Social Distancing and the Church – Pastor Steve Ward

“Social Distancing” Sermon for April 19, 2020:

Greetings from Concord Community Church and from Pastor Steve Ward. It’s been just a week since we celebrated Easter, and that same time span – a week – is represented in our Scripture passage, this morning, which begins on the very first Resurrection Sunday, (Easter) and takes us through the next Sunday. Again, I encourage you to find a quiet time and place to read and reflect, pray and worship – perhaps at 10:00 AM, so we could “be together.”

John 20:19, 20; 24-31
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Seeing and Believing

24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

That You May Believe

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Many people have believed, and many people have doubted. In our present age, it seems to be more fashionable to doubt than to believe. In an effort to support their doubt, for example, many ideas and theories have been advanced, suggesting that Jesus didn’t really die, that He went into a “swoon” or a coma and later revived. Maybe someone else was crucified, instead. So many Thoughts! So much rationalizing! So much doubting!

Jesus did rise from the dead and appear to His disciples, (“The Twelve” – minus Judas and minus Thomas), to the women who went to anoint and prepare His body, and to many others.

In dealing with this assertion, we have the same hurdle to overcome that the people, then, had to overcome: How is this possible? How can I believe this?

In looking back to that time, we also have a tendency to see those events through the dim and somewhat blurred filters of time and distance. Since those happenings were long ago and in a rather far-away place, we often think of them in a remote way, almost as “less than real,” because we don’t have to confront them, very often, “head-on,” or “up close and personal.”

The first women to come to the tomb had been up close when Jesus died. They had been there through every agonizing detail of His terrible death; They had endured it with Him. They had seen every gut-wrenching moment as they watched in horror and near disbelief at the cruelty and brutality of the event.

Then, they had had the Sabbath to quietly mourn, and now they had to face reality again. The one reality that was thrust upon them, try as they might to ignore, forget, and deny it, was that, with their own eyes, they had seen Him die. With their own eyes they had seen Him stabbed in the side “just to make sure,” and, with their own eyes, they had seen His limp, life-less body removed – no doubt, in a cold and callous way, from the cross. They had had the presence of mind to observe where the body was taken, and now they were coming to prepare His body for a proper interment. They knew He was dead.

Thomas, also, knew Jesus was dead.

In our Scripture, from the Gospel of John, we have the account of Jesus appearing to the Disciples, not including Thomas. Thomas is told of the appearance of Jesus – and, by implication, His resurrection – and he insists that he will not believe until he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches Him with his own hands. Although there is an obvious amount of doubt in Thomas’s mind, I wonder, also, if there is a good bit of wonder, even as one of us might have if something wonderful had happened, and we declare, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” — as in “I can’t believe I won the contest! I won’t really believe it until the prize money is in my hands!” Thomas says, basically, “I won’t believe it until I see Him with my own eyes and touch Him with my own hands.”

Thus, besides expressing his doubt and his wonder, Thomas was also making another, not-so-obvious statement. It is as though he was also saying, “I know He died! How can I believe He’s alive? For us, a somewhat hidden and ignored truth in the story of “doubting Thomas” is that Thomas was thoroughly convinced that Jesus had died! Thomas could not have doubted the resurrection without being convinced of His death!

Please notice one more thing about this episode. There is no other recorded purpose for Jesus appearing to His disciples on this occasion than to present Himself to Thomas as the risen Lord. Jesus made this one appearance to all of the disciples, specifically, it seems, for Thomas. Jesus accommodated Thomas’s doubts. Jesus responded directly, personally, and especially to Thomas.

You are just as special. You and I are just as precious to Jesus as Thomas was, and Jesus is just as interested in accommodating and reassuring you and me in our doubts as He was in the doubts that Thomas had. He even talked about you and me when He spoke to Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

At another time there was a man who brought His son to Jesus to be healed. When Jesus told the man that all things are possible to them who believe, the man responded, “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) I do believe that this is a very proper and appropriate prayer for us to pray, also. Recognizing our failing and inadequate faith – our incomplete beliefs – our doubts – we can confidently approach our compassionate, caring Savior and pray, “Lord I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”

“Casting all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

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