What Do You Believe

April 19th, 2020



Gospel Reading:


John 20:19-31


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "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 come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



Sermon: What do you believe?


Attorneys craft hard-hitting opening remarks, a long list of questions for each witness, and a compelling case for conviction in their closing remarks before the judge or jury. When witnesses stray in their testimony, judges instruct each one to share the facts as they know them without hearsay or opinions being voiced.


Did you ever consider that Jesus was an attorney, an advocate for his Father in heaven? Jesus came down from heaven to share the truth about the Kingdom of God. In carefully constructed sermons and segments of teaching before his disciples as well as crowds of people, Jesus did not shout or pound the pulpit in his remarks. He simply explained the love of God, the nature of God’s kingdom, and his glorious plan of salvation for the world. Those who listened and accepted his words marveled at his authority. They hung on his every word. But it was after his death and resurrection that his followers truly believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

I have long resisted the temptation to pound my fist on the pulpit and proclaim fiery messages about hell, fire, and damnation. Why? My call to ministry was to share the truth as I understand it. I always emphasize the words of scripture, rather than trying to trick the congregation into believing my words and my opinions. Pay particular attention to Jesus’ words in the days following his resurrection from the dead. He offered peace, the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and a remarkable blessing for all who were not eyewitnesses to his rising from the grave. Listen closely to Jesus words as I try to guide you through what happened so that you can also believe beyond a doubt that Jesus is Lord. He came down from heaven to demonstrate the depth of God’s love by sacrificing his life for us. In dying, he destroyed our death. By rising, he restores our lives.


Jesus accomplished so much in his three years in ministry. He wrapped it all in a precious gift before departing this world. Why did Jesus have to leave so soon? Just as he said, he has gone to prepare a place for us. He will return so that we may be where he is also. Do you believe this? Let’s take a brief look this morning at the forty days after his resurrection from the grave before Jesus ascended into heaven.


In John 20, we discover details about the empty tomb, the women who came to the tomb to anoint his body, and the angelic presence atop the massive stone. The angel proclaimed, “He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said. He has gone before you into Galilee.” Before Mary left the tomb to share the good news with the disciples, she encountered Jesus. In John 20:17, Jesus explained to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.'” In legal terms, we have the convincing testimony of three witnesses, who corroborate every detail: God’s angel, the women at the tomb, and the Son of God. Do you require even more evidence before you will be convinced?


In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus entered the locked upper room by simply appearing before his disciples. He offered them his blessed peace, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to dwell in their hearts, and the promise of forgiveness to all who would forgive. A week later, when Thomas was present with the other ten disciples, Jesus allowed Thomas to examine his hands where nails had been and touch his side where the spear had pierced his flesh. Jesus then offered a unique blessing in John 20:29, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The body of evidence is starting to accumulate. That day, there were eleven witnesses. Still not convinced?

In John 21, Jesus greeted his disciples on the Sea of Galilee, where their nets were empty. After he directed that they cast their nets on the other side, their nets were bulging with a large catch of fish. Jesus didn’t need their fish, for he had already prepared their breakfast. This was the third time Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Perhaps the attorney is preparing his closing remarks. What do you think about this Jesus?


Next, in a magnificent act of love and forgiveness, Jesus restored Simon Peter. In John 21, Jesus asked Peter not once, but three times whether he loved him. He was surprised that Jesus insisted on asking the same question three times, until he remembered denying that he knew Jesus three times on the night he was arrested. How would you answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me more than these?” Are you now prepared to feed his lambs and care for his flock? Like Peter, Jesus needs to hear from each one of us. He needs your answer!


In Acts 1, Jesus appeared to more than five hundred witnesses to his resurrection. He instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received his Holy Spirit. That Spirit arrived as a rushing wind and with tongues of fire that touched everyone present in that upper room. Suddenly, each follower of Christ could speak in foreign tongues. Everyone who heard their testimony understood in his or her own native language. Today, we can enroll in a language course from “Babbel,” which equates 15 hours of their foreign language instruction to a full semester of college. I am confident that these online courses were not available to Jesus’ disciples. On that very day, soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven in plain sight, his disciples baptized three thousand people in one day by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Starting to get the message?


You must write your own closing argument. Are you convinced that Jesus rose from the grave, or did someone remove his body in the dark of night? Did the women actually see God’s angel and speak with the Risen Christ at the tomb or is this pure fiction? Did the disciples observe Jesus’ entry into a locked room where he displayed his hands and side? Did Jesus prepare and eat breakfast with his disciples along the seashore? Did they actually receive God’s Holy Spirit? Did they watch his glorious ascension into heaven? Did God give Jesus’ followers authority to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?


What do you believe?


If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, invite him into your hearts to guard and guide your lives.


Amen.


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