36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.' 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.' 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?' 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.' 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'
The week after Easter, as I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I saw that someone had posted an article in one of the groups I belong to. The name of the group should tell you everything you need to know. The name of the group is: The Lutheran Nerd Clan. Yes, it is everything both Lutheran and nerdy, and I am a proud member. But that is beside the point. The point is the article that was posted, and it’s title immediately intrigued me: “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics.” It was a science article in the New York Times. I love science, and I know that oftentimes, science points us towards the majesty, wonder, and beauty of God. Really. If someone ever told you there was a conflict between science and faith, they are misguided. Not just misguided. They are wrong. There is no conflict in the least, but that’s not the topic of this sermon. The topic of this sermon has to do with what this article in the New York Times was all about.
Let me quote the article here, “Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.”
Again, quoting the article, “The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.
The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.”
Now, that’s all of the article I am going to read. Don’t worry, I’m not going to push the science any further. Some of you may be going, “Wow! This is cool,” but I know there are others out there who are thinking, “Man, I hated science. Why in the world am I hearing about science at church? I thought I was done with this stuff. What in the world does this have to do with my life and my relationship with God?” Patience. I am getting there. Really. I am getting there because this experiment along with another one which had similar results back in 2001 has shaken the scientific community. It has caused a lot of doubt. Whereas they once thought they had most of physics figured out, it might turn out that they have to completely and totally rethink how they believed the atomic world operated. There is still much data to be waded through, but if this experiment is confirmed, it will turn everything topsy turvy. And now, there is much debate within the community about this matter.
The results of this experiment are very much like the results of Jesus coming and sitting in the room with the disciples on that first Easter evening. Our Gospel lesson this morning is Luke’s account of Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection. You may recall that last week, we heard the Gospel of John’s account of this appearance, and there are many, many points of connection between the two accounts. The major difference between those two accounts is that John emphasizes the reaction of Thomas, one of the disciples. That account is often referred to as the doubting Thomas account. But as Pastor Casey said last week, we would do better to call it the disbelieving Thomas account. The Greek is pretty clear there. Thomas didn’t doubt, he was disbelieving. In today’s account, there is a much better example of doubt. We actually have the doubting disciples, and this time, the Greek wording matches up.
Let’s set the scene. Again, like in John’s account, the disciples are huddled behind closed doors. The disciples who Jesus met on the road to Emmaus have just arrived and have shared their account. Everyone is talking about this, and suddenly, Jesus appears. Like in John, Jesus’ first words are words of peace, “Peace be with you.” A bit of chaos ensues. The disciples are startled and terrified. That’s the wording that is used. They think they have seen a ghost.
Jesus then works to convince them that they aren’t seeing things. He is real, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Let’s stop there because here is where the word doubts actually comes into play. The Greek word here is dialogismoi, which has the definition of discussion, consideration, or debate. Perhaps a literal translation would be, “Why are you frightened and why do you debate with yourselves in your hearts?” This is true doubt. This isn’t a “I believe!” And this isn’t a “I don’t believe.” This is a “I really am not sure what to do with this information. If this is real, then everything that I have once thought I knew is now topsy turvy!” I told you, this biblical passage is very much like what happened with the results of those scientific experiments.
But the disciples were having quite the difficulty coming to grips with Jesus being there. They weren’t sure about what was happening. So, Jesus keeps pushing. He keeps giving them evidence. Look at my hands and my feet. Touch me. See, I am real.
And again, we are told that the disciples were “in their joy disbelieving.” Probably a better translation for us would be, “They thought this was too good to be true.” So, once again, Jesus takes another step to show that he is real; that he is not a ghost. He asks for something to eat and eats it right in front of them.
Now, I want to take just a moment before continuing to point out something that the Bible is showing us. Sometimes, there are folks today who dismiss ancient people. They will say things like: ancient people weren’t as advanced as we are today; ancient people were not as skeptical as we are today; ancient people were not as scientifically minded and so they would accept things back then that we would never accept today. They just didn’t know any better. And while that is true about some things, that is not true about every thing. Just because ancient people didn’t know about atoms and protons and electrons, they knew that people didn’t just rise from the dead and appear. They knew that once someone had been crucified and was buried, they stayed dead and buried. The Bible here does not show the disciples just accepting the resurrection of Jesus without any thought or skepticism or doubt. I mean, for heaven’s sake, Jesus appeared to them. Jesus was in the room with them, and they didn’t just automatically believe it. They didn’t just automatically accept it. They doubted. They wrestled. They tried to figure all of this out. They didn’t turn their brains off. Instead, when confronted with this new reality; when confronted with this new information; when confronted with the risen Jesus; they turned their brains on and tried to figure it out. They questioned. They debated. They wondered. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we are more advanced than they were. They were just as skeptical as we are.
