THESE ARE WRITTEN THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE.
In the name + of Jesus.
M: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25) Ten apostles told the one who had missed out. Their eyes bulged with enthusiasm. The excitement of their words could not keep up with the excitement in their hearts. Yes, Jesus had been crucified. “And Thomas, do you remember when he had told us it was going to happen like this? And remember? Remember, Thomas? He also said that he would rise again on the third day! And he did! Peter and John ran to the tomb, and it was empty. The women saw angels who said he was risen! Mary Magdalene saw Jesus himself! So did some other women. Peter saw him Sunday afternoon. We ALL saw him Sunday night! Thomas, it was just like he said. He would rise from the dead. He did rise from the dead. Thomas, we all saw him!”
Thomas was not convinced. He was not convinced by the testimony of the women. He was not convinced by the empty tomb. He was not convinced when ten of his closest companions told him. Not even Jesus’ promise was enough. “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, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Jesus did not owe Thomas special treatment. The word of the Lord should have been plenty. But Jesus did appear to Thomas. Thomas wanted tangible proof? Jesus gave him tangible proof. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” (John 20:27) Then he gave Thomas a rebuke: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
Thomas’ problem was not that he was skeptical. No one would blame Thomas for that. But Thomas had become faithless. He had Jesus’ promise, but that was not enough. He had the testimony of the women who had seen the angel at the empty tomb and had repeated the angel’s message, but he would not believe the women. He had the word of his fellow apostles who had seen Jesus, spoke with him, and ate with him. But Thomas would not listen. Thomas would not trust the words and promises of God, nor of those who repeated them. “Unless I see...” (John 20:25), Thomas demanded. Thomas would only believe what he could see and touch and feel. This is not faith at all.
Be careful that you do not feel superior to Doubting Thomas. Every sin boils down to doubt, or unbelief. We do not keep God’s Commandments because we do not believe God has our best interest at heart. We prefer our own will, and we do not fear God’s wrath or believe God’s judgment. We are not content because we do not believe God gives us what is best for us. We are afraid because we do not believe that God works everything for our good. We hoard our wealth because we do not believe that God will supply our needs. Or we squander our wealth because we do not believe our greatest treasures are spiritual things. We do not take God at his word. We want more proof. We want to see more evidence. We sin against him, because we do not believe him. Repent.
“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27) These are written that you may believe that Jesus Christ is truly risen. It was witnessed by the women who did not expect his resurrection. It was witnessed by the apostles who were hiding out in a locked room because of fear. It was even witnessed by an apostle who refused to believe it could be true. And these apostles have preached and written this word so that you may believe and that, by believing, you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
It is written so that you can know that God’s love for you is nothing that you should doubt. For, God’s love is not given in scraps. God does not reveal his love with occasional moments of joy or with random acts of kindness. God’s love is revealed by his total commitment to redeem you from all of your sin. He sent Jesus to pay for all of your sin. He gave his life completely for your lack of trust, lack of obedience, lack of restraint, lack of patience, and for every other place where you have fallen short. Because you have fallen short, because you are spiritually bankrupt, Jesus has covered the full cost. You never have to doubt God’s love because it never comes up short. Even if you have not been faithful to him, God is always faithful to his promises. Sins are forgiven. The debt is paid. Christ is risen. Death is done. These are written that you may believe that Jesus Christ has, indeed, risen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29) For this is a saving faith.
Of course, Jesus does not make such visitations anymore. Jesus will not be entering your living room or even this sanctuary, inviting you to examine his wounds. He imparts forgiveness to you just as he has declared his resurrection to you – through the words of witnesses and messengers. But the message is more than just imparting information. Jesus’ ministers do not just tell stories. He gave them much greater authority than that.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week…, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19,21-23)
Through the Spirit, the Lord gives life to all who are dead in sin. Jesus breathed on these disciples and poured out his Holy Spirit into them. Then Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He gave them his Holy Spirit so that they can go and breathe him into others, in the stead and by the command of Christ. They were to speak as if it were Christ himself speaking. Jesus gave them his authority and attached this promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23)
These are written that you may believe that Jesus forgives you through ministers who speak in the stead and by the command of Jesus. Jesus has given his Church the holy ministry so that people continue to hear the voice of their Risen Savior. He who paid for all sin still forgives the sins of the penitent. How do you know that the pastor’s words are not just a nice guy wishing you well? Jesus attaches his promise to it. How you do you know that the water poured out onto the infant’s head truly washes away sins? Jesus attached his promise to it. How do you know that the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Christ rather than a mere reenactment? Jesus attaches his promise to it. He breathes his Holy Spirit through the word. It is the breath of life, and by it he imparts life to you.
These are written that you may believe that Jesus forgives you. As you hear God’s word, it is the voice of God you hear. As you hear Jesus’ forgiveness, it is the voice of your Savior you hear. As the word is preached, it is the Holy Spirit who breathes new life into you, who puts sin to death in you, and who renews you day after day.
Therefore, do not disbelieve, but believe. Take God at his word. Hold him to his word. Cling to his promises. If he says that your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven. God’s word is greater than your guilt. If he says that death is conquered, then it is harmless. God’s word is more powerful than the grave. If he says you are his dear children, then he is your heavenly Father. God’s promise makes you heirs of eternal life. Do not disbelieve, but believe. God does not lie. Christ is risen. Death is overcome. Your sins are forgiven. God’s love is yours.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.