Sermon: John 11:11-16
Pentecost 10 – July 29,2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
It would be interesting to know what was going on emotionally for the disciples from the time that Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and crucified until he rose again from the dead. We of course know that they were scared. They all ran away and deserted Jesus when he was arrested. Only John was present at the crucifixion.
But we hear little about the personal grief and sadness that they must have felt. After all, they had been disciples of Jesus for three years. Jesus was their leader and teacher and friend. He had really become their purpose and reason for living. Now he had been arrested and crucified. If someone you really loved has died you know how painful grief can be. You know what the sadness is like. The disciples were feeling that kind of grief and pain too.
We might think that Peter was feeling the most grief of all given the fact that he had denied knowing Jesus three times. Or we might imagine that John felt the most sadness and grief because he’s referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was the one who was with Jesus at the crucifixion, saw him die, and took the responsibility for Jesus’ mother.
But it just could be that the one disciple who felt the most grieved and abandoned at Jesus’ crucifixion was Thomas the 8th disciple in our sermon series. There is clearly some speculation in this thought, but from some of the words and questions that come from Thomas we get the impression that he was someone who was very emotionally tied to Jesus. Thomas sincerely wanted to be with him even if it meant his own death. Jesus’ death, Jesus being taken from him, had to be devastating for him. Today we consider
THOMAS, THE DISCIPLE WHO WANTED
TO BE WITH JESUS FOREVER
Thomas, like many of the disciples had a second name. His Greek name was Didymus. Both Thomas and Didymus mean twin so it would seem that Thomas had a twin brother or perhaps twin sister.
If I asked you to tell me what else you know about the disciple Thomas, many of you would tell me that Thomas was the one who doubted whether Jesus had really risen from the dead. He wasn’t with the other disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to the disciples. And when they told him that Jesus had risen, he said he wouldn’t believe it unless he saw Jesus face to face. Therefore Thomas has for 2000 years had the distinction of being called doubting Thomas.
But that distinction is not exactly fair. Remember all the disciples had a hard time understanding that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer
and die and rise again. As a matter of fact a week after Jesus had risen when he appeared to the disciples, this time with Thomas present, he chastised them all for being slow to understand and believe. And honesty forces us all to admit that we too would have had our own doubts too until we saw Jesus alive before our very eyes. Thomas is really unfairly singled out as a doubter.
And in Thomas’ defense consider this: Have you ever asked the question why wasn’t Thomas there with the other disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening? Certainly all the disciples knew they were going to gather together that night. Thomas must have known that. And his absence certainly wasn’t because he other things to do, something more important.
Could it have possibly been that Thomas was so overwhelmed with grief and a sense of abandonment that he just couldn’t bring himself to be with the disciples? Perhaps his sense of despair and hopelessness ran so deep that he just couldn’t be with anyone who reminded him that Jesus was gone from his life. If you have ever felt such grief and loss you know that being with other people is not high on a list of desires.
More important, consider Thomas’ words earlier in Jesus’ ministry. They indicate his desire to be with Jesus, and to be with him forever. We consider first Thomas’ words from our text. In this lesson Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was very sick. They clearly wanted Jesus to come back to Judea and help. But Jesus delayed two days. In that time Lazarus died.
Then Jesus told his disciples that they would go back to Judea. But the disciples had a real serious concern. They knew that Jesus’ enemies in Jerusalem and Judea had threatened to kill Jesus. Why would Jesus go back there? It didn’t seem to make sense to them.
But Jesus said to the disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” It was apparent that the disciples could not deter Jesus from going back to Judea. And we read in our text, “Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.” In other words Thomas was saying, “Well, he’s determined to go. Let’s go with him, and if he dies we will die with him and all go to be with Lazarus.”
Some have interpreted Thomas’ words to be pessimistic and fatalistic as if to say, “We’re all going to die anyway. We might as well go and get it over with.” Such a negative interpretation doesn’t seem to fit Thomas. It’s more likely that his encouragement to the disciples to go with Jesus and die with him were words of courage and devotion. Thomas may not have wanted Jesus to go to the danger of Judea, but he also trusted Jesus and what he did. If that meant dying with him so be it. His desire was to be with Jesus even if it meant that he would die. To be in eternity with Jesus was better than remaining in this life without him.
That desire in Thomas makes itself evident a short time later as well. It was the night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples where he celebrated Passover with them and instituted the Lord’s Supper. Jesus spoke many encouraging final words to the disciples that night. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
It’s very interesting that it was not Peter or James or John who asks, but Thomas, who asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way.” Thomas was a man who wanted to know where Jesus was going and how he could follow him and be with him and be with him always.
Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
How much do you really want to be with Jesus? That may sound like a silly question, but it’s really a very important and challenging question. How much do you really want to be with Jesus? My fear is that too many people don’t really desire to be with Jesus as Thomas desired. People like to carry around the name Jesus and call themselves Christians. They think it’s kind of nice that Jesus is with them always as he promised, especially in difficult times. And they of course comfort themselves with the thought that they’ll be with Jesus when they die.
But too often the lack of worship, devotion, and reverence, too much careless and unrepented sin betrays a heart that doesn’t really want to be with Jesus and doesn’t really understand what that means. Such unfaithfulness betrays a heart that just wants to be with Jesus when it’s convenient and requires no commitment.
Thomas was someone who wanted to be with Jesus even if it meant dying with him. The Apostle Paul was another man who understood the immense joy and privilege of being with Jesus. To the Philippians he wrote, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Paul too was also willing to give up life in this world and be with Christ in his eternal kingdom. He knew that was better.
But Paul wasn’t going to die right away and go to be with Jesus. He knew that he had work in this world to do yet. Thomas would remain for sometime in this world after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. And Jesus isn’t asking any of us right now to leave this world and go to be with him in heaven. But how we live our life, how we think, and speak, and act reflect the degree of our desire to be with Jesus.
Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Being with Jesus, being with God, and having fellowship with God here on earth or in heaven is not something we want to casually take for granted. It’s a gracious privilege that we have because Jesus is the way to the Father. Our sin separates us from God and would do so for eternity. But Jesus paid the price to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. That’s why the Apostle Paul could write in our second reading today to the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. . . . For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
We have a God who wanted us to be with him so much that he sent his Son to make a way for that to happen even after we sinned. We have a Savior who has promised to be with us always to the very end of the age. That’s the God and Savior Thomas wanted to be with. That’s the God and Savior we want to be with. And though we don’t see him now face to face let our thoughts, and words, and actions indicate that he is with us in the word and sacrament and that we long for that day, like Paul, when we will be with Christ in heaven which is better by far.
Thomas lived as a faithful disciple until he went to be with the Savior he longed to be with. Strong tradition indicates that he preached the gospel in India and died there as a martyr. He died for his Savior and in the end went to be with him. And we too will one day go to be with Jesus who is the way and the truth and the life. That will be better by far. Amen.