Partners in the Resurrection Faith

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 Jewish leaders, 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’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  24 Now Thomas (also known as 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.” 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 performed many other 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 Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Dear friends of the risen Lord and friends of Shoreland Lutheran High School,

Paul Scherer tells a story in his book, The Word of God Sent, about a young student at Columbia University who use to come to church on Sundays to hear the sermon.  And on most Sundays he would greet the pastor on the way out of church with these words: What you said isn’t true, but I wish it were.

There was a lot of I wish it were after the resurrection.  On Easter morning, Jesus told the women at the tomb, Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.  It was weeks later that we are told that they did as Jesus told them.  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Mark says basically the same thing: Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.  Doubts and skepticism were still rampant even after they had seen him and touched him!

But the most famous doubter is Thomas, isn’t it.  We know his story as well: He wasn’t with the 10 disciples on Easter morning.  So when he was told that Jesus was alive, he questioned the sanity of his friends.  What kind of cruel trick were they playing on him, anyway?  So he spoke those famous words that forever gave him the nickname, Doubting ThomasUnless 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.

But how much different was he than all his friends?  When Mary Magdalene realized she was talking to Jesus and not the gardener, she probably gave him a big hug.  Jesus had to finally tell her, Do not hold on to me.  When the other women left the grave more frightened than joyful after seeing the angel, they met Jesus.  Seeing him, they clasped his feet and worshiped him.  When the 10 were huddled in their hiding place on Easter evening, Jesus appeared to them.  John says that he showed them his hands and feet.  Luke tells us that Jesus said, Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.  Do you not think that part of their great joy was taking Jesus up on his invitation?  They were all doubters...and then they saw (and touched) Jesus’ wounds.

So let’s not be so hard on Thomas.  Jesus surely wasn’t.  When Jesus returned a week later and greeted Thomas, it was not with a harsh rebuke, or a stern criticism.  It was the same invitation he gave the rest of his disciples a week earlier, only couched in Thomas’ doubting words: Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.  John doesn’t even tell us if Thomas had to touch Jesus.  He simply cried out, My Lord and my God!, Jesus replied, Because you have seen me, you have believed.

These were the men who were going to go into all the world to preach the good news to all creation.  These were the men who would be guided by the Spirit of God to pen the stories of the resurrected Savior and all the words he taught them.  These were the men who, with the exception of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, would die confessing that their Rabbi was God’s Son, risen from the dead and alive forever.  Their testimony is clear, based on first hand visible and tangible evidence. 

So let’s not focus on Thomas’ skepticism today; rather, let’s focus on the fact that Jesus still had wounds that he and his fellow disciples saw and touched.  Jesus’ body was glorified; it’s his resurrection body.  We, too, one day will have a resurrection body - a glorified body.  When students ask about what our bodies will be like in heaven, I usually remind them that the ill effects of sin in this life will be gone.  I won’t be wearing glasses.  You may not have arthritis or diabetes or irregular heartbeats.  Our bodies will have the perfect proportions of flesh, bones and fat.  Everything will be made new and perfect.

Jesus’ body - couldn’t he have done some heavenly plastic surgery to cover up those wounds? - is a forever testimony of his great love for us.  He kept those wounds for us.  Those wounds declare that Jesus was not an actor, nor a ghost, nor an angel.  Those wounds declare that he is the Son of God, the God who holds the keys of life in his hands.  Those wounds declare that our rebellion toward God - our doubts, our skepticism, our weaknesses, our pride, our greed, our lust, our hatred, our lovelessness - received their just punishment in his body.  By his wounds we are healed.  Those wounds announce healing for our weary, sin-sick souls.  Those wounds shout out to us that the Father really does see us as forgiven, and he really smiles down upon us with peace.

You and I share a common desire and a common hope: one day we will see those wounds ourselves, with our own eyes.  In heaven, those wounds will be our constant source of joy and our eternal reason to praise our Savior.

There is an old legend that the devil appear to an aged saint and said to him, I am Christ.  But the saint questioned him, Where are the marks of the nails?  Then the devil left him.  He can’t do what Jesus did; he can’t be whom Jesus is. 

We - you and I - are PARTNERS IN THE RESURRECTION FAITH.  We have been healed by the wounds that the disciples saw.  And the only reason we know that is because we’ve been told about it in the Book.  

Jesus doesn’t make it a point to visit us individually and say, Look and touch!.  He doesn’t have us die so he can show us himself, and then bring us back to life.  To Thomas he said,  Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Faith (a synonym for “believing”), after all, is believing something, even if you cannot see it.  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.  Faith has to be grounded on something.  And John tells us what our faith is grounded on: 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.

Peter said, You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  And Saint Paul said, Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Jesus explained the Old Testament Scripture - his words - with the Emmaus disciples.  You should have known that the Christ would rise from dead because it is so clear in the Bible that the resurrection would happen.  Luke reminded the disciples that everything written about him in the Old Testament had to be fulfilled.  In other words: The words of the Bible are the foundation of our faith, no less than they were the foundation of faith for Jesus’ first disciples.

Jesus’ words are filled with power to make us blessed believers and keep us blessed believers.  His words have power to take ordinary tap water into a powerful sacred act that can make a heathen into a little believer.  His words connect with bread and wine and bring to us the real body and blood shed on the cross, so that we can not only hear that we are forgiven, but that we can taste that blessing as well. 

His words bring the blessings of forgiveness.  He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

We are PARTNERS OF THE RESURRECTION FAITH, not only because we are healed by the wounds the disciples saw, but also because we proclaim the good news of those wounds to all. 

We live in a world of skepticism and doubt.  Prove it and I’ll believe it.  Show me it’s true and I’ll take it under advisement.  21st century people are skeptical of that thing called absolute truth.  One of the questions that we discuss often with my Seniors is this: Every religion claims that is the truth.  How can we be sure ours is the truth?  How can we be sure?

How can I be sure I’m really going to heaven?  How do I know there is a heaven?  How can I be sure that God really loves me?  That he cares for me?  That he isn’t punishing me for being such a bad person?  How can I be sure that he can make all the bad things that happen to me are really going to end up as a good thing for me?  How can we be sure?

WE ARE PARTNERS OF THE RESURRECTION FAITH.  As members of this congregation, as federation partners in Christian education at Shoreland Lutheran High School, we recognize one prime directive: Focus on the Truth as revealed in Scripture.  What a blessing that our congregation proclaims THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS.  What a blessing to teach and train our next generation of leaders the fundamentals of education in the context of faith and the Scriptures. 

Let’s keep going back to Jesus’ words of the Old and New Testament.  His words will take away your doubts.  His words will answer your big questions.  His words will change your minds.  His words will keep you believing.  And when we listen, the Holy Spirit will equip and empower us to say, As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. 

Never do we have to leave this church saying, I wish it were true.  Never do our students have to leave school saying, I wish what I learned were true.  Jesus is risen, just as he said.  His words are true.  We don’t have to see him or touch him to know that they are true.  His words have convinced us, and we’ll die believing them.  In living and in dying, we are truly blessed.  Amen.

Rev. Thomas E. Bauer
Shoreland Lutheran High School
Somers, WI