Has it been a horrific week for you? What is it that troubles you so this morning? Have you a broken marriage or a broken family? Have you a disease that has come out of the darkness or a loved one who has come out of the closet? Is this the week you have lost your life’s savings, or worse yet, is this the week you have lost your best friend to the grave? Has a plaguing temptation proven its influential sway yet again, and does Jesus seem too far away? Friend, are you weary, broken, sorrowing, and numb? As you digest these words, are you doubting that God has a wonderful plan for you and yours in this present age? Does this world seem to be vain or meaningless, and are you currently having serious issues worshiping God who is exercising his sovereign lordship over all?
Well then, you can identify with the first followers of Jesus. Their best friend has been arrested, tortured, and crucified. From an external perspective, Satan is winning, Jesus has lost, and his church is falling to pieces. They have given their life to engage in a world-wide ministry of Gospel preaching and prayer, and it looks now as if they have played the part of fools and have wasted their efforts. Betrayed they are, and now they are broken-hearted and bleeding. And oh how it hurts that one of their own is with them no more. He has learned with them, prayed with them, preached with them, and comforted the hurting with his miraculous gifts. He is one who formerly picked up his cross and followed Jesus, but as of late he has been filled with despair and ended it all. Yes, for these formerly believing Christ followers, it has been a dismal week. And now, in the midst of their horrible circumstances, they are forgetting God’s promises and doubting his providence. And what is the result? These dear believers are suffering incredible depression, decapitating fear, and utter hopelessness. Thomas is not alone in this; they are all suffering the sin of disbelief, and it is wrecking them body and soul.
What they need is encouragement, and this is what they receive. In John’s autobiographical account, you will see that as Jesus’ friends come face to face with him, all their depression and despair go by the wayside. Tears remain, but they are of a different sort. Renewed joy is theirs as the Risen King proves yet again to be absolutely sovereign over everything including sin, injustice, scandal, suicide, schism, danger, depression, suicide, and death.
DESPAIR – But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
RENEWED JOY – As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
DESPAIR – When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,
RENEWED JOY – Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
DESPAIR – But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.
RENEWED JOY – Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:11-28)
Therefore my suffering friends, I want to be the one to encourage you this morning by reminding you the truth about the Risen and Reigning Jesus. Yes, I know you are hurting. Yes, I know you are doubting, Yes, I know you can’t see straight due to the tears. Yes, I know you cannot discern the forest for the trees. However, Jesus created the world from his mouth and still has the world in his hands. And from his inspired text, this is what I know:
- God knows all possible actions and contingencies.
- God decrees whatsoever comes to pass. (Nothing is left to chance.)
- God never changes that which he decrees. (His eternal decree is always best.)
- God personally and actively performs absolutely all that he decrees.
- God secondarily and more passively uses others to perform all he decrees.
- God never fails to perform and experience exactly that which he decrees.
- God never struggles to perform his decrees.
- God never improvises to perform his decrees. (Plan B’s are Ridiculous)
- God’s decrees are absolutely the best thing for his will.
- God’s decrees are absolutely the best thing for his Kingdom.
- God’s decrees are absolutely the best thing for his purposes.
- God’s decrees are absolutely loving for his chosen family.
- God’s decrees are mysterious; they are not supposed to be understandable.
- God’s decrees are painful; they are not to be endured with a holy and plastic smile.
- God’s decrees include your sinful forgetting, doubting, depression and despair.
- God’s decrees include his ongoing revelation and your renewed joy – here and in heaven.
Therefore, on this Lord’s Day, there is nothing better for you to do than be in the Lord’s House, around the Lord’s People, while together looking into the Lord’s Book, and being freshly encouraged by the Lord’s Face. Struggling brothers and sisters, why be like Thomas and go another week without being encouraged by your Savior? Why miss out when others are being renewed by him? Where Jesus is, that is where you ought to be. You have been there before, and the sofa has absolutely nothing to offer you. Your television will not provide the desperately needed encouragement, and forget the bottle and the pills. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered, there he will be especially found.” And where Jesus is found, victory, encouragement, and worship is always realized. Yes, where Jesus’ “Means of Grace” are highlighted (Prayer, Word, Sacraments, Fellowship) are poured forth. And is this not what you need? So get up, take off your sackcloth and ashes, and find the closest fellowship of believers. Join them in worship. Look full in Jesus’ face. He has Gospel encouragement for you despite your faithlessness, and after you are fully encouraged, you will find yourself with the smile of shalom on your lips even as painful tears still stream from your eyes.