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The Proof We Need

Sermon 1858 John 20.19-31 April 16, 2023

Come, meet the risen Christ. Think of that in these Sundays after Easter. Work on that in these Sundays after Easter.

We are a hard bunch to reach. Each of us had our mothers say, “I’ve told you and I’ve told you and I’ve told you until I am blue in the face. I’m done telling you!” Instead of shamed compliance we gave her an attitude that said, “Good, because I am tired of tuning you out!” We don’t particularly care about causes until it hits close to home. Politicians, ever the pragmatic realists, know this. To get your vote, make sure there is more money in our pockets than last year.

So I am not going to try to convince you that Jesus rose from the dead. I won’t try to argue that the risen Christ changes everything about our life. I know you so well after all these years, you will probably ignore my words. So in these weeks after Easter, I am inviting you to come along with me and see for yourself. Come, meet the risen Christ.

The Proof We Need

1. A tough audience won over (24-29).

2. Becomes word of mouth promoters (19-23, 30-31).

Easy to be skeptical of claims that Jesus rose from the dead. I’ve never seen a funeral fail because the deceased got up and climbed out of the coffin. Never saw a Craig’s list entry, “Burial site, half-priced. Slightly used. Previous occupant rose from the dead.” The disciples were skeptical, too. They didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead. When Jesus appears to the disciples that Easter evening, the doors locked because they thought they would be the next ones to be arrested and crucified, they don’t believe it is really him until he shows them his hands and his side. Then they believed. But this really plays out when the risen Christ gives Thomas the proof he needed.

“Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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 it (24-25).’”

What a tough audience, this Thomas! He doesn’t believe the disciples. He demands proof. And what grisly proof! To poke around in the wounds on Jesus’ hands. To stick his hand into Jesus’ side! I get queasy when I see pictures of smashed fingers or cuts to the bone.

The skeptic in us is always a tough audience. There are a million reasons in the world why Jesus did not rise from the dead, a million reasons there can be no God. We have never seen him. These things go against natural laws. Life cannot come from what is dead. Never dawns on us we are using the wrong tools of inquiry. It is like a person trying to find Neptune using a magnifying glass and since he can’t see it, concludes there are but six planets in the solar system. Or it’s like scientists sampling for pollutants in the water after a fiery freight train crash and chemical spill into a nearby creek and never testing for certain carcinogenic pollutants because they normally don’t occur in water. No wonder the Bible says we, by nature, are blind to God’s goodness and grace! “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4).”

If we were in Jesus’ shoes, we would have leveled Thomas. We would have reduced him to a smoldering charcoal briquette on the floor. But not Jesus. He gave Thomas the proof he needed.

“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 (27).’”

He gave Thomas the proof he needed. Touch. Feel. See. You can’t get more real than that. We can see how convincing the proof was from Thomas’ reaction. “My Lord and my God!” Now Thomas believes. Now Thomas knows Christ is risen. A tough audience is won over.

“Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (29).’”

Well and good for Thomas. The tough audience was won over. But how would those who could not see, could not touch, could not feel, how could they believe? How will Jesus win over this tough audience, you, me?

Come, meet the risen Christ. A tough audience won over becomes word of mouth promoters. That’s the way it was with the disciples. They had seen Jesus that first Easter evening and they told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” This was the way it was supposed to be. Look at Jesus’ words to them after they believed he had risen from the dead.

“‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that 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 (21-23).’”

Through the risen Christ we have peace. We have peace with God. He is no longer angry at us because of our sins. Those sins are forgiven. Jesus paid for them all by his death on the cross. I know the bill has been paid in full because Jesus rose from the dead. That’s the proof, as surely as the proof the credit card company got your payment when the line item detailing the date and the amount with a “thank you for your payment” shows up on the monthly bill. And because we have peace with God we have peace with ourselves. Our conscience cannot trouble us any longer. There is nothing to accuse us of. All those sins are forgiven. So when the devil tries to get us to wallow in guilt, just remember, if Jesus’ death on the cross was payment enough for God the Father, our standards are higher than his? Really?

Think you haven’t felt the nail marks in Jesus’ hands? Think you haven’t put your hand into his side? Every time you and I have felt the relief of sins forgiven, we have. It is as real as it gets. That’s why I am so shamelessly happy in my repentance! And so are you. How our other Christian friends from other churches who have to deal with penance and proving their sincerity envy us!

