(Sermon) A Question of Credibility - Rev. Keith Davis

Last Updated: February 10, 2013

Keith Davis is Pastor of Hills United Reformed Church in Hills, MN. He is a graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary (1998), and has been a minister at Hills URC .8.

(Sermon) A Question of Credibility

John 20:19-31

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our world, credibility is extremely hard to come by. I recall an incident that happened few years ago, which illustrates how true this it. It happened shortly after the birth of our daughter Tabitha. Tabitha was also a home-birth baby, which means that the paper work that the hospital does, like registering the birth with the state, and applying for a birth certificate, had to be done by the parents.

In order to complete all this paper work, we were told to come in before a Notary Public with a witness who could vouch for the fact that Tabitha was indeed our baby (that we didn’t just steal her, I guess). So, we asked my Grandmother to be that witness, she agreed. My Grandmother and my wife both went into the Notary’s office, planning to take care of business.

But before my Grandmother could sign, the Notary asked to see some ID, a photo I.D, to establish her own identity. Now, my Grandma had her SS card, she had her Medi-Care card, but she never drove a car a day in her life, so she had no driver’s license. Nor did she have any other photo ID. So, they appeared to be at an impasse.

But just about the time my wife got up to leave, my Grandmother (visibly upset) turned to this lady and boldly stated my name is Tressa Lenting! I’m a Christian! I am who I say I am, and you’re just going to have to take my word for it!

Believe it or not, the Notary allowed her to sign the papers, and the paper work was processed. To this day, I stand amazed at what that Notary did, because it was highly unusual. By all rights, it was an exception to the rule! For, in today’s world, a person’s word just isn’t enough to establish the truth. A person’s word just isn’t credible, it isn’t believable!

Now some might say, ‘Well that’s just because times have changed so much". But one could make the argument from our passage today, that times haven’t changed too much at all. In fact, it seems to be part of our nature to question someone’s credibility.

In John 20, we find Thomas doing just that! He calls into question the truthfulness of the disciple’s words. They told him ‘Christ has risen’, but their word isn’t good enough. He wants proof—hard evidence. His skeptical mind and his unbelieving heart demand more than just a word! But as amazing as it seems, that’s exactly what he gets. For Christ Himself appears, and shows him the hard evidence he wants to see.

That’s the theme of our text; The Risen Christ Appears to His Doubting Disciple.  Notice with me, that Christ’s appears…

1) To Dispel Stubborn Unbelief        

2) To Elicit a Humble Confession 

1.  To Dispel His Stubborn Unbelief

First of all, Christ comes to Dispel Stubborn Unbelief.  Congregation, I want to begin this first point by rallying to the defense of Thomas.  As you boys and girls probably know, Thomas, the disciple of Jesus Christ, has a nick-name.  It’s a name that has kind of ‘stuck with him’ through all these many years.

You remember what it was?  The Bible does mentions another name for Thomas.  In vs. 24, Thomas is called Didymus.  But the name Didymus is just the Greek way to say ‘Thomas’.  The two names actually mean the same thing—twin.  Thomas could very well have been a twin brother.

But Didymus is not the well known nick-name.  We know that Thomas is called  ‘The Doubter’.  He’s Doubting Thomas.  If you paid attention as we read, then you can see why this would be the case.  It appears that Thomas earned his reputation.  For when the 10 disciples tell him the news that Christ is risen, that they have actually seen the Lord with their own eyes, Thomas doesn’t believe them.  He doesn’t buy their story!

He’s not at all convinced by their words.  For good reason!  His hopes have been dashed to pieces!  Jesus the Messiah has been crucified.  Their leader is dead.  The only man who has the power to raise-up men from the dead, lies dead himself.  So who’s going to raise Jesus?  What hope is there? 

