Sunday, April 28, 2013

Unfinished Business, Part 2

Text:  John 21:1-22

TWO WEEKS AGO in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John we began to see how the risen Christ works in us, from the perspective of the Apostle Peter.  We saw how Jesus meets us in the ordinary activities of our daily lives, even when we not be looking for Him.  We were reminded how He transforms us by the saving power of His cross, so we can run to Him and His holiness in spite of our sin.  And we saw again how Jesus, our Lord and God, provides us with everything we have and need, and though He doesn't need our help, still He calls us to participate in His work in the world until He comes again.

This morning we're going to go deeper into this last truth as we examine the second part of this passage.  We left Peter, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Thomas, Nathaniel, and a couple of the other disciples on the western shore of the Sea of Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) gathered around a charcoal fire eating breakfast with the risen Jesus.  Imagine the mixed emotions Peter might be feeling.  You know how it is when there's something wrong between you and a good friend; when you've offended or hurt him in some way.  He's treating you like everything's all right, but you know, you just know that the two of you have unfinished business.

And there certainly was unfinished business between Simon Peter and his Lord.  Back in John chapter 18, in the hours before Jesus was crucified, there'd been another charcoal fire with Peter standing near, that time in the courtyard of the high priest.  Some distance away Jesus was standing His farce of a  trial.  Peter had already denied knowing Jesus when he was let in at the courtyard gate.  And by the flickering fire Simon Peter had denied his Lord the second and third times.  In a few hours Jesus was dead and now it was too late, the offense could never be put right.  But now here was Jesus, risen from the dead and sitting there with them! But for Peter, the joy had to be mixed with the nagging feeling that Jesus must still be terribly, terribly disappointed in him.  Would it be worse if the Lord left the unfinished business unfinished? Or if He openly called Peter out on his sin?  Either way, could their relationship ever again be the same?

Then it happened.  After they'd all finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

Notice how Jesus calls Peter by his birth name, Simon, and not by "Peter," the name He gave him?  "Peter" means, well, not quite "rock" like the Rock of Gibraltar, but more "rocklike" or "rocky."  It signifies strength and steadiness, but Simon had been anything but strong and steady the night Jesus stood His trial.

Then see how Jesus asks him if he "truly loves" Him, "more than these."  It bears repeating that the Greek word the NIV translates "truly love" is "agapas," the second person singular of the verb related to "agape," which means selfless, deathless, Godlike love, the love that for the sake of righteousness would cause a man to die even for His enemies.  "Simon", Jesus is gently asking, "what about all those grandiose professions of unbending loyalty you spouted in the Upper Room?"  "I will lay down my life for you," Peter had said.  "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Peter had said.  "Simon," Jesus says now, "do you truly love Me,  agapas me , more than these?"  The night our Lord was arrested Peter had sworn, "Even if all fall away, I will not."  Peter had been so sure he loved Jesus with unshakeable, deathless       love, that his love for Jesus exceeded the love of any of the other disciples.  That had been his fervent boast.  So, "Simon, do you truly love Me like that?" Jesus asks. "More than these others do?"

What can he say?  Peter tries to get round his shame by replying, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  But what's this?  Peter isn't using the verb form of "agape" that Jesus used, but the verb form of "philia," or brotherly love.

Now, let's not sell philia love short.  It's far more than just liking.  It's the kind of love that would cause a sister to spend her last dime to bail her sister out of jail, or a soldier to fall on a grenade for a comrade in his regiment.  But it tends to focus on people you're in a mutual relationship with, those you know would do the same for you.  It doesn't have the same self-abandoning quality as  agape. Peter has to step it down and profess to a love that is not so high.

Once more, in verse 16, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you truly love Me, agapas me?"  Why does He ask this again?  Because the Lord bears true agape love towards Peter, and He wants to make sure Peter learns what he needs to learn.  Peter needs to really hear and respond to Jesus and not just say what he hopes he can get away with or what he thinks Jesus wants to hear.  Their unfinished business needs to be finished, not glossed over.

And again Peter can only say, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you-- philo se."  "Yes, Lord, I love you like a comrade-at-arms or a brother."  Peter can no longer claim that his love for Jesus is unlimited and Godlike.  It is, he decides, a good, solid, devoted human love.

