One Big Story - Week 12: "Asking The Right Question"
Did you know that the Bible is One Big Story of God’s love for people who don’t always feel like they deserve God’s love? It's true--it's the best kind of story, to be honest.
And God has a way of always picking the wrong kinds of people to do what God needs doing. People who think they aren't good enough, people who the rest of the world thinks aren't good enough--heck, people who really aren't good enough... that's who God seems to love to pick to write God's One Big Story.
The Bible is One Big Story filled with heroes and villains, great adventures, epic battles, love stories and astonishing tales. It’s also the story of a “once and future” King who picked the most unlikely people to help him share the story of God’s amazing love, and how far God was willing to go to save the world.
Today we are continuing our summer sermon series, One Big Story. And what we're going to be learning over the course of this summer is one very simple fact: "God can use you you no matter what."
You might think that you aren't good enough to be used by God... You might think you're too old, too young, too busy, too messed up, too much of a sinner... but God doesn't care about that. God loves you and wants to use you no matter what.
We'll be encountering some of the great characters in Scripture along the way---characters that undoubtedly dominated many a Sunday school class for some of us church-y types.
Today we're going to be encountering another of the great characters from the New Testament--one of the 12 Disciples: Thomas, who is sometimes unfortunately referred to as Doubting Thomas.
We're going to be learning something extremely important from Thomas, who seemed to have a lot of questions. In fact, the one thing that I want us to hold on to throughout this sermon is a simple, but extremely profound truth:
The answer to our most important question has been and always will be “Jesus.”
Kids ask a lot of questions.
I have vivid memories of riding in my car with each one of my kids while they asked me from their car seat about everything they were seeing.
"What's that?" they would ask while pointing at a tree.
"A tree," I would respond.
"A man walking his dog."
Church life also produced a lot of great questions for my kids. My first ministry job was serving apart-time youth director at a small church in Tallahassee, FL. Once, right before church, my son walked up to the minister who was walking down the aisle. He sized up the minister who was in his mid-fifties, with greying hair and a beard. He was wearing his robe and a colorful stole.
"Are you God?" Jay asked him.
My middle son Jackson had questions that always seemed to drift more toward the existential than his brothers did at the same age. I remember once having a long conversation about what sort of Crocs that God would wear, and what color. We decided that God would wear regular Crocs and that they would be blue.
Then one day he hit me with this one:
"Daddy, did God make the Devil?"
"I suppose so. The Bible says that he created all things---Lucifer included."
"If God loves everything that he made, then wouldn't God also love the Devil, too?"
Yeah. Put your mind around that theologically.
I sometimes understand how infinitely patient God must be with us--with all of our questions and all of our wondering.
Here's the thing... I don't think that people have problems with asking questions about their future. Almost to a person the people I have counseled over the years who were struggling mightily to determine the course of their life wished with all of the heart that they could find an answer to their questions.
There are two problems that I seem to encounter the most in my own life, and I have observed them at work in others as well.
First, most of us ask questions about purpose and meaning without a lot of openness to an answer that isn't part of our own vision or plans for our life. Essentially, we don't often ask about serious life stuff for the sake of learning. We ask because we want a good answer that suits us and is easy to put our hands around.
Second, and most importantly, I think that most of us are busy asking questions but aren't asking the right question... which we'll get to in a moment.
And that's where our story about Thomas comes into play...
There is this great moment in John's Gospel (chapter 14) where Jesus tells his disciples:
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”The disciples didn't, in fact, know where Jesus was going, but only one of them spoke up: Thomas. As I said, Thomas is often referred to by his nickname "Doubting Thomas" because after Jesus was raised from the dead, he was the only disciple not to see him right away.
He is also known by the nickname Dydimus, or the "The Twin," which some scholars take to mean that he may have had a striking physical resemblance to Jesus himself, or as others have argued that he was spiritually and emotionally joined at the hip with Jesus.
What we do know is that Thomas was the only one who spoke up when Jesus delivered his cryptic, Jedi Knight message about leaving and going somewhere to prepare a place for his followers. Thomas gets an opportunity to make history and he doesn't disappoint. He boldly asks Jesus:
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”Thomas asked the right question. And what is that question, exactly?
Here it is: "How do we know for sure?" That's it. "How do we know for sure... if you really are who you say you are, Jesus? How do we know for sure that all of this is true? How do we know for sure that all of this is just an exercise in futility?"
Because Thomas asked the right question, we have the answer that Jesus gave him, which is essentially his most foundational saying in all of the Gospels.
