Be Believing (John 20:19–31)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this second Sunday of Easter comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records, “Then [Jesus] said to 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.’ 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 believed.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
I don’t think there’s anyone here who can adequately understand the sheer terror which the disciples faced prior to Jesus’s miraculous appearance that first Easter evening. Nevertheless, try to put yourselves in their shoes. All your hope, all the work you’d done for the past three years, following around this profound and eccentric Teacher … all died with Him two days ago when He was crucified and killed. Since then, you’ve been stewing in your own fear and despair. You heard the ladies’ crazy story this morning, that the tomb was empty, but it’s simply too fantastical; sure, Jesus raised Lazarus and a few others from the dead, but He Himself was dead, so who was going to raise Him? Their crazy story notwithstanding, and never minding the fact that Peter and John both saw that the tomb was empty, what does that do for you now? How does Jesus’s empty tomb take away the very real fact that the Pharisees are hell-bent on finding you, to ensure you meet the same fate as your Teacher?
That’s where their minds were at, why John tells us, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews” … They were holed up, afraid to even step out in public … and it’s into this locked room, this bunker and tomb, that a very-much vivified Jesus shows up, suddenly appearing in their midst. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” There’s no question about whether He died or not. There’s no question whether it’s actually Him or some extraordinarily elaborate ruse. It’s Him, no doubt about it, as He shows them the holes which pierced His resurrected flesh and allows them the opportunity to explore those holy wounds. Frankly, the disciples (soon to be apostles) needed this.
Like every other human being born of Adam and Eve (including us), they were conceived and born in sin. They were all born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, inheriting the original sin our First Parents committed, predisposing us to the sin and death that broke the reality of God’s once good creation. This is the reason why they were still afraid, even after the report from the women and the two disciples; even hearing, they couldn’t believe because they were still dead in their trespasses. It’s not until they see Jesus and His once-dead, now resurrected and alive body, that they are glad. And at that point, Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit ….’” This is not the same thing as what happens later when they were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This specific gift – given to the ten now and to Thomas a week later – is given for their edification, for the strengthening of their faith, to prepare them for the coming gift of the Holy Spirit and the ministry that will come after. Thus, Jesus breathes on them – the same word, in both Greek and Hebrew, for “spirit,” “wind,” “life.”
In this way, what Jesus is doing here echoes heavily what the He did in the creation of Man: “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Here, the disciples are … re-created, new creatures set apart for God’s purposes. No longer are they spiritually blind, dead, or His enemies. These are children of God who hear the voice of their heavenly Father and trust Him with all things eternal and temporal. With His breath, His wind, His Spirit, He gave them the breath of new life and the gift of faith.
How fitting, then, is it that this also happens to be the week that we confirm our junior confirmands! How appropriate a time to consider, as those who have already been confirmed, to reevaluate what we believe, teach, and confess, and revisit those vows we likely made long ago! We don’t have the benefit of what the disciples went through: seeing the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes, to examine the wounds which won salvation for all mankind with their own fingers, to feel the blessed Breath as Jesus fills them with the gift of faith! No, we don’t have that … and yet, here we are.
Here we are, set to confirm our students in the faith given to them in the waters of Holy Baptism. Here we are, once again, hearing God’s Word as we do every week. Here we are, once again, confessing our sinfulness and receiving Christ’s life-giving absolution. Here we are, once again, about to feast upon the very body and blood that was crucified, killed, and resurrected for us. This faith to which we cling, this belief, is the same as what the disciples confessed, what has been confessed by countless souls throughout the centuries and in all places, down to our very place and time. We all cry out with Thomas, once he sees his Lord’s hands and side, “My Lord and my God!”
That is no small thing. No, we have not seen Jesus with our own eyes as they did, and yet, we still believe. This could not happen, except for the intervention of God working through His servants through the centuries. As Luther himself once wrote, “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. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
Give thanks this day – not only for our confirmands set to make the good confession of faith and take their vows, but that our Lord has kept His Word. He died for us, He rose for us, He ascended for us, He sent the gift of His Spirit for us so that we can believe and confess this! Because of His gift of faith to us, we know our sin, we confess our sin, and we trust that our sin has been atoned for in His death and resurrection! Rejoice, my brothers and sisters, for the gift of belief given to you in Baptism remains yours! Don’t be unbelieving … but be believing!
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.