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Second Sunday of Easter - Series B

Text: John 20:19-31

Title: “The Cure for Doubt and Unbelief”

Date: Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         Many people in our world today are skeptical about the existence of God. Yet they question Him and attack Him whenever they get the chance. Not only that but just as many people or more don’t believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection…including some who call themselves Christians.

This is nothing new. In fact, it happens on that first Easter night many centuries ago. Jesus disciples are huddled together in a house behind locked doors. They are hiding out from the Pharisees and Sadducees…the Jewish leaders…because these disciples are scared! They have to be asking themselves: “What are the Jewish leaders going to do to us? Will they arrest us? Will we be accused of stealing the body?”

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus is standing in the middle of them. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus always says the right thing at the right time. They can feel peace in their hearts because there is nothing to worry about. The Lord is right there with them …alive! Showing them His hands and side, He proves to them that He is not a ghost but the same person they have known. He is the same Jesus they witnessed being crucified just two days earlier. They are glad to see Him and now believe that He is risen from the dead.

         But a disciple is missing. Thomas misses the big event. Where is he on Easter? Why isn’t Thomas with the rest of the disciples in that Upper Room on that first Easter evening? Is he with his twin brother? Is he in hiding somewhere? When Thomas finally returns, the other disciples are excited and tell him that Jesus had been there. But Thomas doesn’t just doubt it. He does not believe it! “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,” declares Thomas, “I will never believe.” (v 25) In other words, ‘I will not believe, unless I see visible proof‘. We call him “doubting Thomas,” but he’s really “unbelieving Thomas.” He doesn’t believe the message of the eye witnesses. He must see it for himself. Remember that famous line in the movie Jerry McGuire? “Show me the money.” Don’t just talk about it…don’t just make a bunch of empty promises. Show me! That’s the unofficial state slogan for Missouri…the “show me state.” Seeing is believing. Talk is cheap. Show me!

After all, Thomas is a practical man who lives in a practical world. He’s not about to succumb to some kind of fantasy or fairy tale. Dead is dead. No one in their right mind would hesitate to believe the Roman soldiers when they said a prisoner was dead. They were experts at killing! And it is not that Thomas doesn’t want to believe that Jesus is still alive. But he knows how the world works. Dead is dead and that is it…end of story!
         Our world today sees Jesus’ resurrection the same way. It’s a fairy tale…a fantasy. It didn’t really happen. In fact, a number of people have been determined to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was only a spiritual resurrection. They believe that Jesus rose from the dead, only in the sense that His spirit goes marching on. It is sort of like the way the spirit of Abraham Lincoln continues to influence America. Dr. Paul L. Maier…professor emeritus of ancient history at Western Michigan University dismisses such a theory. He points out that it would have been a contradiction in terms for an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead, but his body was left in the tomb. That was not how people talked back then. Furthermore, Dr. Maier points out that many of Jesus’ disciples were executed because they would not deny the resurrection. No person in his or her right mind would die for something that didn’t happen or was a fraud. Of all the events that took place in the first century, no historical event has more widespread documentation than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
         On the Sunday after Easter, the disciples are huddled together again in lockdown but this time Thomas is with them. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus is standing in the middle of them. He says to them: “Peace be with you.” Then the Lord focuses on Thomas and invites him to touch the wounds He had sustained on the cross. “Do not disbelieve,” Jesus tells Thomas, “but believe.” (v 27b) This is what cures Thomas of his unbelief. Thomas responds by saying, “My Lord and my God!” (v 28) Thomas becomes a man of faith…a man who believes in Jesus, even though the world will tell him otherwise.
         The scars of Jesus’ crucifixion remain in the resurrection, convincing the skeptical disciple that the Easter news is true. Jesus has risen! Of course, you and I can’t see those scars. But the disciples, including Thomas, did see them, and were convinced. Over 500 people saw those scars after the Lord resurrected and testified about it to the world. Peter preached the resurrection to thousands in Jerusalem. James, the half-brother of the Lord, saw those scars and believed. People gave their lives rather than deny they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.

         “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you. You get a blessing from Jesus. You are not given the opportunity to see or touch. Instead, you are given the chance to hear the testimony of these witnesses…including Thomas. John, who was there, recorded these things for you, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, would have life in His name. It’s not simply believing the bare fact that Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead. Even the devil and his minions know this…and they shudder at the thought of their undoing.  It’s believing and trusting that Christ’s death on the cross atones for your sin. That this life lovingly laid down for you is a sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and the sin of the world. That Jesus is not simply a good man who died an awful death. He is the Son of God in the flesh who died in your place. Christ became your sin and conquered your death so that you would have life forever in Him.

         Believe Jesus lives…and you also will live! Because His grave is empty, your grave will be empty on the Last Day, and people will say the same thing about you that they said about Jesus: He is not here, he is risen! Or she is not here, she is risen! It’s believing that our greatest enemy, Death, has been dealt with once and for all by Jesus. It’s believing that His words are true…that they are Spirit and life. With those words the crucified and risen One forgives you, and gives you His Body and Blood as surely as Thomas saw those wounds on that Sunday after Easter.

         A.N. Wilson, a writer and biographer, grew up as a Christian. In his forties, he lost his faith and became a passionate atheist, keeping company with some of the famous atheists of our day. Several years ago, he wrote of his reconversion to Christianity in a wonderfully written essay entitled “Why I Believe Again.” He recalls an incident of a young minister who feared that he had lost his faith. He had gone to the late archbishop Michael Ramsey for advice as to what to do. All the archbishop said to the distressed young minister was: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” He told him to continue worshipping Jesus in the Sacraments and faith would return. Wilson then writes: “For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off ‘Thought for the Day’ when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief “don’t matter”, that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.”

         So stay close to God by reading His Word in the Bible each day and meditating on it. Eat and drink the Lord’s Supper as often as it is given to strengthen your faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Make the sign of the cross daily upon your forehead and upon your heart to remind you that you are a baptized, forgiven child of God! And through His Means of Grace…His Word and Sacraments…the Lord gives you a heart that can confess along with Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” In Jesus name, Amen.

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