Acts 4: 32-35
John 20: 19-31
John writes, at the very end of his gospel:
‘these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’.
So what does it really mean to believe in Jesus?
I seem to have quite a lot of conversations with people about belief.
Recently, visiting someone who was very ill, he said to me “I wish I could believe in God and heaven and all those things – but I haven’t been able to for many years”.
For him, belief was something that might have brought a measure of security in his last days, and I admired his honesty and integrity, that he wasn’t prepared to state an allegiance to a faith as some kind of insurance deal.
But it seems that for people of honesty and integrity, faith is not something that can just be conjured up, however much they may want to believe or however pleasant and positive they are about people who do have faith.
Believing is not simple.
Take Thomas. He is not with the other disciples when they see the risen Jesus Christ on Easter day. And though they tell Thomas what has happened, and though their story ‘we have seen the Lord’ is corroborated by the two from Emmaus, and by Mary who met Jesus at the tomb that morning – Thomas does not believe. The other disciples have received the gift of the Spirit from Jesus – but somehow they cannot convince Thomas that Jesus is risen. And then a whole week passes.
I wish John told us what happened in that week. Did Thomas just keep away from the others, with their crazy stories of the risen Jesus, and their strange insistence that they had received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, and that they were going to tell the whole world this good news of Jesus, the one who came back from death?
Did the apostles try to tell anyone else, or were they so gutted by Thomas’s disbelief that they kept the news to themselves. Did they try, every day, to convince Thomas of the truth of their story? Did Thomas pray, like the father of the sick child in Mark’s gospel “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”?
Or did they all just wait for Jesus to act?
We don’t know. John doesn’t tell us. And only John tells us this part of the story – about Thomas - so we just don’t know.
But we do know that Jesus appears to Thomas – 7 whole days later – and that Thomas, when we sees the risen Jesus, believes. And Thomas then goes the whole hog ‘My Lord and my God!’
But aren’t those 7 days fascinating? Why did Jesus wait 7 days – why not put Thomas out of his misery sooner (because whatever else did or didn’t happen in those 7 days, Thomas was left mourning his teacher and Lord). Perhaps, somehow, Thomas needed that time to accept the truth, to believe, to see.
Maybe this strange gift of belief is a gift that God waits, patiently, to give us when we are ready to receive it.
Of course, waiting patiently is not something most of us are very good at. We want to know – now. We want ot have faith, enough to move mountains, we want the church to be filled with power to change lives.
We want God’s spirit to make people listen to the story we have to tell about the resurrection of Jesus and to believe and join us.
But sometimes we have to be patient, hard as it is.
We listen to the account in Acts and we might feel very impatient, very jealous of the early church:
‘With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need’.
The apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection and many believed. But,, wait just a moment – these are the very same apostles who had 7 days to convince Thomas of their ‘testimony to the resurrection’ and who failed. What’s changed? Well, this account comes from Luke’s second volume – the Acts of the apostles, and according to Luke, the disciples had to wait 7 weeks for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and only then were they able to preach with great power.
They had to wait. Thomas had to wait to believe. They have to wait to see results from their belief.
What about us?
If we believe that Jesus is risen, is we believe that Jesus sends us to tell the world, what are we waiting for? Perhaps we have to wait for God’s time to be right, for people’s hearts to be open to hear what we have to say. But we need to pray to be ready. Ready to believe; ready to tell; and ready to welcome those who also believe, so that believing we may all have life in Jesus’ name.
Lord, help our unbelief. Amen.