Second Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
John tells us the goal. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.” Because Jesus has been raised it is possible for us to have life. You could do pretty well without believing in Jesus. And many people do. But you would not have life in His name. You would not have life that far exceeds life as you know it. And even so, doing pretty well in this life is good only for this life. Life apart from Christ is life in eternal torment.
John wrote so that you may have life. What he wrote, as he said, were the signs Jesus did. Even during Jesus’ ministry, John says many people did not believe in Him, even though they saw the signs He was doing. Signs are simply miraculous actions. They point to something greater. The disciples did not believe that Jesus was actually alive after dying until they saw Him. But now they believed and had true life in Him.
You don’t see Him, though. He does not appear suddenly to you as He did with the disciples. How do you believe in Him if you haven’t seen Him? Have you ever thought about that? Why is it that you believe in Jesus exactly as the disciples did even though they had the benefit of seeing Him face to face? Perhaps you think you don’t. Maybe you think it’s harder for you than for them. Maybe you have doubts. Maybe you wish it were easier to believe and if He showed you signs like He did then things would be better for you.
But John wrote so that you may have life. He wrote that you may believe. Is there a difference to the life you have versus them? Is your belief, while similar to theirs, on a different level than theirs?
According to what John has written, they are the same. Life in Christ is life in Christ. Belief in Him is belief in Him. Whether you see Him or not. But Jesus actually chides Thomas for believing because he saw Him. He said that all those who believe without seeing Him are blessed.
And that is you. The disciples must have been ashamed of themselves afterward for not believing in Him. If you have doubts, or your faith is not as strong as you wish it were, don’t worry, you’re in good company. And you’re actually in even better company since Jesus said you are blessed if you believe in Him without having seen Him.
And if you think about it, everything you believe from the Bible is that way. You believe God is one God in three persons even though you can’t begin to explain it and it’s impossible to understand. You believe that this is not all there is to life but that God will bring you to heaven forever. You believe Jesus raised people from the dead and that He Himself rose from the dead.
You even believe bizarre things like Him saving you in Baptism and forgiving you in the Lord’s Supper, and that He does these things because you cannot do them yourself. At all.
It’s no wonder you have doubts at times. All of this sounds too nonsensical and preposterous to be true. We can readily understand why the disciples doubted before they saw Jesus actually alive. Tell people you were saved in Baptism and most will think you hold to imaginary tales. Tell them that you believe that Jesus actually is present in Holy Communion, His actual body and actual blood, and they will feel sorry for you that you believe in such nonsensical and preposterous things.
But think about it this way. If John says that he wrote these things so that you would believe and so that believing you would have life in His name, well, what is to prevent Jesus from continuing to do amazing things today? If He can step out of the tomb after laying in it lifelessly, He can certainly forgive you of your sins through the simple declaration of it from His called and ordained servant of the Word.
Of all of the miraculous signs Jesus accomplished, all the healings, delivering people from demons, raising people from the dead, perhaps it’s most amazing of all that He gave authority to a bunch of disciples who did not believe He had accomplished what He said He would in rising from the grave. These eleven men who had been cowering in fear were now given a mandate by Jesus to forgive the sins of those who repented and withhold forgiveness from those who would not repent.
When Jesus has done so much by His own hand, why would He now use ordinary men, who doubted just like we do, to forgive the sins of people? The same could be asked of the other things you believe. Why would Jesus, who did so much by His own action, use ordinary water to bring about new life for you? Why would He take simple bread and wine and give to you in and with that bread and wine His very body and blood for your forgiveness?
The answer is faith. He calls upon you to have faith just as He did the disciples. None of them believed. They heard the message from the women who saw His empty tomb. Some of them went themselves to the tomb and saw it empty. They still didn’t believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. As we know well, Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion and he didn’t believe the word of every single other disciple. His demands were strict. I must see. I must touch. I must handle with my own hands.
When Jesus appeared to them again, and thankfully Thomas was there this time, Jesus took Thomas up on his demands. Touch here, Thomas. See Me, feel Me. Do not continue in unbelief but believe. He now saw Jesus and as with all the other disciples he believed. All his demands went out the window. He was no longer intent on examining the wounds of Christ, His pierced hands, the wound in His side. Thomas saw Him, and Jesus exhorted him to believe. It is exactly what Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” He knew the Lord he had doubted was indeed the one who rose from the grave and was therefore his Lord and his God.
So here’s what it means for you to have life in His name. You trust that God gives you everything you need for your ultimate good. The way He does it is through His Son. Eternal life is life in the name of Christ. Jesus is the one who suffered and died and conquered the grave. He invites you to believe even as He did to Thomas. Don’t wonder where your help comes from, it comes from your Lord and God. You are Baptized. He brought you into His death and resurrection in those waters. Don’t fear that you have sinned beyond the pale and fallen so far that there’s no hope, you eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ. If you are taking Him into your being then you have something greater than could ever be if He were standing right in front of you.
When the one God has called preachers to preach the Gospel hear it as if God Himself is speaking to you. When God sends His servant to absolve you of your sins know that it is your Lord Himself forgiving you. The pronouncement of heaven is that you are a citizen of heaven, only here on this earth for a while.
You have life in His name. This means you don’t live to yourself. If you doubt or falter, lay it on Him. He can take it. If you sin, confess your sins to your pastor, you will receive forgiveness. You live in Christ; you know this because you were Baptized into Christ. You are strong even, and especially, in your weakness, because you are strengthened in body and soul by the very body and blood of your Lord and your God. Don’t live in your sins, repent of them. Confess them. Hear the pronouncement of forgiveness and go in the joy of being in Christ.
You have life in His name, you don’t live to yourself. You have compassion on others even as your Lord has compassion on you, even as He had compassion on those disciples who just wouldn’t believe and were afraid. You are ready to forgive others even as you have been forgiven by your Lord. You rejoice in the opportunity to serve others in their need, even as your Lord serves you in your need. You are not your own. You do not simply live and have a pretty good life. You have eternal life. You have life in the name of Christ.
Believe it! It’s true! Amen.