Monday, April 08, 2013

Sermon on John 20:19-31, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, "Doubt or Faith?"


Sermon Outline:
·         Who was Thomas? (larger question Thomas had answered: Who is the Christ, the Messiah of promise?). Thomas and Lazarus (John 11). “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14). Loyalty, brotherhood, certainty, skepticism, avoid deception, proof, conviction. Eyewitness. Where was the flaw in his thinking? That he doubted Jesus’ word? Needed proof?
·         Jesus met Thomas’ challenge, as though He’d been eavesdropping. Thomas’ reaction. Jesus’ response. Thomas’ role in the resurrection accounts—not just a fantastical tale, nor a wispy hope based on rumors. Thomas’ encounter passed this skeptic’s tests, proved the Jesus’ resurrection in the body was real. Important “test” to pass, because the future faith of those who would never get to see, but still would believe, is not based on flights into absurdity or “magical thinking.” Rather: the very Word of God made flesh, God in human person, the One who opened Thomas’ eyes at last, “My Lord and my God!” The future faith of every Christian, from the time of Jesus’ ascension till now—is based on concrete and historical events at a particular time and place, involving particular people and eyewitnesses, and involving the man Jesus who was wounded and crucified in a very particular manner—which left tell-tale identifying marks, that Thomas and the others got to see for themselves.
·         Things we can know without seeing? Touching? Science: atoms, molecules, unseen planets & black holes. May not have expertise to copy their experiments, take their word (within reason). Cartographers and geography—historians and famous people and events—believe even though we can’t always verify for ourselves. Impossible to live with uncompromising skepticism that can’t believe unless proven ourselves. If we consistently applied the principle that “I won’t believe it unless I see it”—massive categories of information and knowledge we’d have to suspend our belief. Almost nothing for certain. And with the age of neuroscience and virtual reality, one could even fall into a paranoia of not being sure of your own senses--whether or not they had been manipulated.
·         So never question authority? Strain belief to the point of gullibility? NO!! Thankfully Scripture doesn’t leave us facing such desperate extremes. Not a choice between foolish gullibility and hardened skepticism. Faith is not blind leaps into absurdities. And scripture actually teaches a healthy sort of skepticism and sober-mindedness that questions false teachings, examines things, and is watchful for deception.
·         But we’re called to have faith—which Hebrews 11:1 defines as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Faith recognizes some things are true, that can’t be seen or proved by the senses. It recognizes that there’s more to existence than just the material world. But neither does it invite us into illusions. The faith that Thomas was called to have, when Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe!” was not pie-in-the-sky faith—that’s not faith at all. Nothing could be further from the heart of Christian faith than wishful thinking. Rather, the faith Thomas was called to have was in the Word of God made flesh—Jesus Christ. Not a phantom or a ghost, but a living man with scars in His hands and side and feet, from His recent death. The man who invited him to touch and see that He was real.
·         Thomas’ sudden confession: “My Lord and my God!” Because who else is the One who defeats death?! No stranger, one he’d never known; but the close companion and teacher that he had followed until death. And now his Lord and God! All the power Thomas had seen in Jesus in all His miracles before—healing the sick, the lame, the blind—even raising dead Lazarus—Thomas’ dear friend—all paled in comparison to what he now saw before his eyes. Any doubts he had, any hesitation about who Jesus really was, evaporated. He really is the Messiah, the Son of God. Death has no hold on Jesus.
·         Such joy, such faith! Healed wounds and scars except the hands, feet, and side of Jesus. Thomas saw them and recognized His Lord. Forever testaments of His love for us—hinted in the appearance in heaven, in John’s great Revelation, of the Lamb who was standing as though it had been slain, but lives in Revelation 5:6. Or in the prophecy of Isaiah 49:15-16, that “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Marked on Jesus’ hands forever is the signs of His sacrificial love for us. So that we are engraved there—forever in God’s heart and memory—forever His. As one author put it, “Jesus’ wounds are his credentials to the suffering race of human beings.” Jesus did not “stay out of harm’s way”—loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood. Near to our suffering and grief, near with His comfort and forgiveness. His hands held the proof that having loved His own, He loved them to the end (John 13:1).
·         John tells us that all these things he wrote down—the life of Jesus’ His teachings, signs and miracles—written so that you may believe (have faith) . Believe something very specific: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Like Thomas, to get ahold of Jesus’ true identity, and confess Him as our Lord and God. I know who He is, and He is my Lord and my God. And by believing we have life in His name. Jesus did all for us, and wants us, by knowing Him, to share in forgiveness, life and salvation. So casting away all doubt, we put our full trust in Him, and receive the gifts, promises, and life that He gives. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Who was Thomas? What notable things did he say or do in the Gospels? John 11:16; 14:5-6; 21:1-3.

  1. The other 10 disciples had seen the risen Jesus and believed after His first appearance among them, while Thomas was absent. How did Thomas express his skepticism about Jesus’ resurrection, and what it would take to prove it to him? How does Thomas speak to our modern-day skepticism? What was it about the marks and the wounds that would convince him?

  1. How do the enduring scars of Jesus, on His hands, feet, and sides, testify to us and to God the Father? Isaiah 49:15-16; Revelation 1:5; 5:6; Hebrews 10:19-22

  1. How do the wounds of God, wounds endured for us, give us grace and healing? Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24.

  1. How did Thomas’ doubt turn to faith? How did he express (or better: confess) his faith? John 20:28. Why was this confirmation of Jesus’ resurrection so powerful in identifying who Jesus was, as the Christ, the Messiah and true God? Cf. Matthew 12:38-42; 17:9. 

  1. What is the blessing of believing, even though we have not seen? 1 Peter 1:8-9; Hebrews 11:1-3.

  1. Why did John write his Gospel? What is the intention of how these teachings and records of Jesus’ life would affect the reader? John 20:30-31

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