the work of caring for Jesus’ body.  However, the women wanted to continue to show that they were the source of care and comfort, the most exemplary maternal behaviors. Women caring for Jesus’ body, even in life, had never been well received by the men around Jesus.  We read in the Gospel of Mark, “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’  And they rebuked her harshly.  ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me’” (Mark 14:3-6). The men of the society denigrated the work done by this woman, but Jesus made it noble.

          The women, absent the men, were now at the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body.  Jesus was about to make their faithfulness rewarded again.  Through the four gospels, we come to find that Mary Magdalene, the woman at the cross, the woman at the burial, and the woman at the tomb was the first person to see and experience the resurrected Jesus.  Mary Magdalene is thus the continuous witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It seems likely that the other women, Joanna, Salome, and the other women named Mary were also continuous witnesses to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection but the gospels are only united on this point with Mary Magdalene.

          The task for Mary Magdalene and the other women who had seen the risen Christ was simple.  The women were to go to the men who had followed Jesus and proclaim Jesus had risen from the dead!  These women were no longer to be silent.  These women were to speak and shout, “He has risen from the dead!  He is risen indeed!”  These women were to become the mothers of the Christian faith, a faith made real in and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          Jesus commissioned these women to become the first evangelists, the sharers of good news.  Luke wrote, “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:9-11).         

          Wait.  What? The men did not believe the women because the women’s words seemed to the men like nonsense.  How could that be?

          When we read something such as that men did not believe what the women said, our confidence in the accuracy of the Bible increases because the story told in the Bible compares very favorably with our own experiences in that often time men are taught not to believe women.  In our own church culture, some churches refuse to allow women to preach or to teach men.  Fortunately, this is not one of those churches.  In some cultures, the testimony of a woman is still not accepted unless supported by the testimony of a man, even if she is reporting a serious crime against herself.

          And so we read that the men followers of Jesus did not believe the women followers of Jesus about the women’s experience at the tomb of Jesus.  Here though is an important thing for us to keep in mind.  The women did not need the men to believe them.  The women, the faithful and continuous witnesses to Jesus’ death and burial were the witnesses to his resurrection.  The peace, joy, and confidence of these women was not dependent upon anyone believing them.  This is instruction in the faith these women give to us.  We do not need others to believe us for us to believe in Jesus Christ as our risen Lord and Savior.  When we give testimony, it is not important to our identity if our testimony is accepted or rejected.  What is important, as demonstrated by these women, is that we give our testimony as to the truth.

          So this day, let’s honor the women of faith, the mothers of our faith, who have spiritually encouraged us, fed us, cared for us, and shared with us the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead.  To these women we say, “Happy Mother’s Day.”  Amen and Amen.


          Doubt.  What does it mean to doubt?  Psychologists tell us that, “Doubt is a mental state in which the mind remains suspended between two or more contradictory propositions, unable to be certain of any of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”

          Let’s consider what psychology is telling us.  “Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”  First, doubt, true doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.  Being indecisive about the choice of chocolate sprinkles or rainbow sprinkles on our next ice cream cone is not doubt.  In the case of the ice cream cone, we are simply deciding about a preference.  The type of sprinkles selected should not be emotional one because we will be just fine regardless of our decision.  True doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.

          What is the something important that causes the emotional response?  The something important concerning doubt, psychologist say that causes an emotional response within us, is belief or disbelief.  A belief or disbelief is conclusion we make that shapes our life.  In life, we will hold beliefs about ourselves, about other people, and about the world around us.  Those beliefs cause us to think certain thoughts, to speak in certain terms, and to act in particular ways.  Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying:

  • Your beliefs become your thoughts,
  • Your thoughts become your words,
  • Your words become your actions,
  • Your actions become your habits,
  • Your habits become your values,
  • Your values become your destiny.


I like this quote, but we can shorten it up a bit for today to just, “Your beliefs become your destiny.” Recognizing our beliefs become our destiny makes it all the clearer why doubt about what we believe triggers an emotional response.  I know some people who do not seem to believe in much of anything.  Trying to live a life avoiding belief in anything leaves them unsure about navigating life because they doubt themselves, they doubt the motives of others, and they rebel against any convention found in the world around them.

