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Sermon for April 16, 2023 – Second Sunday of Easter

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5021 Stop Doubting and Believe
Michelle Fleming
Have you ever heard someone being referred to as a “Doubting Thomas”? If you have, then you were probably aware that this was not meant as a compliment. It is typically used to describe someone who is a skeptic. Someone that is known to utter, “I’ll believe it when I see it!” 

Shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples locked themselves away in fear that the Jewish officials might come for them next. But Jesus appeared to them in their locked room. To prove that he was real, he showed them his nail-scarred hands and feet.

One of the disciples was missing, however, and here is where Doubting Thomas comes in. John shares the story:

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.”  

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!” 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.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

John 20:24-29

We can relate with Thomas, can’t we? As excited as the other disciples were that they had seen Jesus, Thomas was skeptical. For whatever reason, he was not present when Jesus showed up and he got quite specific about what it would take for him to believe. 

A week later Jesus reappears, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus tells Thomas to go ahead and touch him. Then he tells Thomas to stop doubting and believe. With the exclamation, “My Lord and My God!”, Thomas becomes the first to acknowledge who Jesus really was and is. 

Like Thomas, we all have those moments of doubt. Moments where we wonder if God can hear us, or if he sees what we are going through. Does he really care about me? We want to believe, but doubt enters in. 

In another place in Scripture, a distraught father of an afflicted child blurts out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). This is beautiful because it describes us so well. We believe, and we ask Jesus to help us where we doubt. He can be trusted to answer that prayer. Because he is the one who has perfect belief, and believes on our behalf.

Thomas didn’t stay a doubter. Tradition says that Thomas was the first missionary to India. In 52 A.D. he sailed from Palestine and arrived on the Kerala coast. He was martyred twenty years later, but not before founding seven flourishing churches. In India today, there are nearly 70 million believers.  

Doubt did not have the last word in Thomas’ life, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it will not have the last word with us either.  

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 16:1-11 • Acts 2:14a, 22-32 • 1 Peter 1:3-9 • John 20:19-31

This week’s theme is tongues of praise. In our call to worship psalm, David declares that in God, his heart is glad, and his tongue rejoices. In Acts, the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and they begin to speak in tongues of praise to God in various languages. In 1 Peter, the apostle writes to persecuted believers, telling them that the refining of their faith would result in them uttering praises to God. And in John’s gospel, a doubting disciple shouts his praise, “My God and My Lord!” after encountering the risen Savior.

The Truth, the Trials, and the Triumph

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Last week we celebrated Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. Today is considered the Second Sunday of Easter. This is also known as Thomas Sunday, as it is the day when Jesus appeared to the disciples and where Thomas physically encountered the risen Christ. [You may want to reference the Speaking of Life episode here concerning the tradition of Thomas’ success in India, which then saw him being martyred.]

From the years between 2005 to 2015 it was reported that 900,000 people were martyred for their faith. The average since then has been at the rate of 100,000 people per year who have lost their lives for the sake of Christ.1

Persecution is certainly nothing new. It has been with us nearly since the very beginning of the church. And it’s to this early persecuted church that the apostle Peter, moved with compassion, chooses to write to in today’s text.

We want to focus in on the beginning of this letter, and although most of us may not be going through anything close to what Peter’s original audience was experiencing, there are some valuable lessons for us as well. Lessons that focus on the truth, the trials, and the triumph.

Read 1 Peter 1:3-9

In Peter’s Day, believers were fleeing from persecution coming out of Rome. Many people had left their homes, families, jobs, everything they knew. And it’s to these people that Peter writes this letter.

If you were writing to friends who were undergoing persecution and trials, what would be the first thing that you might write? I am guessing that most of us would offer words of comfort, to let them know that we are praying for them and that we are so sorry that they are having to go through such trying times. But surprisingly, these are not the words Peter chooses to open with.

The truth

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (I Peter 1:3-5 NIV)

At first glance, Peter’s words may come across as an early form of the apostle’s creed, or a statement of beliefs. Is this really what Peter thinks his audience needs to hear right now; a refresher course on Christianity 101?

When things look their darkest, when we experience the pressure and squeezing of this life, it’s easy to forget what we have in Christ. The temptation is to think that our present situation is all there is or ever will be.

Our feelings about our circumstances can sometimes overshadow everything else in these difficult moments. Perhaps Peter knew this all too well and decided to remind his audience of the truth. The truth that Peter shares with them was meant to keep them grounded. To put their present sufferings in perspective.

