Printable PDF: 4-19-2020 Easter 2 Sermon
Vicar Lindemann ~ John 20:24-31 ~ April 19, 2020 ~ Easter 2
Can You Believe It?
24Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But 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.
He had them all the way out to the car with their backpacks on before he told them. They certainly doubted him at first, but it was such good news that they believed it. But then came the words they were dreading, “April Fools.” Did you see these videos of the cruel pranks on unsuspecting children? The parents told them on the morning of April 1, “They decided to start school again starting this morning!” and for once, kids were happy to go to school. But they were played for fools, because the “stay at home” order was still in effect, and the schools were still closed.
I think it’s up for debate which side of this is the bigger fool, because that is a cruel prank to play as a parent. But, wasn’t it also foolish for the teenagers and grade schoolers to believe it? All of a sudden one day when they wake up, they believed such good news about life returning to normal? Can you believe it? No, don’t be foolish. Maybe one of them should have said, “Unless I see my teacher, feel my old desk with my hand and reach up my other hand to answer a question, I will not believe it.”
The Apostle Thomas felt like he was watching a cruel April Fool’s joke. He got such good news that he couldn’t believe it. That good news was the news about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If he believed the good news and it was false, he would be kicking himself for falling for something that’s too good to be true. If he believed the good news and it was true, all of a sudden life is better than back to normal.
That good news for Thomas is the same good news that is for you. Can you believe it? Jesus removes doubt so that your faith is firm.
1. Jesus removes doubt,
On that first Easter Sunday, the disciples’ heads were spinning. Their whole world came crashing down when Jesus was crucified, but three things remained the same: They still loved Jesus, they had an unclear hope that God would still take care of them, and they gathered together to encourage each other.
That’s what Christians have always done, and that’s what they still do. In the face of your world crashing down, you still love Jesus, you still know that God will take care of you, and you long to gather together with other Christians! For now, you have realized that the best way to show love for your neighbor is to refrain from gathering, but you still encourage and are encouraged by God’s Word. On that first Easter Sunday, that’s what the disciples were doing, behind closed doors, feeling alone. But the disciples heard reports and saw for themselves that the tomb was empty and that Jesus is risen! It was such good news that they didn’t know if they could believe it. But to remove all doubt, Jesus came and stood among them, gave them his peace and showed them his hands and side. The disciples were thrilled; Jesus was risen!
But Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas was an Apostle who had been selected by Jesus, who knew Jesus, and who was with Jesus days before in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was arrested and handed over to death. Thomas still loved Jesus, he still had a faint hope that God would take care of him. He knew the tomb was empty, he heard the reports – both from the women and from all of the disciples telling him they had seen the Lord – but he also knew that Jesus had died on the cross, and he knew that dead people don’t rise from the dead. Can you believe it, Thomas? No, unless I see him, unless I touch the marks where I saw them nail his hands, I can’t believe it. What a bold demand, he has so much doubt that he says he won’t even believe his eyes, he’ll have to touch him. Thomas thought that the disciples were fools for believing such unbelievable news.
After a week of telling Thomas that Jesus rose, and a week of Thomas’ doubt, Thomas kept meeting together with them. And Jesus removed the doubt from Thomas’ heart. Jesus appeared again to the disciples, past the locked doors, specifically to reveal himself to Thomas. How does he confront doubting Thomas? With a scolding lecture? No, he comes with a message of peace. He even fulfills Thomas’ bold demands, “See the hole where the nails went Friday before last? Put your finger on it. Put your hand into my side where the soldiers stabbed me when I was dead.” Jesus removed his doubt, and Thomas didn’t take Jesus up on his offer to touch his marks, but rather confessed his faith, “My Lord and my God!”
Maybe Jesus acted puzzled. “I thought you said you wouldn’t believe your eyes, but that you’d have to touch me. So now that you have seen me, you believe?” It turns out the problem was not in the lack of proof, the problem was that Thomas doubted it. But Jesus did not allow that doubt to overtake Thomas. He removed Thomas’ doubt in this special way, because Jesus wanted Thomas to believe in him. Jesus creates faith that he did rise from the dead and he strengthens faith.
