Dennis was on his way to visit Elaine one night when his car broke down. He was miles from home. Just then, it began to rain so heavily that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. He took refuge under a tree and just when he was about to give up, he caught a glimpse of truck lights slowly moving towards him. I’m saved, he thought. Desperate for a ride, he jumped into the truck when it stopped. Once in, he turned to the driver to thank him, when he realized that the moving car had no driver. The rain was so heavy, he couldn’t even hear the sound of the engine.
Dennis was too scared to move, too afraid to jump out. As the truck approached a sharp bend in the road which led down into a deep valley, Dennis began to pray for his life. He was sure the ghost truck was going to go off the cliff into the ravine below. Just before the truck entered the bend, a shadowy hand reached in through the driver side window and turned the wheel. Just as silently, the hand disappeared through the window and the hitchhiker was all alone again.
When the truck approached a town, Dennis, scarred to death, jumped out of the truck and ran towards the first building he could find. Wet and still in shock, he told everyone in the tavern of his supernatural experience with the Saskatchewan ghost truck. A silence filled the room, and everybody got goosebumps when they realized Dennis was telling them the truth about the strange truck and the ghostly hand that guided it on its way. Just then, two men walked into the saloon. They were soaking wet as they looked around. They spotted Dennis and threateningly pointed at him. Dennis feared they were the ghosts come to get him when one of them spoke up, “that’s the bonehead who jumped into our truck when we were pushing it in the pouring rain.”
Scripture speaks of another mysterious hand. “Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace” (Daniel 5:5) recounts the occasion when the mysterious hand of the Lord God appeared to King Belshazzar of Babylon as Daniel is called to interpret the writing on the wall which describes the demise of the king – who was killed that very night.
Well, today we aren’t going to talk about any shadowy or mysterious hands! We are going to begin our meditation with reality. And so, I’d like you to take a moment and look at your hands. Take a close look at the back of your hand, your wrist, knuckles, and fingernails. Now, flip your hands over and inspect your palm, the lines, and recesses, and especially your thumb and fingers. Generally speaking, people’s hands reveal a multitude of things about their life, their work and also who they are. Fortune tellers scam money from simpletons by foretelling their future based on the lines in the palms of their hands. More realistically, in a recent police show, the detective pretended to read people’s palms of two suspects to secretly check their hands for clues regarding the murder he was investigating.
Our hands not only reveal many personal stories about our life history, but they also describe our present lifestyles. A missing finger or a missing piece of a finger always has a story associated with it which can be used to teach and warn children and apprentices of the things they should be careful around. Some scars might have been avoided like grabbing a searing hot object when our mind was somewhere else. In my younger days, when I used to repair my own car, cuts, scrapes, oil and grease where a common characteristic of my hands. Unlike others, I don’t have any missing digits from my younger days. Some of our injuries could not have been avoided. Sometimes its just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a two-inch scar on my wrist, which cut a few tendons, when a glass bottle of ginger-ale blew up next to me while I was at work on an especially hot summer’s day.
When we lived in Saskatchewan, we had a large garden that required daily work. That’s when I discovered just how damaged my hands could become working in a garden. After we returned from a four-week holidays visiting our family, weeds had taken over almost every empty corner of the garden. After one week of cleaning and weeding, and killing potato beetles, my hands were blistered, dusty, smelly, and green, as well as sore from having been needled through my gloves by certain prickly weeds.
Whatever we chose to be involved in, either work or hobby, our hands are regularly exposed to different situations in our everyday life. When I cook, I enjoy freshly cut garlic, the smell of which remains on your hands for a long time - even after you wash. When I pick up my guitar, I find my fingertips quickly get sore and form calluses where I push down on the strings to make the different chords. Now carpentry is something I enjoy but I don’t get much opportunity to work with wood – although anytime I handle wood, I get splinters!
We know little or nothing about Joseph – Jesus’ earthly stepfather. When Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth, the people identify him as the carpenter’s son. It’s interesting that in Judaism, fishermen and carpenters were both considered ceremonially unclean because of their work. Fishermen regularly handled dead fish, while carpenters were needed to build coffins.
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55)? When Jesus began teaching in the synagogue of Nazareth the people were amazed and asked, “where did this man get his wisdom and these miraculous power” (Matthew 13:54) since he is only a young carpenter himself. One tradition says that young Jewish men would stay home and serve their parents until they reached the age of thirty. Young men would learn their father’s trade. From the day Jesus was old enough to pick up a hammer and chisel, until the day he left home to begin his ministry - he would have learned carpentry from Joseph. As the son of a carpenter, we might be able to form a mental image of what Jesus’ hands would have looked like. Jesus’ hands would not be the soft and manicured hands of the rich and powerful, of the priests or Levites, but instead, the blistered, rough, and worn hands of a labourer. Jesus’ hands had seen many years of working wood, building, and farming the land.
Jesus appears to the women outside the tomb, but there is no mention of his hands or feet. “Greetings,” [Jesus] he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9). Jesus walks and talks with two disciples who don’t notice anything unusual about their fellow traveller as “two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13), until Jesus is revealed in the ‘breaking of the bread’. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20).