Of course he’s skeptical!  Can we blame him?  Right away we say, “Of course we can!  All the other disciples believe!  So why won’t Thomas”?  But here’s where we must do a little digging, and uncover a very important detail of our text.  Do you recall why the other disciples believe?  Verse 24 gives us a clue.  It says Thomas was not with the disciples, when Jesus appeared to them.  

If you look back to verses 19-23, you’ll see why the other disciples believed!  We’re told that in the evening, on that first day of the week—that would be the evening of Easter Sunday—the day Christ rose from the dead.  In that evening, all the disciples (except Thomas) were huddled together.  The door to their upper room is locked.  They’re afraid that the Jews who killed Jesus, will be coming for them next.

On that night, we can be sure that the same hurt, the same sorrow, & sadness, & disappointment, and grief that Thomas was feeling, was also being felt by these disciples.  Jesus, their great leader lie dead.  All the disciples, (especially Peter!) were feeling particularly guilty, because every one of them (except for John), had abandoned Jesus in His hour of need.  No one stayed by his side like they said they would.

So, it’s safe to say, that the mood in the room that evening was not very upbeat.  But the catch is, congregation, we know from other passages, that by that evening, the news, the word of Christ’s resurrection had already reached the disciple’s ears.  The women told them the news, just like the angel had instructed.  (Quickly now..)  So we know the women brought back the glad tidings that Jesus Christ was risen from the grave. 

But do you recall how these disciples received this news?  Isn’t it interesting that Luke says, the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like non-sense.  True, their words prompted Peter and John (John 20:3) to run to the tomb themselves to see what happened.  But, we’re not told that any other disciples ran to the tomb.  Only two.  The rest may have just dismissed the women’s report as foolishness. 

We’re also told in Scripture, that of the two disciples who ran to the tomb, only John saw and believed (20:8).  Luke says that Peter saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.  Luke never states whether Peter believed.   

So, of the 10 disciples, only John is actually said to believe the resurrection—and not because of what they women said, but because he saw inside the empty tomb!  So, you know what that means?  That means that Thomas was not the only doubter.  It means that these other disciples shared that distinction as well—they also harbored doubts and suspicions about Christ’s resurrection.  They also were not willing to take someone’s word for it either, were they!  They did not believe the women’s report!  They also had to see it to believe it!

Well (getting back to vs. 24), it’s apparent that Thomas must have shown up later that same night, some time after Jesus had first appeared.  And, imagine his shock and surprise, when he walks in that room, and sees his fellow disciples rejoicing (overjoyed!).  He must have wondered what was going on. 

So they tell him. We’re rejoicing because we have seen the risen Christ (Vs. 25)!  Naturally, all their doubts, all their sadness, all their suspicions have been dispelled! And they probably expect that as soon as Thomas hears their news, he will immediately perk up, and join in on the celebration! 

 In a sense, Thomas is no different than they are (weak faith).  But Thomas draws all the attention, because of the fact that he states his case so boldly.  He voices his disbelief in a manner that almost shocks us! 

“Unless I see in His hands the marks (scars) of the nails, (unless I) thrust my finger into the marks left by the nails, and (unless I) thrust my hand into his side, I will not (emphatic emphasis) believe’!  Thomas is saying these are the conditions for my belief!  Unless Christ appears to me, & I see and I feel, there’s no way I’ll believe.

And what happens?  One full week later (don’t miss that point!  Thomas was forced to live with his doubt, live with his disbelief, live with his bold statement, one whole week!  While all the other disciples were carrying on, filled with the joy of the resurrection in their hearts—Thomas was left in despair), on the next Sabbath evening, all the disciples are gathered together again in the room (tradition of the church meeting). 

This time Thomas was with them.  The doors are locked again for fear of the Jews.  And once gain Jesus comes and stands among them.  Peace by with you!  He says.  And then Christ immediately turns to Thomas and tells him to do the very things that Thomas said would be necessary to convince him.

This is just more proof that Jesus was God—for he didn’t have to be physically present in order for him to hear and know what his disciples were thinking and saying.  I also think it’s extremely significant to see that Jesus counters every one of Thomas’s conditions with His own command. 

