Believing the Unbelievable - John 20:19-31 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is great to worship with you.
Wasn’t last week fantastic? I was pleased to see so many of you back in person and tuning in online. He has RISEN! (He has risen indeed!) As much as we believe, not all do. For some, Easter is about bunnies, eggs, chocolate, and family. Those are good, but not what Easter is about, right? It is about Jesus rising from the dead and what that means for us today. What does that mean? Does it matter? It does, the Apostle Paul said it this way, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:14–15). He had to say it because people struggled to believe.
Perhaps you have struggled with faith from time to time. Maybe you have gone through a season of doubt, skepticism, unbelief, or questioning. Last week we read Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and reasoned someone stole Jesus’s body. This morning, we read another account where the person could not accept the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. This story helps us navigate our doubts and gives us a path forward of faith and life in Jesus’s name. I have asked M.D. to read for us. We will be reading John chapter 20, starting at verse 24, using the English Standard Version of the Bible. As is our tradition, we will stand in honor of God’s Word, if able.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
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 20:24–31)
Thank you. Let’s pray. God, thank you for being true. Thank you for sending your only Son, having him die in our place, and rising from the dead. We need you. We love you. Open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear, and our hearts to accept you. Blow away all our doubt, unbelief, and skepticism. Fill us with faith in you. In your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen. You may be seated.
CONTEXT - AUTHOR, AUDIENCE, POINT
Let’s backtrack and fill in the context of John chapter 20. The author was an eyewitness of the resurrection. He went on to author three other letters and the book of Revelation in the Bible. In verse 31, it tells us.
“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 20:31).
John used the word for belief nearly one hundred times. The other biographies of Jesus used the word thirty-four times in total. Belief is essential for John, and Thomas illustrates why.
To understand Thomas, let’s discover what else we know about him. John gives us several key events that feature him. The first occurs two day’s journey away from Jerusalem. Mary and Martha were in Bethany, basically an outer ring suburb of Jerusalem. Lazarus, their brother, was critically ill. They knew Jesus heals the sick. Consequently, they sent for him. Jesus gets their request and sits on it.
DANGER IN JERUSALEM
It was a bad time to go to Jerusalem. The religious leaders wanted him dead. The disciples knew this and warned, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again” (John 11:8). Jesus didn’t care about the danger. After two days, he was going to see Lazarus. The disciples were not going to stop him. Listen to Thomas’s response to Jesus. “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas was willing to die in Jerusalem with Jesus. Does that sound like someone who doubted? Not to me. That sounds more like someone who believes. Thomas was willing to die with Jesus.
RELATING TO 20
What does that say about Thomas in chapter 20? Doubts can come after faith. Sometimes we are on a mountain top, and other times we are in a valley. I just learned that a classmate of mine walked away from the faith. At the same time, last week marked the third anniversary of a friend of mine trusting in Christ. He is about my age. As long as we have breath, we can turn from our sin and trust in Christ as our savior. Faith can wax and wane. As long as our hearts are beating, we can believe. Thomas, in chapter 11, seems to have faith in Jesus over his safety.
A few chapters later, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and we find Thomas speaking up again. Jesus said,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).
Now, why did he want them not to be troubled? He went on to say,
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. (John 14:2–4)
What was he saying? What was troubling about what he was saying? Jesus was saying he was leaving. After being with them day and night, rain or shine, for three whole years, he was going. Thomas responded with what seems like anxiety.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
I think Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, again as he did in chapter 11. Yet, he didn’t understand. Sometimes Jesus could be crystal clear; other times, he wasn’t. Even when he spelled things out, he could be confusing. Jesus clarified to Thomas,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
At first glance, Jesus doesn’t seem to be answering Thomas’ question. Why wouldn’t Jesus just speak plainly? He does and doesn’t on purpose to speak to the heart. I imagine Jesus saying, “Thomas, don’t worry. I am the Way. Trust me.”
