Summary: Put all your doubts and fears in Jesus' hands because he has already dealt with death and with your sins.
When Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison caught the ball with a few seconds remaining in the semi-final game of the NCAA basketball tournament, his team was down by two points. But Harrison had been in this situation before, twice before in fact and had delivered the game-winning shot both times. And so now, in this semi-final game, he calmly caught the ball, squared up to the basket and drilled a three-pointer to give his team the victory...again. His Kentucky teammates were ecstatic. How could they lose the upcoming championship game with a player like Harrison? Just put the ball in his hands and he would do the rest!
Do you have an Aaron Harrison in your life, someone you can count on when the going gets tough? Overwhelmed by parenting? Just flip the ball to the grandparents and let them work it up the court a few times. Can’t figure out your math homework? Mom can get you through that without any more effort than it takes a 7-footer to dunk a basketball. But what do you do when those you normally count on let you down? Like when your doctor accidently gives your 10-year-old double the dose of sedative needed for a routine operation so that your son ends up in a coma with possible brain damage? (That happened last week to a boy from St. Albert.) What do you do when your spouse of many years says, “I don’t love you anymore?” or when the company HR guy emails: “We won’t need your services beyond June”? Who do you turn to then? Our Gospel Lesson has the answer: put it all in Jesus’ hands. Let him deal with your fears and your doubts because he has already dealt with death and with your sins.
Our text describes the events of that first Easter Sunday evening. Like a family crammed into the panic room while a burglar prowls the house, most of the disciples were hiding out in a locked room because they were afraid that they might be the next target for Jesus’ enemies. Adding to their consternation was the rumor that Jesus was alive. Now you’d think that would be cause for celebration. But how would you feel if the manager you failed to stand up for and so was unjustly fired was now returning to work having cleared her name? Wouldn’t you want to avoid her - ashamed at how you had been less than supportive? Wouldn’t you even be afraid that she might now make life difficult for you? Likewise the disciples certainly had a lot to be ashamed of. They had promised to stand with Jesus but had quickly abandoned him after his arrest. How would he treat them now?
But you can’t hide from Jesus. He knew where the disciples were hanging out in Jerusalem so he went to them. What many miss is that this appearance was “unscheduled.” What I mean is that Jesus had said before he died that he would meet the disciples in Galilee after his resurrection. That’s about 100 km to the north of Jerusalem. That directive was repeated by the angels at the tomb and then again by Jesus himself to the women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning. But like someone who can’t wait to give another a present and so doesn’t bother to even wrap it, Jesus couldn’t wait to see his disciples. Plus he knew they needed immediate strengthening so he didn’t delay until the Galilean rendezvous. He went to them in Jerusalem. And no, Jesus wasn’t eager to meet up with his disciples so he could rub in the fact that he had risen just as he said he would. We know this because the very first thing that Jesus said to them was “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19b), not “Curse you, you doubters!”
The startled disciples, however, were slow to believe what they were seeing. “Jesus? Could it really be?” Luke tells us that Jesus had to eat a meal in their presence proving that he wasn’t a ghost or an apparition (Luke 24:42). Jesus then gave them a Bible lesson, reviewing the Old Testament prophesies which had clearly stated that the Messiah would have to die and then be raised to life again. Like you, I wish I could have been there that Easter night to see the resurrected Jesus. What we can do is study his Word, both the Old and New Testament, through which God promises to strengthen our confidence that Jesus is really alive even if we can’t see him.
After Jesus overcame his disciples’ doubt, they were overjoyed to see him. But there was one disciple in addition to Judas who was not there to rejoice with them: Thomas. Where was he? We’re not told, but his absence hurt his faith. Isn’t that a warning for us, fellow disciples of Jesus? Whenever we pull away from the fellowship of believers, no matter what the reason, our faith can’t help but suffer even if that faith was once strong. Thomas had not been a lukewarm believer. Just days before the crucifixion he had said that he would rather die with Jesus than live without him (John 11:16). That sounds a lot like the vow we made when we were confirmed, doesn’t it?