Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Life in His Name - April 7, 2013 - Second Sunday of Easter - Text: John 20:19-31
It is amazing how there are so many signs in our world which point to our Savior Jesus Christ, yet there are so many who do not know, or at least do not profess to know or believe in Jesus. Here we are worshiping on Sunday, no longer on Saturday. Why? Because something important happened on Sunday. Something important enough for the world to change its pattern of worship. We are living in the “year of our Lord” 2013. The years before our Lord was on this earth are referred to as the “Before Christ” or B.C. years. And the evidence of Jesus’ life continue, but we seem to find ways to doubt and to not believe the evidence which is before us. We are a skeptical bunch of people. And I must admit that there are times when I may be one of the most skeptical. In a few minutes we will meet up with Thomas, affectionately known as Doubting Thomas, a man with whom many of us can easily relate.
There are times that I believe we should be skeptical, not of our Lord and His gifts, but of the false teachers and false leaders of this world. Our Lord has given us His Word and it is His Word which helps us to understand His Word. You may have heard the phrase, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In other words, if you do not understand one part of the Bible, keep reading and it will explain itself. I get real skeptical when someone says, “what this means to me is . . .,” especially if they are trying to pass their interpretation off as being what God had in mind. I get skeptical when people change what happens at Baptism, when they use something other than God’s name as He has given it to us, when they baptize in some other name than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I get skeptical when people change the Lord’s Supper to tell me that it is merely a symbolic act, when our Lord tells us that it is His body and blood, with the bread and wine. I really get skeptical when people attempt to change the Gospel of the Lord into a new law with phrases like, “all you gotta do . . .,” “if only you . . . do this or that,” or when they use the salad phrases of “let us . . .,” “may we . . .,” as if we do anything for our salvation, and the list of my skepticism goes on.
Because our Lord has chosen to come to us through means, namely through His Word and Sacraments as His usual means, we are reminded that when we neglect to make use of these means, when we neglect to make regular, meaning every day and every week, and diligent use of these means, when we neglect to read His Word, when we neglect to remember our baptism, when we neglect to come to His table, when we neglect to make regular confession of our sins and regularly hear His words of absolution, we take away His usual way of giving us His good gifts and blessings and we put ourselves in jeopardy of weakening our faith. Likewise, when we misinterpret His Word, when we add our own interpretation, when we change what He has given us and how He has given what He has given, we put ourselves in jeopardy of losing His gifts.
As I took the time to look at what we have said about “doubting Thomas” in past years, perhaps we have been a bit unfair. Earlier in John’s Gospel, when Jesus was getting ready to go to raise Lazarus from the dead, although Thomas misunderstood Jesus’ words yet, he showed his true faith in his words that he was ready to die with Jesus (John 11:16). Yet, we beat up on Thomas because of his doubting. Perhaps we might put Thomas into a more favorable light in suggesting that his skepticism was simply a desire to be fully convinced of something that, at the time and even today, might be truly unbelievable. Is it believable that someone would be raised from the dead? What we can say about Thomas was that he was demanding that God deal with him the way he wanted. Let us look at our text and see what is happening.
Our text begins setting the scene. It was the evening of the first day of the week. It was Easter Sunday evening and the disciples were gathered behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. Of course they were afraid of the Jews, Jesus’ body was missing and the disciples were the number one suspects. John does not give any explanation, but simply says, “Jesus came and stood among them.” Jesus Christ, true man and true God, risen from the dead, stood among them. Before His death Jesus did not always nor fully use His divinity, but now, after His resurrection He does not limit Himself. However, how He got there is not the important thing, that He was there is what is important. Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” What wonderful words our Lord speaks. The disciples were afraid because of the Jews and Jesus tells them He has brought them peace. But Jesus peace is more than a mere human peace. His peace is the peace which only He can give. His peace is a peace which passes all understanding. The peace which Jesus is giving to His disciples is the peace which He earned for them, and for us, on the cross. Jesus peace is that of a restored relationship between us and the Father. Jesus peace is true peace. Notice here that, as always, God’s Word does what it says. When Jesus speaks His words of peace, there is peace.
