Sunday, March 1, 2015


Every once in a while, as you're reading a bit of Bible, you come upon something that doesn't stand out as crucial, but you wonder why it's there. We have one of those in John's account of Thomas meeting the risen Jesus. Listen.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The non-crucial but interesting item is at the beginning of the paragraph.
'Eight days later...' And here's why this stood out to me. Why did Jesus delay until the eighth day after His first appearance to show up again? Why did Jesus make Thomas wait?

He does that sort of thing throughout the Scriptures. So, for example, consider the storyline of the Bible: the creation of everything, the fall into sin, redemption by the Cross and then, the restoration of everything as a new heavens and new earth when Jesus returns. It is taking thousands and thousands and thousands of years to go from creation to restoration and we're not done yet. Have you ever thought what it would be like if Jesus did it much more quickly. Consider this alternative. Genesis 1 and 2, creation. And then, Genesis 3 the fall into sin. That's just as we have it now. But then, in Genesis 4, Jesus shows up to redeem by the Cross, followed by Genesis 5, restoration, the end of the Bible and the beginning of the new heavens and the new earth . What if, instead of thousands of years, it all took a month? But it isn't taking a month, is it? We're still waiting.

Now, back to Thomas. Why did Jesus wait? Why not just show up when Thomas returned to the others? Why is it that in this, and so many other situations, Jesus' sense of timing is so different from ours? Why does it have to take so long? Why do we have to wait?

This is a good question to ask, as long as you ask it with the right attitude. We're not scolding Jesus, complaining about how He is running this world, thinking that we can do a better job. We just want to understand Him. And that's important because understanding Him lies at the heart of wisdom. If you don't understand Him, you can't understand life. I'm sure that He has good reasons why He acts as He does. It just seems right to ask what they are.

Here's one answer to that question. Jesus makes us wait in order to teach us. The time for us to wait is the time for us to learn.

One way that Jesus teaches is by symbols and symbolic acts. That's hard for people who like things written out in black and white. You know, people like engineers, software programmers and mathematicians. To be sure, Jesus uses black and white words, but He also uses symbols. So, in Revelation, Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah. A symbol. And C. S. Lewis wrote a series of 'sermons' on what that symbol means and called them The Chronicles of Narnia.

I wonder if Jesus was teaching using a symbolic act in John 20. Jesus waited for the eighth day to re-appear. He waited a week. And that would mean He waited for the next Sunday. You have to remember that for those Jewish disciples, the first day of the week was just another work day. Saturday was their Sabbath. I'm wondering if, by appearing on two successive Sundays, He's saying something about the importance of the first day of the week. That might explain the otherwise odd decision of the Church to change the most important day of the week from the last day to the first. I'm not sure that's the case, but I wonder. So, did Jesus delay for the sake of teaching the group something new?

There are lots of other symbols and symbolic acts that Jesus uses to teach. Consider the number forty. Jesus fasted for forty days. He ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection. In Noah's day, it rained for forty days. Israel was in the desert for forty years. And humans take forty weeks to go from conception to birth. Is any of that significant? Are there lessons to be learned by this symbolism? I'll let you sort that out.

Let's get back to Thomas. Imagine being in the room with the disciples after Jesus first showed up. What would you see? You'd see the group elated over what happened. 'Jesus is alive!' Imagine the joy and the excited voices and the discussions about what it all means. I can't imagine what the prayers of thanksgiving and praise sounded like. From the pits on Friday to the heights on Sunday. What a time! Except for Thomas. Remember he doesn't believe any of it. So, what's he thinking? What's he feeling? Here are four words that fit.

Grief. Remember, his loved mentor, someone he lived with and learned so much from for three years, has died a horrible death. This is a time of mourning for Thomas. And nothing has changed that for him.

Fear. The room where they are all meeting is still locked. The authorities would love to round up all of the disciples of that rebel and get rid of them.

The future. He had made large changes in his life, assuming that he would be following his mentor and serving Him for the rest of his life. That dream is gone. Now what? And what if he wasn't like Peter who could return to being a fisherman? What if he was more like Matthew and gave up a job that he couldn't return to?

Confusion. None of this was making any sense. Life must have felt all turned upside down.

And here's the thing. Jesus left him struggling with all of that. He delayed and made Thomas wait for the resolution. Why? Is He being nasty? No, Jesus makes us wait for good reasons. The time for us to wait is the time for us to learn.

The Psalms are filled with the prayers of those who are waiting - and struggling while they wait. So, from Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The repetition of that phrase, 'How long?' works. It's pretty clear that David has been struggling for a while, Jesus hasn't shown up yet and it's getting harder. Jesus is making him wait. But it's as you read the rest of that Psalm that you see what David has learned so that he can wait.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

There is another place where this theme of waiting shows up. This is a place that can give some help. Listen to this from Isaiah 40.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Israel, here, is sounding just like David. 'Lord, you have forgotten me. I am suffering so and have cried out to You, but You are nowhere to be found.' The people cry out to Jesus for rescue. But nothing happens. They feel forgotten.

But, through Isaiah, Jesus responds to their cries. He explains that He is the God who is eternal, the creator. He is someone who never gets tired so that He has to put off what He had planned on doing. And 'His understanding is unsearchable'. Jesus is telling the people, 'I know what I'm doing, even though it feels like I don't. I know what I'm doing even though it feels like I've forgotten all about you. But don’t worry. I haven’t.'

What follows is a call to wait.

but they who wait for the Lord

Please understand that this waiting is not just standing there shuffling your feet while nothing is happening. The Hebrew word here has an important nuance to it. It's about waiting in hope. In fact, some translations, like the NIV, translate it here as 'those who hope in the Lord. Now, remember what hope is. It's waiting for Jesus to keep a promise. And you can't hope without trust. So, this waiting is no shuffling of feet. It's active. It's hoping for what has been promised, knowing that one day it will come. And that hopeful waiting is based on this simple sentiment. 'Jesus, I trust You.'

Please note that there is nothing here in Isaiah about when the resolution will come so that all the questions will be answered. The people of God - that includes you - are still waiting when we get to the end of Isaiah's glorious picture.

But the time for you to wait is the time for you to learn. It is as you wait that you learn how to trust and how to hope. And the results? You who wait will run and never give up. And you will soar like the eagles. And that means that, because of the gift of Jesus, you will be able to endure the wait, never becoming so weary that you give up. And it means that, because of the gift of Jesus, you will be able to respond well to the grief and difficulties of what oppresses you while you wait. You will be blessed with joy and peace and more, even as life gets harder. This is the work of the Spirit of Jesus. As you wait in hope you will become stronger and stronger in such a way that it will be obvious to those around you that Jesus has been doing something in your life.

That will be so encouraging to the other saints who also are waiting. As they watch you wait in hope they will see that it's possible to do the same, by the gift of Jesus. And what a witness to those outside the Church, those who have difficulties but have no hope and have nothing to wait for. They will see the blessings of Jesus in you, and that will result in the spread of the Gospel.

We all are waiting for something - every person alive. So, it's not the waiting that distinguishes us. It's how we wait. So, pray for Jesus to give you the ability to wait in hope.