Summary: Comparing John's account of Thomas's insistence upon having the same experience as the other Apostles, as recorded in Luke, brings clarity to the importance of experience in faith formation.
4-22-12 Luke 24:36b-48 God Uses Experience to Build our Faith
Last week I shared my thoughts on Thomas, how the account of his insistence upon personal experience of the risen Lord was not a weakness but rather a strength. That personal experience of the risen Lord became a foundation upon which a rock-solid faith was build. This morning I intend to give you the rest of the story. So here, today, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story—a story which vindicates Thomas by helping us better understand the nature of faith as it applies to us all.
Verse 38 of today’s Gospel reading clearly makes the point. Reports that the Lord had arisen had been brought to the eleven who had gathered in the upper room. Last weeks account in John didn’t tell us the rest of the story. This week’s account in Luke does. It wasn’t just Thomas who doubted the accounts of others. They all did. In verse 38 we read that when Jesus came to the Upper room the first time (the week before Thomas was with the others), Jesus said to them, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see.”
A faith that is based upon what others have told us is not so strong nor is it so reliable as a faith based upon experience. All of the Apostles were given experience of the risen Lord. The 10 who had gathered together the first week had been shown the wounds in Christ’s hands and feet and side. When Thomas arrived the next week he wanted that experience as well.
How can we today know what is really real? How can we be protected from false doctrines, and cults, false Messiah’s, tricksters and false religion? There is one way only. We must be doubting Thomas’s. We must seek empirical verification. If you seek, you shall find.
Each one of us needs, should seek, and should insist upon an encounter with the Risen Lord, for it is such an encounter that is the foundation of faith. We saw that happen very vividly with the Apostle Thomas who carried his faith eastward, establishing many new congregations of believers in hostile lands until he was martyred. Now, in today’s text, we see it being played out again with other disciples. Faith that is convincing must be built upon experience obtained through the physical senses and interpreted through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, “Look at my hands and my feet, see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Look, see, touch, experience!
This week, I want to look a little more closely about the importance of personal encounters and what that means to our faith. I’ve already pointed out the importance experience. There is a second point as well. I will restate it—faith begins with God. It has to begin with God. Without God’s amazing gift of experiences revealing the Godhead to us, experiences interpreted through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we would be unable to believe.
Faith is not a matter of effort. We cannot say, “if I just try a little harder, or study a little more, then I will be able to believe.” Faith is a divine gift, freely given to us even though we do not deserve it.
The kind of faith I am describing is not simply an expanded version of something we already have. It is not like a computer “upgrade”. We were not born with faith version 1.0 preinstalled in our hearts and all God has to do is insert faith version 7.0 to make us more complete. An encounter with God is like getting a whole new hard drive! Nor is it like being born with a “seed of faith” and God simply putting fertilizer on it to make it grow. The faith I am describing is not like that at all. It is more like being brought to life a second time, into a new life.
Convincing faith is not like some dormant thing that God simply has to wake up. And growing into convincing faith is not like being born with poor “faith vision”, and the God simply puts on corrective faith lenses, which enable us to see more clearly. It would be more accurate to say that we are born with no vision at all and the work of the Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see. Or, perhaps we might think of faith as being like a “seed” planted by God. The growth of that seed is what happens as we mature into the new life God has planted in us.