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Sermons

Believe!

4/3/2016 Second Sunday of Easter The text: is John 20:19-31.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This was not the greeting spoken by the disciples on the first Easter as they gathered behind locked doors. Yes, they had heard the words of the women who went to the tomb in the morning and reported what they had seen and heard to them. Yes, some of them actually went to the tomb and peered in at its emptiness. But they were still reeling from the events of Good Friday and they were unable to remember…to remember the words of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection. It would take a miracle for them to come to faith in a risen Lord.

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. He gave them peace as he showed them his hands and side – until they too believed – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

But Thomas was not with the others that night so he dismissed as an idle tale their report of seeing Jesus in the same way that they had all dismissed the words of the women as some mass hallucination or some bereavement vision on the heels of a tragic and horrid death. After all, such visions were possible.  But rising from the dead – now that’s another story.  And yet what the disciples and the women had seen was no figment of their imaginations.  It was no vision arising out of their minds’ effort to come to terms with the events of Good Friday.

As Ken Colllins writes, “I was traumatized by a tragic death several years ago, so I am personally familiar with the phenomena that bereaved people experience. I can speak out of personal experience. Right off the bat I can see very significant differences between bereavement visions and resurrection accounts.  I was the only person who saw my bereavement visions, and I was very much aware at the time that they weren’t part of the reality I live in.  I saw them out of the corner of my eye, in a flash, in a dream, or in the foggy moments while awakening from sleep.  The vision went away as soon as I looked at it directly or became fully awake. The visions were momentary and fleeting, but they were comforting and helped me make peace with what I had witnessed.  From what I have read, my experience was normal and typical for a person who had witnessed a tragic death. {But} the resurrection accounts do not fit this pattern.  There were multiple witnesses who were all wide awake at the time, (and) the duration of the incidents was too long…”

Unfortunately, Thomas was not present on that evening and when he heard about the event he refused to believe it.  Maybe Thomas was the forerunner of modern day cynicism. Maybe the news simply sounded too good to be true. But strangely enough, no one criticized or rebuked Thomas for his lack of faith or for his skepticism as Thomas was no exception.  All of the disciples had been skeptical.  None of them remembered the words of Jesus and accepted the report of the women and believed.  It was not until they saw the Risen Jesus, that they were convinced that Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

Thomas simply wanted what the others had already received. And Jesus responded, not by rebuking Thomas and imposing some penalty on him, but by appearing and meeting his demands! Jesus did not criticize Thomas for wanting physical evidence, but rather he blessed those who believed without it.

It is said that seeing is believing, but just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or it doesn’t exist. This was one lesson taught to a junior high school teacher who was telling her class about evolution and how the way everything in the world was formed proved that God doesn’t exist. Right after the teacher finished her speech a girl from the back of the classroom said, “Miss Smith, just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We could do brain surgery and investigate the parts of your brain and we could do a CAT scan and see the brain patterns in your head. But we couldn’t prove that you’ve had a single thought today.  Does that mean that you haven’t thought anything today? Just ‘cause you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

God knows how difficult it is to believe without seeing. That is the reason why many Christians around the world have so quickly latched onto the discovery of what may be the burial box for James, the brother of Jesus. And it’s one of the reasons why every time archeologists discover some inscription referring to King David, Pontius Pilate, or some other biblical figure that this news immediately makes a splash in the pages of Christianity Today. Here, we are told, is further “proof” that the stuff in the Bible really did happen! There’s a reason why there is now a huge enterprise that is literally scouring the universe for evidence that the formation of the universe required the hand of a Creator God. It’s not just that we want to meet evolutionary and atheist scientists on their own turf – most folks also quietly hanker for something tangible that can bolster their faith. Over and over again we find ourselves wanting more. And if Jesus didn’t penalize Thomas for doubting the resurrection, He certainly won’t penalize us for wanting something more than the eye witness accounts recorded in the pages of an ancient book.

That’s why faith in the risen Lord is both a blessing and a miracle. It is one thing to believe with Jesus standing right in front of you. It’s another to believe without such undeniable physical proof standing in the same room.  But then none of us are saved by our beliefs but by our faith; by our reliance on Jesus Christ, the one who came to the disciples behind the locked doors of their fears and doubts.

Through the grace of God, may this be enough. And through the grace of God, may we remember the eye witness accounts of the post-resurrection appearances and Jesus’ words of promise spoken before his death, and may we believe in the risen Lord and add our voices to those proclaiming – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

In believing in that which we cannot see, may we be blessed in his name. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

 

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