Not Seen, but Believed

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

Dear you 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.

The Old Testament writings prophesy the resurrection of the Christ. The Psalmist writes that the Christ will not be abandoned in Sheol, the place of death, nor would His body see corruption, thus prophesying that Christ’s body would be raised and not remain in the grave to decay (Ps. 16:10).

Jesus Himself prophesied His resurrection before His death, telling His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) Jesus told them this on many occasions.

After Jesus’ resurrection, angels announced to the women at the tomb, and then Peter and John had seen the empty tomb for themselves. Jesus Himself had appeared to the women, who went and told the disciples that He was alive, but to the disciples, it seemed like an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had seen the risen Saviour, as had all those who were gathered in Emmaus when Jesus broke bread with them and gave them communion (Luke 24:13-35).

Even the elders and chief priests had heard Jesus prophesy His resurrection. That’s why they went to Pilate after Jesus had died and said, “We remember how that imposter said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’” They thus requested a guard of soldiers to keep watch over the tomb to make sure Jesus’ body wouldn’t go anywhere (Matt. 27:62-66).

The disciples had heard again and again that Jesus would rise from the dead, and then after the fact, that He had risen from the dead. They didn’t understand when they had heard it and they didn’t understand it after His death before they had seen Him alive.

We see this best with Thomas because he wasn’t with the other disciples the first time Jesus appeared to them in the locked room. After Jesus had appeared behind locked doors the first time, the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.”

Even this was not enough for Thomas to believe. Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see Jesus with His own eyes. He wanted to touch Jesus and see that He was real, and physically alive.

By nature, we suffer from this same spiritual blindness. By nature, we do not want to believe anything that we have not seen with our own eyes. We’ve never seen God punish sin, so we don’t want to believe that He ever does, that He ever has, or that He ever will. We don’t see the demons behind the ways of the world, so we don’t want to believe that they exist or that there is anything wrong with living like the world. We do not see the Bible as being the Word of God, so we neglect it, don’t read it, do our best to not listen to it when it is read, and have no idea what it says, instead coming up with our own ideas of what God wants and doesn’t want. Repent.

If your faith is based on what you see, what you feel, and what you touch, you’re doomed to hell. If you scoff at what the Bible says, because you don’t even know what it says, you’re doomed to hell. If you think calls to repentance are an idle tale, you’re doomed to hell. Repent.

Just as Jesus did not leave His disciples in their blindness, so He does not leave us in our blindness. To the disciples, including Thomas, He showed His hands and His side. Jesus showing them His hands and His side did not make Him any more alive than He was before He proved Himself to be alive. He was alive whether the disciples believed it or not. He was alive whether the disciples saw Him or not. But He showed Himself alive so that they would not only believe themselves, but that they might also bear witness about Jesus’ resurrection to others.

Thus, the beloved disciple John records the resurrection in his gospel and writes, “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.”

Thus, Jesus does not leave us in our blindness. He has given us multiple records of His life, death, and resurrection, so that we would believe. He has sent and continues to send ministers of His Word to proclaim repentance, His resurrection, and to forgive and withhold forgiveness in His name. Do not disbelieve, but believe.

This belief, or faith, changes us.

It changed the disciples from being cowards in fear of the Jews and hiding behind locked doors to going out and openly proclaiming the Word of Jesus. Peter and the other apostles, hauled before the same council that had put Jesus to death, did not cower in fear. They point blank accused the council of murdering Jesus saying, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.” When ordered by the council to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, they said, “We must obey God rather than men.” When they were taken by the council and physically beaten for teaching God’s Word, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for Jesus’ name.

The disciples were completely different men than those who hid behind locked doors out of fear. They were changed because they no longer believed that Jesus was dead, but that He was alive.

So also Jesus’ resurrection changes us, if we believe. A believer is changed because he does not live in unrepentance like Jesus is still in the grave. A believer is changed because he does not scoff at Jesus Word like it is idle tales. A believer is changed because he does not cower in fear over His sins like Jesus is still dead.

Whether we believe or not does not change the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. Whether we repent or not does not change the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. Our repentance and faith only affect whether or not we have life in His name, and Jesus has specifically given us His Word so that we would repent and believe, and live forever.

Notice the mercy Jesus shows to the disciples. Jesus had sent the disciples to proclaim His death and resurrection, and to absolve sins but they hadn’t gone. Eight days later, they were still hiding behind locked doors. Jesus appeared again to them behind locked doors and gave them His peace, absolving their sin, absolving their fear.

This is the same mercy Jesus shows to you. Jesus absolves your sin, but you again struggle with it and fall back into it. So Jesus comes again into the locked doors of your heart and gives you His peace and absolves you of your sin. He breaks the bonds of sin that bind you by leading you to repentance and again forgiving you your sin.

He gives you His Word in which His life, death, and resurrection are recorded, so that you may believe and have life in His name. He absolves you again and again because you sin again and again, but He’s not tabulating how many times He forgives you or how often. Jesus is merciful, so He just forgives you. He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you would be strengthened to everlasting life, not so that you would remain impenitently in sin.

Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes because believers no longer live for themselves, but for Christ, in whose resurrection we have the promise of our resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes because we no longer have to fear hell because we have the promise of eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes, because in His Word He promises that we have life in His name. In His Word He promises, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 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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