But then, in verse 17, once more Jesus asks Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" That is, in the Greek, "Do you  phileis me?"   The Evangelist tells us that Peter was hurt at this.  Not because Jesus had asked him about his love for Him a third time, but because the third time Jesus had changed the word for love He was using.  He switched to the term Peter was trying to accommodate himself with.    "So, Simon, do you really love Me with philia love?"  How the reminder must have probed the depth of his betrayal!  Fall on a grenade for Jesus?  Back there in the high priest's courtyard he couldn't even admit to knowing Him!

But still, this philia love is what Peter intends towards Jesus and it's the least that Jesus deserves.  So he appeals to Jesus' deepest knowledge of his heart: "Lord, you know all things; you know I love you-- philo se!"

What is was our Lord trying to accomplish with all this?  Just this: It was still His intention that Peter should be the leader of the Apostles and the chief evangelist to the Jews throughout the Roman world.  But Simon Peter couldn't be all that as long as he was depending upon his own strength and good intentions.  He had to be-- not humiliated--but humbled, so he would depend wholly on the strength and resurrection power of Jesus Christ instead.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord hasn't called us to be the Prince of the Apostles like Simon Peter.  But He does call us to love and serve Him with a right appreciation of our intentions and abilities.  He wants us to walk humbly in His presence, depending on Him alone.  It's bad enough when we hang back from serving Him because we think it's all up to us and we feel inadequate and scared.  It's worse when we pull the "Stand back, Lord, I'll defend You!" act, as if we were St. George and Jesus were the helpless maiden who needed to be rescued from the dragon.  Because fear may cause us to cry out for Christ's help, but when we boast in our own strength, we forget our need of Him altogether.  Then He can do nothing with us until by the Holy Spirit we are moved to repent.

But what does Jesus command Peter each time the apostle confesses, "Lord, you know I love you, that I  philo se"?  "Feed my lambs," says Jesus.  "Take care of my sheep.  Feed my sheep."  Peter is the model and prototype of all the pastors and elders Christ has put into His Church to build her members up in the Christian faith and ministry.  All right, Peter loves the Lord with philia love.  How can he show it?  How can any leader in the church show it?  By bringing the people of God, young and old, to a deeper, richer, truer, heart, mind, and spirit knowledge of and relationship with the Lord who died to save them from their sins and rose to give them eternal life.

From the Holy Spirit's work as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles we know this feeding and care taking primarily means preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and His saving work.  Not just to bring in new converts, the lambs, but also, always, to sustain the sheep, the more mature saints.  For we who have been in Christ's Church longer also need to be comforted and corrected by repeated reminders of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  Otherwise we forget and wander off on our own imaginings about Jesus and what He's about.  We go astray.

Brothers and sisters, we live in dangerous times when pastors and elders especially need to adhere faithfully and firmly to these commands of Jesus.  And I'm not now talking about bombs set by American citizen terrorists or infringements on our liberties by our own government.  No, I'm referring to a  trend that's set in in some parts of the evangelical wing of the Church, that would reject totally what Jesus commands Peter and all pastors to do.

This danger starts with the insistence that we should stop using the word "sheep" for God's people.  It's demeaning, some Christian leaders say, and it implies that we're all stupid and helpless.  And yes, it isn't exactly a compliment to be called a sheep.  They do tend to wander off.  They eat stuff they shouldn't.  They refuse to drink unless the water is still and not running.  They get dirty and diseased and smelly.  But God in His wisdom chose to incorporate this term for us in His Word because that is exactly what we are like when we're left to ourselves in our sin.  Helpless.  Wandering.  Consuming poisonous weeds.  And not very clever, and the most intelligent among us can sometimes be the stupidest of all.  He chose this word moreover because it exalts Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd who keeps us safe and healthy, who laid down His life to rescue us from Satan, that old wolf.  Without His loving favor we are prey to every false religion and wild beast of lying worldly ideas that comes along.  But Jesus does save and preserve us, and He does so by the hand of faithful undershepherds like the man He was making Peter to be.

