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.

Resurrection Dependency

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on I Corinthians 15:1-11 (14, 17-19)

Dear believers with the promise of the resurrection: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

All of Christianity depends on one single day. Really not even one single day, but rather one single event during that one day: the Resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (15:14, 17-19)

In other words, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are dead. Then we’ve got nothing. We’ve got no hope. We’ve got no future. The only thing that awaits us is eternal death.

If Jesus claimed to be God and then died and is gone, then he’s nobody. Despite whatever good things He might have said and done, He would be a fraud. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, so if He did not rise, He would be a liar. If He said He was going to die for our sins but then never rose, we would have to conclude that He lost the battle with sin and the devil. We’d have to conclude that God the Father did not accept His death as payment for our sins. That’s why Christianity is dependent on the single event of the Resurrection.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20). Our Epistle lesson says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” And Jesus proved His resurrection by showing Himself to Peter. Then to the Twelve (eleven). Then He appeared to more than 500 at one time. He appeared to James. He appeared to Paul. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18). He appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus and to those gathered in Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). And Jesus proved Himself not to be some ghost or apparition by telling them to look at His pierced hands and feet and touch Him and see that He is real (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). He ate in front of them (Lk 24:42; Jn 21:9-14). He performed miracles in front of them (Jn 20:6). Jesus proved that He had been physically raised from the dead.

And Jesus’ Resurrection changed the disciples. Before the Resurrection, the disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested. They were in hiding behind locked doors after His death. They were exactly at the point we would be if there was no Resurrection. They were thinking that their faith in Jesus had been in vain. They thought they had it all wrong. They had hoped Jesus would save them, but now He was dead (cf. Lk 24:21). Jesus was dead. They had no hope. They had no future. Jesus must have been a fraud. Jesus must have been a liar. And now the disciples were afraid that they would be put to death just like Jesus had been put to death.

Between Jesus death and resurrection, no one believed in Him. No one single person believed in Him. The religious leaders had Him killed. The crowd had shouted, “Crucify Him!” The disciples fled and met in hiding to figure out what to do next. The women bought spices to anoint His corpse. No one believed in Jesus. But that didn’t stop Him from dying for them and rising from the dead. In spite of their unbelief, Jesus died and rose again. Then He showed Himself to them and proved that He had done exactly what He said He would do.

So the resurrection changed the disciples. All of a sudden, they came out of hiding. They openly proclaimed Christ in Jerusalem in the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). They were no longer afraid of death. Even upon arrest and being told to stop talking about Jesus by the same council that found Jesus guilty, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So also the resurrection changes us. We also have no need to hide our faith. We also do not need to fear death. Baptized into Jesus, we have the promise that just as He was raised from the dead, so we will also be raised (Rom. 6:5).

So we ask: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55) Death, you have nothing on us. You think your victory is in the morgue? You think your sting is in the cemetery? Death, do you think your victory is in the cancer ward or in palliative care; in terrorist strikes or on the battlefield? There is no victory for death. There’s no sting in death because the grave cannot hold us. The grave cannot hold us any more than it held Jesus.

The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus. The heavy rock rolled in front of the entrance didn’t stop Jesus from rising. The Roman seal on the stone that threatened execution to whoever broke it could stop nothing. The Roman guard keeping watch couldn’t secure Jesus’ body in the grave. Death did its worst, but Jesus rose triumphantly.

So also the grave will not hold us. Dirt will not keep us from rising. Even a heavy stone and a guard of soldiers cannot keep us in the grave. So we need to fear death as little as our bed. The grave is nothing more than a resting place for our bodies until the day of our resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything for us. It compels us to hold fast to the preached Word of God and His Sacraments. It compels us to regularly receive God’s gifts that He gives here in the Divine Service lest we fall away from the faith and have thus believed in vain. The resurrection compels us not to live in doubt or fear, or live in sin following our sinful desires. It compels us to live in hope – sure and certain hope in the promises of God. We will be raised as Jesus was raised. Our sins will not be charged against us because they were charged against Jesus and He died for them on the cross. Through Baptism, His death is our death and His resurrection is our resurrection.

Jesus claimed to be God and then died and rose, so we know that He is God. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, and He did as He promised so we know that everything that He said is true. Jesus said He was going to die for our sins and rise from the dead, so His resurrection proves that He won the battle with sin and the devil. It proves that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins. That’s why the single event of the Resurrection proves that Christianity is true.

Since Jesus was raised from the dead we will be raised from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we’ve got everything. We’ve got hope. We’ve got a future. We’ve got the forgiveness of our sins. The only thing that awaits us is eternal life. Amen.

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