“What You Don’t See Is What You Get” (John 20:19-31)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020

“What You Don’t See Is What You Get” (John 20:19-31)

The doors were locked. They were in lockdown mode. They had quarantined themselves. They were self-isolating. Why? Because they were afraid.

Who is it that I’m talking about? Americans in 2020? No, I’m talking about Jesus’ disciples, around the year 30. Those disciples had locked themselves in. They were in self-quarantine. They were isolating and keeping their social distance. And the reason was, they were afraid. They were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had just had their master killed a couple of days earlier. Now, since they were known to be Jesus’ disciples, if it became known where they were, the authorities might come after them, too. So the disciples were afraid. They self-isolated, and they were keeping their distance, behind closed doors.

But if a sealed tomb couldn’t keep Jesus in, a locked door couldn’t keep Jesus out. He passes right through and stands in their midst. “Shalom aleichem,” he says, “Peace be with you,” a standard Hebraic greeting. But when Jesus says it, it’s a little more than standard! Jesus really does convey peace when he speaks it! This is a blood-bought peace, peace purchased by the blood that God’s Son shed on the cross. Peace between heaven and earth. Peace between a righteous God and sinful man. Jesus made that peace for us on the cross, where he died for the sins of the world. Jesus packs real peace into his words, when he greets us with “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are mind-boggled! “Whoa! We thought you were dead, Master! They nailed you to that cross! You died! The soldier speared you in the side! They took you down and put you in a tomb! And sealed it! With guards around! How can that be you?” “Wait a minute, boys. Maybe we’re imagining things. This must be some sort of hallucination. You know, we’ve been pretty stressed out lately.” “Or is it–can it be–his ghost?” “No, no, this is no ghost. It really is Jesus! Alive! In flesh and bone! God must have raised him from the dead! Look! He’s showing us the marks in his hands, where they drove in the nails. He’s showing us his side, where the soldier pierced him with the spear! Yeah, it really is him! Risen, alive! Wow!”

Well, how about those disciples, huh? Lucky them! They got to see Jesus, risen from the dead, saw him with their own eyes. Too bad we’re not that lucky. Yeah, just look at the advantage they had! Easter day, that evening, Jesus comes to them, shows them his hands and his side. No wonder they believed! Well, most of them, at least. Thomas wasn’t there that night. Maybe he was out bowling or something. The other guys tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” “Oh, yeah, right. What you guys been drinkin’? He was crucified, remember? Just a few days ago. He’s dead, Jim–and John, and Peter, and all the rest of you. Our master is dead. Roman soldiers don’t mess up on things like that. No, there’s no way I can believe what you guys are telling me. It’s just crazy wishful thinking, that’s what you’re doing.” “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Well, on the next Sunday, Thomas was in the house that night, there with the rest of them. And guess who shows up? Jesus. Again, through the locked door. Again, with the hands and the side. This time Jesus does it for the benefit of Thomas. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

See? Seeing is believing. Thomas gets to see. The rest of them got to see. And they believed. Oh, those lucky, fortunate disciples! If only we could have been in their position! Then we would be strong Christians, and we wouldn’t falter in our faith. Right?

Wrong. That’s not how Jesus sees it. Or says it. He says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus kind of rebukes Thomas there. He says that seeing is not an advantage. That seeing is not the same as believing. In fact, Jesus turns it around. He says, basically, “Believing is better than seeing.”

What’s going on here? What does Jesus mean by “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? And what does this have to do with us? Well, that is us! We are the ones Jesus is talking about when he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So Jesus thinks we are pretty “blessed.” We are the fortunate ones! Believing is better than seeing.

We’re like the people John is writing his gospel for, people living long after the events he reports. John writes for folks who had never seen Jesus up close and personal like he had. There were only a small number of persons in the world at that time who had gotten to see Jesus during his ministry, and even fewer who saw him after he had risen from the dead.

Although, there were enough eyewitnesses who attested to the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ for all time to come. Jesus did want a core of witnesses who could verify the factuality and the physicality of his resurrection. As Peter would testify to the Jewish council, “We are witnesses of these things.” And Paul would later write: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

So there were enough eyewitnesses to establish the facts at the time of the founding of the church. But it wasn’t the seeing alone, it wasn’t the seeing per se, that produced faith. Seeing, by itself, is not the same as believing. No, there were lots of people who saw Jesus in the flesh who did not believe in him. His opponents, for example; they saw him, but they rejected him.

Friends, you and I are like the millions of Christians around the world, going back all the way to the first century. We never have seen Jesus and yet we believe in him. So Jesus calls us “blessed.” We still receive the blessings that come to us by faith in him. What you don’t see is what you get. You don’t see the peace that Jesus gives or the forgiveness of sins or the sure hope of everlasting life. You don’t see the Father’s love, the presence of Christ, or the gift of the Holy Spirit. You don’t see these things. But God gives them to you, nonetheless. What you don’t see you still get.

The blessedness of believing rather than seeing is a consistent teaching in the New Testament. You heard it in the Epistle today. Peter writes long after Christ had ascended into heaven, and he says to Christians just like us: “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.” Likewise, Paul writes in Romans: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Or again, in 2 Corinthians: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” And again: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” And in Hebrews it says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” All these passages are saying the same thing: What you don’t see is what you get! Eternal things, like the salvation of our souls and the redemption of our bodies. We don’t see those things with our eyes. Yet this is our certain hope, as sure as the resurrection of Christ himself.

So how does it happen? How do we get that faith, that trust in our Savior Jesus Christ? Answer: By the Word! It is the Word of God that gives us the faith to believe, to trust in Christ as our Savior. The word of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done for us. The Holy Spirit works through the gospel means, Word and Sacrament, to give us that saving faith and to keep us strong in it. There’s no other way. God’s Word is what we need.

This is why John writes, at the end of our text today, his purpose statement for his whole gospel: “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.” It’s the gospel, the good news of Christ, as it is preached to us, taught to us, sacramented to us—it’s the gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to create faith to trust in Christ and to keep us strong in that saving faith. As it says in the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit works this saving faith in us, our whole life long, from start to finish, and the means that he uses to do this is the gospel.

So what’s the takeaway in all of this? Two things: 1) Jesus really is risen from the dead; he is victorious over sin and death, and he gives us life in him. And 2) Since faith in Christ is created and nourished in us through the Word, it’s kind of important that we regularly be in the Word.

Right now we can’t be in church to receive the Word and Sacrament as we normally do. But we’re doing the next best thing: We’re sharing the Word of God here through this gift of modern technology. You’re still able to hear the Word of God, and that’s a good thing! God is still blessing us! God is still with us! Thank God for that! But we still long for the day, hopefully soon, when we can get back together, as church, in church, to take part together in the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament. Lord, hasten that day! It will be sweet indeed!

But take heart, dear friends: Christ is still risen, and the Word is still going out. And you are still on the receiving end of God’s good gifts. What you don’t see is what you get. So take heart. Today our risen Lord Jesus comes to us through our doors, into our isolation, and he reassures us with his words: “Peace be with you. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Published in: on April 19, 2020 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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