(Photo: Spider Monkeys at Fota, taken in 2009)
Sermon from Yesterday. Text: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2, Year A)
We’ve all heard the phrase “Seeing is believing”; if we hear some news that seems out of the ordinary we want proof, so the man coming home from work with a pay rise will want to show the new pay slip to his wife, the woman who has a winning lottery ticket will carefully guard the proof of the win until it can be handed in, the sports fan will keep the ticket stub from the match when her team won the cup to prove that she was there and the proud Father-to-be will carry around in his wallet the fuzzy black-and-white ultrasound printout as proof that he is going to have a son or daughter.
Of course when it gets to matters of faith, this can be quite confusing, it is not like we can physically see God with our own eyes, we cannot pick up the phone to Him or send an email. Jesus is not on Facebook or Twitter and it is not possible to go and see Him onstage or even in a Church. That is of course why many dismiss the claims of Christianity without ever really bothering to look more deeply. But there are many things which cannot be proven which we know are real; for example love, or the beauty of music or art. Yes there are signs and indicators that two people love each other, but how would we mathematically prove it? The look of rapture on the Opera lover’s face as he is absorbed by his favorite Aria is clear to see, but could it be quantified or reduced to its core elements in a test tube?
In our reading from John’s gospel this morning we have something to greatly help us with this whole question of proof. Firstly the Lord Jesus proves His resurrection in a way that is beyond any doubt and then He shows that it is also possible to believe in Him without seeing the proof and how wonderful it is when that happens. The reading starts off with the disciples huddled together in a room with the door locked because they are still in a state of shock and numbness over Jesus’ death. Even though the risen Lord had already appeared to Mary Magdalene and she had told them as such, they were still not able to see the bigger picture. Their master had gone, their Shepherd had left them the flock without a leader to guide them, they were sheep left alone in the hills without protection. They were afraid of being arrested and killed because they were disciples of the One who had been arrested and killed a week before.
The door is locked, there is no other way in and suddenly there He is! Jesus comes and stands in their midst and says “Peace be with you”. To prove that it is He, He shows them his hands, the scars left by the nails and he shows them his side where the spear went in. Understandably the disciples are overjoyed that their master and their friend is with them once again. In a moment their despair had turned to joy.
No doubt, Jesus sees the state that they are all in, a mixture of utter joy, excitement and maybe a little fear so he says to them once more “Peace be with you” and then he continued:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (v.21)
Jesus was not only giving them a job to do, but also giving them the power to do that job. What he required of them was to tell people about him, to proclaim the good news to all nations. Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, as a foretaste of what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when all believers from that time on would experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Of course that mission to proclaim, to speak and to live out the gospel message is entrusted to us and to all believers today and is just as important as it ever was.
Then Jesus then says to them:
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.(v.23)
Of course he was not giving them the power to forgive sins, because only God can forgive sins. Rather, Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message. All believers have this same privilege. We can announce with certainty the forgiveness of our sin once we come to the place of repentance and faith.
It is easy to feel sorry for Thomas; he wasn’t there when Jesus visited the other disciples in the locked room and he wants proof. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he said to them:
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. (v.25)
Next we read that a week later the disciples were again in a locked room, though his time Thomas was with them. As before, Jesus came and stood amidst them and said “peace be with you” and then he turned to Thomas and said:
Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. (v.27)
Thomas did not need to reach out and touch him, the sight of his Master induced a new depth of faith in him and he exclaimed:
My Lord and my God! (v.28)
Thomas got his proof and his response is clear, He calls Jesus God and Jesus does not object because what Thomas says is true. Of course we might think that if we could have proof like Thomas did to show to people then many more would come to faith in Christ – maybe, but then there were many people around at the time who did not believe, despite the evidence.
I’m sure that we have all wished that we could actually see Jesus and hear Him speak to us in the way that we would speak with each other. We want to know what he looked like (Did He really have long hair and a beard for example) and so on. Like Thomas we want Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is far greater than this would allow. He has not limited himself to a physical body. That is why he is present with his people at all times, He is Here now and He is just as much with others as they meet in his name all around the world. He lives in our hearts by his Holy Spirit. He does speak to us now, through the Bible, and as we grow and mature in our prayers, we hear God’s still small voice speaking to us. The Lord Jesus today can be as real to us as he was to Thomas. For Thomas and the other disciples, they believed when they saw the risen Lord Jesus for themselves, and Jesus’ response to their joy and new-found faith was this, he said:
Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (v.29)
The days when Jesus would be visible to the physical eyes were limited because he was soon going to return to his Father in heaven. But Jesus would still be visible to the eyes of faith. For the benefit of all those who would believe as a result of the testimony of the apostles, including us, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.
Some of us believe because we were brought up by our parents to believe. Some of us believe through finding the Saviour later on in life. No matter how or when we came to believe, God blesses us because we do.
And so we come to a rather startling conclusion: The proof of Jesus’ resurrection today is us!
Yes, we are the one’s given the responsibility to show Christ’s love and his power to forgive to a world that is lost, broken and hurting and which desperately needs a Saviour. It is not up to anyone else, it is our job, our responsibility and our great and awesome privilege.
I’ll finish with some famous lines from Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.