Thomas said unless I see his hands, Jesus commands him see my hands! (not inviting him but commanding him!).  Thomas said unless I place my finger in the mark where the nails were; Jesus commands place your finger here. Thomas said, unless I place my hand in his side; Jesus commands, reach out your hand and put it into my side! Last thing Thomas stated was, ‘Unless this happens, I will not believe’.  Jesus, having graciously met Thomas’ conditions, now commands him, stop your unbelief, and believe!  

The risen Christ appeared to this skeptical disciple to dispel his stubborn unbelief.  But in a sense, was this really anything different than what Jesus did for all the other disciples as well.  He appeared to them also, to dispel their doubts and disbelief.  So we ought not to be too hard on Thomas.  Not single him out from all the rest as being “The Doubter”. 

We can learn from the way the Lord handles his disbelief.  The Lord deals very gently with Thomas.  We don’t se the Lord castigating him, or scolding him.  We see the love of the Lord, how he patiently forbears with weak faith, even stubborn unbelief. 

It ought to remind us of how the Lord deals with us, with our weak faith, with our stubborn unbelief.  In our times of weakness and sin.  In times of doubt and despair.  The Lord doesn’t abandon us.  The Lord doesn’t leave us in our unbelief, does He? 

No.  Rather, He comes to us!  He appears before us on this first day of the week, in the morning and in the evening.  Christ graciously meets with us, through the power of His Word and Spirit.  'In His Word Christ comes to us with His Gospel to strengthen our weak faith, and drive out disbelief.  In the Gospel, Jesus commands us to see!  To see Him crucified for us! 

And Jesus commands us to hear!  To hear His voice calling out for us to follow!  And Jesus commands us to believe!  To stop our stubborn unbelief!  To stop sinning.  To stop doubting!  To stop being so skeptical.  To stop looking inside ourselves for proof that He exists—for feelings and emotions.  Christ says, just look to me and believe! 

Christ appeared to dispel the stubborn unbelief from his disciple(s).  And by His Word and Spirit, He continues to do that with us today!                      

2)  To Elicit His Humble Confession

But secondly, The Lord also appears to Elicit a Humble Confession.  Now, we’re not really told whether Thomas actually did the things the Lord commanded.  Obviously just having Jesus appear before Him, and just hearing Jesus say the very things that Thomas has previously stated, that was definitely proof enough.

We also have to understand how extremely humbling this moment was for Thomas. How hard it must have been, how shameful to stand before His Master, realizing that Jesus knew his doubts and was aware of is disbelief.  That’s probably why Thomas’ reaction to Jesus is so markedly different from that of the other disciples. 

Their reaction was one of great joy.  They were overjoyed at the sight of Jesus.  But Thomas’s response comes in the form of a humble and beautiful confession.  Vs. 28: Thomas said to him, my Lord and my God! 

Thomas’s confession is one of the most important statements about the deity of Jesus Christ found anywhere in the Bible.  Jesus my Lord, and My God!  No mistaking the meaning behind those words.  Thomas is confessing with a believing, heart, what God Himself has revealed to him.  That this same Jesus who has walked with them, and talked with them, and led them the past 3 years, this same Jesus who died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, is none other than the sovereign God Himself!  What an awesome confession of faith!  Too bad Thomas isn’t remembered more for that!

And it’s no coincidence that it John alone records these words, for this has been John’s theme from the very beginning of this Gospel account--to show the relationship between Jesus Christ and God.  John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God!  

John’s is out to prove to believers and unbelievers alike that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, just as He said.  Look at how verse 31 ties in so wonderfully!  That is the really the theme verse for this entire book!  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, you may have life in His name.

John is saying, that’s why I have recorded these things.  That’s why the miracles of Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus, and the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus have been so carefully and painstakingly recorded and preserved.  So that by faith, we too can make the same humble and beautiful confession that Thomas makes. 

