He was more than just skeptical, and can you blame him? He himself was a twin, that’s why his nickname was Didymus, so it’s likely he knew how easy it could be to trick people with a lookalike sibling. It’s possible he pulled that trick a few times in his own life. And, sure, yeah, he saw Jesus do great things. He saw the miracles. He saw Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead rise. He had seen all the proof in the world that Jesus was not just a man, but the very Son of God, about whom the prophets wrote. But that was then.
Over the last couple of days everything had changed for this man whose nickname was Didymus. He had seen some other things happen. He saw a mob of soldiers arrest Jesus and treat him like any other man. He saw him hang there on a cross, cry for a drink, call out to God in distress, and, finally, he watched him die; he watched him breathe his last. And now? Well, now his fellow disciples were claiming they had seen him, that he was alive – not even hurt! Really? Cool story, bros, but I doubt it. And, that’s how this man got a new nickname, doubting Thomas.
You know, the Bible records fewer than seventy-five of the words that Thomas ever spoke, but we all remember him. And I don’t think it’s because we’re shocked by his doubt, but because we get it. I’d be skeptical too. If I watched Jesus die, breathe his last, get a spear stuck in his side, yeah, I’d question anyone who said he’s alive too. So, it’s not hard to agree with Thomas when he said, “Guys, I’m gonna need to physically touch the holes in his hands. Seeing isn’t enough.” I think many of us would be just like Thomas. We’d want some proof.
We’d want proof not because God hasn’t proved himself in the past. Even today we can look at the prophecies of the Old Testament, prophecies that span some 3,000 years, and be amazed at how Jesus fulfilled every single one. You and I can look at the New Testament and read about all the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. We can look at some of the external evidence too. I mean, try, just try, explaining the monumental shift from the Jewish Sabbath (a Saturday) to Sunday as the day of worship. Try explaining the stunning conversion of Paul, and the sudden explosion of believers from 12 measly disciples and a handful of followers to thousands upon thousands all during a time when such a confession in a resurrected Jesus meant terrible persecution and hardship. Just try, go ahead, explain any of that without Christ rising from the grave just as he said he would. It’s impossible. Christ is risen…indeed.
And yet, today, here is Peter and, really, he’s present in all three of our readings. (He’s talking in Acts, he’s there with the other disciples in John, and he wrote our lesson), and Peter doesn’t point back to any of the evidence. He doesn’t say, “Look at the way all the prophecies were fulfilled,” or that he himself saw Jesus alive. He didn’t say “The risen Lord appeared to more than five hundred people all at once, and most of them are still alive. Ask them; they’ll tell you.” Instead, Peter wrote about things you cannot see or touch or talk to – things like hope, an inheritance in heaven, faith, an unseen Savior.
Here is specifically what he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” Now, why does Peter do this? Why appeal to unseen things, instead of stuff you can touch and see and talk to face to face?
Well, are you familiar with a Victor Frankl? Frankl was this Jewish psychiatrist who during WWII spent much of his time as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. And Frankl, he used his time in that camp to observe how his fellow prisoners handled their imprisonment, the suffering and the trials they endured. He noticed that there were four different ways that people responded to their suffering in those camps. Some just became brutal. Once good moral people became just nasty to everyone else. Others gave up hope. They became unresponsive; they were alive but as good as dead. Still others held on to the hope that someday they’d get their lives back. They’d be free. Frankl wrote that these people believed that one day their health, family, wealth, and achievements would be restored. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case after the war, and many who were liberated went into a deep depression and struggled with suicidal thoughts because they realized their lives would never be the same.
One other group existed in those death camps. This fourth group of prisoners were somehow able to stay kind and had some small joy even in their terrible conditions, and Frankl wondered about this and here is what he discovered: this fourth group had a hope that suffering, and even death, couldn’t destroy. Their hope was not tied to anything earthly. Frankl’s conclusion then was this: If you make any finite object into your ultimate hope, what is suffering but the stripping away of those finite things. And if you lose those things, you’ll become brutal, or hopeless, maybe you’ll hold on hoping that things get better, but as they don’t you’ll become cynical. You need a living hope, something that doesn’t die.
And play this out in your own life. If say your hope is in your spouse, or your marriage, well you know what, take a look at your wedding picture – that happy day – and then look at a picture of you and your spouse now. For some of you, there’s a big gap of time between those pictures, and you don’t look the same, you’re fading, you’re dying, some of you may no longer be able to or want to take a picture with your spouse. You can do this with anything in your life. Everything eventually perishes. Everything spoils. Everything fades. We need a living hope, somethings that lasts
But there is more to this need for a living hope than just the fact that it lasts. We need this living hope to do more, and it does, look what Peter says in verse six of our lesson, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” This is a verse that is hard to believe, and we maybe don’t always fully understand it – I didn’t until I really dug into this section. Here is how I initially took this verse: As a Christian, I can’t avoid sin, bad stuff will happen to me and others that I love but when it does, I need to learn to rejoice. I need to find a way to praise God. Any of you have a similar thought about suffering? Right, like, I got cancer? That stinks, but praise God; he has been so good to me! I lost my job? Thanks be to God; he’s in control! My child is horribly ill? Jesus loves me. In all these bad situations, the thought so often is, “I got to be tough, and I can’t complain. God is good!”
Is that what Jesus did? We just recently walked through the crucifixion story again. Did Jesus as he was in the garden of Gethsemane pray, “Father, I’m going to the cross…but I’m just praising you…I know you’re working out your will.” No, he sweated blood. He asked for the cup to be taken from him. Sure, he trusted, but I don’t see any rejoicing in that moment. And on the cross, he screamed out to God. He was in true grief and pain. Now, I don’t think anyone here would say, “C’mon Jesus, you gotta have some joy; have some faith.”
And why wouldn’t we say that to Jesus? Okay, sure, because he’s Jesus. But we also wouldn’t say that to Jesus because if he didn’t suffer, if he didn’t die, we’d still be in our sin. Jesus needed to suffer that hell, to be our Savior. That suffering, death, and resurrection proved that he was that Savior. And there is the joy, it’s not in the suffering, it’s not in the pain, it’s in the end result.
Peter says the same about your trials and hardships. These (trials) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” For a little while, you and I will suffer grief and all kinds of trials on this earth. One by one, things we love will be stripped away from us often in frustrating and cruel ways. In those moments we might wish Jesus would work a miracle, or give us a sign, we might love for him to take a hardship or sickness away, but don’t you see? Regardless of what Jesus chooses to do for us in that particular moment, we already know he did the one thing we needed him to do. We needed that tomb to be empty, and it was, which means you have an inheritance; it’s kept in heaven for you. You don’t see it, sure, but it’s promised. You can’t necessarily touch it, but, really, you’re already living in it! And nothing – nothing! – can reach into heaven and take it from you. That is the end result, it’s a living hope. A joy that can’t perish, spoil, or fade.
So, all these trials, all these hardships, even the good things in this life, they all do the same thing, they push you and me to find joy in living only by faith, to rest each day and night in a living hope, an empty tomb, and a Savior, who “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Peter with all the evidence of the resurrection in his back pocket, doesn’t point to anything he saw, or anyone else saw, instead he calls you to rest your heart in the promises of God, and to put your hope in what you know by faith. That, right now, even as this world and everything we love perishes, spoils, and fades, we are receiving the salvation of our souls – you are saved – for Christ has died, Christ has risen! He is your living hope. Every day, then, let us praise God that we live in his hope, and will ourselves receive praise, glory and honor, when Christ comes again. Amen.