Why? The Bible says we are born blind, not with physical blindness, but a spiritual one. We don’t see precisely and accurately. God has to open eyes. Thomas’ question doesn’t sound like unbelief, just confusion. He doesn’t see where Jesus is going. Like Thomas, we can believe but not understand fully. The Bible says even as believers; we see spiritually through a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). On this side of heaven, our spiritual vision is not 20/20. So, Thomas is at times courageous and other times confused.
The third account with Thomas shows he could be cowardly. You may recall, the event is in the Garden of Gethsemane the day before Jesus is killed. Judas had betrayed Jesus for about two hundred dollars or thirty pieces of silver, leading the leadership to arrest Jesus as the disciples slept. Arriving, Jesus woke his friends, the guards seized him, and the disciples ran, Thomas included. You see, Thomas believed, but when push came to shove, he trusted his path to preserve his life, instead of the Way, the truth, and the life. Thus, Thomas could be courageous, or confused, or cowardly.
Now, in chapter 20, we come to doubting Thomas. Imagine losing someone who meant so much to you and think you may have played a part in his death? I think Thomas would have been depressed. Perhaps he questioned why Jesus appeared to his friends and not him? Couldn’t Jesus have waited till they were all together? Why was he left out? Maybe he was angry. Things weren’t supposed to happen this way. It didn’t make sense. He doubted. He couldn’t believe it. Thomas had to see with his own eyes.
WHERE ARE YOU AT?
Friends, which Thomas are you most like? One who needs poof, one who runs his own way, one who doesn’t understand, or one who would die for Jesus? Where are you on your faith journey?
DO YOU WANT A SIGN?
If you are doubting, you may want a sign. Maybe you have a bargain on the table with God. Jesus said we are blessed if we believe without seeing. God defines faith as “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:1). Faith is not forever. One day you won’t have to believe; you will see. One day you won’t have to hope; you will know. One day you will meet your maker face to face. If you believe, then have eternal life in his name.
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
I think Thomas had reason to trust Mary, the other women, and the disciple’s testimony. We do too. I came up with ten reasons to trust Jesus’s resurrection happened this week.
HOW CLEAR COULD HE BE?
Witnesses- As we read in chapter 20 and elsewhere up to this point in the biographies, there were five separate encounters with the risen Christ with a total of at least sixteen different people talking to Jesus. 1 Corinthians tells us before Jesus ascended to heaven, there were at least 500 witnesses and twelve separate encounters with the risen Jesus.
Jesus’s Power. He predicted his death before it would happen.
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22)
Was he? You bet! This is just one example of many predictions and miraculous demonstrations of Jesus. If he could do miracles like change water to wine, heal the sick, calm storms, walk on water, make food come out of thin air, predict the future, and raise people from the dead, could he not raise himself?
The tombstone weighing 1-2 tons or 2000 to 4000 pounds no longer blocked the grave. Even those who argued against the resurrection agreed that the stone was no longer in front of the grave. Add to that; no one ever came forward to say they were part of a group of people who removed it. Add to that, several Roman soldiers had the job to guard theft from happening. The punishment to allow this to happen would be severe. Yet, all agree the stone had moved.
Also, everyone who agrees with the resurrection and disagrees with the resurrection believed the tomb was empty.
On top of that, no credible, popular, contemporary counter-narrative existed.
The only echo of one is in the Bible (Matthew 28:12–15). Remember, Christianity began as a Jewish sect. If a counter-narrative were valid early on, would be the highest likelihood to offer an alternative explanation. Yet no credible, contemporary one popularized or stuck. There is none.
Another reason the counter-narrative had a problem was not only were the witnesses not there; they had evidence that it was fiction paid for. Add to that; they never produced the body or a grave of Jesus.
The biographical accounts portray the disciples as confused, cowardly, and petty lends credibility when it comes to witnesses. If we were making this up out of whole cloth, we would think we would paint ourselves in a positive light. They didn’t.
