Recommended readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 (Sermon 2nd Sunday of Easter A)


00021180_hThe Apostle John wrote his Gospel so that those who read or heard it would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John wants his readers to whole heartedly trust in Jesus in a life changing way. Belief means understanding that Jesus is the perfect God-man Savior who came into this world on a mission to save humans by removing their record of sin in order to bring them into a loving relationship with God the Father. John was an eye witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He knew the story of Jesus , the purpose of his mission and what it all means.

Jesus accomplished his mission. He was born and lived life just like any of us. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God. Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death, he suffered and died on a cross. But then he came back to life. His resurrection from the dead affirmed that indeed he is the Son of God and that the Father accepted the sacrifice of his life for the sins of his people on the cross. Anyone who calls upon Jesus as the risen Lord and Savior asking for forgiveness, and believing that he saves, is given eternal life.

The evidence confirming this truth, is the resurrection. Jesus’ tomb was empty. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John did not see a body in the tomb only a pile of linen wrappings and a folded face cloth. Many hours later, in the evening of that first day, Jesus appeared to most of his disciples who were gathered in a room. He did not come through the door, Jesus simply appeared. The disciples were amazed and frightened. Jesus calmed them with his peace. They saw him and his scars and gave him food to eat. Jesus was physically present with them. Now they too were eyewitnesses of his resurrection. But despite this evidence, there were and still are sincere, good people like Thomas who doubted.

Thomas doubted the resurrection because he was hurting, he had been deeply devoted to Jesus. He trusted in Jesus completely as the Messiah who would save Israel. In the eleventh (11th) chapter of John’s Gospel, before raising Lazarus, we see his commitment when Thomas told the other disciples “let’s go with him and die with him”. Thomas knew that going back to Jerusalem would be dangerous. Although he was ready to die for Jesus, he was not ready to see Jesus die.

Having seen Jesus raise Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain, Thomas should not have doubted that Jesus could be alive. But Thomas had seen Jesus crucified. Jesus did not swoon, he did not go into a coma. One could not survive a Roman crucifixion. Jesus was thoroughly and completely dead. And there was no godly person like Jesus who could raise Jesus from the dead. People do not come back from the dead on their own, without the help of someone else. For Thomas, it seemed impossible that Jesus was alive. So he was cautious. He wanted to protect his heart from further disappointment.

Some people today have doubts about Jesus. They would like to believe in him, but disappointment with the church or with priests or with Christian people has caused too much pain. To protect themselves, people become skeptical and cautious. Often the sin, injustice and misery in this world is too overwhelming for others who want to believe in a good, loving, all-powerful God, but all the badness causes them to doubt. It is hard to reconcile injustice and misery with belief in God who is in control, who is just and loving. Some have their doubts that God who made this world and controls it, entered into it, suffered and died and in the process defeated the root of misery and all that is bad. How can it be?

The wonderful thing is that Thomas and others who doubt are met by a kind and loving Jesus who is gracious. Thomas wanted hard, tangible evidence to believe Jesus is alive. A week later, Jesus appeared to the group and told Thomas to stretch out his hand and touch him and feel the nail prints and the wound in his side. John tells us that Thomas responded by saying, “my Lord and my God”. Thomas did not need to touch Jesus, he now saw and heard from him. Notice in the story, that Jesus did not criticize or scold Thomas for his doubts. But he did command Thomas to stop disbelieving and to start believing.

When Jesus encounters people with doubts, he deals graciously with them. Jesus helps us to realize that he is alive by one means or another. Often, we realize that Jesus is alive because of others who have encountered Jesus and have been transformed. Like the first disciples, who were the original eye-witnesses, when a person is born again and believes in Jesus, they undergo a change inside which erupts on the surface for the world to see. Their testimony and their love become compelling for people who doubt that God can completely forgive them through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This good news is so amazing, it sounds too good to be true. People want to be sure, they do not want to be disappointed.

Jesus may surprise you, but he will not disappoint you. He was not the Messiah that Thomas and others expected. He was not expected to die, and when he did, his resurrection was not expected either. When a person trusts in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they receive his peace and his Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ and the peace of Christ along with the eye witness accounts in the Biblical record assure us that he is real and that he is really with us and in us and can work powerfully through us.

Jesus surprises us by the change he works in us. The old self dies, and the new self comes to life. Yes, when we consciously choose to change direction, we call it repentance. But it is the Spirit of Jesus that give us the desire to turn around and to change. He opens our eyes to see images of him and of his grace in Scripture and in other Christians. He also gives us the ability to show grace to others. When we realize Jesus accepts us as we are and where we are in our doubts, we realize he has been gracious to us. When we realize that all our sin is forgiven and we are now right with God on a life path that will never end, we realize that we did nothing to deserve this and it is all a gift, it is all grace.

This good news is not to be hoarded and kept to ourselves. Just as someone explained the story of Jesus to us and introduced us to him, so we too can tell others. We become witnesses about Jesus in this world. We can introduce others to the person of Jesus, not to a system of beliefs, but to our Lord who is God and man, who lives and loves forever. Thomas was changed, he went from doubter to believer and he went on to tell others. Legend says that he travelled as far as India telling people about his risen Lord and Savior. Having the Spirit and peace of Jesus in you, changing you, the good news about Jesus will come out of you sooner or later.

There will be doubters in this world. But there are those who believe, and witness to the resurrection, who are filled with the Spirit and peace of Jesus. Like the resurrection event, the transformation of a doubter like Thomas into a believer is a supernatural thing. We are truly blessed with God’s help when we stop disbelieving and start believing. Belief in Jesus opens up a new and wonderful life with God that never ends. Amen.


Thomas Smith