2nd Sunday after Easter
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. [Revelation 1:4a, 5, 6b]
I have never been good at predicting the future. I do not know from one day to the next what my life will be like 5 or 10 years from now. Certainly, we can all predict future events in some small way; for instance, we can say with confidence that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. We can foretell the amount of the grain we will harvest or the number of cattle we will be able to sell, in the coming months. Then there is that future of which we may imagine but never realize.
As children we would play and enact imaginary battles as soldiers in a war. We would find a tree branch the length of a rifle and roll around in the grass shooting invisible enemies or an opposing force of neighborhood kids. We would hide behind trees or mounds of dirt only to jump out, pointing our tree-branch weapons at each other and shout, ‘Bang! Bang!’. At least one kid would have somehow found the machine-gun stick and yell, ‘Rat-a-tat-tat’.
The girls, on the other hand, would play house or have tea parties with imaginary friends and stuffed animals. They would fantasize meeting a prince who lived in a castle or of befriending a unicorn to ride through the field of dreams.
We all can remember what we thought our lives would be like when we were young, full of vim and vigor; but the reality does not always match our wishful thinking. Yes, we can and have made goals and worked toward achieving them; some with success and some without as much success. But is your life what you once believed it would become? Does your ‘Prince Charming’ sit next to you holding your hand? Does your castle have a stable full of prancing unicorns?
In 1983, my high school English teacher did what I imagine every high school English teacher does – he assigned us a book to read and then we were to write an essay on the book. The book he chose was by the author, George Orwell, and the title of the book was Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Those of you who have never read the book might think this was a non-fiction book about history, but it couldn’t be because it was written in 1949. Though in a way, it was about history – future history. It is about a dystopian future describing a totalitarian society where the government controls, or represses, people by constant mass surveillance through cameras, and the political control over society through the media and the people themselves.
When the year 1984 came about, we laughed at how far off the author had missed his prediction. Yet now, 40 years later, it does not seem as much make-believe as we once thought. You see, nobody wants to imagine their future as grim and desperate. Nobody hopes their dreams will not come true, or even worse, be the cruel opposite.
With this in mind, I ask you to consider the ominous, dour emotion the disciples felt on the evening of the first day of the week, in a room with locked doors, fearing their future.
Their Lord, teacher, and close friend had been put to death. Not by means of stoning or hanging, but by the most cruel form of suffering a person could have – crucifixion. This type of death is not a quick or painless death; quite the opposite. This type of death was torture. In addition, this crucifixion happened on a most sacred and holy day – the Passover.
The Passover was a feast day where God’s chosen people of Israel celebrated the rescue from captivity from centuries of enslavement. It was such an important day that the Israelites had kept this day in remembrance for almost 1500 years! For the disciple’s teacher and friend to be killed on this day was sad and terrifying.
What were they to do? The man they believed and confessed to be God had been killed. The situation was unbelievable. How could man kill God? Was he truly God as they believed? They had witnessed Jesus’ power over the forces of nature. They had seen him raise people from the dead. Peter, James and John saw Jesus in his heavenly glory speaking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain outside of Jerusalem. How could he be dead?
The women who had gone to the tomb found it empty and told the disciples. Peter and John went to the tomb to see for themselves because the women’s story seemed preposterous. Then:
‘On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”’ [John 20:19]
The appearance of Jesus would not be the last but it did not make clear to the disciples what was to come. What had happened was unbelievable. Even with the foreknowledge given to them by their Lord and Savior, they were still in dismay. It is because of this; I judge Thomas’ reaction with quite a bit of sympathy.
We would all like to think that we would never doubt like Thomas. We would all like to think we could predict how we would react and what we would believe. Maybe we really do need the faith like a child. Maybe we have stifled our youth’s imagination with adult cynicism. If we still believed in unicorns and a ‘happily ever after’, then maybe we would believe.
In a world where words and actions are recorded on hand held cameras and then uploaded to a world-wide information deployment system in the blink of an eye, how do we still doubt what we hear or see? One might say that words and situations can be taken out of context, or edited to show a favorable or non-favorable view. One might even say what was seen was like a magician’s trick or a deep fake… How do you feel about Thomas’ doubt now?
When Thomas put his finger in the wounds of his Lord’s hands; when he put his hand in his side, Thomas’ confession was true and his belief certain.
‘“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 believed.”’ [John 20:28-29]
We are blessed by our faith in that which we have not seen we yet believe. In return, our belief blesses us with faith.
‘…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ [John 20:31]
I will now tell you what your future holds. This is not a trick nor fake prophesy. In a society where every sentence is ‘double-speak’ and every definition of a word is turned to mean the opposite, I tell you the truth from God.
This is the same prophesy the Apostle John made to the seven churches that are in Asia:
‘Jesus Christ [is] the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. [This Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, [Revelation 1:5-6a]
‘Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” [Revelation 1:7-8]
When the world sees our Lord, Jesus Christ, they will fall at his feet as though dead. Yet we, who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb need not fear for he will lay his right hand on you, saying,
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. [Revelation 1:17-18]
This is your future, your everlasting future. Because of the torturous crucifixion of the Lamb of God, your sin has been removed. Because of the glorious resurrection of the Son of God, you have been redeemed to live in the kingdom of Our Father in heaven.
Because of Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, you can believe in what you have not seen. Just as we cannot see clearly what our life may be in 5 or 10 years, we cannot fully realize how wonderful and glorious our lives will be when we are transformed from this mortal body into the immortal body. There we will be able, like Thomas, to confess before Christ Jesus “My Lord and my God!” without doubt.