What we belief effects every part of who we are.  I suspect the first belief I ever held was as an infant.  I suspect I came to believe that this person called “Mommy” was my source of all the things I needed: food, comfort, security, safety, love, and affection. As an infant and years beyond, even though I could not express it with the eloquence of Gandhi, I acted with the belief that my mother primarily and then my father, were essential to my destiny. As you think about it, you may have a similar first belief concerning your parents.  You too believed your parents were the source of destiny.

Several years ago, I worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. In that capacity, I came to learn my first belief about my parents was not universally shared by all children.  Some infants and children came to doubt that their mother or father were essential to their destiny because sometimes those parents were the source of what was needed and at other times those same parents were the source of pain, neglect, and abuse.  The dangerously inconsistent behavior of those parents created doubt for their children leaving the children in an emotional state of indecision between belief and disbelief.  That doubt impacted the children’s thinking, words, actions, habits, values, and destiny. Some of you may have lived that experience.

I share the perspectives on doubt so that we might come to better understand the human context of what was played out in our New Testament reading today.  Understanding the human context will help us move into the spiritual message more readily. 

Our passage today deals doubt expressed through the experience of one of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Thomas.  Many of us know Thomas by a label applied to him centuries later calling him, “Doubting Thomas.”  Even today, to call someone a “Doubting Thomas,” is to imply that person is a skeptic who will continue to doubt unless they see or experience firsthand what we have shared with them about our experience. 

What do we know of this man Thomas?  We know that Thomas was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus whom Jesus called his apostles.  Thomas would have witness Jesus’ miracles, heard Jesus’ teachings, and been empowered at times by Jesus to do miraculous things himself.

We learn a little bit more about Thomas in Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.  News had reached Jesus that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was dying and that Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, had asked Jesus to return at once to Judea to save Lazarus. Jesus said to his disciples, “‘Let us go back to Judea.’  ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’… Jesus said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’

12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.  14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’  16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:7b-16) Thomas seems to stand apart from the other disciples. Seeing that Jesus had decided to return to Judea, Thomas expressed no doubt or hesitation about what should be done. The disciples must go back to Judea with Jesus.  Thomas’ words express a belief that dying with Jesus was better than disappointing Jesus by letting Jesus return to Judea alone.  Thomas could imagine no other place than to be wherever Jesus was and was going.

With that little bit about doubt and about Thomas, let’s look at today’s Scripture.  John wrote about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. “24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus [which means twin]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (John 20:24-25a).  Just prior to today’s passage, John had written of the disciples first encounter with the risen Christ.  John wrote, “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). 

Thomas was absent when the first group encounter with the resurrected Jesus took place. As soon as Thomas came back to the group, the disciples shared the good news that Jesus was alive and that they had confirmed it was Jesus because Jesus showed them his hands and side bearing the marks of being crucified and lanced with a spear.  The disciples’ message to Thomas as simple and joyful, “We have seen the Lord!” With great unity, the disciples were saying, “We believe Jesus is alive!”

But…there is always a but.  “But he [Thomas] said to them [the disciples], ‘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’” (John 20:25b).  Thomas’ response is an emotional one.  Thomas was grieving Jesus’ death and with Jesus’ death came the death of Thomas’ belief about Jesus.  Thomas could see that Jesus was of God for who could teach the way Jesus taught and do the miracles Jesus did.  Who else could have empowered Thomas and the others to heal people of all sorts of illnesses but a man from God.  Thomas must have believed that God had anointed Jesus as Messiah, the one person who would lead in the violent, military overthrow the Romans and re-establish Israel’s political independence.  When Jesus had spoken to the disciples about returning to Jerusalem where people were lying in wait to kill him, the disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going back.  It was only Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).  Perhaps Thomas thought that the battle for independence was about to begin.

Thomas was willing to die for his belief in Jesus as God’s anointed political leader, but God allowed that Messiah to be crucified by the Romans before one fight could be waged in this war of independence.  A dead Messiah was too much for Thomas.  Like the young child believes of its parent, Thomas believed God invested into Jesus everything Thomas could imagine needed to set the world right here and now.  For Thomas believing Jesus’ role as this political Messiah governed what Thomas thought, what he said, his did, his habits, and his values because Thomas’ belief governed his destiny.  Thomas had seen for himself the wonders of God working through Jesus.  Thomas could not be wrong about what lay ahead for him, others, and the world.