Along with this, there are also those in our time who'll admit that God's people are His sheep, but they say it's up to the sheep to feed themselves.  That's the only way, they insist, for the church to be "seeker sensitive" and "missional." Pastors like Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Chicago and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church of Charlotte, South Carolina, have said openly that members must become "self-feeders"; that those who want to hear more about the doctrines of grace on Sunday morning are on the way to becoming "spiritually obese"; that it's not their job as pastors to take care of the already-saved, they have to focus on the lost.  These men are right that the local church should be as outward-looking and concerned for unsaved sinners as Jesus is.  We must not be a private club where we care only for ourselves.  But they seem to forget that without pastors and elders continually building the membership up by the Word and sacraments of Jesus Christ we have nothing to take into the world.  If we sheep (and that includes all of us) are left without the shepherds God has appointed for us, if the shepherds refuse to do their Christ-given jobs, we will be walking pieces of unfinished business, with nothing to offer anybody but our own failing, faulty human efforts.

It would be bad enough if this "self-feeding sheep" mentality were a problem only in nondenominational churches, but some evangelical Presbyterian leaders are also beginning to suggest that that's what it takes to be missional.  Brothers and sisters, whatever you do, make sure that the person in your pulpit feeds constantly with the sincere milk and the strong meat of the Word of God, not only in preaching, but in care and visitation.  For only then will you be strong enough to reach out to those who do not know our great Shepherd and the only Lord.

Jesus in this episode in John led Simon Peter into a new knowledge of himself and of Jesus' will for him, and closed the unfinished business they had between them after Peter's denial.  But Peter is not exactly comforted when Jesus goes on to indicate how Peter will finish his life on this earth, in a martyr's death.  He no longer boasts proudly about facing it without fear, but he can't help wondering if John will experience the same.  But the command of Jesus to him and to us is immovable: Never mind my will for him (or anybody else), you follow Me.

For Jesus' business with us is never finished, at least, not until He comes in glory and we are perfected in Him.   We love imperfectly but are to go on loving, not depending on our love but on His; we serve in and with and through the gospel Word, not boasting in our own strength but humbly relying on His.  And the strength and love of Jesus are perfect and sure, for He who died has risen from the dead, and He is with us now and forever more.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unfinished Business, Part 1

Text: John 21:1-22

ONE THING I'VE LEARNED over twenty years of preaching is that my sermon title is not Scripture.  A preacher might think the title she's come up with when she's planning worship is really good and appropriate, but when she really gets into the text the Holy Spirit might have other ideas about where the sermon should go and what it should be called.  And over an even longer time of being a church member sitting in the pew, I learned that when this happens and the preacher doesn't let the congregation know, the typical church member is liable to spend half the preaching time waiting for the preacher to get to some point that fits the title printed in the bulletin, and for him the sermon falls flat.  People naturally expect the sermon content to match the printed sermon title, and they can get thrown off when it doesn't.

So as you might have guessed, this happened to me this past week.  The title I initially chose for today's sermon, "What About It?" no longer matches what the Holy Spirit wants me to bring to you from today's text.  A better title might be something like "Unfinished Business."

From the purely human point of view, the protagonist of our reading from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, is the Apostle Peter.  Or, as he is also called, Simon son of John.  And the risen Jesus clearly has unfinished business with Him.  Peter held a unique position among the apostles, and so we have to be careful about applying everything that John writes about Peter directly to our own lives.  But all Scripture is written to build us up in faith and life in Jesus Christ, and since we are to follow and imitate our leaders as they follow and imitate Christ, this 21st chapter of John can certainly guide us as we believe and live in light of Jesus' resurrection.

The events John records happened during the forty days between Jesus' resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven.  Think how strange a period this must have been for His disciples!  It was a time of waiting, when uncertainty and hope were all mixed up together.  Christ indeed was risen; His body had been renewed and transformed in unimaginable ways.  So never again would He go back to being the same old human Jesus they'd known in the three years previous.  On the other hand, He was definitely there with them bodily and tangibly; that is, when He was there with them.  And then, their Lord had told them He was sending them out to preach forgiveness of sins in His name.  So the disciples were no longer just students, they were to be teachers with His authority.  That first Resurrection Day evening in the upper room, Jesus had breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  On the other hand, the full outpouring of the Spirit and His empowering for ministry was several days or weeks away.  And until it fell upon them they could not begin their mission.  This business of being an apostle was unfinished.

