2 Easter Proper 2A
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon
April 23, 2017
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 674 "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen!"
TLH 208 "Ye Sons & Daughters Of The King"
WOV 675 "We Walk By Faith"
TLH 191 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"
UNBELIEF, DOUBT, AND EVIDENCE
TEXT (vs. 24-25): “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.'”
The name "Helen Wilson" might sound vaguely familiar, but probably doesn't mean a whole lot to you. So let me give you a little background, and you'll probably recognize who I am talking about.
Helen Wilson was a woman who lived in Beatrice. She was murdered back in 1985. For four years after that, the case had gone cold. There were no clues.
Then Gage County Deputy Burt Searcey was a key player in the arrest and conviction of six people, who wound up serving a combined total of 70 years for the murder.
But there was a problem. Even though these six people maintained their innocence, they were pressured into giving false testimony in exchange for a reduced sentence. The district attorney and others involved with the case doubted the innocence of these six people. There just wasn't adequate proof, so it led to a wrong conclusion.
Five people, Ada JoAnn Taylor, James Dean, Tom Winslow, Debra Shelden, and Kathy Gonzalez took the plea deal offered to them. The sixth person, Joseph White refused to do so and maintained his innocence. In fact, three of the five others were pressured into giving false testimony against White. And there was no evidence to prove everything going on as being false.
It wasn't until 2008 that evidence from the crime was submitted forDNAtesting, which ultimately proved that these six individuals had been telling the truth. They had absolutely nothing to do with Helen Wilson's murder. They had been dealing with more doubters than we can even begin to count. It took 70 years and some unrefutable evidence to clear these people, and ultimately catch those who were guilty of this horrible crime.
It's now two Sundays in a row that we've had doubters and naysayers in our Gospel lessons. Last week, it was the disciples who wouldn't believe the testimony of the women at the empty tomb. In fact, the women themselves doubted when they went to the tomb. And today, our attention is turned to Thomas, the disciple who hadn't seen the risen Jesus. He needed proof beyond what the other disciples and the women could give him. He had to press his fingers into the nail prints in Jesus' hand, and put his hand into the gaping hole in Jesus' side before he would believe.
Perhaps Thomas would have been with the disciples when they doubted the women's story. Now where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles, we don't know. Since the disciples were hidden away behind locked doors because they feared the Jews, maybe he was the one who drew the proverbial "short straw" to venture out to get supplies and other provisions. Or to think of it in modern terms of reference, he was the one who had to go to the grocery store.
Well, wherever Thomas was the first time around, he still doubted the stories about the resurrection. I don't know what could have been going through his mind. He certainly witnessed many of the miracles Jesus performed. He heard him preach and teach. He knew he was the true Son of God and the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. And considering the fact that he would have first-hand knowledge of how Jesus healed the man who was born blind and how Jesus raised the decomposing Lazarus from the dead, why would the account of his resurrection be so unbelievable? Why did Thomas need this kind of proof before he would believe?
So let me go back to my opening illustration about Helen Wilson and the Beatrice Six. Why did everybody push so hard against these six people when they had no proof? Why wouldn't anybody believe them when they said that they didn't do it? Why didn't somebody dig a bit deeper before these people had to spend a good share of their life behind bars for something that they didn't do?
But let's look at this from a different perspective. I don't know how many of you were around when the original murder and convictions occurred. When these six people were arrested, might you have been one of the people who believed they were guilty? Did you think they were lying when they said they didn't do it? Did you believe the flimsy evidence? Were you amongst those who wanted to lock those six up and throw away the key? Were you a doubter?
If you look at things that way, then I think you might be able to understand what was going on in Thomas's mind. He would have trusted the disciples and the women. But he most likely thought that they were somehow misled in making their conclusion. Maybe he thought that they had gotten a hold of some sort of hallucinogenic drug, and saw something that just didn't exist (yes, they had such things in those days). Or maybe they had just seen some sort of ghostly spirit being that really wasn't Jesus. He didn't believe them because there was no evidence to prove otherwise, or at least evidence that would have convinced him that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Thomas wanted to be certain that what he was being told was the truth. His way of verifying the resurrection would be to feel the nail prints and put his hand where the spear had pierced Jesus' side. That would have been as conclusive as theDNAevidence in the Beatrice murder. That would be concrete evidence he couldn't dispute.
We need to take special note of the way Jesus handles all of this. Thomas was one of the Lord's disciples. He was faithful and loyal to Jesus, and loved him as much as anybody could. When Jesus died on the cross, Thomas would have mourned and wept. He would have felt genuine grief and sadness.
