Pastor Kyle Bitter

Text: John 20:19-31

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These Words Are WrittenWhat do you suppose the disciples were doing that Easter afternoon in the inner room?  Maybe they shared some food, like many of us did. Maybe they traded some stories about what had been going on recently. And as they did that, they probably just took some time trying to process what had happened over the last couple of days. It was a lot! Jesus had been put on trial and executed. Some had watched him die from a distance. Others had been too scared to come at all – would Jesus’ enemies be content with just killing him? Romans soldiers had been dispatched to guard the tomb, but the seal had been broken. The body was gone. Some said he had risen. Some even claimed they had seen him! Others blamed the disciples, who now must have found themselves looking over their shoulders for approaching Roman soldiers. And so, as the day drew to a close, they gathered in a quiet room trying to make sense of what they had seen and heard. They wanted to believe what they had seen and heard, but everything they thought they knew about anything told them it couldn’t be. One thing was for certain – there was no peace of mind – not yet.

Three of the four gospel writers record how Jesus came to give that peace – appearing in the midst of his disciples.“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20 – NIV84). Their doubts melted away and peace and joy filled their hearts, and it got even better when they realized that what they had seen would change their lives forever – because Jesus had an important mission for them – to be his spokesmen and share the good news about sin forgiven and heaven opened. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ (John 20:21-23 – NIV84).

And Jesus returned to heaven a few weeks later, and the disciples started on their mission and then they all lived happily ever after, right? Well…not exactly. The disciples would proclaim what they had seen. Some would be interested, others would not. Generations would pass. Many of the disciples would die as martyrs. The number of those who saw Jesus after his death with their own eyes would dwindle and die off. Questions would arise – did the events of that first Easter really happen? Alternate explanations would surface. Maybe he didn’t really die, but was just in shock. Maybe he had a twin. Maybe the whole thing was a gigantic hoax. Peace and joy would be replaced by doubt and fear about what might have happened under the sleepy watch of the Roman guards. And all too easily, the atmosphere of that inner room would return, wanting Jesus’ resurrection to be true, but filled with fear that it might not be. Wanting Jesus’ resurrection to change life, but fearing that what had happened in the past hadn’t changed anything. That was the mindset of many in the second half of the first century…does it sound familiar?

It was to address the doubts and fears of God’s people of every age that God led John to write his account of Jesus life years later. John does repeat many of the major events of Jesus’ life recorded elsewhere, but he also adds unique details from his own eyewitness testimony to address doubts and fears that had arisen. In today’s gospel we have an example of just that. The story doesn’t end with the disciples in the inner room, seeing Jesus and rejoicing. For those who would struggle with doubt in years to come, John shares the story of Thomas.

Thomas had been absent when Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, so like many in John’s late first century audience, like all of us here today, Thomas had only heard the good news about Jesus through the testimony of someone else. “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’” (John 20:24-25 – NIV84).

Doubt. It’s a far cry from the joy and relief of Easter, and it’s still around today. Sometimes, like Thomas, it comes from a desire to understand – in our modern world where science seemingly offers an explanation for just about everything we always want proof. But for spiritual things, there can be no proof – God just invites us to believe – and doubt fights against that. Sometimes doubt comes from a desire to see change – how do those events from thousands of years ago give me peace today? Is life really any different now than it was before Jesus came? And if not, then what’s the big deal anyway? Paul describes why it’s a bit deal in today’s second lesson. Here’s a few excerpts: “if there is no resurrection of the dead…our preaching is useless and so is your faith…your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:12-20, selected verses – NIV84). If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the whole plan of salvation falls apart, because death comes from sin, and if death has not been defeated, then sin still hangs over our heads, and there’s no peace between the holy God and sinful people. We are on our own to answer for what we have said and thought and done – and there’s no doubt at all how that would turn out! Guilty, in every way. Take away the resurrection, and it all falls apart. Doubt about the resurrection creates doubt about everything!

