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Easter 2, “Seeing, Believing and Witnessing”

Pastor Gary Wong April 19, 2020

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Some people are very trusting by nature. They simply believe whatever people tell them and don’t demand any proof. Then there are skeptics. Skeptics aren’t so trusting and don’t automatically swallow someone’s story hook, line and sinker. A skeptic asks questions and won’t believe until all of his doubts have been removed. Someone who wants concrete proof before he will believe is sometimes called a “Doubting Thomas.” Well friends, that expression was named after me. My parents named me Didymus, which means “twin” in Greek. However, my fellow disciple, John, calls me Thomas in this book you call The Bible. Even though I have two names, I will probably be forever known as “Doubting Thomas.”

Now, it’s not as though I never put my trust in anyone or anything. I certainly trusted Jesus when he called me to be his disciple. When Jesus said, “Follow me” I immediately left my home in Galilee, my family and my work as a fisherman and followed Jesus. With all my heart I believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Even though Peter was the first one to answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?” I also made the same confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).

Along with my fellow disciples, I was privileged to learn from the Master Teacher. I witnessed his miracles and heard his sermons. With each miracle and truth Jesus taught, my faith in him grew stronger. Not only did Jesus change my life, I saw how the gospel affected so many others. I saw how a Samaritan woman turned to Jesus in faith and how Jesus healed her demon possessed daughter. I saw Jesus showing compassion to his fellow Galileans as he first fed their souls with the Bread of Life, which is God’s Word, and then miraculously fed thousands with just five loaves of bread and two small fish! Sadly, I also witnessed how Jesus and his message were rejected. Even in his home town of Nazareth, his own people would not accept his Word or believe his miracles. The unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees were particularly zealous in their opposition to Jesus. That’s the reason that Jesus spoke in parables. Those who had faith understood; those who rejected Jesus did not.

I have to admit that I didn’t always understand everything Jesus taught—at least, not right away. However, I wasn’t the only one who was sometimes slow to understand; there were times when all of us disciples didn’t get it. The difference is that I was honest and gutsy enough to speak up. And even if I didn’t fully understand, I followed the Savior’s lead. For instance, Jesus didn’t have a lot of time to develop close relationships; but he did have a close friend by the name of Lazarus. Once, when we were in a nearby village, his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus responded by telling us, “Let us go to Judea.” When we heard that, we thought that we were going to leave right away. Yet, we stayed where we were for two more days. Then we got word that Lazarus had died. Frankly, I didn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t in a hurry to help Lazarus. In a way, though, I was relieved. We had just been in Judea where the Jews had tried to stone Jesus. While I was sad that Lazarus had died, I was glad we weren’t going because we would have been putting ourselves in harm’s way. But then Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” Thinking that Jesus was talking about natural sleep, we said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus, knowing that we didn’t get it, then plainly said, “Lazarus is dead ... But let us go to him.” Frankly, I still didn’t understand. But I trusted that Jesus knew what he was doing. So I told the rest of my fellow disciples, “Let’s go with Jesus” even if it means that we are going to die at the hands of the Jews.

When we arrived at Bethany, we learned that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. Jesus consoled Mary and Martha and wept over his friend’s death. He then went to the tomb and commanded, “Take away the stone.” Martha objected, warning Jesus that the body would have a horrible odor. But when Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” they took away the stone. Jesus then prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 11:42). Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Immediately, Lazarus came out with the burial cloths around his hands, feet and head. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead! With this astounding miracle, my faith and trust in Jesus grew even more.

In spite of this miracle, not everyone believed in Jesus. In fact, opposition to Jesus grew. The Jews plotted to kill Jesus. Jesus knew that his time to die would come soon, so he tried to prepare us by telling us that he would be handed over to the chief priests, elders, and teachers of the law, that he would be crucified, and that he would rise from the dead. Jesus repeated his prophecy of his death and resurrection several times, including the night you call Maundy Thursday. We had gathered to celebrate the Passover when Jesus again told us that he was going to die. Even though Jesus had told us these things, we were slow to understand. We just couldn’t and didn’t want to believe that these things would happen.

Knowing how his death would devastate us, Jesus comforted us with these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms …I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (Jn. 14:1-4). While these words give me great comfort now, the only thing that I could think at that moment was Jesus was leaving us. I was like a toddler who panics when he is accidently separated from his parents in a huge crowd. I’m sure I voiced the same fears my fellow disciples felt when I said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus assured us, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

Jesus comforted us with many other words and prayers that Maundy Thursday evening. We then proceeded to the Garden Gethsemane where Jesus prayed again. You know what happened next. My fellow disciples, Matthew and John, gave detailed accounts of what happened on the day you call Good Friday—how Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss; how the soldiers arrested Jesus and how all of his disciples, including me, ran away; how Jesus was falsely charged with blasphemy, unjustly condemned by Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried in the tomb.