Peter, along with the other disciples, was an ordinary person living in the most extraordinary reality humanity has even known.  A Man he knew, his Teacher and Friend, had been brutally crucified but now was risen gloriously from the dead!  Jesus had conquered sin and death and brought life and immortality to light through His mighty resurrection!  Any time now Peter and the others would be released to go out and tell the good news. But what was he to do with himself in the meantime?  He was only human, with twenty-four hours in the day to fill.  Sometimes they all could see and fellowship with their risen Lord.  But often it'd be just Peter and the other disciples, wondering when Jesus might appear next.  No human being can live in a high state of watchfulness and spiritual fervor all the time.  Even when something has occurred that's changed us and all human history, ordinary sinners like Simon Peter, like you and me, sometimes have to exhale, and think and do ordinary human things.

So we shouldn't be surprised that at some point Peter (or some other disciple) should say, "I'm going out to fish."  A lot of preachers (including me, I'm afraid) judge him harshly for proposing this, but we sin against mercy when we do.  It's totally understandable that Peter and the others might go fishing.  Jesus wasn't with them at the time; maybe they hadn't seen Him in awhile.  They were home in Galilee, the boat was available, and a little extra income for their families would be a welcome thing.  Peter wasn't announcing that he was giving up on Jesus and going back to being a full-time commercial fisherman.  No, this was a one-time proposition, and you'll notice that we never read that Jesus rebukes Peter for coming up with the idea.  It's my thought-- and keep in mind this is only my thought because we can't know for sure-- that what motivated Peter to go out fishing that night was the pressure of uncertainty and waiting.  When you don't know quite what to do, the handiest thing can simply be to do the thing you know how to do best.

We can learn something from this.  When we know exactly what Jesus wants us to do in a situation, we should do it.  We should remember His resurrection and His power and fearlessly obey His word and His will.  It can be something as momentous and long-term as going overseas as a missionary or as momentary but equally significant as calling a friend to offer a word of comfort or stopping to smile and open a door for a stranger.  When the Holy Spirit of Christ is clearly leading you, obey.

But what about when life is just going on in the ordinary way?  What if we're uncertain what God's special will is for your life?  Remember that whatever you do and wherever you are, you belong to Christ, and He is risen.  Do your work, enjoy your family and friends, and take advantage of the good things of this world, including recreation and amusements, with thanksgiving and good sense.  Being a child of God doesn't dehumanize you or take you out of the world.  Knowing that Jesus is risen doesn't oblige you to live continually on some high plane of spiritual ecstasy.  In fact, what seems to be your ordinary work and play may be Christ's special mission for you.  But in everything, keep your eyes open and your ears attuned to perceive your Lord when He comes to you with the clear word of His will.  For you are His disciple, and His business with you isn't finished.  To you He certainly will come with His word and will, sometimes when you least expect it-- as we shall see in our reading.

So, the seven disciples launch the boat out onto the Sea of Tiberias (which we also call the Sea of Galilee) and get ready to fish.  But this night the luck is against them, or maybe they've lost their touch.  They fish all night and catch nothing.

And then dawn begins to break over the water.  Dimly in the morning light they can see a figure standing about a hundred yards away on the shore.  A voice calls out, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"  The Stranger seems to know they've had no luck; in fact, in the Greek this question is definitely put in the negative.  And the disciples have to admit, "No."  So the Stranger tells them to throw their net into the sea on the right side of the boat and they'll get some.

Ordinarily, this would be a silly thing for some random person to suggest to a bunch of commercial fishermen.  If the fishing was bad at night, it's going to be worse in the morning.  Are they beginning to wonder just Who this is that has commanded them?  At any rate, they comply.  And when they do, they can't haul in the net, so many large fish are in it.

Oh, my.  Oh, my!!  What memories would be going through the heads of Peter son of John and James and John the sons of Zebedee!  Three years before, as St. Luke tells us in chapter 5 of his Gospel, these men had had another night of fishing with no luck.  And in the morning the Rabbi Jesus came along.  They'd met Him before, as St. John tells us, down in Judea with John the Baptist.  The Baptist said He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But by the world's reckoning, Jesus was only a carpenter turned rabbi and no fisherman.  But He'd told them to push out and try again.  That time, Peter had grumbled a bit but did it to humor the Master.  Three years before, when they complied they also caught such a large number of fish the net began to break.  And now it was at the word of the Stranger on the shore, a tremendous catch is leaping into their net again.   John the beloved disciple cries out, "It is the Lord!"