Here, Jesus complies with Thomas's request. He wants to give Thomas the proof he needs to eradicate his doubts. So he appears, and allows Thomas to physically experience his nail prints and his wounded side.
Jesus doesn't dismiss Thomas. He doesn't say, "Well Thomas, since you couldn't take the word of your fellow disciples, you are of no use to me. Get out of here, and don't come back!" He doesn't say anything of the sort. Instead Jesus says, "Do not disbelieve, but believe!"
People have always treated Thomas with a certain amount of disdain. People will sometimes call others a "doubting Thomas" if they show skepticism. Even though Thomas wasn't the only disciple to show signs of weakness, he's the one that gets the bad rap.
The real point of truth here is that Thomas wasn't any different than the other Apostles. In fact, he is a lot like you and me. It's human nature to act like he did. We are a whole race of skeptics and naysayers! We're always looking for hidden agendas. We're always trying to "read between the lines" to try to dig beneath the surface. We don't like to take people at their word. Wasn't that one of the biggest problems with finding the Beatrice Six guilty of murder? We want rock-solid proof of everything, or we don't want any part of it. Doesn't this sound like the way we go about things? We don't want to be gullible, and we don't want to be duped. And so we demand proof to satisfy ourselves.
The thing we need to remember is that Jesus gives us proof. He's the one that answers our questions and gives proof to our skeptical faith. His miracles and the absolute proof of the greatest miracle, that he rose from the dead, has been verified by many witnesses. Most court cases don't have as many witnesses as Jesus did!
John writes in verses 30-31 of our Gospel lesson for today: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
A saving faith is what God the Holy Spirit gives us. All of Scripture points to our Saviour Jesus Christ and what he did to secure our salvation. Believing in Jesus as our Saviour is what we need to enter heaven. Over and over again Jesus shows himself to be true God. There can be no doubt about that. So can there ever be any doubt that our sins are forgiven? Can there be any doubt that Christ bore the punishment for our sins, and died the death we deserve? Can we ever question that when we appear before the judgment seat, that God will see Christ's righteousness instead of our sinfulness?
Jesus gives us the proof we need to know without a doubt that our faith is secure with him. He will never let us down. And he will never leave us or forsake us. In Mark chapter 9 verse 24, when Jesus is removing an unclean spirit from a boy, the boy's father cries, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!"
Do you want to know a bit of trivia? The word "doubt" or "doubting" doesn't appear anywhere in the Scriptures. The word Jesus uses is "disbelief," which is the exact opposite of "belief." So actually what Jesus says in that Mark 9 passage gets to the heart of the matter. The doubt that Thomas was experiencing was actually an act of unbelief. And that is the real issue at hand.
Jesus has indeed conquered all of our doubts, fears, and yes unbelief. And when we are tempted to doubt what God tells us, when we fall into that trap of unbelief, we can make the same exclamation that the boy's father made. God will indeed strengthen our weak faith.
He certainly strengthened Thomas's faith. History tells us that Thomas was the missionary toPersiaandIndia. Even though he was reluctant to go at first, many people came to know Jesus because of his ministry. He died a martyr in approximately the year A.D. 72 when someone who was opposed to the Christian faith stabbed him to death. He died defending the faith of his risen and living Lord.
It is unfortunate that Thomas should be judged by what could be termed as his weakest moment. If anybody questions or seems skeptical about something, we tend to call them a "doubting Thomas." And yes, we don't like taking anything at face value, just like the authorities didn't want to believe the claim of innocence from the Beatrice Six for the murder of Helen Wilson.
Thomas witnessed Jesus doing many things. He raised the widow's son, he raised Jairus' daughter, and he raised Lazarus who were all dead. Jesus proved that he had the ultimate power over death itself. So why would it be such a stretch to think that Jesus wouldn't have power over death when that death was his own?
Of course there is a huge difference. Jairus' daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus were indeed raised to life, but they didn't remain that way. They're no longer walking around. They have since died. Jesus is the only one who escaped death, and became living proof of the power he has over Satan, death, and the grave.
When we get sick, we go to the doctor and take medicine. But we know that physicians and surgeons and medicines are only the instruments the Lord uses in sustaining life. God alone is the one who dictates the success rate. As Job says in chapter 1, verse 21: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” There is no doubt or unbelief in those words Job speaks. Those are the words of faith and hope.
The real hope that God gives us is the hope of an eternity in heaven. That comes only through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. The earthly mortality rate amongst humans always was, and always will be 100 percent. Nobody gets out of this world alive.
Through faith alone, we know for certain that since the grave could not hold Jesus, it won't hold us either. Therefore we do not fall victim to unbelief, we do not doubt, but we believe that heaven will be ours for all eternity. Our risen and living Saviour is proof of that.