Sermon for Sunday April 24th, 2022, the First Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Psalm 111; Revelation 1:9-19; John 20:19-31
Text: John 20:19-31
Theme: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Henry Edward Cardinal Manning (1808-1892) began his ministry in the Anglican Church, but after his conversion to Rome, he became Archbishop of Westminster, and a popular writer. During a period of great depression and a darkening of his faith, he went into a well-known bookstore for a copy of one of his own books, entitled Faith in God. As he waited for the book to be sent up from the storeroom, he heard a man’s voice call up saying, “Manning’s Faith in God is all gone.” That was all the lesson he needed to hear.
(p. 284, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Illustrations)
JOHN 20:19-31: DOUBT AND FAITH
Though each of the Four Evangelists gives us a slightly different perspective on the resurrection appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ, in each account the element of doubt in the minds of the Apostles plays a role. In the longer ending to St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:9-20), for example, Jesus rebuked the eleven disciples for their lack of faith and stubbornness in refusing to believe those who saw him after he had risen from the dead. In Luke 24, Jesus asks the disciples why they are frightened at the sight of him, and why doubts arise in their hearts (Luke 24: 38, NRSV). In Matthew 28:17, it is recorded that some doubted when they saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Now here in the Gospel according to St. John, St. Thomas is the one who expresses doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead.
Surely, it must be argued, it was reasonable for St. Thomas to doubt Jesus’ resurrection! Resurrection from the dead was believed at least by the Pharisees, but it was believed to take place on the day of the Lord, in the distant future. The idea of someone rising from the dead on the third day after his death seemed impossible. But various prophecies of the Messiah indicated a resurrection from the dead, as Jesus himself explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In addition to this, in a few prophetic predictions of his own passion and death, Jesus had said he would rise again (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:30-32, for example). Yet, at the time, the disciples had not understood these predictions and were afraid to ask him to clarify what he meant.
How did Jesus deal with the doubt that St. Thomas had? He showed himself to the disciples again, but this time when Thomas was present, and invited him to touch the wounds on his hands and in his side, and no longer to doubt, but to believe. Though Jesus had risen from the dead the wounds he had suffered from crucifixion and from the soldier’s piercing of his side with a spear, were noticeable, identifying him as the same Lord Jesus Christ who had died on the cross. St. Thomas at once puts his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by saying, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus’ reply shows both his joy at St. Thomas’s faith, but also a stronger approval of those who believe in him without having seen him. There is a common expression these days, “Seeing is believing,” but here that expression does not represent Jesus’ view of the most blessed kind of faith, which is believing without seeing. His words, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed,” (John 20:29, KJV) lay a foundation of faith for all who were not privileged to witness the risen Lord Jesus Christ on earth. Because of the witness of the Apostles and disciples who had seen the Lord, and because of the Bible’s record of their witness, many people should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his resurrection from the dead.
It is this purpose for which St. John wrote his Gospel record, that all who read it may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, have eternal life through his name (John 20:31). The record of eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for faith in him. If we insisted on the principle “seeing is believing,” no-one could become a Christian without personally seeing the risen Lord Jesus Christ on earth. As it is, the faith of so many Christians throughout the ages is a faith expressed and lived without their seeing him while they lived on this earth. A few may well have seen him, but mostly in visions and dreams. St. Peter expresses this view of faith in Christ in his First Epistle:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9, KJV)
“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe,” wrote St. Augustine of Hippo. Others have majored on the role of doubt with respect to faith, but since in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, doubt is considered the opposite of faith, I shall follow and teach faith as the Lord Jesus teaches it. Even in the early years of the Church’s history, for example in the Book of Acts, even in the Christian community, we encounter the persistence of doubt where there should be faith. When St. Peter was summoned to the house of Tabitha, a widow who had fallen ill and died, the widows were showing him all the clothes that Tabitha had made while she was alive. Now St. Peter asked them all to go outside the room where the body of Tabitha was lying (Acts 9:40). Why? He did not want to be distracted by any kind of behavior which showed unbelief in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to raise Tabitha from the dead at that time. The saints and the widows were outside the room while St. Peter was kneeling and praying and when he spoke to her saying, “Tabitha, arise!” St. Peter alone was the first to witness this miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ in raising Tabitha from the dead. The faith that the Lord Jesus Christ requires of us is faith unmixed with even the smallest amount of doubt, as he taught us in Matthew 21:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
(Matthew 21:21-22, KJV)
Where do you stand with respect to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe doubt must be mixed with faith? Or do you place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as risen from the dead, as Lord and God? How will this faith help you in your prayers for others, for the Church and for the world?