Not Seeing Is Believing
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–20:31
The Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
“Not Seeing Is Believing”
I hope this finds you holding up well in the midst of the coronavirus – staying healthy and making the best of life under stay-at-home orders. I’ve heard from some of you how much you look forward to the day when we will once again be able to come together to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But some of you have also been honest enough to admit what we’ve all been thinking: worshiping in our pajamas with coffee in hand has been pretty nice. No argument here! Believe me, if I thought I could pull this off, I’d be doing the same right here on Facebook Live. However, the thought of you all seeing the pastor in his pj’s while preaching a sermon sounds like a bad dream, so we’ll stick with what works here. In the many emails that came my way last week was one, and this one from a fellow pastor, who said, “Easter is now over.” Not true! Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection victory over sin, death, and the grave is not a one-day event that’s done and over with at sunset on Easter Sunday. Easter is an entire season that is 50 days long. The enormity and magnitude of what Jesus has done in rising from the dead reshapes and reorders all of life. Jesus’ resurrection means the beginning of a new creation. The hurried and frenetic lives that most of us lead, battling the demands of home and family, work and school, traffic commutes and more on a daily basis, have given way to something different. We now have the luxury of time on our hands. And because of this there may well be a blessing in disguise right now – the blessing of time to go deeper in faith; in gratitude and thanksgiving for Jesus’ Easter victory. Today on this Second Sunday of Easter, we hear of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples, and of Thomas whose doubt was transformed into vibrant faith. The message for today, based on the Gospel lesson, is entitled “Not Seeing Is Believing.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The original doubting Thomas may have lived some 2000 years ago, but there are plenty of doubting Thomases around today. We are living with the reality of doubt and disbelief in our lives today. There were many in our nation who thought this whole coronavirus thing was a hoax. They steadfastly refused to believe what scientists and medical experts had warned could happen until it did happen. And so a delayed response has meant that we have been scurrying to play catch up even as the disease has spread farther and faster than anyone thought possible. Thankfully, that curve does not seem to be climbing as steeply as it was, which means that social distancing and staying at home is working. Even now, we are not sure when all of this will be over. It’s easy to believe when there is incontrovertible evidence right there in front of you. It’s not so easy to believe when that evidence is lacking, even when the evidence comes from people we know and trust. And so it was for Thomas. On that first Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples who were behind locked doors and were fearful. That sounds like us today: we’re also behind closed doors and living with a great deal of anxiety and fear right now. Jesus himself comes into their midst, and the first words out of his mouth were not words of condemnation, but words of blessing: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). This is a mini-Pentecost moment as the risen Savior breathes on the disciples and says: “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 20:22-23). Even in his glorified, resurrection body, Jesus still retains the wounds from his crucifixion, and this is how his disciples know that it really and truly is Jesus. But one disciple – Thomas – was missing. He was not there to see Jesus or hear his words. And because he wasn’t there to see and hear for himself, he refused to believe: “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). Thomas drew his line in the sand, but Jesus has a way of stepping over the lines and boundaries that we’ve set.
Eight days later, the disciples are again behind locked doors and once again, Jesus comes into their midst. Once again, Jesus utters those same words of shalom blessing: “Peace be with you” (John 20:26). This time, Thomas was there. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!” Thomas got what he asked for, even though he asked not in faith, but in stubborn unbelief. Jesus graciously accommodated Thomas’ request, even though it was rooted in stubborn unbelief. Jesus challenged Thomas to put his finger into Jesus’ nail-pierced hands, and place his hand into the spear wound in his side. We often assume that Thomas actually did this, but Scripture does not record whether Thomas did nor not. What is recorded is Thomas’ exclamation of faith in Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Very little, if anything, has changed in our human nature over the millennia. We live in a highly skeptical age, filled with a great deal of doubt and disbelief. If we are honest with ourselves, we willingly subscribe to the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mindset. We wear that doubt and skepticism like a badge of honor. But is there room in our skeptical lives for believing in what we do not see and what we cannot touch? That’s Jesus’ call to each one of us today. Jesus doesn’t praise Thomas for his doubt, but he does say this: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). For all who have not seen Jesus with their own eyes, who have not touched his wounds; for all who walk by faith, not by sight – and that is you and me – we are blessed. It is as Peter writes in today’s Epistle lesson: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Truly, not seeing is believing.
For Thomas and for each one of us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is holding on in the midst of trials and tribulations. Faith is remaining steadfast and persevering day by day, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is risen from the dead, who lives and reigns to all eternity. Those closing words of today’s Gospel reading are really the sum of what John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection, are all about: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). May our not seeing – our walking by faith – abound more and more for deeper and stronger faith in Jesus, that we may indeed have life in his name. Amen.