Not only that, like the previous argument, the first witnesses were women. This is great for demonstrating the equal worth of women; however, if this was fiction, at the time, men did not believe women, even these women. The Bible describes the disciples calling their witnesses as idle tales. Women were marginalized and not considered. Fabricating a story in this culture, a person would want to have men be the first ones finding the tomb empty and meeting the resurrected Jesus. They don’t and add to a credible narrative.
All four biographies work together like testimonies would in a trial. If there were too much synchronization, you would think they don’t represent different perspectives but a rehearsed and manufactured narrative. At the same time, if they had too many differences, they would contradict. Instead, they work well together.
Finally, Jesus’s disciples’ lives demonstrate the integrity of their testimony. Christianity began as a small group. These men gave their livelihood and lives to spread the good news that Jesus rose from the dead. If they were making this up, some of them certainly would turn away and abandon the faith. They would have used their message to make themselves wealthy and gain power. Instead, they lived lives of poverty and humility and followed Jesus to the point of death for standing up for what they believed.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH DOUBT?
Therefore, we have at least ten strong reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead. However, let’s say we have one hundred, does a solid apologetic or logic dispel all doubt? No. They are helpful but ultimately, where does faith come from according to the Bible? It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8–9, see also Hebrews 12:2). Thus, what do we do if we still doubt? I think one thing we can do is what Thomas saw did. Go back to the Upper Room with the other disciples. He didn’t throw in the towel, run away, or fade in the distance. He hung in there. I think there is a tendency for people to give up, disappear, and flee the church, especially in our day. Thomas didn’t. We can learn from that.
And guess what? Jesus did come back. The doors were locked. He appeared and said,
“Peace be with you” (John 20:26).
Like calming of the storm, he calmed their hearts and turned to Thomas and said,
“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).
He gave Thomas what he demanded. Jesus knew what Thomas had said without being present. Thomas must have been shocked.
Has Jesus ever met you like that? Has he shocked you with answered prayer or coincidence? I know some of your stories, and he has. God can do that. He doesn’t always, but he can.
LAST PLACE YOU WERE WITH JESUS
Pastor Jeff counseled us when in a bad place spiritually, go back to the last place we were with Jesus. Look at him and his Word. Go back. Listen. Observe.
HOW DID HE RESPOND?
In our passage, Thomas responded.
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
He believed. He was not using God’s name in vain. He was proclaiming that Jesus was not only Lord but divine. He was the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, and his Master and his God. His affirmation bookended how John began in chapter 1 verse 1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:1,14)
You see, Jesus was more than a man; he was God, Thomas’ God, and our God. Finally, he believed. Do you?
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” where are you at? Are you ready to die for your faith? Are you confused about the faith? Do you doubt your faith? Are you stuck trying to control life and do this on your own? Look to Jesus. Hear his Word. Press into the Christian community. Believe.
Sometimes God will make things very clear, other times not so much. Yet, he loves us and has a purpose for us. As long as we breathe, he wants us to praise him, serve him, share him, and believe him, praise him, serve him, share him, and believe him.
FOXE’S BOOK OF MARTYRS
Thomas’ faith grew. Tradition documents he did give his life for the faith as he said he would in chapter 11. He traveled east sharing the good news about Jesus’s resurrection to people in what today we know as Turkey, Iran, and India. He didn’t earn money but death. The story goes that pagan priests ran him through with a spear because they didn’t want to hear about what he had seen.
Did he lose? No. He gained. He ultimately would be blessed. He is alive, and one day his body will rise to meet his soul. He is forgiven. He is loved. Not even death can separate him from God’s love. Death, the Devil, and sin are defeated at the cross. We see this victory in Jesus’s resurrection. Do you believe, then you are blessed, forgiven, and loved as well! Don’t disbelieve church. Believe, praise him, serve him, and share him.
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