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April 27, 2014 - John 20.19-31

“Believing Is Seeing”

John 20.19-31

April 27, 2014

 

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

A Sept. 16, 2005 phone call from Dane Squires of Toronto to his daughter Trina was a strange event.  The reason is that Trina was attending her father’s funeral at the time.  His family believed that Mr. Squires had been run over by a train on Sept. 10th.    The badly mutilated corpse had resembled the retired welder, and his sister had identified the body as his.  Mr. Squires learned of his own death by reading his obituary.  So he called his daughter to find her in the middle of his funeral.  His daughter thought that she was hearing a ghost.  It totally, totally freaked her out.[1]

Can you blame her?  To see her father’s mutilated corpse, only to hear that he is alive?

 

There is a disciple that is maligned.  Sometimes they forget the good things about him, and concentrate on the bad.  I am not talking about Judas.  This particular disciple was courageously devoted to Jesus (John 11.16) and one of the more theologically alert disciples (John 14.5), and even though there is a gospel that did not make it into the Bible that bears his name, even though there is a tradition that places him as the first missionary to India, he has forever been given the distinction of the disciple that doubts.  I am speaking of Thomas.

Can you blame Thomas for wanting to see Jesus?  Like Trina Squires of Toronto, he had seen the mutilated corpse of Christ and knew that he was dead.  Sometimes when we look through the lenses of the resurrection, we forget how painful and real Jesus’ death was.  I think that perhaps Thomas gets a bad rap.  Can any of us blame him for wanting to see Jesus?  No.

 

At the heart of this text lies one man.  And no, it is not Thomas.  We think its Thomas, but it’s Jesus.  Jesus is at the heart of this story, a Jesus that says to Thomas, “if what you need to do in order to believe is to touch me, then here I am.  Touch my wounds.”  Jesus is more than willing to forgive Thomas’ incredulity and his indiscretion.  Jesus wants Thomas to believe, so he offers him proof.

 

Last Sunday's gospel was about the women who went to the tomb, found it was empty, were told by an angel that Jesus had risen, and raced back to Jerusalem to tell the joyous news. They heard and they believed. And if that is how it is for you, fine. They believed on the basis of a secondhand report. They believed what they heard. But today's Easter story is for the rest of you. They told Thomas that Jesus had been raised. They told Thomas that the risen Christ had appeared before the gathered disciples. But Thomas wasn't there. Where was he? We don't know where Thomas was. He wasn't there. And because he did not see the risen Christ for himself, because he had only heard but had not seen, he did not believe. That is what he said to them. "Unless, I can see, touch, for myself, I won't believe."

And Jesus said to him, "Touch. Thrust your hands into the holes in my hands and side. Believe."

In saying, "Touch me, thrust your hands into my scars," Jesus was not rebuking Thomas for his doubts. Rather, he was giving Thomas the proof that he needed. Jesus did not say to Thomas, "Now, close your eyes and try to believe real hard." Nor did he say, "Thomas, if you would just have more faith, be more like the other disciples, you wouldn't have a problem."

Rather, Jesus gave Thomas the proof he needed. Out of love, he gave him tangible proof.

I don't know about you, but I'm grateful for tangible proof. There are those who hear the historical reports of the gospels and, despite the two-thousand-year space between our time and their time, they hear and they believe.

There are other people who need something else. The stories of the gospels are fine. The gospel word is interesting. But they need more than words. They need touch. For those people, the good news is that Jesus gives them what they, you, need. Touch, see, and believe, Jesus says. For you there is the church. This building. There are those who say, "Christianity is a wonderful spiritual ideal." But who gets worked up over a spiritual ideal? You need the church, a place, a building, somewhere to go and know that God will be tangibly, visibly, really there. Sure, we believe that God can be found anywhere, at any place, but you need some place.

Or, for you there are other people living, breathing embodiments of the faith. You might not be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, had you not known real, living, and breathing witnesses who testify to you, by their daily lives, that there is a force loose in the world, a force for good. God. For you, seeing has been believing.[2]

 

I am guilty, and perhaps you are, too, of wanting to feel superior to Thomas.  After all, we believe without having Jesus in bodily form.  His statement is oxymoronic.  I want to chastise Thomas for having little faith.  How hypocritical of me.  Thomas wanted what the other disciples had already seen.  He wants what everyone wants.  The world is full of people like Thomas. 

