Jenny and Georgia in a pulpit

This blog post is based on a sermon I preached in August 2022 at All Souls Church, Sutton Green. The reading for this sermon is John 20:19-29.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:19-29

Now, you may have read this Bible reading, the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples, and of doubting Thomas, and thought that we had skipped several months and jumped straight to Easter.

Sadly, I have no Easter eggs for you, but the events of Easter shouldn’t be limited to one weekend a year. Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to our faith as Christians, all year round. So, today we are exploring the resurrection and reminding ourselves of this huge part of our faith.

Do people believe in the resurrection?

In 2017, there was a survey conducted by the BBC asking people what they believed about the resurrection. Here are some of the results from that survey:

  • 17% of all people believe the Bible version word-for-word
  • 31% of Christians believe word-for-word the Bible version
  • 57% among “active” Christians (those who go to a religious service at least once a month)
  • 9% of non-religious people believe in the Resurrection

And this last one comes from another survey, of Church of England clergy this time.

  • 33% of C of E clergy don’t believe in the resurrection

Some of these statistics, when I saw them, I just found really shocking. And quite sad that there is this level of disbelief in such an important part of our faith.

Because the resurrection is a big deal. It is central to the Gospel – that Jesus died for our sins, defeated death and rose again. It gives us hope.

But it’s also quite a big thing to believe. That someone could and did rise from the dead. Why should we believe that this resurrection really did happen? What convinces us to believe?

Why should we believe in the resurrection?

To answer that question, we’re going to step back from the resurrection for a minute and instead we’re going to talk about cake. Because I have a cake tin, and I want to convince you to believe that there is cake inside.

Now, I could just open the tin and let you see whether there is cake inside. But I’m not going to.

Because in our Bible reading, Thomas didn’t get the chance to use his eyes the first-time round. He wasn’t there to see Jesus when he appeared to the rest of the disciples. He didn’t get to see Jesus with his eyes, but that didn’t mean that the resurrection never happened. And, as Jesus said to him:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:29

We don’t get to see Jesus as a man here on Earth with us. So, what else convinces us to believe?

We are told to believe in the resurrection

I’m not going to show you inside this cake tin, but I can tell you that this is cake. And maybe you’ll believe me or maybe you won’t – it depends how much you trust me, I guess.

We are told that the resurrection happened. In the Gospels we read about Jesus being killed on the cross and rising again three days later. And the Bible is a much more reliable and trustworthy source than me. This is our source of truth. This is God’s word. The Bible tells us that the resurrection happened – so do we believe it?

Do eyewitnesses help you believe in the resurrection?

Maybe me telling you that there is cake inside this tin is not enough. Maybe I need an eyewitness. Someone else to testify on my behalf. And for this I have my husband and daughter – and they can confirm that there is in-fact cake in my tin, because they saw me make it.

So, do we have any eyewitnesses to the resurrection? Again, we can turn to the Bible and see a number of stories, told by different people, of Jesus’ resurrection. Of the women who saw the empty tomb, or Mary Magdalene who met Jesus in the garden, or the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And many more stories we can read in the Bible. Who all tell us the same story – that Jesus rose from the dead.

Thomas had a whole room full of eyewitnesses. His friends and fellow disciples who told him that they had seen Jesus again. And still, he did not believe. I wonder what he thought was going on, did he think they were playing a trick on him? Or did he think they had all gone crazy?

Does history help you believe in the resurrection?

And maybe you don’t believe my eyewitnesses either. Maybe you think that they are not very reliable witnesses because I could probably be bribing them with cake. Maybe I need to prove my credibility, prove that I can make cakes and that I have done in the past. So, does it help you to know that I won a church bake off in 2018? I made chocolate cake decorated with pigs in a mud bath, and I was very proud of it.

Hopefully this gives you some reassurance that I can make cakes, so it is more believable that there could be cake in the cake tin.

And the resurrection has a historical precedent too. This was an event that had been prophesied, and that Jesus himself had even told the disciples would happen. Going back to the time of King David, he prophesied about Jesus’ resurrection. Psalm 16:10 says:

“because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful [or holy] one see decay.”

Psalm 16:10

And there are many other prophecies throughout the Old Testament that foretold of Jesus’ birth, death and what he would achieve through his resurrection.

Do you believe in the resurrection?

But none of this, not the prophecies, not the eyewitnesses, nothing was enough to convince Thomas to believe. Until he was able to experience it for himself – see Jesus in front of him and touch him. He would have needed me to open up the cake tin, see the cake for himself, and probably taste it too.

But I’m not going to do that. Because we don’t get the opportunity to touch and see Jesus. Blessed are we if we believe, though we have not seen. We do have the opportunity to trust what the Bible tells us, trust the stories of those who did see Jesus, trust the prophesies. We can trust and believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and in what that means for our faith.

Let’s pray this prayer together:

Dear God, thank you for the resurrection. That you defeated death and rose again. Thank you for the hope that that brings us. Help us to believe when we have doubts, help us to see the evidence and truth that you have given us. Amen.

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