© Eric Schumacher – Preached on "Resurrection Sunday" 2006
Read or listen to John 20:24-31.
A little over 1900 years ago, an old man put down on paper events to which he personally had been a witness. The man’s name was John. For at least three years, he walked, talked and lived with Jesus. Now, in his old age, John has put down significant aspects of Jesus’ life into a book, which his disciples can read after his death.
A question faces us: Why? Why did John find it important to write these things down? Was it that Jesus was simply a rather intriguing fellow, who did some odd things? a curiosity? a sideshow?
Was it that Jesus was a good teacher, from whom we could all learn a few things? Perhaps, John felt that if we could all learn to act a bit more like Jesus, then the world would be a better place.
We do not need to wonder this morning, because, in this morning’s passage, John gives us his purpose statement, outlining in plain language why he has written these things for us to read.
John has written these things so that YOU might believe. The “you” refers to the reader, which happens to be you and me this morning. John wants you and me to believe.
“Believe” is an important word in the Gospel of John. It is always a verb, never a noun in John’s Gospel. If we were to examine every occasion of the verb “believe” in the Gospel of John, we would quickly run out of time. I would have you notice in our passage that some form of the verb “believe” occurs seven times in the space of eight verses. Obviously, “believing” plays a central role in John’s message to us this morning.
“Believe” is Jesus’ command to Thomas. “Do not disbelieve,” he says, “but believe.” That is his command to us too this morning. However, we should not be led astray by contemporary notions of “faith.” John is not simply telling us to have a positive outlook, to “hope for the best” or to join the Optimist Club. Biblical “believing” is not empty, generic faith. It is not hope divorced from a reason to hope. Biblical belief has content.
John wants us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—God’s chosen King.
The word “Christ” means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, people were anointed to signify that God has appointed them for a task. Prophets, priests and kings could all be anointed. But, the Hebrew term “Messiah,” which means “anointed one,” became closely associated with God’s Anointed King.
In Psalm 2, the Anointed King is called God’s “son.” At the beginning of John’s Gospel (John 1:49), when Jesus calls Nathaniel, Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” This shows us that “Son of God” was used as a Hebrew title for the King of Israel.
So, John wants us to believe that the Messiah, God’s anointed King, is Jesus. Even so, this is not John’s only motivation in writing. He is not writing so that we will simply believe.
John writes so that by believing, you may have life in his name. Each of us, within the next one-hundred years, will die. We will each stand before God for judgment and be assigned a place in eternity—either hell, a place of eternal torment, or heaven, a place of eternal pleasure in God.
John teaches us that the way to have life is through believing in Jesus. What sort of life does John have in mind? By “life,” John means at least four things. John speaks of life that is:
Eternal – Earlier, in John 3:15-16, John wrote: “Whoever believes in [the Son of Man] will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John is speaking of abundant life, life that will never end.
Spiritual – Also in chapter 3, John records Jesus encounter will a curious Pharisee named Nicodemus. In John 3:5-6, Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Jesus is speaking of a spiritual change that occurs within us. Instead of being dead to sin, with hearts that do not love God, the Holy Spirit changes us so that we become alive. Our spirits suddenly believe in God, trust God, obey God and love God. Would you describe your spirit as “reborn” this morning?
Physical – While we should rightly emphasize that Jesus spoke of present spiritual rebirth, something that is experienced by believers now, we should not miss the fact that “life” in John’s Gospel includes our physical bodies.
In chapter 11, Jesus’ close friend Lazarus becomes sick and dies. Jesus allowed him to die so that he could teach us something about the life he came to bring. Jesus commanded his dead friend to come back to life, to be raised from the dead—and he was. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he spoke these words to Lazarus’ sister Martha (John 11:25-26),“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus wanted Martha (and the others) to believe that he was the resurrection. That is, when we believe in him, even though we die, a day is coming when through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from the dead. All people will be raised from the dead to be judged. Yet, those who had faith in Christ will be raised to never suffer death again. They will live with Christ forever.
Peace – When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19,21,26), he greets them by saying, “Peace be with you.” By peace, Jesus means something different than the Eagles, when they sang of a “peaceful, easy feeling.” Jesus is speaking of the peace of reconciliation with God.
The Bible teaches us that our sin makes us worthy of God’s wrath. We are rebels. As such, we are enemies of the King, enemies of God. John will write in 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
In his death, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. To “propitiate” means to “win someone’s good favor by appeasing their wrath.” John understood that Jesus death on the cross was a sacrifice that satisfied God’s wrath. Jesus did not sin. Therefore, he did not deserve to die. When he suffered under God’s wrath on the cross, he was taking the wrath that sinners deserved. If we believe in him, God’s anger is removed and his favor is upon us because our sins are forgiven. Therefore, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a life of peace with God.
This life is only for those who believe. Therefore, we should ask the question: What does it mean to be a believer? John gives us an example of what believing looks like in the response of the disciples, especially Thomas. Let me begin by stating a definition of “believing” as I see it taught in Scripture. Then we will look at its parts from Scripture. I will let you examine your own heart to see whether you are a believer or not.