 

Amy Hunter writes about the time she became very ill:  “Five years ago I had emergency surgery. My sister, a professor with final exams to give, was getting married in less than a week. Yet she drove from New York City to Massachusetts in a snowstorm to see me in the hospital. No phone call would reassure her that I was alive. She had to see me with her own eyes.”[3]

Sometimes the demand to see is not doubt. Sometimes it is even love.

 

Thomas wanted proof.  Jesus gave it to him.  “See the scars!  Feel the wounds!”  People today want proof as well.  We could scoff at them for being of weak faith, but that would be doing exactly the opposite of what Jesus did.  What proof can we offer them?  We are the proof.  Paul tells us in Romans 12 that we ARE the body of Christ.  God says we are Jesus’ body.  We are ALL the proof that anyone should ever need.  That is, if we really live as the body of Christ, people will be convinced.  If we really live as the body of Christ they will believe and they will be convinced.  And folks, we can do it.  If we will focus on being Jesus, on doing his will, on being the church and not worrying about the church, they will believe. 

 

The world is full of skeptics and cynics.  But there is a difference between a skeptic and a cynic.  A cynic is one who scoffs, who mocks and dares someone to prove what they have already determined to be, at least in their mind, improvable.  Skeptics are different.  Skeptics are willing to believe, if they are given evidence, if they are shown some proof.  Thomas was a skeptic.

 

You have to give Thomas credit because he wanted to believe.  Many don’t believe because they do not want to believe.

 

They will believe because they want to believe.  People want to believe.  They do.  People are searching for something to believe in.  What else could possibly explain the fact that psychic hotlines are a million dollar industry?  How many people just gobble up that tripe spewed out by folks like Tom Cruise, for instance, who help us get in touch with the aliens that once populated the earth?  Why else would people try out Wicca, and Satanism, and other pseudo-religions?  How many people read the horoscope, hoping to find something to believe in? 

 

Why is it that people find it hard to believe?  Often the reason they give is all about the performance of the church.  They say we are a bunch of hypocrites.  They are right.  I say “there is always room for one more – come join us.”  They say that we do not live up to what we say we believe.  They are right.  We fail Jesus just like the disciples did.  But Jesus makes allowances for that, and what we are saying is that we are forgiven.  We can’t do away with all the ways we fail Jesus – but we can do better – so what we must do is rely on grace and preach and live Jesus.  Just Jesus.  Rarely do skeptics have a problem with Jesus.  Their problem is with us.  So let’s show them Jesus.

Just because someone plays Bach poorly, does not mean that Bach was a bad composer.  Just because someone follows Jesus poorly does not mean that Jesus isn’t worth following.  Sometimes admitting that you believe requires swallowing so much pride.  Many people do not want to believe because it requires so much change.

 

People want to believe, but they need some kind of proof. But is proof the right word, really? Does Thomas desire proof? No, what he wants is presence, embodiment. He wants Jesus. They need someone to say to them – look!  See for yourself that Jesus is alive!  Here is the proof!  The gospel! 

You see, when people say they want proof, what they are saying is they want to see Jesus.  Can they see Jesus?  Can we believe enough in Jesus’ words to us that we are His Body?  Can we live with enough love in our lives that people will see the body of Christ at work in the world, healing hurt people, breaking down social barriers, healing marriages, restoring people to emotional health, loving the unlovable, bridging the gap between economic divides and ethnic divides, feeding the hungry, and saving the lost.  1 John tells us that they will know we are Christians by our love.  Can we love each other that much – to prove to skeptics that Jesus lives?   I think we can.  I think we don’t, but I think we could!

When people see those things really happening, they will believe.  When they feel the scars of Christ for themselves, they will believe.  The only way they can feel those wounds is if we bear them, if we are the body of Christ, his hands and his feet in this world, then they will see for themselves that Jesus Christ is Risen!  They will believe, because they will have all the evidence they need.  Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead and Jesus lives in us!  Is he living in you?

 

[1] Bob Russell, in a sermon preached on April 16, 2006, as produced by The Living Word.

[2] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, April 23, 2006.

[3] (Amy B. Hunter, "The Show-me Disciple," Christian Century, March 13-20, 2002. p. 17.)