But Jesus’ execution caused Thomas to enter the emotional state of doubt, a place of indecision between belief and disbelief.  In that state, the mere words of Thomas’ friends that Jesus was alive was not enough to overcome Thomas’ emotional state of doubt.  Thomas had believed in Jesus once based on seeing for himself and now Thomas was not willing to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples until he had seen again for himself the risen Jesus.  In his emotional distress, Thomas said he wanted more proof of Jesus than his friends accepted.  Thomas wanted to see Jesus and put his fingers and hands into Jesus’ wounds. Then and only then would Thomas believe again in Jesus.

This Thomas who was only a few days earlier willing to die with Jesus was trapped in doubt, that disquieting place between belief and disbelief.  Jesus’ death was hard for Thomas to understand because it ended the desires of man.  Doubt paralyzes us and drains our life of purpose.  Doubt holds us back from doing what we might know to be the right and best thing.  Doubt makes us timid and anxious.  The apostle Paul said that in doubt, we are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).  In doubt, we do not think clearly, our words are muddled, our actions are random, our habits are few, our values are not our own, and our destiny is unsettled and undetermined.  Living in the land of doubt is a hard and uncomfortable and so too is living with being disappointed twice.

Fortunately, living in the land of doubt was not to be Thomas’ destiny.  John wrote, “26 A week later his [Jesus’] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them [the disciples] and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20:26-27). What a marvelous scene.  Jesus came again to the disciples, this time including Thomas, and again said his resurrection meant peace.  To Thomas, Jesus offered himself to all the evidence of Jesus’ living presence that Thomas said he needed.  In doing so, Jesus connected the peace he offered to believing. Jesus encouraged Thomas to stop doubting, to come out of that emotional state of indecision, and choose to believe.

What was Thomas’ response?  There is no indication Thomas put his fingers or hands into Jesus wounds.  Instead, John wrote, “28 Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’”  (John 20:28).  Thomas’ utterance, “My Lord and my God!” shows the transformation of Thomas in accepting the resurrection of Jesus.  In an instant, Thomas saw Jesus not as a political Messiah but as the Messiah who is truly one with God, the one true God of heaven and earth. 

Jesus words just prior to his arrest and subsequent death now made sense.  Before Jesus’ death, Jesus told his disciples to that he was going to prepare a place for them.  “Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”’” (John 14:5-7).  Now with the resurrected Jesus standing in front of Thomas, Thomas understood that God was in Jesus and Jesus was in God and to see Jesus was to see God.

Thomas no longer doubted the goodness of God or the unity of God and Jesus.  Instead, Thomas believed and professed this change of heart more powerfully than any of the other disciples with the words to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas was at peace.  Thomas no longer saw Jesus as a political person but saw Jesus as Lord and God.  Thomas had received the peace Christ offered.

 “29 Then Jesus told him [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”  Jesus’ words are addressed to us that we would believe without seeing and accept the peace that the resurrected Jesus offers.  In a moment, we will have an opportunity to see Jesus represented in the bread and cup.  The bread is a symbol of his body pierced and wounded for us.  The cup represents the blood coming from those wounds to his hands, feet, and side.  The Lord’s Supper as we call it is a proclamation of belief that Jesus is alive and is one with God.  As we take of these elements, let us believe and see that our destiny rests in Jesus, our Lord and our God.  Amen and Amen. 

04-17 - Nature Announces the Empty Tomb

          Jesus was dead.  His body had been taken from the cross and laid in tomb hewn from rock. A large stone had been placed over the entrance of the tomb.  The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had ordered soldiers to secure the tomb and to guard it. Soldiers placed a seal of Roman authority upon the stone to prevent the opening of the tomb and then they stood watch. Pilate made it clear that Jesus’ tomb was not to be disturbed by any man or woman. Jesus’ tomb was not to be touched in anyway.

          Then a series of curious things happened.  On the third day following Jesus’ death, in the early morning hours, as darkness was just giving way to light, there was a quaking of the ground.  That was not unusual, earthquakes happen in and around Jerusalem.  But this quaking of the ground was different, it was no ordinary earthquake.  It was a violent shaking and quaking of the ground in one spot, the tomb of Jesus. This was the second earthquake in three days.  The first one occurred three days earlier as Jesus died.  But this latest quake was occurring where Jesus’ lifeless body rested. The guards at Jesus’ tomb were fully alert, anxious that the ground was shaking again, but confident they would survive this quake as well.  Then suddenly an angel appeared to the guards.  The soldiers saw the angel who appeared in brilliant white searing light; a light so intense it was as it the guards could feel the light.  The guards witnessed the angel break the seal on the stone of Jesus’ tomb and move the stone as though it were but a pebble.  Then the angel sat upon the stone staring at the guards as if to say, “Yes.  I did that. What are you going to do about it?”

