Br Samuel was our preacher this evening at Evensong and preached on Luke 24 36-49)
Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?’
At this point in Luke’s Gospel events are unfolding rapidly, the women have been to the tomb and it is empty, Simon Peter has been to the tomb too and has seen the grave clothes laid neatly where the body once was. Two disciples have just dashed back from Emmaus having met the risen Jesus on the road and broken bread with Him and as they arrive back to tell their story the others exclaim that He has appeared to Simon. In the other Gospels Jesus has already appeared to them quite a few times by this point too, they all take a slightly different perspective as to how they relay these stories, as they do with the rest of the Gospel.
So events are rapidly unfolding and as the two from Emmaus are telling of their encounter and the others are telling of Simon meeting Him all of a sudden Jesus is stood there amongst them. He’s just suddenly there. And, quite naturally they are terrified thinking he’s a ghost. They don’t yet fully believe He’s risen. They don’t yet fully believe that He is alive once more. So invites them to touch him, to see the scars in His hands and feet, He still bears the wounds of crucifixion, to truly know that He is fully and physically back from the dead, He’s not a spirit. And yet even then they still doubt so He asks for something to eat and He eats it before them.
So often we can doubt. We may doubt that God cares about us, or that God is willing to help us. We may go through things in our lives and we just can’t quite believe that God is there in it with us because we can’t see His presence in that situation. And at times like this we can turn to Scripture as it is filled with the relationship between God and man and we can find so many of our own struggles in it.
But what if we doubt our faith altogether, is it really true, or is it something to help us all sleep better at night? It’s interesting to note that in none of the accounts of Jesus’ appearances post resurrection does He rebuke anyone for not believing. He understands they have good reasons for struggling to believe, people don’t just walk out of tombs having been brutally executed by the most efficient killers on the planet. He recognises their doubt as simply being human. And He see’s when we doubt and He understands that we are human; He doesn’t hold it against us. He tells us to believe, He knows how crippling doubt can be, how damaging unchecked doubt can become. Peter later in His life wrote in one of his letters to the scattered churches, the letter we now know as 1 Peter, that we must always be ready to give a reason or a defence of the hope that is within us. And I think He gave us that instruction for two reasons, firstly so that when others ask we can tell them our reasons for believing and secondly so that when we doubt we can fall back on those reasons too.
Our society is one consumed with doubt, doubt over politics and money and morality and religion. Many use this to attempt to dispense with religion, which some view as purely blind faith, and replace it with which is purely evidence based. Neither of these are entirely correct definitions; science requires some level of faith as there are differing viewpoints within it and you need to trust those doing the work and our faith isn’t simply blind. There is plenty of evidence that both God and Jesus really exist and that what we say happened probably did happen. Note how Jesus in tonight’s passage starts to prove He is alive from where the disciples are at. They think He’s a ghost and so the first thing He does is to prove He’s not a ghost. We need to do the same when talking to people about our faith, start from where they are at. For example we have literary evidence: we have more copies of the Gospels than accounts that the Emperor Caesar existed and they are written much closer to Jesus’ lifetime, within about 60-90 years of His death. What’s more we have evidence from outside sources too. We have archaeological evidence, Nazareth for example was doubted by many scholars to have existed in the days of the New Testament and yet in the middle of the last century we found evidence that it did in fact exist as a small farming community. Places and people found only in the Bible, which scholars have dismissed them as being fake, have since been found to be real from digs in the Holy land.
Even science, often seen as being the thing which dispenses of the need for God, backs up a case for God. If we start with the scientific method of creation, the Big Bang, then look at the initial strength of the explosion. If that strength had differed by as little as 1 in 10^60 the universe would have either have collapsed back in on itself or it would have expanded so rapidly that stars wouldn’t be able to form, everything would have been moving too fast for gravity to draw it together. In either of these cases as you can probably guess, life wouldn’t have happened. Now that number is rather big and hard to imagine so I shall give you a comparison. That number is also the chance of shooting a 2p piece across the observable universe. Now those odds are incredible, even the science has to leave room for God, He won’t be squeezed out. The astronomer Robert Jastrow summed it up beautifully when he said “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Now there’s stacks more stuff out there backing up the Biblical accounts and reasons for our faith but I won’t continue with those otherwise we will be here all night.
Always be ready to give an account. Society is increasingly sceptical of anything that they haven’t experienced, even science is starting to lose people’s trust as people start questioning the very fabric of our society, all that’s left for them is experience. We can give cold hard evidence but we can also give our own experiences. After all we believe in a God who is deeply personal, when has God come through for you? When have your prayers been answered or you’ve felt Him there with you or heard Him speaking to you through the Bible and through others? I’d suggest writing them down, we so easily forget and yet when we doubt it is those times we can fall back on and know that He who was there at those times is also here now, in our doubt. We as Christian’s have the answer to the doubts of society, in the shifting sands of this present age there is one thing that never changes, there is one person who never changes: God. And we can point to Him as the one truly trustworthy and reliable person in this universe.
Faith is a gift of God but Jesus is always willing to give us evidence to those who are truly seeking Him that He is worth trusting and believing, He’s always willing to tackle our doubt, just take another look at tonight’s reading. After Jesus had vanished once again from their sight, when they were on the verge of questioning whether that had really just happened. They had the experience but they still doubted. They could look at the table. Jesus could have asked for anything to eat; bread, seeds or wine, but instead when they look down at the table what’s sat there? A pile of fish bones. There really is no reason to doubt, He is truly risen and He is with us always.