I say we must do that by faith, because that is how we must live.  By faith not by sight!  The Lord makes Thomas aware of that fact in vs. 29. Jesus said to him, (Because) you see me, you believe; but blessed are they who do not see and (yet) believe.  It’s true that during the 40 days Jesus walked the earth before his ascension, he appeared to many people. I Corinthians 15: 5-8 says, He appeared to Peter, then to the 12.  After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time…then he appeared to James (brother of Jesus), then to all the Apostles, and last of all, he appeared to me also.

Christ’s purpose in appearing during those 40 days, was to bestow upon his disciples the courage and strength and power and hope they would need to stand as eye-witnesses to the truth--as they would go forth and proclaim the Good News of salvation! 

But after 40 days, Christ ascended into heaven.  He no longer appeared before men.  But contrary to what some believe, the church is not the weaker for it!  Actually, the church is stronger for it!  For Christ has not left His church without a witness!  Christ gave us everything we need.  He has given us written testimony of Scriptures.  Christ has also poured out upon His church the power and the Person of His Holy Spirit! 

He has given us the power of the preaching of the Word!  So, we are not left without a witness.  We are not left without hope.  It’s just that now, our faith, our hope is based upon the Word.  We no longer live by sight.  We cannot make the demands that Thomas made, and expect that Christ will appear to us in the privacy of own room.

That’s not going to happen.  For it’s Christ who sets the conditions for our belief.  He makes it very clear to us that in order to believe in Him, we must believe in His Word.  For His Word is His living and breathing revelation of Himself. 

Shocking, when you think about it.  That this Bible, this book, these tiny words on this thin paper, simple black and white, nothing flashy, nothing sensational, nothing magical, that this book can mean so much! 

That reading this book, and hearing sermons which explain and proclaim the contents of this book, that this is what we must look to!  That this is what we must depend upon for our witness.  Seems too meager, too insignificant, too plain and paltry to be true—that something as magnificent as the resurrection of Christ, something as incredible as a miracle, something so vitally important and essential as faith and belief would be entrusted to so simple a means of grace.

Seems so dull, so boring, so uninviting and uneventful to us doesn’t it.  Especially for our modern ears and eyes.  We wouldn’t mind ‘mixing-in’ a little of Hollywood’s special effects with our  religion.  So that possibly our faith could be could be strengthened (assured), when in a moment of doubt, weakness, a brilliant light suddenly  shines out of the blue.

We wouldn’t mind having our faith strengthened by seeing a spectacular vision of God, or seeing an angel hovering over our bed at night.  We wouldn’t mind having a religious experience where we are slain in the Spirit, and start speaking in tongues, then at least we, and others with us, can tell that God’s Spirit resides within us.

       We wouldn’t mind having Christ appear before us commanding us to see his hands, place our fingers where the nails were, and our hand in his side.  We wouldn’t mind that because we think that seeing and experiencing those things would make believing easier!  Not true.  As Jesus said in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.  If they will not listen to and believe my Word, then they will not believe no matter how spectacular the experience!

No, even in a world like ours that expects the sensational, even when it comes to religion, the faithful preacher comes with the simple, plain truth of the Word of God, and says, believe it! 

Believe it, not because of what you can see!  Not because of some incredible things that may happen to you.  Not because of the rich blessings you hope to receive!  Believe it, because these simple words, written so plainly in black and white, are true. 

Beloved, these words are written that we may believe!  That we may have faith.  That by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word, we may make the same humble confession that Thomas made, Jesus, my Lord and My God!

These are written that you may believe, and no longer doubt, and no longer be left in despair. Christ has risen.  We know it.  We believe it.  Not because we have seen it, but because we have heard it. 

Because by faith God has worked through this simple and meager means to make us realize and accept the truth.  Congregation, Stop doubting and believe!  For blessed are they (eternally joyful are they!) who have not seen, and yet have believed!  AMEN!!!

Rev. Keith Davis

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