Sermons on Bible Characters
By Clovis Chappell
Contents of Sermons on Bible Characters
Sermons by Clovis Chapell on the Bible Characters:
Thomas, Jonah, Peter, Paul, Jonathan, The Woman of Sychar, Barnabas, Pharaoh, Jephthah, Elijah, the Philippian Jailer, Naomi, A Failure-the Busy Man, Jochebed, Manasseh, and a shrewd fool-the rich farmer.
Excerpt #1 Thomas the Missing Man
THE MISSING MAN—THOMAS
“Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” Did you notice the name of this man who was missing? Who was it when the little company met after the crucifixion that was not there? There was a man expected who failed to come. Who was this man? When the little company gathered in the upper room behind shut doors there was one chair that was vacant. Who should have occupied that chair?
Well, in the first place, it was not Judas. He was missing. He was not there, it is true, but he was not expected. Judas had already betrayed his Lord. Judas had already been whipped and scourged by his remorse of conscience clean out of the world. Judas had gone to his own place in the great Unseen Country. Judas was not there, but he was not expected to be there.
Who was the missing man? It was not Pilate. We no more expected Pilate than we expected Judas. Pilate had had his chance at Jesus. Pilate had had an opportunity of knowing, of befriending Him, of serving Him. But Pilate had allowed his own interests to get the better of his conscience. Pilate had chosen the friendship of Caesar and had spurned the friendship of the King Eternal. So we did not expect Pilate to be present in this little company of the friends of Jesus who met on the resurrection side of the cross. Who was the missing man? It was not Caiaphas. He, too, had stood in the presence of Jesus, but his envy had made him blind. And he shouted “Blasphemy!” so loud that he drowned the voice of his conscience and the gentle whisperings of the Spirit of God. No, it was not Caiaphas, nor any of the indifferent or hostile crowd that we miss in this meeting.
Then, who was this missing man? And we read the text again and we find his name was Thomas. That is a very familiar name. Oh, yes; we remember Thomas quite well. It was Thomas who was missing. Now, Thomas was expected, for he was a member of the little band of disciples. He was one of the Twelve. He belonged to the Inner Circle. His fellow Christians had a right therefore to expect him. Yet Thomas was not with them.
It is a sad day ever for any congregation when its own membership begin to absent themselves from its services. It is a sad day for any congregation when those who compose it can be counted on to be there at the social function, there at the place of business, but cannot be counted on when the interests of the Kingdom are at stake and when the Son of God goes forth to war. Believe me, no community ever loses respect for a congregation till that congregation loses respect for itself.
And did you notice when it was that Thomas was absent? “Thomas was not with them when Jesus came.” What an unfortunate time to be away! What a great calamity to have missed that service of all others! There was the little despondent, despairing company of ten meeting behind closed doors. They were sorrow-burdened and fear-filled. But Jesus came, and Thomas, the saddest and bitterest man of them all, was not there.
Of course he would have gone if he had had any idea what a wonderful service it was going to be. If he had even dreamed that Jesus would be there, of course he would not have missed it; but he expected the meeting to be a very dull affair. He felt confident that whoever else was there that there would be no Christ. He expected that Peter and James and John and the rest would meet there and talk of a glorious past that had gone forever. He would have said, “Yes, I know what they will say. They will tell how Jesus called them at the beginning. They will tell how they forsook all to follow Him. They will tell of the great dreams that they dreamed, of the high hopes that they cherished. They will tell of all the glad, radiant days that have ‘dropped into the sunset.’ But they will have nothing to say to relieve the bitterness of to-day or to fling a bow of hope upon the black skies of to-morrow. So I will not go to the meeting to-day.”
But the meeting was not dull. The meeting was not sad. The meeting was not a lament for a glory that was passed, for a glad day that had slipped behind them forever more. It was a service that thrilled with present joys. It was a meeting that made the future to glow with glorious possibilities. It was wonderful, because Jesus came. He came then, and He comes still. Wherever hungry hearts come together who yearn for Him and make Him welcome, there comes the blessed Christ to stand in the midst. And therefore I would not absent myself from the meeting together of the people of God. I would not because I want to be there when Jesus comes, when the King comes in to see the guests.