          The guards overwhelmed by nature’s quaking and the supernatural presence of an angel shook violently themselves.  Overwhelmed by the brilliant light of the angel, overwhelmed by the power of the angel to cast aside a large stone, and overwhelmed by the failure of their mission to secure Jesus’ tomb could only respond in one of three ways.  They could fight.  They could flee.  Or they could freeze.  The body of the guards would not respond to fight or flee.  All the guards could do was freeze and shake in fright.  The color from their faces drained away and their appearance became grey and blue as though they were dead.

The guards knew in that moment the fearsome, awesome power of the one true God to cause nature itself to move at his will.  The guards’ response is what it will be like for all those who deny God when judgment comes. For those who deny God and thus defy God, there will not be any time for smart words, sassy comments, or questioning of God.  There will not be an ability to fight or to flee.  There will be just total and complete fright, a violent shaking of their being, at being so very very wrong about God and how they spent their life.

Easter morning, God was revealing that the resurrection of, the presence of the resurrected Christ, was supposed to be an earthshaking and overwhelming event unequalled in history in the history of the world – and it still is.

04-17 - Mary Announces the Empty Tomb

The stone had been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, not so that Jesus could get out but so that believers would be able to see for themselves and know that the tomb was empty.  The first person to learn of the empty tomb was a woman named, Mary Magdalene, likely from the village called Magdala, along the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus had removed spirits besetting Mary and she faithfully followed Jesus thereafter.  Mary was at the cross throughout Jesus’ ordeal and she followed those who carried Jesus’ body to the tomb.  Now Mary had come to the tomb of Jesus in the hope that somehow, she could care for his body in proper burial.  But…there is always a but.  But the tomb was opened, and Jesus’ body was not there.  Mary, like the guards was overwhelmed.  The response of her body could have been to fight, except there was no one to fight, or freeze, but the unbelieving guards had done that, or Mary could flee.  Mary, a believer, choose to flee and share the news that something had happened to Jesus’ body.  In her grief, Mary could only think that someone had taken Jesus’ body, but for what reason?

Mary told her story of the empty tomb to the apostles who were huddled in fear. Peter, the impetuous disciple, and John the deeply thinking disciple, overwhelmed by Mary’s news ran through the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem to Jesus’ tomb.  Peter and John found the tomb as Mary had said, the stone rolled back, and Jesus’ body was gone.  The tomb only contained the linen used to shroud Jesus’ body and the cloth that had been placed upon Jesus’ face.

What did it all mean?  What was the meaning of an empty tomb?  Peter and John must have wondered who would have taken Jesus’ body and for what reason? Wasn’t it enough that Jesus was crucified but now his body had been disturbed?  Scripture tells us that the disciples still at this point did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  The grief the disciples felt over Jesus’ death was now compounded by the theft of his body.

Peter and John made their way back to the other disciples.  But Mary lingered near the tomb believing there must be an explanation or opportunity to return Jesus’ body to rest in the now empty tomb.

Mary and the disciples were living these moments on a timeline going from left to right.  They had been through the ordeal of Jesus arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial.  Now they were in that small moment of time in which the tomb was empty without explanation. Every minute seemed like an hour. There was not just the searing pain of grief, but Mary and the disciples were thinking about living each moment with the searing pain of grief.  The empty tomb just made things worse for them.  We know something Mary, Peter, and John did not know at this point.  The empty tomb would soon shake their entire world to its very foundations because the empty tomb was there to prove their savior lives.  What does the empty tomb mean to you?

04-17 - Mary Announces Jesus Has Risen

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” (John 20:11).  The depiction of Mary here is so genuine because we can relate so easily to Mary’s behavior.  Something is missing from where we usually keep it.  We search a bit to find it and then go back to the spot where it should be just to make sure it is really missing.  Mary bent over a put her head once again into the small tomb, just to make sure Jesus’ body was still really missing and that she did not just imagine it was missing.  Mary seemed almost hopeful she would see Jesus’ body where she thought it belonged. Only this time as Mary looked into the tomb seeking Jesus, Mary was surprised by the appearance of two angels seated where Jesus’ body should be.

