Monday, April 4, 2016

When Seeing is Believing

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, [3] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”
 26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-29 (ESV)
“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.”
Everything hangs on the confession of Thomas. This is what John wants to bring about in this story of the second Sunday evening behind the locked doors of the upper room. He wants us to understand that Jesus, our Lord and God is true man.” My Lord and my God. It is almost a redundancy, especially to our ears. But though the word Lord would be used for God by many in first century Israel, it could also be used for kings, or people who just out ranked you in society. A Lord was someone you showed deference to, someone you honored because they had wealth and power. Someone you had to obey. So God, from whom all blessings, power and wealth came from, and whom we must obey would be Lord of Lords. But that a man should be called Lord in this manner, in a manner that meant he was also God that was something emphasized in Thomas’s confession. My Lord and my God. Jesus was LORD, His Lord, his God worthy of the worship, to be obeyed above all others. Lord of Lords, very God of very God.
It wasn’t something that came easy to Thomas. John likes him, likes Thomas. Throughout John’s gospel Thomas is there. In the 11th chapter of John when Jesus goes to Judea, where the Jews are plotting to stone and kill him, in order to raise Lazarus from the dead. It is Thomas who convinces the disciples to follow Jesus saying, “Let us go that we may die with him.” And one can imagine that in a very real way, if faith in Jesus Christ is the life we say it is, Thomas did die with Jesus. His faith gone buried in the tomb.  It is also Thomas who says “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” To which Jesus answers, I am the way the truth and the life.” He is an honest and simple man, loyal to his friends and not afraid to die with them and for them. They kind of guy for whom seeing is believing.
A person wonders, don’t they? Why is Thomas, who is so willing to confront the face of death for Jesus, so unwilling to believe when his friends say they have seen him? Was it the mere doubt of a skeptic? Certainly, that had to be part of it. Though I think a person who could say “Let us go that we may die with him,” perhaps wanted to believe more than he wanted to doubt. Love like that is jealous. And I think we do Thomas a disservice if we don’t recognize the jealousy there. The other disciples had had their chance to see Jesus. Thomas wanted to see. Perhaps that is what makes the words of Jesus in soft rebuke to Thomas such a comfort for us who have not been able to put our fingers in the wounds, even as we rejoice that Jesus gives us reason to believe when he satisfies the demands of Thomas.
Thomas saw and he believed, that through him we to might see just enough to believe. I mean that is the reason John gives for writing these things “But these things 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.” (John 20: 31)
I mean it is always a bit boggling to me. Kierkegaard would have you believe that faith is blind, a leap of faith so to speak. Much of society would say he same thing today. I actually run into people who think faith is some sort of cosmic virtue regardless of what you actually believe in. The more outlandish the belief the more virtuous you are for believing it. So Mormons will defend believing the statements of Joseph Smith that there are 10 foot Quakers inhabiting the moon. There is a tendency in people to have faith in faith. You just have to have faith. But this is not the way the scriptures or Jesus talk of faith. He doesn’t say that Thomas doesn’t have faith now that his jealous heart has been satisfied. Thomas gives the strongest confession of faith to date, his lips speak his heart in complete accordance with Rom. 10. Faith doesn’t have to be blind to be faith, even if it does give us reason to hope in things unseen.
Yet, in the testimony of Thomas we have reason to believe, not a ghost, not a figment of imagination, not wishful thinking, but a bodily resurrection of our Lord and God that man Jesus Christ who came to forgive sins, and so sends his disciples, even you and I who live in his forgiveness to forgive others that they too would have reason like Thomas to want to believe, that their hope too could be confirmed in an empty grave, and they who have not seen like Peter, or Thomas or any of the eleven would themselves believe and be blessed even as we are blessed.
Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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