The Awful Truth

Heritage Presbyterian Church

April 19, 2020
2nd Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings – Acts 2: 4a, 22-29 and John 20: 19-29

If you remember the old Peanuts comic strips and the Peanuts TV specials, then you will remember Lucy, of course.  Lucy was the loud-mouthed, no-holds-barred daily tormentor of poor old Charlie Brown.  She also bulldozed her way through just about all situations with no apologies, no explanations, and no consideration for anyone’s opinions other than her own.

One of my favorite comics about Lucy and her big mouth involved her little brother, Linus.   One day he tried to calmly and rationally advise her to temper her comments, but Lucy was having none of it.  Why should she temper anything?  If she wanted to say something, she just went ahead and said it.

When her brother asked her, “But what if you’re wrong?”  She replied, “If you’re wrong, then be wrong at the top of your voice!”

I guess in Lucy’s head it was better to be wrong and strong than right and weak.  That way, no one will have the guts to challenge you on anything.

Too bad Lucy never had to deal with the Apostle Peter…

In the reading from Acts that we hear today, it is Peter who is challenging the entire crowd on the streets of Jerusalem.  This is a little hard to believe when you consider all that Peter has shown us throughout the four Gospels:

  • When no one would answer Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” it was Peter who tentatively murmured, “You are the Christ.”  He didn’t declare it.  He didn’t look around at the other Apostles and then look Jesus right in the eye.  No, he said just said it softly.
  • It was Peter who needed Jesus’ hand when he sank under the waves on the Sea of Galilee; Jesus walked on the water and then beckoned Peter to do the same.  Too late!  Peter looks around him, gets a little nervous, and sinks like a stone before being saved – literally saved – by Jesus.
  • It was Peter who freaked out on the mountain during the transfiguration when he saw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together.  [To be fair, it would have been an act of amazing strength and composure not to freak out!]
  • And, of course, it was Peter who denied knowing Jesus on Maundy Thursday so he wouldn’t get in trouble and get arrested too.

That Peter.  That’s the big, brave Peter we all know and love…

And now THAT Peter is challenging the crowd in Jerusalem!  Isn’t that amazing???

But Peter knew the truth, the awful truth, about what that same crowd had done.  So he spoke to that awful truth:

  1. “Jesus was handed over to you.”
  2. “With help from wicked men, you put him to death by crucifixion”…that crowd called for his death by an execution for criminals that is in direct violation of Jewish laws.  It’s in the Book of Deuteronomy.
  3. Peter quoted King David, their hero, in much the same way a patriotic, blue-blooded American might quote George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  That had to sting!
  4. Peter reminded them finally that, “the One you crucified is Lord and Messiah.”  

Peter nailed the awful truth, it would seem.

Imagine the cringing that the crowd in Jerusalem did on that terrible, amazing day.  Scripture does not tell us that anyone slunk away from that scene rather than listen to Peter.  Scripture does not tell us that many in the crowd began shouting and taunting Peter.  Scripture does not tell us that the crowd picked up rocks and threatened to stone Peter for blasphemy.  

No, the crowd was shocked, confronted, and condemned with the awful truth.  They were surprised to learn that it was their Messiah who had been crucified – not just some new prophet who had provoked the authorities.

Peter also sets Jesus’ death and resurrection in the context of God’s larger plan and activity in the people when someone in the crowd asked the right question: “Brothers, what should we do?”

Then Peter explained why the Holy Spirit manifested itself through the Apostles that day; Peter takes the first step in salvation that is realized for all of us, that awful truth that we all know: even though we are all sinners, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose and conquered sin and death, and Jesus forgives our sins – just as Peter told the crowd in the streets of Jerusalem on that day.

Hearing the awful truth on that day must have been hard.  But to ignore it and to act as if nothing was wrong would be as foolish as Lucy yelling her incorrect opinion at the top of her lungs.

Then we have our Gospel reading – and my, my!  What a scene of awful truth poor Thomas had to face!

We only have a handful of small mentions of Thomas in the Gospels.  In one set, he is in the middle of the usual listing of the Twelve Apostles that each Gospel give us.    In John 11, verse 16, when Jesus returned to Bethany in order to see about Lazarus, he was returning to Judea where the authorities were waiting.  In doing so, he was placing himself in mortal danger.  The Apostles were all greatly agitated by his plan to do this, but it was only Thomas who spoke up and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  

Brave words…bold words…funny thing though…I don’t remember Thomas being arrested with Jesus in the garden.  I don’t remember Thomas hanging on the cross next to Jesus..  I don’t even remember Thomas at the foot of the cross when Jesus was dying.  So this “let us also go with him and die with him” was just momentary bravery or brashness or whatever.

But the awful truth was that Thomas was as cowardly as the other Apostles.  And then he goes and makes it even worse!

There have been a thousand sermons throughout Christian history about “Doubting Thomas.”  His lesson is one that embarrasses each of us and should make us a little hesitant in shooting our mouths off in the wrong places.  But I want to point out how awful the truth was for Thomas that day.

First, he told the other Apostles and the women too that he didn’t believe them.  Why he didn’t believe them is not the message for this sermon; I will leave that question for others to ponder.  The awful truth was all the other Apostles were telling the truth, and Thomas didn’t believe them. 

And then Thomas took that truth and made it truly awful when he said, “I won’t believe it until I can see the nail marks, until I put my finger in the nail holes, and until I put my hand in his side where the soldier stabbed him.  Until then, I won’t believe.”

You just gotta feel sorry for Thomas…he is SO WRONG and we know it because we know the rest of the story.  But doesn’t it almost sound like Charlie Brown’s nemesis, Lucy, being wrong at the top of her lungs?  Unfortunately, this is not some comic strip…

So, Jesus appeared a week later, and this time Thomas was present with nowhere to hide.  And Jesus called him out: “Thomas, come and see the nail holes.  Put your finger in those holes.  Put your hand in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”

What could Thomas say now that the awful truth had confronted him?  He couldn’t even say he was sorry in that moment; instead, he said, “My Lord and my God!” – which is a pretty good answer for that situation.  It was probably all he could manage.

Then we get one more little detail in this uncomfortable drama: after Thomas made his declaration, Jesus told him the lesson that all of us need: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  I’ll bet that was the main topic of the sermons that Thomas gave for the rest of his life.

In a bizarre twist of Christian tradition, it is reported that Thomas was the only witness to the assumption of Jesus’ mother, Mary, into heaven.  Furthermore, it is also reported that Thomas had difficulty convincing the Apostles of what he had witnessed.

Imagine the awful truth in that scene!  Now imagine how Thomas must have felt if it was true!

In our own lives, dear Christians, each of us is challenged as Thomas was when Jesus said, “Do not doubt but believe.”  Jesus is speaking the awful truth to each of us: it is easier to doubt!

When Peter challenged the crowd in the streets of Jerusalem, he was telling them clearly and bluntly what they had done; each of us is confronted with the awful truth of our own sinfulness each and every day.

Yet the wonderful truth is that the One who died on that cross, the One who rose on Easter morning, the One who Peter loved and served, the One who removed Thomas’ doubt in the resurrection is the same One who saves us today, who challenges us not to doubt but to believe, and who calls us to serve in any way we possibly can.

The wonderful truth is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our Savior!