          Mary’s mind must have been whirling.  Jesus crucified.  Earthquakes.  Jesus’ dead and buried.  Grief. Another earthquake this morning.  Large stones rolled from the tomb.  Guards alive but looking dead.  An empty tomb.  Grief. And now angels!  What else could there be? And then in that moment of confusion and tears, the Bible says Mary’s attention was drawn to something, someone was behind her.  “14 Mary turned around and saw someone standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, Mary said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him [Jesus] away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She [Mary] turned toward him [Jesus] and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:14-16).

          We should soak in Mary’s emotions in that moment. The intense and chaotic pain, despair, suffering, confusion, helplessness, disappointment, dread, and exhaustion of the last three days instantly evaporated at Jesus’ calling her name.  All those dreadfully powerful emotions were replaced with powerful uplifting feelings of elation, hope, thankfulness, and joy.  The terrible ordeal was over.  The empty tomb meant one thing and one thing only, Jesus was alive!  There was no time to think beyond that and this moment. Mary could do only one thing and that was to jump forward and grabbed hold of the feet of Jesus.   

Mary response gives us insight into how believers will react when they see Jesus and here Jesus call them by name.  I do not believe there will be time or ability to compose words.  There will be just total and complete relief and joy of having been very very blessed as the believer grabs hold of the feet of Jesus.

Mary was the first to feel the blessing of the risen Christ.  The empty tomb which had been such a terrible ordeal of preparation was now a joy to behold.  One could come to the empty tomb now and see where Jesus lay.  They could come to the empty tomb and hear words of peace and joy. They could come to the empty tomb and touch the stone and folded shroud of Jesus.  They could do all those things with joy because it all meant Christ the Lord had risen!

Mary now had one task in life, share the news and meaning of the empty tomb, “Jesus has risen from the dead! He is risen!  He is risen! He is risen!”  For the believer in Jesus Christ, we have received the same one task.  Share the news, “He is risen!  He has risen indeed!”  An empty tomb is there to prove my savior lives!  Is this the call you feel upon your life as well?

04-17 - Jesus Announces He Has Risen

Evening was beginning to settle upon Jerusalem and surrounds.  The sun was declining along the skyline.  The disciples had heard Mary’s report of Jesus’ body missing.  They had heard Peter and John’s report of the empty tomb.  They had even heard Mary’s story that Jesus was alive and that she had spoken with him and hugged his feet.  But the disciples were frozen in fear.  They made no effort to move toward Galilee as Jesus had told Mary to encourage them to do.

          Again, this is a such a genuine scene.  Often, we are more comfortable with the misery we know than the uncertain and fear of moving from that spot.  The disciples feared moving forward to Galilee to see if Mary’s wonderful story was true.  They were more concerned with avoiding the Jews believing, fearing, the Jews would do to them what had been done to Jesus.  I think we can relate well to the disciples’ paralysis of fear.

          But amid this story of fear comes good news.  Jesus does not meet us where we pretend to be.  Jesus meets us where we are.  Jesus said he would meet the disciples in Galilee, but the disciples could not make themselves move.  So, Jesus met them where they were in Jerusalem, behind a locked door, keeping quiet in their fear.

          The Gospel of John said, 19b Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19b-20).  Jesus was alive.

          The resurrection story is simple in certain ways, or at least it presents simple choices.  We are left decide who has the real power on this earth?  Soldiers like those guarding the tomb or angels seated upon the stone rolled from the tomb?  Who has the real power?  The political elite who try to silence God and place warning labels to seal His word from being seen like Pilate did with Jesus tomb?  Or is the real power held by humble women, impetuous men, and thoughtful disciples who seek Christ?  Whoever you allow to control your life and your view of life has the real power over you. Will that be those who cause Christians to fear being Christians or will be Christ who meets us in our fear and says to us, “Peace be with you!” 

This day, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, we celebrate with joy that the power and source of our strength this day and for all days including eternity comes from knowing Jesus’ tomb is empty.  It brings joy and real power to our lives because that empty tomb says to us: “Christ is risen, risen indeed!”