“Thomas was not with them when Jesus came.” I wonder why it was that Thomas was missing. I wonder how it came about that he, the neediest man among the apostles, was not there to receive the inspiration and the uplift that came from this service. Why was he not there?
It was not, I am sure, because he was indifferent. There are many to-day who have separated themselves from the services of the church, from the fellowship of the saints, because of a deadening indifference. They have become absorbed in a thousand other matters till they have become doubly uninterested in the things of the church and in the affairs of the Kingdom.
Thomas was not missing because he had found satisfaction elsewhere. Thomas was not satisfied. Thomas was not happy. I doubt if there was a sadder man in all Jerusalem than Thomas. I doubt if there was a more wretched man in the wide world at that time than was Thomas. Thomas had not turned aside from Jesus to satisfy his soul on husks. He had not left Christ because his needs had been met and his thirst satisfied at some other fountain.
Why was Thomas missing? He was missing because he had lost hope. He believed that Christ was dead. He believed that the cause for which he had stood was lost and lost forever more. He believed that right was forever defeated; that wrong was forever enthroned. Over his head was a blackened sky. For him there was not one single ray of light nor one single gleam of hope.
If I had met Thomas on the streets of Jerusalem on that day and said, “Thomas, I saw your friends going together to the Upper Room. Aren’t you going? Jesus might come while they are there,” Thomas would have answered, “No, I’m not going. Jesus will not be there. He is dead. Don’t you know if I thought I would see Him I would go? Don’t you know that I loved Him and love Him still better than life, but Jesus is dead. Dead! Dead!
IV. LOVE’S LONGING—PAUL
“That I may know . . . the fellowship of His sufferings.” Weymouth gives this translation: “I long to share His sufferings.” Paul is here leading us into the very innermost sanctuary of his heart. He is revealing to us the supreme passion of his life. He is letting us know what is his one great ambition. “I long,” he says. And knowing what a mighty man he was we lean eagerly forward that we may hear the word that comes from his lips. For we are keen to know what is the dearest desire of this brave heart.
And as we listen this is the perplexing word that comes to us: “I long to share in His sufferings.” How startlingly strange that longing is. We are half ready to wonder if we have heard aright. And when we realize that we have, we instinctively think of the words of the Roman governor, Festus: “Paul, thou art beside thyself. Much learning doth make thee mad.” We wonder if Festus was not right after all. Isn’t Paul a bit insane?
“I long to share in His suffering.” It sounds like madness to many of us because it is so foreign to our own deepest desires. Had Paul said, “I long for a place of honor; I long that my presence should elicit the applause of the world and call forth the crowns of the world”; had he said this, we could easily have understood him. Had he expressed a longing for a place in the hall of fame, had he said, “My one desire is that the world shall keep sacred my memory,” he would have been easily understood by us. We would have said “This is very natural and very human.” But that is not what he says. This is his strange language: “I long to share in Christ’s sufferings.”
Had Paul said that he longed to escape pain and anguish and sorrow we might also have understood him. Had he said, “I long to escape the penalty of sin even though I live in sin,” many of us could have appreciated this desire. For there are always those who, while they do not yearn especially for deliverance from sin, do yearn to be saved from its penalty. They do not desire to be saved from the sowing of tares, but they want to be saved from the reaping of the harvest. They do not pray for deliverance from the broad road, but they desire that this broad road terminate at the gate of Heaven instead of at the gate of destruction. Had this man said that he desired to escape hell everybody could have sympathized with him. But that is not his desire.
What he said was entirely different. “I long,” he says, “to share in the sufferings of Christ; I long to weep as He wept; I long to sympathize as He sympathized; I long to travel life by His road; I long to pass through His Gethsemane and to climb His Calvary and to share in my finite way in His Cross.” It is an amazing desire. What is its secret?