And that’s why Jesus doesn’t leave his people to face doubt alone. You can see that in the life of Thomas. “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20:26-27 – NIV84). And the best part of this whole interaction is this. Thomas had his doubts, but those feelings had no impact at all on what had happened. The fact was, Jesus did rise from the dead, and the measure of Thomas’ certainty didn’t change that! When Thomas saw the truth, he said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 – NIV84). And the same thing is true for you and me too. The measure of certainty we feel on a particular day, the amount of confidence we express, the confidence we feel or don’t feel – none of those things change any of the facts of what happened. Jesus did die. He did pay for your sins. He did rise from the dead. Those are the facts! You can believe them, because they’re true. Jesus told Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 – NIV84). But what about those days when the whole “have not seen” part is hard, and doubt becomes a struggle with any of God’s promises? It’s a fact of life for almost every Christian, so where do we turn? After all, Jesus doesn’t appear to us in person like he did for Thomas.

Written that you might believe

It’s easy to look back at bible times and think – it sure would be a lot easier to believe if I could see God’s power demonstrated like that! It sure would be a lot easier to get rid of my doubts if Jesus came and talked to me in person, or if I saw God doing spectacular miracles! But how many believers did those miracles create in bible times? Zero. The real problem is the sin that causes doubt, the sin that robs us of peace, and sin that separates us from God, and there’s only one solution for that – the payment that Jesus made at the cross and God’s acceptance of that payment on Easter. Even though it was 2000 years ago, Jesus blood pays for doubts and fears today. It covers over skepticism and mistrust. It promises peace – for life right now and into eternity. And on the days when we might have hearts filled with doubt, we find on the pages of scripture a far more complete and far more detailed record of Jesus than any single person from bible times would have had, regardless of how many miracles they observed! We don’t see with our own eyes, but we see through the eyes of dozens of people with many different perspectives on the pages of scripture. We see the Savior through the eyes of the Old Testament people looking ahead, of the New Testament people looking back, and of those like John who were eye witnesses themselves! John described the blessing of God’s word in these verses: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 – NIV84).

Written that you might live

When you see that you have peace with God, that changes life forever. John said, “These words are written…that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31b – NIV84). That life he talks about isn’t limited to eternal life in heaven – the peace you have with God changes life right now too – and on the pages of scripture you can see how that happens to God’s people of previous generations. You heard an example of that in today’s first lesson. Paul didn’t just write to the Corinthians about how the resurrection was the key piece of the Christian faith – he also did whatever he could to share that truth in his life. The first lesson records a conversation between Paul and a King named Agrippa. The context that is only hinted at is this – Paul was on trial before King Agrippa because he refused to stop talking about Jesus, and Agrippa was only one stop in a whole line up of government officials! And reading through the book of Acts shows that this was not an uncommon thing for Paul, but despite the persecution and physical hardship he endured, Paul was at peace in his life, knowing that his eternity with God was secure and his mission as his Savior’s spokesperson was important. And so for us looking back, his life was a demonstration of the peace he had because of his confidence that the promises of God are true – and it’s recorded in scripture! These Words Are Written…that you might have life, because with God, you have Peace!

For you and me, that a life demonstrating that peace might not be as dramatic Paul or others from church history, but the peace we have with God does change our lives. Maybe that peace shows when we are willing to forgive others – even when they don’t deserve it – because we know that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. Maybe that peace shows when we trust God’s wisdom in the hard times of life, finding peace amidst the turmoil in God’s promise that he has our best interests in mind. Maybe that peace shows when we find ourselves faced with our own death or with the death of a loved one, because even in our pain and sorrow, we know that Jesus’ resurrection promises us an eternity in heaven. Whatever form it might take, the promises found in God’s word conquer doubt and fear, because your feelings don’t change what God has done. You have Life in his name, now and always, and you can see that in God’s Word. These Words Are Written…to bring you Peace. Amen.