"I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You've even seen him!"Jesus didn't give Thomas a treatise on how to live a purpose driven life. He didn't give him 10 steps on how to win friends and influence people. He didn't tell him how he could have his best life now. He didn't sign him up for a 12-week course online that would help him become a better disciple.
He just said, "I am the way... the truth... and the life."
Like I said, I've always felt like Thomas got a bad rap. Sure, he had questions. He had struggles. I guess that makes him my favorite disciple because it makes me feel like he's just like me.
There's this moment in chapter 11 of John's Gospel when Jesus declares that he's going back toward Jerusalem even though there are people in Jerusalem that want to kill him. It's Thomas, the Twin, the one who has this deep connection with Jesus, who speaks up and says: "Let us go to Jerusalem so that we may die with him."
This is the kind of guy who was ready to go and fight alongside Jesus if he had to and maybe even die if that's what it called for. That's how much he believed that Jesus was the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Savior.
He fled along with the other disciples when things got real. He did that. Maybe he felt like Jesus should have fought. Maybe he was disappointed in him. But whatever the reason, he repented of it.
So you can imagine that when Jesus shows up in his resurrected body and reveals himself to all of the other disciples except Thomas that it had to hurt him, just a bit.
He told the other guys, "Until I touch him, and see the wounds in his hands and feet... I'm not going to believe it." Honestly, I've always felt like Thomas was just hurt that because he was out, he didn't get to see Jesus with the other disciples.
Jesus shows up again, though, when Thomas is there and he holds out his hands and invites Thomas to touch his side. He gave him more than he bargained for. His revelation to the Twin, the disciple who loved him so and was so wounded... it was a personal and intimate revelation. "Touch." "See." "This really happened... Now do you know for sure?"
And Thomas utters the words that become the most definitive declaration of who Jesus is in the entire Gospel of John, which means it's probably the most definitive declaration in all of the Gospels. He says, "My Lord, and my God."
Thomas would go on to be an integral part of the growth of the early church in Jerusalem, before leaving to become a missionary in India where he started churches, preached the Gospel and was responsible for the spread of Christianity in that region. He was martyred for his faith there.
And he asked the most important question, remember? The most important question: How do we know for sure?
And the answer to that question--the most important question--is quite simply: Jesus. I know that's a Sunday school answer, but sometimes the Sunday school answer is the only answer.
What Jesus told Thomas, and what we can know as well, is this: "Do you want to know how you can be sure? Try it. Follow Jesus. Trust him. Give up your need to be in control. Just go where Jesus goes. Begin the journey of stumbling after him, right here, right now. Because Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Truth and Jesus is the Life."
And what does this mean exactly?
First. Jesus is the Way: When Jesus told Thomas this, he wasn't outlining a path, he was declaring that HE was the path. The way we know what God wants, what God desires, what God would say, how God would act... we know the way because Jesus is that way.
Jesus embodied it. He showed us what it means to walk in the Way of God's will. When we say Jesus is the Way it's not about steps in a procedure or a series of processes--it's the simple act of trusting enough to put one foot in front another, as you walk in his footsteps.
Second, Jesus is the Truth: Far too many Christians seem to believe they have a corner on the market when it comes to truth. They have bought into the illusion that truth is a concept--that there is some sort of objective criteria for truth. Truth isn't a concept, however... Truth is a person.
Third, Jesus is the Life: The one thing that you need to know here is simply that a life lived following Jesus is a life worth living. Jesus demonstrated what it means to live the kind of life that makes an eternal impact. Jesus dedicated himself to selfless, sacrificial living--the kind of existence that isn't concerned with self-preservation, earthly success, power, riches...
He dedicated himself to reaching out to those on the margins, giving hope to the hopeless, healing for those who were sick in mind, body, and soul, and then he gave himself completely over to the will of God the Father in order to demonstrate just how far God is willing to go in order to show God's love for God's children.
This is the answer to our most important question--How do I know for sure? Because... Jesus. Simply Jesus. Nothing more than Jesus. You can trust wholly in Jesus.
I read once that renowned Christian author Phillip Yancey went to visit Mother Theresa before she died. He was going through some personal torment regarding decisions he needed to make with his life.
At the end of his time in India with Mother Theresa, Yancey screwed up his courage to ask her to pray for him regarding all of the decisions that were weighing on him. She paused for a moment and then told him, "I will not pray that you make good decisions, I will pray that you will learn to trust God more."
Are you asking the right question? Have you been searching fervently for the answer to that most important question--How do I know for sure?
I realize that this doesn't provide an easy way out for those who might be looking for one. There is no easy way to do this. And there is no way to find purpose and meaning without first asking the right question.
And then embracing the Answer.
Because the answer to our most important question has been and always will be Jesus.