Not Seeing and Believing
(John 20: 19-31)
Do you believe the Titanic really sank? Did you see it sink? How do you know it really sank or if it even existed? Well, you’ve seen the before pictures and have probably read eyewitness accounts from those who survived. They’ve even found the sunken ship, taken pictures of it and made a documentary. So, if people believe this ship that was supposed to be unsinkable hit an ice berg and sank, why is it so difficult for some people to believe that Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father? I recently saw a story on tv where they think they’ve found Jesus’ bones. If they find them, what does it prove? That he existed? We already know that. Even the Pharisees admitted his existence. I’ve read the Biblical accounts of others and I don’t know what more you can show me. I have not seen, yet I believe. What’s in dispute is whether or not he is the son of God.
That’s where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today. It was the evening of the first day of the week, Sunday evening, after they had learned earlier in the day of the empty tomb. After they had heard the report of Mary Magdalene who had seen and talked to the resurrected Jesus, after they had heard the report of John and Peter who confirmed that the tomb was indeed empty. We are told that they were behind locked doors as they were still in fear of the Jewish leaders who were responsible for the brutal death of Jesus Christ. All of a sudden, Jesus appeared, standing among them, and said, Peace be with you. He showed them his hands where the large spikes held him to the cross and the wound on his side where he had been pierced by the spear. Then, we are told, they rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Think about that statement for a minute. What does it tell you? It tells me that they still weren’t sure that Christ had arisen and was alive. All they had at that time was the eyewitness account of an emotionally distraught woman. Was it possible that she was so overcome with grief that she just imagined she saw Jesus? After all, John and Peter just saw the empty tomb. Why didn’t Jesus appear to them? That, they could believe. We know John believed when he saw the empty tomb and the burial cloths. But what about the others? I have no doubt that the discussion was going on when Jesus entered the home and showed himself. Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. He’s telling them that just as God sent him to do His will, he, Jesus, is sending them out in the same fashion to continue the work he began. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. It is important to note here that it is only God who can forgive sins, but Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because of their acceptance of Jesus’ message.
We learn that Thomas, one of the twelve, was not there when Jesus appeared and that when he was told of the appearance he said, 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. I can almost hear one of the other disciples saying something like, Thomas, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but I did! It was a week later when they were all gathered together in the house when Jesus reappeared and said, Peace be with you. Then 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. Thomas answered him, My Lord and my God! Jesus responded, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
To be fair, Thomas gets kind of bad rap here as, forever after he has been immortalized by the phrase “Doubting Thomas”. I really believe that it could have just as easily been one of the other disciples. Thomas loved Jesus just as much as the others did. When Jesus learned that Lazarus was deathly ill the disciples discouraged Jesus from going as it wasn’t safe for him to get so close to Jerusalem because of the plots to harm him. It was Thomas who said, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Thomas is representative of many people who need proof or ask questions. There is nothing wrong with doubt if it leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt has done good work. It’s when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a prideful lifestyle that doubt harms faith. When you doubt, don’t stop there. Let your doubt deepen your faith as you continue to search for the answer. Some people think they would believe in Jesus if they could see a definite sign or miracle. But Jesus says we are blessed if we can believe without seeing. We have all the proof we need in the words of the Bible and the testimony of believers. A physical appearance would not make Jesus any more real to us than he is now.
Our scripture reading ends by telling us that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
To do God’s work, we need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We must avoid trying to do his work in our own strength. So, whatever God has asked you to do, remember: 1) your authority comes from God; and 2) Jesus has demonstrated by words and actions how to accomplish the job he has given you. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends his followers, he sends you.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for the unconditional love of your Son who is so patient and understanding during those times when we doubt. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit that guides us in your ways and helps us complete the tasks you set before us. We thank you for the privilege of telling new believers that their sins, like ours, have also been forgiven because they have accepted the message Jesus brought to us during his earthly ministry. During those times when we face opposition and difficulties in doing your work and your will we know we have the words and actions of Jesus Christ to show us the way. We have not seen, yet we believe. In the name of your precious son, the light of the world, we pray, amen.