But this time there's a difference.  Three years before when these things happened, Simon Peter fell at Jesus' knees and begged Him, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" But this time Peter grabs his cloak, jumps into the water, and wades to shore as fast as he can.  He's still a sinful man, but Peter now knows that in Jesus there was salvation, forgiveness, and love.  Regardless of the unfinished business in the boat and in his heart, he wants to be where Jesus is.

Brothers and sisters, let us run to Jesus, for He does not change.  He is the Son of God who rules over heaven and earth and everything in them.  The power He shows when He first calls us from our sins He still possesses when we are old both in years and in the faith. He is always able to use His authority for our good and His Father's glory.  What changes is we ourselves and our understanding of Him.  In our early years of walking with Christ we know Him a little, but He brings us on to know more and more.  Where once His holiness made us focus on the filth of our sin, He remakes us so we own His holiness as our only hope.  Like Peter who jumped out of the boat and waded to Jesus, we're still sinners; becoming totally free from of sin is unfinished business that won't be completed till we ourselves are raised to be like Christ.  But in His resurrection power He is working in us and for us, so that the sight of Him more and more will bring us gladness and joy.

The other six disciples continue to tow in the net full of fish.  When they arrive at the shore, they see that a charcoal fire is burning there, with fish already roasting on it, and bread as well.  Where could Jesus have got fresh fish so early?  This was a time and culture with no 24-hour grocery stores and no refrigeration.  He invites the disciples to bring some of the fish they've just caught, but He has no need of them.  The risen Christ is the Lord our Provider who requires nothing from our hand, but in His brotherly love He calls us to participate in His work.  Don't ever believe that without us, the Church on earth, the God who raised Jesus from the dead can do nothing.  If Christ our Lord wished it He could convert every one of His elect by the direct action of His Holy Spirit working in their hearts.  But in His grace and love He allows us to be His ambassadors and agents, bringing the food of His salvation through His word and sacrament, serving Him as we serve our neighbor in acts of comfort, encouragement, and relief.  But here in John 21 we see how Jesus told the disciples to come to breakfast and eat.  He took the bread and gave it to them.  He did the same with the fish.  Whatever we have to give comes from Him, and to Him we return our thanks and praise.

I'll have the privilege of filling your pulpit again in two weeks, and at that time, God willing, we will finish looking at this passage and see what it has to teach us about life and ministry in light of the resurrection.  Until then, I want you to consider that even though Peter seems to be the protagonist of this passage, the true central character is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the central figure of all of Scripture and all of history, and He has unfinished business with each and every one of us.

For we, too, are living in an in-between time as we wait for Christ's return.  God has credited with His righteousness, yet we still struggle with sin.  We look back to His resurrection and live our lives in the knowledge and joy of it, yet it won't be made perfect in us until we receive our new bodies and are made perfect in Him.  Nevertheless, whatever we do, whatever He calls us to, let us live open-eyed in hope, ready to obey His commands whatever they may be.  And whether our spiritual eyes see Him or not, whether we feel His presence with us or we don't, He is with us, He provides for us, and in His good time, His heavenly business with us will one day be complete.  Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"He Has Made His Light Shine Upon Us"

Texts: Psalm 118:14-29; John 20:19-31

CHRIST IS RISEN!  ("He is risen indeed!")

What a wonderful piece of good news!  This is what we believe and what we confess, the truth by which we are saved: That Jesus Christ died for our sins, and was raised in glory on the third day.

At least, I hope that is what we believe.  It's what we hope everyone we know and love believes.  But we can't take that for granted.  These days, people believe all sorts of things about life that aren't true.  They believe it's okay to give in to sin, even that it should be celebrated and given special rights.  They believe that there are all sorts of ways to gain eternal life.  They believe that truth is what they think it is, instead of what God says it is.

And they refuse to believe what is true.  The fact that God is the Creator and has the right to make the rules for creation.  The fact that sin is offensive to Him and we need a Savior to take away our sin and make us acceptable to Him.  The fact that Jesus Christ alone is that Savior, and outside of Him we have no hope now or in eternity.

There's a good chance most of us here have been Christians for years.  Maybe even from childhood.  It's hard for us to understand why it isn't obvious to others that Jesus Christ is Lord of life who is risen from the dead.

But our reading from the Gospel according to St. John reminds us that believing in Christ as our risen Savior is not automatic or obvious.  It wasn't even automatic or obvious to those who walked with Jesus as His closest disciples.  In verse 19 of chapter 20 we find them huddled together behind locked doors.  They're afraid of the Jewish authorities.  Sure, Mary Magdalene and the other women have brought the news that Christ is risen.  Peter and John have even been to the tomb and found it empty.  But they don't believe it.  As far as they're concerned, Jesus was still dead and their turn to die might come next.