I was completely devastated by Jesus’ death. What would I do? Where would I go? My life had been completely wrapped up in Jesus. All the hope that Jesus brought with his message seemed to have been dashed with his death. The only things left were a sense of despair and fear. Since the Jews had succeeded in killing Jesus, we thought that they might come after us next. So my fellow disciples locked themselves in a room on the evening you call Easter Sunday. For some reason, I wasn’t there. I was alone with my thoughts, trying to sort out the events of the past few days. In any case, the rest of the disciples were behind those locked doors when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst! He said, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19). Everyone was overjoyed because they had seen Jesus. Jesus then left as suddenly as he had appeared.

When I rejoined the other disciples, I couldn’t believe the change that had taken place. Before I left, the pall of Jesus’ death hung over everyone like a dark cloud. Now, their gloom was replaced by overwhelming joy. They all told me, “We have seen the Lord!” I thought, “They’re out of their minds with grief.” Skeptic that I am, I said, “Unless I see the nail marks on his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (Jn. 20:25). For the whole next week, my fellow disciples tried to convince me that they had really seen Jesus. But as hard as they tried, I refused to believe. Well, a week later, we were all in the same house with the doors locked, when Jesus suddenly appeared and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to me, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (Jn. 20:27). As I heard Jesus use the exact same words I had spoken the week before, I realized that it truly was Jesus standing before me. I didn’t need to put my fingers in his hands or side. What I saw and heard were all the proof I needed. I simply confessed my faith: “My Lord and my God!” I saw Jesus several more times after his resurrection. The last time I saw Jesus, he was ascending into heaven.

Well friends, that’s my story. By nature, I’m a skeptic. I’ll probably always be a little wary and have my doubts—but not about the resurrection. The fact that Jesus lived, died, and rose is irrefutable. I saw the risen Savior with my own eyes. That, however, does not mean that you are at a disadvantage. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” You see, believing is really a matter of faith. Even though you haven’t seen Jesus with your eyes, you see him through eyes of faith. That’s why John wrote his Gospel: “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). Faith is a gift from God that the Holy Spirit gave you at your baptism. Through faith, we have peace, knowing that God forgives all our sins for Jesus’ sake. We have peace, knowing that we are God’s dearly loved children and that we have a heavenly inheritance that can never be taken away from us.

When we were in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Yet, there are things in this world that trouble us, things that can rob us of the peace we have. Financial problems, illness, broken down bodies, broken relationships and death are just some of the things that make our lives anything but peaceful. One of the worst threats to our peace is doubt. Now, all of us have doubts from time to time. Now, I’m not talking about wondering if you’re going to be able to pay your bills, or doubts that our country will be able to recover from COVID-19; I’m talking about the doubts I expressed on Easter Sunday when I refused to believe my friends when they told me that Jesus is alive. My doubt showed a complete lack of trust; it was bordering on unbelief. Jesus knew the struggle I was having and how close I was to losing my faith. Jesus loved me enough to bring me back from the despair that had led Judas to hang himself. Jesus looked directly at me and basically said, “Stop being an unbeliever; believe.”

Jesus restored and renewed my faith. From that moment, I put my complete trust in my Savior and his promises. So can you. Even though you didn’t see the nail marks on Jesus’ hands and feet and did not have the opportunity to put your hand In Jesus’ side, you are as blessed as I am. You see and hear Jesus in his Word. You receive his body and blood that he gave for you in his Supper. Jesus has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. He sends you out to proclaim the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ.

You know, it’s OK to be skeptical about some things, especially the things of this world. However, never doubt God and his Word. We put our absolute trust in him and his promises. The cross and the empty tomb assure us of his love that abides with us forever. Don’t be a “Doubting Thomas.” As Jesus said to me I say to you, “Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus has risen. He has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

“He’s Risen, He’s Risen”

CW 143

Text: C.F.W. Walther, 1811-87,abr.; tr. Anna M. Meyer, 1867 – 1941, alt.

He’s risen, he’s risen, Christ Jesus, the Lord;

He opened death’s prison, the incarnate Word.

Break forth, hosts of heaven, in jubilant song

And earth, sea, and mountain the praises prolong.

The foe was triumphant when on Calvary

The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.

In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,

For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

But short was their triumph; the Savior arose,

And death, hell, and Satan he vanquished, his foes.

The conquering Lord lifts his banner on high;

He lives, yes, he lives, and will nevermore die.

Oh, where is your sting, death? We fear you no more;

Christ rose, and now open is fair Eden’s door.

For all our transgressions his blood does atone;

Redeemed and forgiven, we now are his own.

Then sing your hosannas and raise your glad voice;

Proclaim the blest tidings that all may rejoice.

Laud, honor, and praise to the Lamb that was slain,

Who now sits in glory and ever shall reign.

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