Notice how the confirmation of his identity and their joy follows on the heals of Jesus showing the disciples his hands and side although only John was present at the crucifixion when “the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34) instead of breaking the legs of the convicts. Thomas was not present when Jesus first appears to the disciples. He could not share in their witness or joy because he doubted their testimony (maybe Thomas thought it was a cruel joke or an April Fool’s joke).
But one thing is sure. After the resurrection, Thomas wasn’t interested in seeing the worn and damaged hands of a labourer. Thomas wasn’t interested in seeing the blistered hands of a carpenter or a farmer. Thomas wanted to see the crucified hands of the risen Lord. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe” (John 20:25) declared Thomas to those who had first witnessed the resurrected Lord.
The story of Thomas continues to be a valuable witnessing tool for those of us today, who were not present during the forty days when the risen Lord appeared to the disciples and “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3). We misread the accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus when we believe that this story was intended to shame Thomas for his lack of faith. Doubting Thomas is a label that should not be used in describing this faithful disciple who one day would be martyred for his faith in the resurrected Lord.
This story is not intended to shame Thomas for his lack of faith. And really, Thomas is not the only one lacking in faith. According to Luke, after the women told the disciples that they had seen the risen Lord “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11). And actually, the faith of the disciples is regularly being questioned by Jesus throughout the different gospels. In the miraculous taming of the wind and waves by Jesus “he said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). In today’s post resurrection appearance by Jesus John centres out Thomas, for whatever reason, and uses Thomas’ absence from the first appearance of Jesus to tell a story about faith.
Writing many years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and after the other eyewitnesses of the resurrection were dead and buried, John is helping new believers, as well as us today, who have a hard time believing those things we have not seen and those things we cannot touch to believe the stories of the actual witnesses of the resurrection. After the ascension of Jesus, forty days after his resurrection, all proof of the resurrection was gone. Once all of the disciples and witnesses of the resurrection had died - the only thing the Christian communities had left were the stories of the resurrection which were passed down from one generation to the next. By the end of the first century, belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead could only be accepted by faith alone and we know that even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time with faith. Even John goes so far as to explain that he wrote his account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for a purpose – “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The letter to the Hebrews gives us the best definition of faith to be found in the entire Bible. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). And so, it’s not a matter of experiential testing of the waters by touching Jesus’ hands and side. Instead, Jesus proclaims something deeper and much more important. Jesus declares to all people who hear today’s gospel being read, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). For you see, that you and I are truly blessed by our belief and our faith in the resurrection, especially since none of us have actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus.
John’s account of the second post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Thomas is really intended to encourage Christians in their suffering, as well as in their times of doubt. The second half of the definition of faith declares having ‘an assurance’, ‘a conviction’ of things unseen’ which is intended to point us backwards to the resurrection and to believe by faith because of the witness of others while the first half of the definition, ‘the confidence of things hoped for’ is intended to point us forward, to the future promises of Jesus in the cross of Good Friday. Divine faith is a gift given to humanity, along with hope and love through the Grace of the cross.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! (begins Peter) In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4). Peter then continues in the same tone as John saying, “although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9) writing specifically to those who are suffering and being persecuted for their faith.
Peter’s definition of our heavenly glory as ‘imperishable, undefiled and unfading’, moves us further forward into the hope of life eternal with the Revelation’s description of our heavenly home where, “there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelations 21:4) which describes our future hope when we will one day receive our perfect and flawless glorified bodies. This is where the story of Thomas takes us on an unexpected twist. The gospel turns our attention and focus on the hands and wounds of Jesus. John is the only gospel writer to mention the hands and the wounds of Jesus in the post resurrection encounters. Thomas would have been satisfied with simply seeing Jesus with his own eyes, but John deliberately turns our attention towards Jesus’ hands and wounds. It might surprise us to discover that the glorified and resurrected body of Christ is not perfect and flawless - as we might have expected. Our Lord’s hands and side still show wounds of Good Friday. John wants to remind us that there is a lot more to be said about the resurrection of Jesus.
Even today, Christians often make the mistake of focusing all their attention completely on the resurrection and God’s victory over death. Martin Luther called this a ‘Theology of Glory’. Often, the church forgets the cost and the suffering which the Son of God endured in order to acquire our salvation and eternal life. John doesn’t forget the cost of Easter. After the victorious resurrection of Jesus, John again turns our attention to the hands and the wounds of Jesus. The wounded hands of Jesus still have a story to tell. His nail pierced hands are part of his eternal glorification. His wounds are permanent, and they will never go away - as they are the marks of God’s victory over sin and death. His hands are a reminder of the great love that was poured out in order to acquire our salvation and eternal life. Our focus is not on the hands of a carpenter, or a farmer, or a great teacher - but the hands of a saviour. As a people of the cross, when we look upon his nail pierced hands for us, which are permanently preserved in our Lord’s glorified body, we are more apt to want to show our love back to God and to God’s people - because “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.