And then there's Thomas, who declares frankly that he won't believe it unless he sees the resurrected Christ in person and can probe His crucifixion wounds.

All these men had walked with Jesus and seen what He could do.  All of them had heard Him say He would rise again.  All of them had heard testimony-- testimony from witnesses they should have believed--that their Lord had returned gloriously from the dead.  But they did not believe.  They could not believe.  As human beings with human limitations, it was impossible for them to believe.  But why?

First, for the same reason the unbelieving world rejects the truth of the resurrection today; the same reason that we too once didn't believe in Jesus risen: Because their minds were still blinded by sin.

The Scriptures tell us that we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.  Our eyes are closed to the vision of God and what's more, we like it that way.  We prefer to create our own worlds, our own reality, our own rules for right and wrong.  We want to be our own gods and our own saviors-- if we think we need to be saved from anything in the first place.  As Jesus said in chapter 3 of John's Gospel, unless we are born again from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot see the kingdom of God.  Unless God Himself intervenes in our spirits, we prefer darkness and won't come into the light for fear our evil deeds will be exposed.

But there's another reason why the disciples, why we human beings as human beings cannot believe in the risen Christ.  It's because God has reserved the right of converting us to Himself.  The new birth comes only from above. Becoming a child of God isn't something that can happen by human desire or initiative, but solely because God gives a person that right. God the Father must reveal to us who Jesus is, the Christ of God.  Spiritual truths are discerned by spiritual means only, by the power of God's Holy Spirit.  God has ordained that it should be this way, so the glory for our salvation and our growth in holiness should remain where it belongs, with Him alone.

And so here are the disciples in the 20th chapter of St. John, hiding and refusing to believe that Jesus had been raised until He  Himself came and stood among them, alive, risen from the dead.  "Peace be with you!" He said.  He showed them His hands and side, where they could see the wounds of the nails that fastened Him to the cross and the spear that pierced His body.  They saw, they believed, they were overjoyed.

We could say they believed because they saw the physical evidence.  And to some extent this is so.  In recent centuries many unbelieving scientists and lawyers, both atheists and men of other faiths, have looked at the historical, legal, and medical evidence for and against the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They've had to conclude that it really happened, that the gospel accounts are true.  However--  accepting the facts intellectually didn't lead all of them to believe in the resurrection of Christ and its power in their lives.  With some, yes, God used the physical evidence to open their spiritual eyes and bring them to saving faith and joy.  But for many others, having to accept the earthly reality of Christ risen has led to disappointment, anger, and rejection.   Their sin blinds them, and God in His sovereign will has not chosen that they should see His light and believe.

It is not the mere sight of a crucified man walking around alive that convinced the disciples that evening.  That could be explained away.  Rather, it is Jesus Himself who shines His light to bring belief and joy to His fearful followers.  By His resurrection power He overcame the locked doors.  He overcame the disciples' locked, fearful minds, and demonstrated that indeed it was He Himself standing in their midst.  Result?  Saving belief.  Reaction?  Joy!!

But what of Thomas' reaction when they tell him the good news?  He demands physical evidence in order to believe, and you can be sure that he doesn't believe the physical evidence is there.  

When you read Thomas' other statements in the Gospel of John, you'll see that his doubt does not arise from scientific skepticism.  Rather, Thomas is kind of a fatalist.  He's the one, when Jesus spoke of returning to the suburbs of Jerusalem to raise Lazarus,  "Let us also go, that we may die with him," because Jerusalem was the last place Jesus should go if He wanted to stay alive.  You've probably known people like Thomas.  They expect the worst, and the best pleasure they get out of life is being right when it happens.  

Not everyone who rejects the truth of Christ does so because they feel the facts are against it.  There are also people like Thomas who feel they can't believe in the good news of Jesus risen because it is good news.  Nothing so wonderful could possibly have happened.  Even if it had, it couldn't possibly make any difference to them.  No, it's a cruel, rotten world, they tell themselves, it even killed the best and holiest Man who ever lived, and you may as well accept that's the way things are.