Peter reminds them of their inclusion into Christ’s death and resurrection; that through this they have been born anew, to live lives full of hopeful expectation. Someday their salvation will come to its full fruition and on that day, they will receive their great everlasting inheritance. And Peter reminds them to count it as already fulfilled. We are just a week away from Easter, and it’s easy to forget that Easter was not just an event – a resurrection – it was a new beginning. Because he lives, we have tomorrow, as the song goes. It is good to keep the resurrection in our heart and mind every day. It reminds us that we have new life in Christ, that there is an inheritance for us, that we are shielded by God’s power.

No matter what happens to us, we have that same new and lasting life of Christ. As he was raised, so were we. No one and nothing can take away what Christ has provided. Our great hope in Christ and the inheritance that is ours should inform us on how to process our present sufferings in this life.

Whatever we go through now is temporary. Our gaze is on the eternal reality where we dwell with Christ even now. In the midst of everything going on, we are reminded by Peter to not just grudgingly put up with our circumstances, but to rejoice in them! This is the appropriate response. How is your response at this moment? Are you keeping the truth at the forefront of your situations?

The trials

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV)

Peter indicates here that suffering is bound to happen; it is unavoidable. But he then quickly reminds us that God uses these trials and suffering to refine our faith through them. He tells us this would be the vehicle by which our faith would become pure and mature.

While it is not God who causes the trials, he will use those opportunities in much that same way that gold is tested by fire. As a result, our faith will be shown to have far more value than the purest gold. No amount of money can purchase a life transformed by Christ.

At the end of suffering, we are found to be more and more like Christ. We have more in common with our Savior, who also suffered on our behalf. Our faith comes out of this stronger and more assured.

Have you ever found yourself persecuted? Have you lost friends or family due to your faith? Are you keeping quiet hoping to avoid suffering? Remember, Peter reminds that us that our present suffering will not last and will certainly not have the last word.

The triumph

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV)

Peter walked closely with Jesus for three years as one of his closest disciples. He had seen Christ’s transfiguration, he had seen Jesus crucified and had been restored by Jesus. He had encountered Jesus and spoken with him on at least a few occasions after the resurrection. Few were more acquainted with Christ Jesus than Peter.

In these verses, Peter is expressing how impressed he is by the fact that these believers hadn’t even seen Jesus before believing in him, and that even now, in spite of everything they have had to endure, they still believed. Their faith was triumphant!

So much of the truth in our lives remains hidden from our sight. Like the early church, we also believe in Christ, though we have not touched his hands or side. And yet, we are filled with hope and an assurance that our trials and suffering will not last. Christ will triumph.

This life will continue to throw various trials our way. We cannot avoid them, and most will not just merely be prayed away. But we can rejoice like the early believers, who endured far more than most of us will ever have to.

Peter tells the persecuted believers that their salvation was evident by their joy. Our rejoicing in the midst of trials is something that is not understood by an unbelieving world that bases its happiness on its circumstances and successes. Rejoicing in the midst of trials is a powerful witness of our faith and our hope. Who is watching you in your trials? Who is waiting to see a faith that has been refined like pure gold?

Brothers and sisters, let’s start by keeping our minds and hearts grounded with the truth. Let us remember everything that Christ has provided us with. He put to death our old selves, and he gave us new life that was raised with his. We are assured that our inheritance is safe in the hands of God and will not be taken away.

In the midst of our trials and suffering, let us keep the perspective that this too shall pass, knowing that our faith will become even more precious to us as a result. And in the meantime, it is working to our benefit.

And finally, let us choose to believe in the One whose truth holds us through our trials. Let us triumph in our joy, knowing that our salvation is already here, but will also be fulfilled at the end of time.

We start with and continue in the truth as we endure the trials, triumphing through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Be you strong and of good courage, you are already in his eternity. That’s good news worth sharing.

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W3

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April 16 – Second Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 1:3-9, “Living Hope”

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Program Transcript

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W3

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage. It’s 1 Peter 1:3-9. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the second Sunday of Easter, April the 16th, and it reads,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

“By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Wowzer!

I believe theology Mandy should lead us to doxology, that our God-talk should lead to God-worship. So, help us worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by exegeting this staggering statement from verse 3.

[00:23:16] Mandy: So, let me read verse 3 again here. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Yeah. It’s the center of everything that we are about, right? I love how the writers of the New Testament just break into praise and I love to imagine them—even though we are reading it on a screen or on a nice white piece of paper printed in beautiful text. I just love, if they’re writing it themselves or if they’re reading or speaking it aloud for an [inaudible] to write it all. Try to keep up and write it down as they go. I just love the thought of them, either way, the pen not being able to keep up with the words. They’re not just reciting a written doxology here. They are breaking into to genuine praise and being willing to share that.

