Summary: I just can't believe it! Ever said that? That was a common response by those to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and it's still a rather common response by many today. Don't be surprised! Be ready!
“I can’t believe it!” Something extraordinary, something unusual, something unexpected happens and we exclaim, “I can’t believe it!” “I can’t believe its snowing…again!” “I can’t believe they actually won the game!” “I can’t believe I passed the test.” “I can’t believe I got the job!” “I can’t believe she said yes!” “I can’t believe it!” Many times, those words follow the evidence that something that we thought would not or even could not happen has in fact occurred.
That was the common reaction by the people closest to Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. “I just can’t believe it!” Think about the appearances of Jesus that we’ve look at over the last couple of weeks. You had the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morning. They heard the news of the angel, “He has risen” but still found it hard to believe. They reported the news to Jesus’ disciples and they found it hard to believe. You have the two disciples on Easter afternoon who left Jerusalem because they found the news that Jesus had risen from the dead hard to believe. Last weekend we heard how on Easter evening Jesus appeared before his disciples, and even though they saw Jesus they still found it hard to believe that Jesus really was alive. He had to show them his nail-pierced hands and feet, and sword-pierced side, and eat some fish to convince them that it was true And Thomas, the one disciple who was not there at the appearance of Jesus, was actually no different than any of his fellow disciples. He just couldn’t believe it. Thomas said, “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” (John 20:25). In other words, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
You can only imagine what that next week was like for those disciples. You have all of them trying to convince Thomas that they really had seen Jesus, and Thomas repeating his demand, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Maybe they reminded Thomas of what he had said just a few weeks earlier. You see when Jesus had announced that he was going to Jerusalem, the disciples were worried. They felt that the hatred of Jesus was growing more intense and that Jesus’ life was likely in danger by going to Jerusalem. It was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas was willing to die for Jesus! But when it came to Jesus dying and coming back from the dead. That was different. People die all the time, but people don’t usually come back from the dead. He just couldn’t believe it!
You can only imagine that as that week went along Jesus disciples must have wondered when and where Jesus was going to make his next appearance. Hopefully it would be soon so that they could convince Thomas, and maybe even themselves, that they weren’t crazy or delusional, that Jesus really was alive. Did you notice where Jesus found his disciples a week after that first appearance? We’re told, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came among them and said, ’Peace be with you!’” (John 20:26). Even though they had seen Jesus the week before, the disciples were still hiding out in the same room where Jesus had found them last Sunday evening, huddled together in fear that the Jewish leaders might do to them what they had done to Jesus. Again Jesus greets his fear-gripped disciples with the same words as a week earlier, “Peace be with you!” Can you imagine the looks on their faces, the eyes that all shifted to Thomas recalling the demands that he had made? What would Jesus going to do Thomas?
But instead of Jesus doing something TO Thomas, Jesus does something FOR Thomas. Jesus shows Thomas his nail-pierced hands. Jesus kicks off his sandals and shows Thomas his nail-pierced feet. Jesus pulls back his cloak and shows Thomas his nail-pierced side. He invites Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:28). Thomas didn’t not need to touch Jesus. He had seen enough. Jesus had confronted Thomas’s sinful doubt. And now with repentant heart Thomas clings to Jesus in faith, looks to Jesus for forgiveness and says, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Thomas is certainly not unusual in his demands and doubts. “I can’t believe it!” are still the words of many people to this day when it comes to Jesus’ rising from the dead or the message of Jesus in general. The denial of the historical account of Jesus’ resurrection is all too common even among so-called Christian and Lutheran churches and seminaries. This is a quote from one of the most popular books used by many seminaries across the United States and Europe to teach Christians doctrine. “Today it is impossible to assume the literal historicity of all things recorded [in the Bible]. What the biblical authors report is not accepted as a literal transcript of the factual course of events. Therefore, critical scholars inquire behind the text and attempt to reconstruct the real history that took place.” The historical resurrection of Jesus is not only doubted, but it is denied, discarded as mythological, nothing more than a fairytale. Why? Because people don’t usually come back to life. It’s something that WE haven’t seen, WE can’t do, and therefore it is something that GOD could not do.