Why could Paul truly say such a word as this? In the first place, he could not say it because it was natural for him. There had been a time when he had given utterance to such a statement it would have been grossly false. When Paul rode out from Jerusalem on his way to Damascus, for instance, he longed for anything else more than he longed to share in the sufferings of Christ. It required a marvelous change. It required an absolute transformation to bring Paul to the place where he was able to give utterance to this high and heroic sentiment. He was not possessed of such a longing by nature.
Nor did Paul long to share in the sufferings of Christ because he looked upon these sufferings as trivial. Few men have ever understood the sufferings of Christ as did Paul. He had an appreciation of their intensity and of their bitterness far beyond most other men. He understood as few have ever understood the physical agonies of the Cross. Paul was a great physical sufferer himself.
But he knew what we sometimes forget, that infinitely the deepest pain of Jesus was not physical. Had there been nothing involved in His crucifixion but physical agony then we are forced to acknowledge that many of His followers have endured the same kind of pain with a fortitude to which He was a stranger. His agony was from another source. He suffered because He was made “to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” He suffered in that “he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.” It was this fact that wrung from Him that bitterest of all cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Nor did Paul possess this desire because he longed for pain in itself. Paul was not a calloused soul. Few men have ever been more sensitive to pain. He had no more fondness for being shipwrecked than you and I have. He had no more pleasure in being stoned, in being publicly whipped, in being thrown into dark dungeons and stenchful prison cells than you and I have. He no more delighted in being ridiculed and ostracized than you and I would delight in these things. Paul took no more pleasure in hunger and cold, in peril and nakedness, in agony and tears than you and I would take in them.
Yet we find him longing to share in the sufferings of Christ. Why did he long for this strange privilege? There are two reasons. He longed to share in Christ’s sufferings, first, because he genuinely and passionately loved Christ. If you have ever at any time truly loved anybody you will be able to understand this longing of Saint Paul. It is the nature of love to always seek either to spare or to share the pain of the loved one.
One of the sweetest stories in our American literature, I think, is that of “The Wife” told by Washington Irving. You remember it. It has been re-enacted a thousand times over. A man of wealth has lost his fortune. He is heart-broken over it, not on his own account but on account of his wife. She has been tenderly nurtured. He is sure that poverty will break her heart. But he has to tell her. The lovely home in the city must be given up. They must move to a cottage in the country. He enters upon the hard ordeal. It is his Gethsemane. But to his utter amazement he finds his wife more joyous, more genuinely happy in the midst of this trying experience than he has ever known her to be before. What is the secret? She is in love with her husband and loving him, it is her keenest joy to be able to share his sorrow with him.
The wife of the southern poet, Sidney Lanier, was just such a one as Irving’s heroine. You will recall what a long hard fight Lanier had with sickness and poverty and what a tower of strength through it all was the gentle and tender woman who loved him.
“In the heart of the Hills of Life, I know
Two springs that with unbroken flow
Forever pour their lucent streams
Into my soul’s far Lake of Dreams.
Not larger than two eyes, they lie,
Beneath the many-changing sky
And mirror all of life and time,
—Serene and dainty pantomime.
Shot through with lights of stars and dawns,
And shadowed sweet by ferns and fawns,
—Thus heaven and earth together vie
Their shining depth to sanctify.
Always when the large Form of Love
Is hid by storms that rage above,
I gaze in my two springs and see
Love in his very verity.
* * * *
O Love, O Wife, thine eyes are they,
—My springs from out whose shining gray
Issue the sweet celestial streams
That feed my life’s bright Lake of Dreams.
Oval and large and passion-pure
And gray and wise and honor-sure;
Soft as a dying violet-breath
Yet calmly unafraid of death.
* * * *
Dear eyes, dear eyes and rare complete—
Being heavenly-sweet and earthly-sweet,
—I marvel that God made you mine,
For when He frowns, ’tis then ye shine!”
Now, what was there in the seeming frown of God to make the eyes of love shine? It was just this: they were alight with the joy that comes when love is privileged to share the pain of the beloved.