When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore were saying to him, 'We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
"That You May Believe!"
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
Now and then a pastor will come across a text which is difficult to preach because there is so little in the text to build a sermon upon, and the entire message of the sermon could quite nicely fit into a single sentence. That is not the case this morning. The text is bursting with important things. It speaks about the Easter appearance of Jesus to His disciples. It tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby we have the absolution, that is, the power to forgive and retain sins. It illustrates an important concept about receiving the gifts of God, such as forgiveness or of the Holy Spirit over and over again. It teaches us the account of Doubting Thomas' account with the risen Lord, and it instructs us in the purpose of the Scriptures themselves. It would be difficult to find so much packed into so few verses in any other place in Scripture.
The question is, then, where to begin?
I have chosen to begin at the end. It is always easiest to reach a goal if you know what and where it is. My goal can be none other than the goal of the author of our text - that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Of course, that is not the goal of just these few verses, but the goal of John in writing the gospel, and the goal of the Holy Spirit in inspiring it. Every account in the gospels has just one goal - faith; and faith has but one goal, salvation. But the faith of which we speak is not an empty yearning or credulity - this faith is filled with the stuff that we believe, and each passage of Scripture fills our faith with something to believe.
The gospel text begins by giving us the account of Jesus' Easter evening appearance to His disciples. We get a sense from this that the Easter surprise was not quite so easily believed as we are often tempted to think. There were real problems, such as the fear of the Jews, both because they had succeeded in killing Jesus and might come after His followers next, and because of the resurrection, which the Jews wanted to paint as a religious fraud and deliberate deceit. When Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples did not begin a faerie-tale existence without pains and problems. They just began to live a New Testament existence in the light of the resurrection. Their lives as Easter Christians were not much different from any daily life - except that Jesus had risen.
Or so they had been told. They were inclined to a healthy skepticism. When Jesus appeared in that room, it frightened them. Therefore Jesus had to calm them with the greeting of "Peace be with you." Then He had to show them His hands and the wound in His side and let them touch Him just to make certain that this was no ghost and no hallucination. Their fear and uncertainty are revealed for you, so that you can see that this is no story, but real events happening to real people who would act much the same as you would if you had been there. These things are written that you may believe - and not with blind credulity, but with faith, on the basis of evidence.
And just because Jesus had risen and had appeared to them did not mean that they understood everything. They were still struggling with the unique reality in front of them, they had no theological meaning to apply to it. Jesus had to teach them that. One of the things that He did to teach them was to give them His Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit the authority to forgive the sins of anyone who repented, and to bind the sins of the hypocrite to them as long as they did not repent.
You have heard of the Office of the Keys all of your lives. But it was a new thing then. Jesus had gotten into considerable trouble once over forgiving sins, because only God has that authority - and now also those to whom God has given it. It might seem insignificant to you, unless you have some sins that really trouble you. It might seem ordinary to you, if you have been a Lutheran all of your life - but it is not understood and accepted by many who call themselves "Christian" today! Many of the churches in this community will freely and publicly deny that anyone on earth has the power to forgive sins. Only God can do that, they say, just as the Pharisees and scribes once said. But these words were written that you might believe, and that you might understand the meaning and power of the resurrection, and that you might have this wonderful gift of God available when you sin in a way that eats at you, and when guilt begins to crush you. These things are written that you might believe!
Poor Doubting Thomas! He has borne the brunt of almost two millennia of bad press because of His skepticism about the resurrection and Jesus' appearance to the other disciples. Yet, what did Thomas ask for that the others had not received? They had seen Jesus. They had touched His wounds. Why is Thomas ridiculed for his skepticism?
Say what you like, I think of Thomas as a hero of the Bible. He demonstrates for us that the faith of the early Christians was not wishful thinking, nor easy gullibility. These were not people who were going to believe something like a resurrection from the grave without some hard evidence. And Thomas got it and believed! Like an empirical scientist, he constructed his experiment to prove false this notion of resurrection, Unless I see His hands and His side and place my finger into the wounds in His hands and thrust my hand into the wound in His side, I will not believe! Just as though it were an experiment, Jesus appeared and compelled Thomas to examine the evidence. And we have the analysis and report of this first - and only - scientific test of the resurrection as Thomas reports, My Lord and My God!
Jesus went on to warn them, and us, that He would not be fulfilling this test over and over again, saying Blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed. Jesus did not say that Thomas was not blessed. He was, for He believed. But rather, Jesus warned that faith would not be founded upon seeing, but rather upon hearing the truth with faith. Thomas' embarrassment for all these centuries was written down that you might believe! He did what we would all like to do, and we see through his eyes what really happened. He is our skepticism demanding something other than hearsay evidence, and receiving the full proof. These things are written that you might believe.
Now, it is plain that many in our age do not believe. We would expect that from the pagans and those who never darken the door of a church. But it is obvious that many who call themselves Christians and go to church occasionally, even some who come fairly regularly, do not really believe. Their lives show that they do not think that this stuff really matters. And if it doesn't really matter, how can they possibly believe something as remarkable as a resurrection from the grave actually took place? Or that it could take place for them?
How can they think what Jesus did, or what happened to Him, will make any real difference in their eternal destination - or even in day to day life and troubles of their daily lives - when it doesn't make any real difference in them? They come to church irregularly, as though there is no particular reason to come. They live lives that are virtually indistinguishable from the openly unbelieving among whom they live. They entertain themselves with the same sordid entertainments. They gossip about one another and judge one another. They fear the same insignificant fears, and labor after the same fleeting treasures as the unbelievers around them.
But worst of all, they are satisfied with the same ignorance of God's Word. They act as if it is not important to know, as if it has no real power and no actual value in daily life, and yet they confess it agnostically - not knowing for sure what it is that they are saying, just knowing that what they say is what they church around them says.
These things are written that you might believe! To believe you must know. You cannot believe what you don̓t know. And these things are written for your learning that you might believe - and not just that you believe, but that you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If you believe that, you know He is not to be lied to, stolen from, cheated on, and used like a password. Sadly, some of us do things like that. We lie to Him when we make promises to Him if only He will bless, and then, when the problem is past, we forget the promises. We steal from Him when we receive His blessings, but hoard them for our pleasures and security and give nothing - or next to nothing - back in worship. We cheat on Him when we love something more than Him or trust something or someone first before Him or in place of Him, making it or them our true God. We use His name as a password when we speak it, but forget who it is that lies behnd the name, or forget to pray and read His Word, or, when we use His name as though it were a curse word. If you believe, you know that He is real and has power and has promised that whatever a man or woman sows, that shall he or she reap!
These things are written that you might believe. These things are written that you might know the truth of the resurrection and the power of the resurrection and the meaning of the resurrection, and that believing you might have eternal and everlasting life in His name.
The truth of the resurrection is that it means your sins have been fully atoned for - paid for, punished to the max. The truth of the resurrection is that you will also rise. The truth of the resurrection is that God loves you, and that your life is always in His care and under His guidance - no matter what it may feel like at this moment or the next. The truth of the resurrection is life and salvation for all that believe - that is, that trust in Jesus for forgiveness, eternal life, and blessing. The truth of the resurrection is the incredible gift of God - the gift of Himself, of His Son, and of His righteousness for those who simply take Him at His Word and trust Him to do all that He has promised. And These things are written that you might believe. May God grant that it may be so for you, for Jesus' sake!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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