Before we assume that the nickname “Doubting Thomas” says everything we need to know about him, let’s think about that for a second. Could you have believed it? Doesn’t it seem too good to be true? Of all the things to rely on, you could do a lot worse than believing what you see. Thomas didn’t see, so he doubted. Thomas isn’t the only one who didn’t see. In fact there were a maximum of about 600 people who have ever seen the risen Jesus, out of the thousands who lived in Jerusalem and the billions who have lived since then. How many of them have believed? And a far more important question: Can you believe it? Can you believe that the Son of God became a man to carry your sins, take your punishment, die, and rise from the dead? And that it counts for you without you having to do anything in exchange? Can you really believe that? Or does doubt creep into your mind? Can God become a man? Could Jesus have been really thinking of me when he came? Can a man rise from the dead? If only I could see him I’d believe everything! Doubt falls on us unexpectedly. The devil and your sinful nature want you to rely on what your eyes can see and what your reason can understand.
But Jesus reveals himself to you. He doesn’t appear bodily to you, like you might boldly demand just as Thomas did. But he takes care of the real problem. He removes the doubt. He does this with his Word and he has given you his messengers to tell you this good news. I’m telling you for sure that Jesus has risen from the dead. God’s Word promises you that the penalty for your sins has been paid. And you can believe this, not because I’m such a persuasive speaker, but because Jesus reveals himself to you and strengthens your faith to believe him. You can believe he really did it for you, because you have been baptized into his name. Jesus revealed himself to you in baptism, when he came into your heart through water and the word.
Jesus didn’t call it a blessing for Thomas to see him with his eyes. But did you hear what he does call a blessing? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You! Jesus calls you blessed. He calls you blessed because he removes your doubt by giving you his Word and Sacrament. Jesus has revealed himself to you through those means of grace. Treasure and celebrate the means of grace, live in your baptismal grace all the days of your life, which continually remove doubt to believe in him. Christians aren’t like those poor kids who fell for a bad April Fool’s joke. When Jesus removes doubt, the Christian’s faith is firm. Your faith is firm. Jesus has provide you with his rock solid word, so that you are sure of your faith.
2. So that your faith is firm.
At the end of the account of Doubting Thomas, the Apostle John gives his take on the story. Apparently, John could have gone on to tell many other stories about how Jesus appeared to his disciples. Maybe he stopped because there were too many miracles to tell, or maybe he stopped because he just needed to finish writing his book. John didn’t need to write anymore, because of what the purpose of the Bible is. If the purpose of the Bible were history, John should have given us as complete a history as he could. If the purpose of the Bible were curiosity, John should have picked at least one of the most interesting miracles that he had left and wrote it! If the purpose of the Bible were not complete, then he should have kept writing to fill us in on what was left.
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. John has no hidden agenda. He clearly lays out his purpose. The purpose of the Bible is to give faith. These words are written, these books have been preserved, this message is spread to give faith. There are many who haven’t seen, and God doesn’t reveal himself bodily, but the people in his Holy Christian Church still have faith. Their faith relies, not on what their eyes can see, but what their Jesus has taught them through his Word – that he has indeed been raised from the dead. And that by believing you may have life in his name. Faith in Jesus’ promises to give life. That’s the ultimate purpose of the Bible. That’s the goal of faith – eternal life. Jesus is the one whom faith believes. Jesus promises that the one who believes, the one who has faith, will win the victory over death.
You can also be sure. Like John had his purpose for writing, you have the same purpose for studying God’s Word. There’s a reason we have this church, and there’s a reason we’ve gone to such great lengths to keep serving you with the Word during these times when it seems like the world has come crashing down. There’s a reason you’re constantly encouraged to stay in the Word, a reason you set time out of your week for this. The reason is that these are the very words upon which your faith is built. These words are no joke. These are the words that God has given, that his disciples spread, for which the faithful have died, and that Christians have treasured since they were first spoken. Your faith is firm when it relies on the trustworthy Word of God, which shows that Christ is risen.
So God’s Word, through faith, gives you life. John lays it out as simply as that for you. You have eyes of faith that see Jesus and believe in what he’s done for you. Through this simple faith, God promises that you too will rise from the dead. Jesus has won that for you by his resurrection from the dead, which you learned from God’s Word.
Can you believe it? Jesus removes doubt by his resurrection and has worked faith in you. God’s Word is reliable and has made your faith firm. Through faith, you can believe it. God’s Word works. So we can confess the faith about which John wrote, “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” and God’s promise to you is that by believing, you may have life in his name. Amen.