If you received a letter with this kind of language, you would feel behind it the real worship of the person who was writing it. And even if I did receive a letter like this from somebody that I loved and trusted, I’m coming in after the end of a hot day, and I’m tired and I’ve got a letter in the mailbox and I’m opening up and I’m reading their words of rapture. And I’m like, oh my goodness, there’s some bills in the pile here as well. I think it’s good for us to give ourselves permission to not always be there with the person who’s writing these wonderful letters in the New Testament, but to choose to believe.

Oftentimes, I think that we have our theology backwards because we say, I’m going to try and think and think and think about this thing that I’m told in scripture is true: that we’ve already been given a new birth into a living hope, that because Jesus rose from the dead I should break into this kind of praise. We don’t feel the wonder of that on a regular basis, and it’s really hard for us to get our heads around it.

And I was raised in a tradition where we basically thought if you just keep thinking about it, if you just keep reading about it, then one day you might really understand it and then you’ll start to step into heartfelt worship. But what I actually have found is better, is to go in reverse: to live as if it’s true, to choose in practical ways to worship, to serve, to give as if these things have already been done for me. And somehow, it falls into place. Like the discomfort of living as if it’s true, actually allows you to experience it in a more genuine way.

Not all the time, of course, but it goes backwards (or it feels backwards) to say, how would I live if I really did believe that I’m already in this living hope through Jesus’ resurrection? And how might my stepping into it actually help me? The discomfort of that experiment might actually help me embrace it in more ways than hoping to understand it first.

[00:26:13] Anthony: Yeah. It often brings me to the Greek word for repentance. Metanoia is to think your way into a new way of acting. Whereas the Hebrew concept, teshuvah, is to act your way into a new way of thinking. And I think they work together. Sometimes we do need to have our minds renewed—to think our way into a new way of acting.

But I agree, sometimes you just have to do it. And it’s not necessarily “faking it till you make it”, but it is just stepping into that reality and seeing the miracles of God at your side.

Verse 6 informs us to rejoice while suffering. And sometimes, that’s a challenge, right? And so, my question is, can lament and rejoicing be held together without contradiction? How does that work?

[00:27:02] Mandy: Yeah. I don’t know if we’re—I think you can do them at the same time, in a way, because my lament is usually growing from the joy that I have, that I can see what could be, that I’ve been promised—we’ve been promised.

God is making all things new, and we can see all the ways that things aren’t new yet. And so, our lament somehow grows from our joy, from our desire to see that joy fulfilled. So I think there are always two sides of the same coin.

But for me, oftentimes, it comes in the order of what we see in the Psalms. That we are given permission by so many Psalms to just say, where are you, Lord? Are you even listening? Don’t you see the injustice? Don’t you see the brokenness? Are you watching? Are you hearing us?

And that is a kind of an emptying too. There’s a theme here, I think, that can feel like a kind of emptying. And if we don’t really believe in the filling that happens after we empty, then it just can feel like we’re just going into darkness. We’re just talking about hard things and we’re never going to emerge again.

And I often see this tension of, oh, we’re going to lose control if we lament, if we let people say what they’re really feeling then it’s just going to go down in a dark hole, and everyone’s going to be depressed. But I think when we lament in God’s direction especially, it’s not just complaining, it’s releasing. It’s emptying.

It’s trusting that there is somebody who actually cares about this stuff, who maybe even cares about it more than we do and who can take it when we beat on his chest, he’s not going anywhere.

And so something beautiful happens in that space because we do learn: oh, I’m not alone in this. Oh, God is not surprised by this. Oh, there is a space for me to be safe, to actually be honest and to share all the stuff that I’m just holding in. It’s really painful to feel a lot of pain, to feel frustration and anxiety, and to feel like God’s expecting us to just push it down.

To be able to release that, actually then (as we see in the Psalms of lament) they often turn into praise. They often return into natural rejoicing that was down there all along. Maybe it’s like I was saying before that we squash the Holy Spirit. Maybe the joy of the Holy Spirit is in us all the time, but it’s just so weighed down by the lament and we can access it once more when we let that lament come and be released to the Lord. And trust he can hold it and we don’t have to carry it on our own.

[00:29:33] Anthony: Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Emmanuel, God with us. That to me, that’s so reassuring and even in times where it feels like the fire is hot and the trials are coming fast and furious that God is with us, and he understands. We have a high priest who understands what it’s like.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What are some things that cause you to doubt God?
  • What can we do that would help eliminate certain doubts?
  • Where has Jesus entered the “locked rooms” of your life?

From the Sermon

  • What would you say to someone who is being persecuted for their faith?
  • Have you ever been persecuted? Talk about how that impacted your life.
  • How has God used suffering and trials to purify your faith?
  • How does embracing the truth of what Christ has done for us impact our lives?
  • Name a time when you were able to rejoice through your trials.

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