But they had one advantage over us. They had Jesus with them there in that room. And Jesus took the time to convince them. Jesus took the time to get them through their doubts. Of course, we already heard that Jesus showed his hands and feed. We heard that Jesus had them touch him. We heard that Jesus ate food in front of them. But that wasn’t quite enough. There was more that was needed, and Jesus gave that to them too. He opened the Scriptures up to them. He explained the Scriptures to them. He showed them how the entire Old Testament pointed to him and was fulfilled by him. As Jesus taught these things, the disciples were convicted.
Step by step, Jesus showed them that the Messiah was destined to come into this world and live the life that they were supposed to live. Jesus showed them how he alone fulfilled the commands of God. Jesus showed them how he loved the Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus showed them how he loved his neighbor as himself. Jesus showed them how he was the spotless lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world. He was the sacrifice of atonement to end all sacrifices. He was the one who had come to give his life as a ransom for many. Step by step, he showed them that it was necessary for him to die for them; to take their sins upon himself and then give to them his righteousness. He then showed them how his resurrection has defeated sin, death and the devil. The gap that once existed between humanity and God is no more. All of this Jesus showed them as he opened God’s Word to them.
As he spoke, I am certain the disciples’ hearts began to burn within them. Their eyes were opened. Their doubts turned to belief. And here is the crucial thing about doubts. Doubts are healthy–they poke at us and make us think deeply. They make us consider things we may not have considered before. They make us ask questions that we may have been afraid to ask. But, doubts are meant to lead us to answers. Doubts are meant to lead us to find truth. You don’t just say, “Oh, I doubt that.” and then stay in your doubts. That’s pure laziness. The disciples didn’t stay in their doubts. When Jesus offered them evidence; when Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures; they believed. Their hearts became convinced.
And now, let’s bring this home. Let’s talk about the Christian faith in the midst of life in the 21st Century. Let’s talk about faith in a culture full of skepticism and unbelief and competing truths. Let’s acknowledge that it is okay for us to have doubts. Let’s acknowledge that it’s okay to wrestle with things deeply. Even scientists who once thought they had things figured out have to do that in the light of new evidence. But let’s not use that as an excuse to reject the tenets of Christianity. Let’s not use doubt as an excuse to turn to internet atheists and others who claim to be more enlightened. For you see, doubt is nothing new. The disciples faced them, and Jesus answered them. And throughout history, the church has faced doubters, and very smart people have been led by the Spirit of God to have answers to those questions as well. How do I know? Well, I have doubted. I have sought. I have found answers. And I have been asked questions. Sometimes I didn’t know the answers, so I had to learn. And the more I have learned, the more I have studied the scriptures, the more I am convinced of the truth of Christianity. The more I long for a chance to be a witness to the Gospel-just like he called the disciples to be in that room long ago.
I remember shortly after I started going to college and had started taking theology classes, I went home to visit my folks. I remember going to church on Sunday and sitting in on the confirmation class. One of the young men there asked me a terribly difficult question, “Why did God pick such a lame way to save the world?” What I wouldn’t give to be able to respond to him now. I had never wrestled with that question until he asked it. I didn’t have a good answer. I had nothing. He wasn’t satisfied with my pastor’s answer, and I knew he wasn’t satisfied with mine–and I wish I could remember exactly how I answered it then. I don’t. I just remember it wasn’t good.
But through my doubts, I have had a chance to study. I have had a chance to learn. And if I had the chance to talk to that young man again, this is what I would say, “I don’t believe it was a lame way to save the world at all. In fact, I think it was beautiful. God cannot let sin go unpunished. When you do something wrong, you deserve to face the consequences of your actions–that’s justice. And you and I both know that we have sinned. You and I both know that we haven’t done the things we should do and been the people we should be. Deep down, we know that we are not right and have not done right. We know that we deserve punishment–we deserve justice, and God should probably toast us. But God also loves us. God doesn’t want to have us be punished because that would mean complete separation from Him. And so he somehow has to find a way to bring both love and justice together. And here is how he does it. Instead of punishing us; he takes the punishment for us. That’s what Jesus does on the cross. Jesus is God taking the punishment that we deserve. It’s like a parent paying to replace a broken lamp that their kid has destroyed. The kid can’t pay the price and replace it, but the parent can. Our heavenly parent pays for our sin by dying in our place. And when you understand that. When you understand what God has done for you, and for the world, you will see that as a thing of beauty. If you doubt this; if you are debating in your heart; seek the answers. When you do, I know that you too will be convinced. That Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again. Amen.