Can people who disbelieve due to emotional hurt change their minds on their own?  No, they can't.  Thomas couldn't, our unbelieving friends and neighbors can't, and we couldn't ourselves.

But then Jesus came and stood among His disciples, including Thomas the sad doubter.  Miraculously, by His divine resurrection power He came, despite the doors that again were locked.  He knew Thomas' thoughts without being told.  He repeated the very words Thomas had spoken earlier in the week, saying, "Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting, and believe."  And miraculously, by the divine light of revelation, Thomas was thoroughly convinced.  He did not make the physical test of Jesus' wounds.  He didn't need to.  His spiritual eyes were opened, he believed, and confessed the truth about who Jesus was and who Jesus was to him.  "My Lord and my God!" he exclaimed.  God used the earthly sight of Jesus risen to work faith in Thomas' heart.

But Jesus tells him. "Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed."  To whom is our Lord referring?  I was moved to  research the Greek of this saying, and discovered that it can literally be translated "Blessed are the ones not having seen, yet having believed."  But the words "having seen" and "having believed" are in a tense that is not limited by time.  In other words, the action of not seeing, yet believing, that Jesus speaks of can happen in the past, in the present, or in the future.  Brothers and sisters, the blessing of knowing and believing in Christ risen for you is for you now, and for all whom God shall call to believe the message  preached and recorded by His faithful apostles.  It is the blessing and gift of God that we should believe, for He has shined His light upon us and called us out of darkness and doubt.

God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and we are raised from death and sin in Him!  How shall we respond?  With joy!  By falling at His feet and confessing, "My Lord and my God!"  By singing with the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 118, for he spoke as a prophet and looked forward to the ultimate salvation that would be found in God's own Son, the Messiah Jesus.

For the Lord is our strength and our song, He himself is our salvation.  He has made us righteous, and so we celebrate His victory over sin and death, not only on Easter Sunday but every Lord's Day of the year and all the days in between.  His right hand has won this great victory, the Lord has done this mighty thing, bursting forth from the grave.

And so in Him, we will not die, but live.  We will proclaim the wonders of what Christ has done, no matter who believes us or not, for our sins are forgiven; they no longer will lead us to death.

In Christ we can enter the gates of righteousness.  We can go into God's royal presence and give Him the thanks He deserves.  We can go where only the righteous may go, because Jesus Christ the Righteous One has gone before us and credited us with His goodness and holiness and made us acceptable to God.  He has answered our cry and has forever become our salvation.

The Psalmist refers to the stone the builders rejected that became the capstone.  This harks back to the building of Solomon's temple.  But it harks forward to Jesus Himself, who made it clear that He is the stone that was rejected.  Unbelief in Him did not start in this modern age, oh, no!  And unbelief did not and does not keep the Lord God from making His Son the capstone of all His plans for humanity.  He indeed has exalted Jesus Christ to the highest position of majesty and power, and His work is marvellous in our eyes.  This day of salvation, He alone has made it: let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Because Jesus is risen and because God has caused us to believe in the power of His resurrection, we can cry out, "O Lord, save us!" and know that He can and He will.  We can pray for success in walking in His ways, and know that His Spirit is with us so we can do just that.  Blessed is Jesus Christ who comes in the name of the Lord!  Forever let His Church bless Him!  And we can bless Him and not reject Him, for the Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us.

He brings us near to worship Him, where before we wanted to worship all sort of false gods; especially, we wanted to worship ourselves.  By the grace of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, He is our only God, and we will give Him thanks; He is our God and we will exalt Him.

Brothers and sisters, it can be hard living as a Christian in this world.  So many refuse to believe in our risen Savior, and people can be so noisy and aggressive in their unbelief.  What a temptation for us just to lock the doors and hide, like the disciples did in those early days.  But we shall not be afraid and we won't hide.  Rather, we can  have confidence in the power of God to shed His light upon this dark world and trust Him to enlighten the hearts He has chosen.  Remember what you were before He shined His light on you, and know that the hardest heart is not too hard for Him.  Let us lovingly and faithfully tell others that Jesus Christ is alive from the dead and let God do His work through His word.

Will they believe our message?  Maybe, maybe not.  All that is up to God alone.  But what ever happens, we can have faith that the Lord is good, for His love for us in Christ endures forever.  Give thanks to Him, give thanks, for Jesus Christ is risen!

(He is risen indeed!)

Alleluia, amen!