It has been a tough few weeks for the disciples. They have been laying low for fear of Jesus being captured by the Jewish authorities. To add to the stress, Jesus is preparing them for a time he would no longer be with them. When they gather on the night of his arrest, to have a meal together, tension is in the room. As they enter, Jesus washes their feet as a servant does when they enter a home. Jesus has an altercation with Peter, because Peter does not want his feet washed by Jesus, instead he asks to wash Jesus’ feet.
Peter is the impulsive disciple. He goes from zero to sixty in seconds. He misses so much because of this characteristic, and pardon the pun, is known to put his foot in his mouth on several occasions. The incident around the foot washing is just another example. When Jesus tells him that if he does not wash his feet he will have no share with Jesus. Hearing this Peter blurts out: then, Lord, then don’t only wash my feet, but my head and hands too.
While they are sharing their meal together, Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. They are baffled and as they look around the room they ask, Is it I, Lord? Jesus replies, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bred when I have dipped it in the dish. Soon after he gives Judas a piece of bread, and said to him, “do quickly what you are going to do.”
Later that evening, as Jesus was praying in the Garden, Jesus was indeed captured and taken away, leaving the disciples to wonder what would happen next.
Within 24 hours they would find out. After leaving the supper, Judas went to the authority and received 30 pieces of silver for telling them where they could find Jesus. Once Jesus was arrested, the disciples and all those that were with him scattered, and they followed in the distance. As Peter stood warming his hands from the coldness of the night, he was asked three times, if he was a follower of Jesus and knew him. He answered: I am not! … A second time he replied: No, you must be mistaken! … and when asked a third time he demanded: I. DON’T. KNOW. HIM!!!
Both Judas and Peter, fall away from the crowd. Both are distraught!! Judas ridden with guilt hangs himself; Peter ridden with guilt, leaves the courtyard, bitterly weeping for allowing his fear and anxiety to lead him to this moment.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, once again the women and the disciples are gathered together in a room and plan to stay together grieving and recalling the events of the past few days. Suddenly Jesus is among them. He speaks to them; they see his side, his hands, his feet. The disciple Thomas is not there. When he does return, the disciples eagerly tell him that they have seen the Lord. Thomas replies with a rather bold statement. “Unless I see the marks of the nails and put my finger in the marks of the nails, I will not believe.”
John tells us that a week later Thomas has his chance as he witnesses the risen Lord with his own eyes. Jesus invites him to touch the marks of the nails. Do not doubt, but believe, Jesus said to Thomas. The stunned Thomas cried out, My Lord and My God! At this moment he not only acknowledges Jesus as Lord, but also acknowledges that he Is standing in the presence of God. Thomas faith has been restored and the doubt is gone.
I tell you all of this because the chosen twelve disciples of Jesus were first and foremost ordinary men, as were the women who followed Jesus. We are allowed to see them in their vulnerability, because we too feel vulnerable at times. Thomas who is depicted in this reading as someone who denied Christ also reclaims his faith. After that Thomas is present when Jesus appeared to the disciples on numerous occasions after Jesus rose from the dead.
We can’t hear these stories without giving these faithful followers of Jesus a pass. For three years they were by his side, day in and day out. They hung on every word that Jesus spoke to the crowds, and asked him many questions when they were alone. And then the unbelievable happened. Jesus was arrested, beaten to within an inch of his life, and crucified along with two convicts. They watched as he took his last breath. And then they were alone. We must ask ourselves – how would we have responded if we were there with Jesus through this time?
We may never really know. At a time like this – with fear of losing someone forever, is it any wonder that Peter denied knowing him, and when told that he appeared to his friends when he was not present, Thomas denied him. When you spend some time thinking about it, you may find yourself not being so hard on Peter and Thomas.
And so I ask: is doubt really only unique to Thomas? For me the answer is no. Doubt creeps into our lives too. So I ask: is doubt as awful as the story tells us it is. Again I say no. And here’s why.
In the late 90’s a group of us from church travelled to Chicago to attend a seminar on Experiential Worship. Willow Creek Community Church was at the forefront of bringing a radical change to worship. While there we attended a break out session led by Lee Strobel. Lee graduated from Yale Law School where he received a Master of Studies in Law. He was also an award- winning journalist for more than 10 years at the Chicago Tribune. Some call Lee a skeptic, while he called himself an atheist.
Lee tells us about his experience that ended in him writing a book called A Case for Christ. In it he tells us that In 1979 his wife Leslie announced to him that she had become a Christian. He writes: “I felt like I was the victim of a bait and switch scam, and thought the old Leslie was gone and now in her place was someone who would turn their old lifestyle into all night prayer vigils and volunteer work in soup kitchens. Gone was the fun Leslie, the carefree Leslie, the risk-taking Leslie.” Instead, Lee writes, he was pleasantly surprised, even fascinated by the changes in her character, her integrity, and her personal confidence. He needs to know more about this Jesus that has changed his wife, dramatically, yet astonishing.
It is here that doubt set in for Lee Strobel. Using his background in law and journalism he begins a deep and thorough investigation into the facts. He read the Bible verse by verse; interviewed experts, asks questions, explores archeology, and discovered over time that the evidence, the history, the science, the philosophy and the psychology of his work begin to point to the unthinkable.
Twenty-two months later Lee summed it up like this. “In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: It would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth.” Even his 5-year-old daughter recognized the change in him and said to her mother, “Mommy, I want God to do for me what God has done for daddy!” Out of the mouth of babes.
That afternoon, back in the late 90’s, when Lee gave his riveting testimony at the workshop, he was introduced to the crowd gathered as Rev. Lee Strobel, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. He did the hard work, he stayed with the project at hand and found the truth with his investigation and today, teaches and preaches the Gospel to those who may still have doubts.
Lee’s story reminds me of the words of Jesus to Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Holy Spirit who Jesus promise to his disciples – and us – plays a large and important part in the Easter story – to the disciples, the apostles, the followers of Jesus and Christians today. Friends, hear the good news: When all these things line up right for us, when our mind grasps the truth of the Gospel, then we too can proclaim, “My Lord and My God”. May it be so.