It is our sins which separate us from our Father in heaven. It is our sins of disobeying the commandments, of putting ourselves before God, of taking His name in vain, of not letting His Word work faith and strengthening of faith in our hearts, of disobeying our parents and authorities, of murdering, hating and hurting, committing adultery, of stealing, of gossiping, coveting, and the list goes on. We are sinful human beings, we are born in sin and we daily sin much, adding to our sin, and it is our sins which keep us from a right relationship with our Father in heaven. Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection which we celebrated last Sunday and which we celebrate each and every Sunday are what brought us back into a right relationship with God the Father. It is because of Jesus’ work on the cross that He gives us His true peace, peace which only He can give.
John goes on to tell us that after Jesus reiterated His peace to His disciples, He gave them and His church on earth, the office of the keys. Jesus gave His church on earth the authority to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, and to forgive and retain sins. Jesus gave the office of the keys to His church which calls pastors to exercise that authority in the local congregation. Jesus has given us our church in this way for good order. It is not an either\or, but a both\and proposition. Without the congregation there can be no church. Likewise without the pastor there can be no church. A church is made up of a congregation and a pastor, again, this is for good order. God gives us His gifts for our good and this is another example of our Lord’s usual way of dealing with us, His people.
As we continue in our text, John tells us that Thomas, the one we call Doubting Thomas, was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them this first time. When Thomas returned, John explains Thomas’ response to the excitement of his fellow disciples as they told him about their seeing Jesus alive. And he tells us about his requirement of faith. Thomas, required that for him to believe that Jesus was alive, all of his senses must be convinced. Thomas required not only to see, but also to feel. He would not be convinced unless his senses were convinced.
Immediately we are moved to a week later. Again, all the disciples were in the house, and we are told specifically that this time Thomas was with them. Now, do not misunderstand, the Lord does not always bow to our requirements. The Lord does not always bow to do what we want Him to do in order for us to believe. Here, however, in this case, our Lord saw the value in showing Himself personally to this great skeptic Doubting Thomas. Maybe the Lord knew there would be a lot more Thomases in our world and if one were convinced it might convince others.
Jesus appeared and called Thomas to put his finger in His hands, to touch His side, to stop doubting and to believe. Immediately we are told that Thomas believed. We are not told that he actually touched Jesus at all, simply that Thomas’ response was “My Lord and My God!” Thomas was convinced and if he was convinced so should we be convinced.
Jesus’ response to Thomas’ faith may be seen as a chastisement, but for us it is a blessed assurance. Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Although we have not physically seen Jesus, we have seen Him in His Word and we believed. How blessed are we.
But our text does not stop there. John goes on to give us a bit of commentary. John tells us that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). In the very last verse of his Gospel John expands these words saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). In other words, John has not set out to give a full, detailed account of all the events of Jesus’ life. He has given us just enough and all that we need to know for our salvation.
John’s objective was, as he says in verse thirty-one, “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 20:31). John’s objective was to present the Gospel to us so that the Holy Spirit might work through these words in order that we might be brought to faith, strengthened in our faith and have eternal life.
What John has given us is our Lord’s usual order for dealing with us, His people. God’s usual order is that He works through means, namely through His means of grace. Yes, God can come directly to us, or in a vision, or a dream, but those are not His usual means. His usual means for coming to us are through His Word, the Bible, through confession and absolution, and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When we read His Word, when we confess our sins and hear His word of absolution, when we remember our Baptism, when we are given His body and blood at His table, that is how our Lord comes to us. He comes to us through these means to give us His gifts and blessings, the gifts of faith, forgiveness, life, eternal life, and salvation. We rejoice, because every time we hear or read God’s word, every time we confess our sins and hear His word of forgiveness, every time we remember our Baptism, every time we are given His body and blood, we are reminded that we are forgiven and that we have life and salvation in our Lord’s name.
It is no wonder that Thomas was skeptical, because he wanted God to work his way. Although we may be skeptical of the things of this world, when God works in and through us the way He has given Himself to, then we no longer will need to be skeptical of our Lord. Our Lord has given us His Word and His Sacraments. We know that with our Lord, He does what His Word says and when His Word says we are given faith, we are given faith. When His Word says we are forgiven, we are forgiven. When His Word says we have life, even eternal life, we can be sure that we have eternal life. Our Lord works through His means of Grace in order to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. And we say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.