Seeing is Not Believing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear people who have not seen and yet have believed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s even given the title “doubting.” “Doubting Thomas” has even become a label given to others when they express distrust or disbelief.

Now, in a way, Thomas certainly deserves blame since he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when the other disciples told him. And Thomas didn’t just doubt Jesus’ resurrection. He disbelieved it. He didn’t doubt that it happened. He believed that it did not happen. He didn’t say to the other disciples, “I doubt that you really saw the Lord.” He said, “I will never believe.”

But why point the finger at Thomas alone? He wasn’t alone in his unbelief. Last week we heard how the women at the tomb responded to the words of the angel that Jesus had risen. They didn’t believe the words of the angel, but they fled the tomb with trembling, astonishment, and fear (Mk. 16:8). The women didn’t believe the good news that’s why they were still living in fear. They were too scared to even tell anyone what they had seen and heard. Finally, they did tell the disciples the good news the angel had told them, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk. 24:11) The disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples went into hiding. The disciples were scared. The disciples did not believe.

But when Jesus came into their locked room, giving them His peace, then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus showed them His hands and His side and only then did they believe.

But Thomas wasn’t with them. That’s why he didn’t believe. He didn’t see what the other disciples had seen. The other disciples believed now that they had seen their risen Saviour for themselves. But Thomas didn’t believe their report any more than they had earlier believed the women’s report. They were all in the same situation: they did not believe until they had seen Jesus’ resurrected body for themselves.

Where does this leave us? Where does it leave all of us who have not seen our risen Lord? Where does it leave us who have not seen in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails and who have not placed our fingers into the mark of the nails or placed our hand into His side? Do we really need to see in order to believe?

The scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus. They heard Him teaching. They saw Him healing, performing miracles, and even raising the dead. Did they believe because of what they had seen? For the most part, no, they did not believe. What they had seen only made them want to kill Jesus! After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided that they are going to kill Lazarus as well, in addition to killing Jesus (Jn. 12:10)! Seeing is not believing.

In fact, sometimes what we see contradicts what God’s Word says. God says that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). That’s not what we see in the intensive care unit of the hospital. We see suffering. We don’t see good. God says that whoever believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live (Jn. 11:25). When we stand over our loved one’s casket we don’t see life. We see only death. We cannot see what is real, only what is earthly.

St Paul writes, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) What we see is temporary; it is passing; it is not permanent. The things that we do not see are eternal, enduring, and permanent.

Luke gives us a little more information on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. After Jesus showed them His wounds, Luke writes that they still disbelieved (Lk. 24:41). It was not until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they believed (Lk. 24:45). The disciples did not believe because they saw Jesus, but because He opened their minds to believe through His Word. They believed because they were given faith. Jesus gave them faith through His Word.

But notice what happened after Jesus had given the disciples faith in His first appearance to them. They went back into hiding! They went back behind locked doors! Jesus had appeared to them and given them faith. He had absolved them of their abandoning Him, of their fear, and of their unbelief. He had stood among them and given them His peace – His peace of forgiveness; His peace of absolution. Yet the disciples still went back into the locked room even after seeing Jesus alive – they needed Jesus’ absolution again! Jesus again appears to them in their fear and cowardice, behind locked doors. Jesus again gives them His peace; His absolution; His forgiveness.

This is the reality of life for us also. We receive absolution, but the forgiven sins don’t just go away. Our memory of those sins doesn’t just disappear. Our sinful inclination to fall again into the same sin remains in us. The sinful, doubting nature will not leave us until we die. Thus, we need absolution again. We need the Lord’s Supper again. We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again.

We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again and again as we see things that happen to us that appear bad. We need to receive Jesus’ peace when we see suffering and temptation, when we see fear and death. We need to hear God’s Word that tells us what is real; His Word that gives us faith. We need God’s Word that fixes our eyes of faith on what we do not see, not on what we do see.

And Jesus does not leave us in want. He sends His ministers to proclaim His peace as we heard in our text, saying, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

When I speak absolution to you, it is not my absolution, but God’s. That’s why it “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC V). It is Jesus who gives you peace. That’s why I hold His body and blood up for you to see as I speak His word of peace to you just before you receive the Sacrament of the Altar, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” It is through His body and blood that was given for you on Calvary that you receive forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus died for your sins to give you peace. That’s why He appeared to His disciples and the first thing He said was, “Peace be with you.” He showed the disciples His wounds through which He earned us peace.

So, peace be with you. The peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27); the peace that we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1); the peace of being reconciled with God; the peace we have through the forgiveness of sins. This peace is yours. We are no longer enemies of God or rebels against Him, but we are at peace with Him because our sins are forgiven.

And the peace of Jesus will carry you through what you see that seems to contradict His Word. His Word is firm and certain. His Word gives faith. His Word absolves you of sin and gives you forgiveness. Jesus’ Word gives you peace despite what you see. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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