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"Believing what we cannot See"

John 20:19-31

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter 2, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

There is always, it seems, a bit of let down the Sunday after Easter.  The pews are never quite as full.  People who ordinarily don't give much thought to God have gone back to their routine. 

In terms of the Scripture readings, we've gone from the angel's joyous proclamation to the two Mary's that "Jesus' isn't here, He has risen," to the skepticism and the denial of Thomas.  "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."  In Thomas we hear our own struggles for faith, the demands that we place on God, our insistence that, if He would only prove His benevolent care for us, we would believe and trust in Him even more. 

Thomas, as you know, wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead.  In other words, Thomas chose Easter Sunday to be absent from church, the fellowship of believers.  Who knows where he was.  It seems an odd thing to miss though, doesn't it? 

Because he wasn't there that night, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That too is a pretty amazing thing, don't you think!?  I mean discounting Judas, who had already left the fold by that time, there would have been ten other disciples who saw Jesus that night and who bore witness to His resurrection from the dead.  They all said the same thing.  "We have seen the Lord!" But, Thomas wouldn't believe them.  They said they saw Him, but he said, "I don't believe you."  "In fact, the only way I'm going to believe you is if I can put finger into the marks in His hand and put my hand into His side!"

Thomas, to put it mildly, was a skeptic.  More than that, he put himself in the position of being lord and arbiter of the truth.  He evidently believed that the other disciples were either lying to him, or, perhaps they were deceived, or, maybe they were just wishing they had seen Jesus alive, caught up, as it were, in their grief and despair.  The bottom line is, from his perspective, he couldn't believe in anything he couldn't see.  Therefore, he rejected the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead even though 10 people who saw Jesus said it was true.  He was, in a sense, one of those guys who "lays out his beliefs and doesn't want to be confused with the facts." 

In a way, Thomas was way ahead of his time.  In the modern era we have it in our minds that we can only believe in something we can see.  With the advent of the "scientific method," whereby theories can be proved or disproved by way of experiment, many people today are of the mindset that if something cannot be replicated in a laboratory it can only be accepted as wishful thinking, and thus it must relegated to the category of religion, which itself is then dismissed as mere wishful thinking.  Science deals with truth.  Religion deals with hopes and dreams, but is ultimately based on myth.

And yet, while science seeks to explain all that God has created and preserved, everything that we experience in life, from the weather, to the rising and setting of the sun, to the very origins of the universe, the fact is, it too is limited in what it can quantify and explain.  Thus, many people, professing to have a scientific mind, reject God as the creator of the heavens and the earth, even though they cannot replicate the origins of the universe by the scientific method.  They are, therefore, as are Christians, people of faith.  They believe in what they cannot prove and they accept religiously what they cannot see.  They literally stake everything, their past, their present and future, their hopes and dreams, their very souls on the non-existence of God.  And then, as the ultimate expression of their faith, they have the audacity to claim that their beliefs are scientifically determined. 

Insisting that their beliefs are rooted in science they claim that Christians are intellectually inferior to them.  It is even suggested that religion in general is nothing more than a crutch for people who wouldn't be able to face life without it.  Be that as it may, the truth is, we are all creatures of God.  That is, we are all created beings.  Consequently, we have within us the need, the drive to believe in something. 

Luther connected this drive we have to believe in something to the very first of God's Commandments, whereby we "are to have no other gods before the true God."  In his commentary on the Book of Galatians, he explained our need to believe in this way…"It is inherent in human beings to center their lives around something or someone and from it seek meaning, security, or identity.  The only question that needs to be answered is in what or in whom does a human being place one's trust.  Any other option than God the Creator results in idolatry."

So, while Thomas seemed a little ahead of his time by insisting that he had to see Jesus to believe, he was really determining for himself what, or who, was worthy of his trust, because the evidence necessary for him to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead was there in the witness of 10 other people, who were eyewitnesses. 

While we may think we need to see something in order to believe it's true, the fact is, the Scriptures presuppose that faith is based precisely on what we cannot see.  In fact, in the Book of Hebrews, faith is defined in that very way.  "It is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  And then here, in the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus says, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!" John, the writer of this Gospel, then goes on to tell us, he wrote this narrative of Jesus' life, including the account of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." 

God, who is the "author and perfector of our faith," is gracious to us, at times, succumbing even to our self-determined requirements for faith.  Thomas would see Jesus.  He would put his finger into the holes in Jesus' hands and he would put his hand into the hole in Jesus' side.  Seeing, he would fall down at Jesus' feet, and cry out "My Lord and my God."  Perhaps in his profession of faith there is a bit of a confession of his sin.  "How, Lord, could I have refused to believe that You had defeated death and the grave as You had promised!?" "How could I insist that You prove to me that what You say is true!?" "How could deny the testimony of the other men you called to be Your disciples!?" "My Lord and my God."

Your life, my friends, is formed by what you believe.  Unlike Thomas, God has called you to believe in the life, death and resurrection of His Son simply through the seemingly understated power of His Word and the apparent weakness of Your baptism.  Skeptics will continue to reject God's Word and what they would consider the relics of an unenlightened age, such as baptism, favoring something they consider to be more valid and intellectually honest like science.

When all is said and done though, our creatureliness cries out for fellowship with the One who made us and who redeemed us from our sin.  Perhaps St. Augustine put it best, "Our souls are indeed restless until they find their rest in Thee, O Lord."

"My Lord and my God!" How could I doubt Your Word and promises?  How could I think that I should be the arbiter of truth, especially in things that I cannot explain and that I can hardly fathom, like Your undying love for me and for the world You created?  "My Lord and my God!" Let my post Easter days be like the morning of Your resurrection from the dead, full of hope and joy!

"On this most holy of days

Be laud and jubilee and praise:

To God our hearts and voices raise.

Alleluia!"

In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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