Jesus planned and commanded us to become word of mouth promoters of that peace! “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus came with a mission. He came to let people know who the true God was and who the Savior from sin was. That’s our job, too. Jesus pointed to the result of that knowledge—forgiveness of sins. “Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven.” That proclamation of forgiveness of sins is meaningless, even destructive, if Jesus had not risen from the dead. The apostle Paul said that in the great Resurrection Chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (17).” So every time we forgive someone their sins, we are doing that in the firm belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Come, meet the risen Christ. He gives us forgiveness. He commands us to spread the message of forgiveness.

Imagine how the disciples felt when they heard Thomas confess, “My Lord and my God!” It made them believe even more in the risen Christ. They were not alone in their faith. Thomas had now joined them. This foundation for their faith wasn’t just something that worked for them alone. Ever had a diet that was like that? You were on it for a week and seemed to drop a few pounds though all your friends couldn’t, for the life of them, figure out how it could work. Some had even tried it and did not get the results you were reporting. Then later you found out it wasn’t the diet that was making you lose the weight—you had just gotten a puppy and between playing with it, trying to housebreak it and take it on walks, you were putting in more miles than a marathon runner! This foundation for their faith wasn’t just something that worked for them alone. If so, it might be a big misunderstanding. This foundation for their faith worked for more and more people. For thousands in Judea and Samaria and Galilee and to the ends of the earth, Jesus would promise when he ascended into heaven forty days down the road. Over three thousand when the day of Pentecost would roll around fifty days after this Easter Sunday appearance. Did you know conservatively speaking, there are two billion Christians in the world today? While we are not ones to prove a point by numbers, it is a comforting fact. One faith, one hope, one Lord and Savior of us all, the risen Christ. There are almost six billion who need to know about the risen Christ.

A tough audience won over becomes word of mouth promoters. It costs a lot of money to blanket the city with glossy postcards advertising a fancy Saturday Easter egg roll and a star-studded Easter Sunday celebration. It’s a big business, with the printing and what not. It costs nothing to invite a friend, invite a family member, a neighbor, to come with you to meet the risen Christ. Coming from you it comes off as a lot more sincere, too. The invite comes from someone who cares. The invite comes from someone I know and have trusted all these years. Word of mouth promoters are the best. Come, meet the risen Christ.

Then the apostle John drops the bombshell on us. “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 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 (30-31).”

Got to tell you the backstory for this. John’s Gospel was the last one written. Matthew, Mark and Luke were all out before John’s Gospel. Matthew, Mark and Luke are remarkably similar, like they are looking at the same things from a slightly different perspective, like three witnesses who have seen the same car-bus accident. But John’s Gospel was nothing like the other three. John spends over 25% of his Gospel on the last two days of Jesus’ life. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit decided the story of Jesus didn’t need to be retold a fourth time. “This time, John, cover the things the other Gospel writers didn’t, like the sayings of Jesus.” I am willing to bet John got some flak from it. “John, your Gospel isn’t anything like Matthew, Mark and Luke’s!” “You don’t even have the Christmas story in it!” “Or Jesus’ baptism!” And John let them in on a big secret. There was lots that he left out. There was lots that the other Gospel writers left out. From a life of 33 ½ years we have maybe the records of what happened on 180 days. John, like every other good writer, was picky and choosy about what he put in his book. The Holy Spirit seconded the idea, if not suggesting it in the first place.

Writers of non-fiction have an angle, a point of view they want to get across. Everybody knows that. John had a point of view, too. What he wrote, he wrote that we ourselves might come to the conclusion Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John wanted us to come to that conclusion ourselves so that we, too, might live with God in heaven forevermore. Because of that, we didn’t need a physical description of Jesus. We didn’t need to know his daily exercise routine. We didn’t need to know who his boyhood friends were. But everything we needed to know to get to heaven—that’s what John gave us, John and the other word of mouth promoters. They wanted us to come, meet the risen Christ, confident we would find

The Proof We Need

1. A tough audience won over (24-29).

2. Becomes word of mouth promoters (19-23, 30-31).

So, now you have seen for yourselves. His hands, his feet, his words of forgiveness and command to go. He didn’t make it easy for himself. Jesus wasn’t preaching to the choir. He wasn’t talking to the angels. He was talking to you and me. He knew we would make the best evangelists.

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