“A believer personally receives the facts about Jesus Christ—his sinless life, crucifixion and resurrection as the Son of God—as historically true and therefore is completely confident in Jesus Christ, banking all hope of salvation in him. A believer confesses these things with joy and yields their life in full allegiance to Jesus, whom they know is God.”
When John got to the tomb and looked inside it, John 20:8 says that he “believed.” When the other disciples saw the Risen Lord, they believed. Yet, it was not enough that the other ten disciples had seen Jesus and had believed in him. Thomas, as we will see, had to believe for himself.
When Thomas exclaims his faith in Jesus, he declares (John 20:28), “My Lord and my God!” He says “my” twice. This stresses for us that Thomas owns these things as his personal, life-ruling convictions.
It is not enough that your grandparents, parents, siblings or friends believe. You yourself must personally believe.
…receives the facts about Jesus Christ—his sinless life, crucifixion and resurrection as the Son of God—as historically true…
Thomas refused to believe in Jesus, because he could not except that what was stated about Jesus was actually true. The disciples claimed that Jesus had literally risen from the dead.
Thomas meets their claims with doubt. He says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into his side, I will never believe.” Notice this. Thomas is stating that he is not willing to believe in the disciples’ wishful thinking, a stress-induced vision, a ghost or a fanciful tale. Thomas is stating that an alive Jesus must have the same body as the Jesus he knew. This Jesus must be able to be touched, and must show the marks to prove he is the same man.
When Jesus appears to Thomas, he offers Thomas his physical hands and his physical side. Jesus body was supernatural—it could somehow appear in a locked room. Yet, it was a physical body. Jesus was really, truly raised from the dead.
I am not asking you to believe in a myth this morning. I am calling upon you to believe that the man Jesus, who was beaten to a bloody pulp and then attached to a beam of wood with nails until he was dead—this Jesus literally rose from the dead. He right now is bodily sitting at the right hand of God and will physically come again to reign on earth. That is what Jesus and his disciples require you to believe—that Jesus was crucified for our sins, buried and raised from the dead.
…and therefore is completely confident in Jesus Christ, banking all hope of salvation in him.
Thomas does not exclaim “My Lord and my God” because he is afraid. He is motivated by faith, not by fear. Faith—complete confidence—should be our reaction to the story of Jesus Christ crucified for sin and raised from the dead.
John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” There was a time when the Israelites were in the wilderness that they were attacked by a plague of deadly serpents. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. Everyone who was bitten by a serpent and looked to the serpent lifted up on the pole would live.
Jesus said that serpent pointed toward him. We all have been infected with the poison of sin. Jesus became sin for us, by being lifted up on cross. Looking to him means saying, “I am a sinner who is condemned to die. Jesus has taken my condemnation by dying in my place. I do not trust in my own works or my own good deeds. I only look to Jesus. I bank all my hope of salvation in him.”
A believer confesses these things with joy…
The word “Gospel” means “good news.” Good news makes you happy. John 20:20 says that “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
1 Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Obtaining the salvation of your souls, Peter says, results in “joy that is inexpressible.”
Our feelings do not save us, but our salvation gives us feelings! When you hear of Jesus Christ crucified for sin and raised from the dead, does your soul well up with joy? Does your heart sing, “I’m redeemed!!!” There are certainly dark spells when our joy seems to be absent. However, if you have never felt a deep, profound joy in Christ, then I would urge you to plead with God to give your soul rebirth.
…and yields their life in full allegiance to Jesus, whom they know is God.”Thomas’ declaration of faith was a declaration of Jesus’ authority. Thomas calls him “Lord and God.” The name of God in the Old Testament was “Yahweh.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “Yahweh” was written as “Lord.” When Thomas declares that Jesus is “Lord and God,” he is doing nothing less that declaring that Jesus is the God who existed before the foundations of the world were laid. Jesus is the God who spoke light into existence, who created the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, and everything that lives in them.
To claim the Lord as your God, it was not enough simply to speak words. To have him as your God meant that you submitted to his authority as God. Thomas is bowing to Jesus authority and putting his life under Jesus control. That is what faith does. Faith trusts, and so it obeys. Disobedience comes from not believing that the person in authority knows what is best.
Notice also that Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship. Jesus understood himself to be God. He accepted and expected Thomas’ submission and obedience. He expects the same of us.
Understand this: If you choose to believe in Jesus, it will change your life. Your marriage, your possessions, your money, your activities, your words, your hobbies, your everything comes under his authority. You are making a commitment to walk in obedience to him, because you trust that he knows what is best. Yielding to Jesus will change your entire life; but it will also change your eternity.
Well, now what? Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus understood that he would soon ascend bodily into heaven. He knew that he would not always be around. Not all people will have the chance to see his wounded hands and side on earth. A day is coming when people will not see him, yet they will be called upon to believe in him. When Jesus speaks of “those who have not seen,” he is speaking of you and me.
This was the task of the disciples—to tell other people about Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen king. They were to preach the message about Jesus Christ so that other people would believe in him and have eternal life. Those people that the disciples were to tell about Jesus includes you and me. We are told about Jesus through the written Word of God.
John is writing so that his readers will respond the same way as Thomas. John wants you to believe. Jesus’ command to Thomas is his command to you this morning—“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Examine who Jesus was and is. Consider what it means to believe in Jesus.
What should you do this morning? Believe!