Quasimodogeniti, The First Sunday after Easter April 22, 2001

INI

The Overwhelming Evidence of Easter

John 20:24-29

Hymns

192, 201, 208, 46

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” These are the Words.

In the Name of the Risen Lord Jesus whom, not seeing, we yet believe, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Have you ever had something happen to you that was so wonderful you didn’t believe it at first? Think back. Maybe you won a sweepstakes, or received a surprise refund from the IRS. Perhaps it was your doctor giving you a clean bill of heath when you suspected you had a dangerous illness. Your first reaction to hearing such wonderful news was probably disbelief—a feeling that it was just too good to be true. But then you saw the evidence—the winner’s notification, the government check, the negative test results—and you finally believed it was real.

Last Sunday we celebrated a wonderful event—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s so wonderful, in fact, that it may seem too good to be true! Did it really happen? Did Jesus really come back to life and come out of His grave some forty hours after He was buried? He better have! Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is also vain…you are still in your sins.I Cor 15:14,18. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then I’m in the wrong line of work, and you’re wasting your time coming here to listen to God’s Word. If Easter never happened, Paul says, then, the forgiveness of sins is just a dream.

Well, is there evidence to convince us that Jesus did rise from the dead? Yes there is, and the evidence is overwhelming. Today we’ll examine that evidence, and we’ll look at one man’s reaction to it. The man’s name was Thomas, called Didymus, better know to us as “Doubting Thomas.” Let’s explore, with him—

THE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE OF EASTER

  1. The promises.
  2. The eyewitnesses.
  3. The Lord Himself.

Who was this Thomas, anyway?—He was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He was also called Didymus, or “the twin.” Perhaps more than any other disciple, Thomas is the one with whom we can identify. He was a little slow; it took a long time for the things Jesus told him to sink in. He was a little stubborn; he wanted to see something with his own eyes before he’d believe it. And he had lots of doubts. Does that sound like anybody you know? for many of us Christians, I’m afraid, hearing that description is like looking in a mirror!

Where do you think Thomas went wrong? What evidence had he ignored? What should have convinced him that Jesus’ death was different than the death of any other human being? Well, for one thing, there were the clear promises of Jesus Himself. The Lord kept trying to prepare the disciples for what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. But they just didn’t get it. First he spoke in picture language, comparing His body to the Temple and saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Later Jesus used the familiar picture of the shepherd and his sheep, quoting the Old Testament prophesy, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you into Galilee.Mat 26:31-32. He finally told them straight out, “I am going to Jerusalem to die on the cross, but I will rise again the third day.”

Here were the clear promises of God telling them not only that the resurrection might happen, that it definitely was going to happen, and that they should expect it. Strong evidence! But Thomas either forgot about the promises, or just plain didn’t believe them.

Worse yet, Thomas ignored the strongest kind of evidence there is. When a lawyer wants to prove, in court, that a certain event took place (like a murder or a robbery), what is the best evidence he can bring? Eyewitnesses. If an eyewitness saw a suspect commit a crime, the suspect is sure to be convicted. If an eyewitness saw the suspect somewhere else at the time the crime was committed, the suspect is sure to be freed. All the disciples except Thomas were present in that locked room Easter Sunday evening. Jesus had appeared to them there, and they all had seen Him with their own eyes. ‘But Thomas…was not with them when Jesus came. the other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ but he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” Any judge would accept the testimony of one or two eyewitnesses, not to mention ten! But for Thomas, it wasn’t enough. “So,” Thomas said, “the Lord has risen from the dead? Ha! I’ll believe it when I see it!“

If those last words sound familiar, it’s probably because we’ve all said them many times. A presidential candidate promises to lower taxes, eliminate waste, help the farmers and strengthen defense all at the same time. “Right,” we say. “I’ll believe it when I see it!” That kind of skepticism is probably a good thing when it comes to politicians, but it’s a very bad thing when it creeps into our faith! And we’re all guilty of it to some degree—don’t we find ourselves constantly worrying about our health, our jobs, whether we’ll be able to keep on putting food on the table and shoes on our kids’ feet? People, that is nothing less than doubting God’s Word! Jesus said, “Your father in heaven knows that you have need of these things.” God promises to provide and care for us, and the evidence is overwhelming that He does. Hs God ever forsaken you so far in your life? King David said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread. The Lord is ever merciful!Ps 37:25-26.

It’s part of our sinful nature that we will have doubts. But the thing to do with doubts is not to ignore them, but to overcome them with the sure Word of God. If we allow doubts about these little things to take root in our faith life, the next thing you know we may find ourselves doubting the big things—like Jesus’ resurrection.

“That’s preposterous,” you say. “How could anyone calling himself a Christian ever doubt that Jesus rose from the dead?” It may surprise you to learn that there are many pastors and professors in our country today, even some who call themselves Lutheran, who teach that the Bible has errors in it. They teach that Jesus did not perform real miracles. There are many—believe it or not!—who teach that Jesus never really rose from the dead! But the resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel; you can’t reject that and still call yourself a Christian, much less a Lutheran. This is one of the major tenets of our faith. Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.Rom 10:9. When God raised Christ from the dead, He was putting His stamp of approval on the work Jesus did for our redemption. God was saying, “Well done, My good and faithful Servant! You have paid the price for the sins of the world—there’s not a single one left to be atoned for!” In fact, the whole Christian faith can be simply stated, as in the words of Paul, that “Jesus our Lord…was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.Rom 4:24-25 (KJV).

At any rate, Thomas wasn’t buying it. He’d forgotten Jesus’ promises, and he’d rejected the eyewitness accounts of the other disciples. In spite of the overwhelming evidence, he still had doubts. It’s a comfort to the rest of us weak, doubting mortals to see how Jesus dealt with Thomas. He didn’t appear to Thomas in a fury and condemn him to hell for his weakness. Thank God! No—He gave Thomas exactly the proof he was asking for! Our text says, And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!Here was the final evidence: the Lord Himself, in person. Now there were no doubts left in Thomas’ mind. At last he was convinced that Jesus was God, and that Jesus was alive!

But Jesus also had a rebuke for doubting Thomas. Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus’ final blessing applies especially to us. While we live here on this earth, we will not see Jesus with our eyes; we will not be able to hear the sound of His voice and touch the wounds in His hands and His side. But we’re doubly blessed, Jesus says, because we believe in our living Savior even though we haven’t seen Him with our physical eyes. The Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts, given us spiritual “eyes” with which to view our Savior. The eyes of our faith see the sacrifice He made to pay our ransom price. The eyes of our faith see the empty tomb. The eyes of our faith behold Him, alive, standing with us even today as we worship Him!

I hope you consider that faith your most valuable possession. It’s a gift from God, and it’s a wonderful thing! An unbeliever once said to a Christian, “How can you believe the Bible when it tells you something as incredible as the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale?” The Christian replied, “Mister, the Bible is God’s Word, and I’d believe it even if it said that the whale was swallowed by Jonah!” Some would consider the resurrection account even more unbelievable than that. But as Thomas found out, the evidence is there: the promises, the eyewitnesses, and the Lord Himself. And in the eyes of our faith, that evidence is indeed overwhelming! AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached April 30, 2000
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA


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