************ Sermon on John 20:29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 23, 2000
"Stop Doubting and Believe"
Title: Believing Only What You See
It was an early summer afternoon, and the battlefield was quiet. The young German soldier was new to the trenches of World War I. He was given a rifle and told to keep his head down because there were enemy snipers on the other side waiting for a target to shoot at. The young soldier had a hard time believing in enemy snipers he did not see or hear.
Suddenly a butterfly fluttered into view and alighted on the ground almost at the end of his rifle. It was a strange visitor to a battleground, so out of place. But it was there, a gorgeous creature with wings like gold splashed with crimson swaying in the warm breath of spring.
As the youngster watched the butterfly, he was no longer a private in a field-gray uniform. He was a boy once more, fresh and clean, swinging through a field in sunny Saxony, knee-deep in clover, buttercups, and daisies. That strange visitor to the front-line trenches recalled to him the joys of his boyhood, when he had collected butterflies.
He forgot the unseen enemy a few hundred yards across no man's land. He forgot the danger. He had eyes only for what he could see--the lovely butterfly. He reached out toward it; his fingers moved slowly, cautiously, lest he frighten away this visitor to the battlefield. But showing one kind of caution, he forgot another. The butterfly was just beyond his reach--so he stretched, forgetting that unseen watchful eyes were waiting for a target.
He brought himself out slowly, with infinite care and patience, until now he had just a little distance to go. He could almost touch the wings that were so lovely. And then a sniper's bullet found its mark. The stretching fingers relaxed, then dropped flat on the ground. For the private soldier in field-gray, the war was over.
You've heard the expression: "Seeing is believing," or "I will believe it when I see it." That's the attitude of the unknown soldier – he believes what he sees, and what he doesn't see he doesn't worry about. Throughout history, that's been the attitude of thousands. And, in our Scripture reading, we see that is the attitude of Thomas. Thomas accepts only what he can see and touch and somehow measure and weigh. Because of this attitude, the unknown soldier lost his life. And because of this attitude, many lose eternal life.
I The Doubt of Thomas
A By nature Thomas is a skeptic and a pessimist (cf Jn 11:16; 14:5). This attitude comes across so clearly in the scene before us. When Jesus appears to the disciples, Thomas is not present. The disciples know it is Jesus in the flesh, and not some ghost or spirit, because He shows them His hands and side. The disciples tell Thomas that Christ has risen, He has risen indeed, because they have seen Him.
When Thomas hears their report, he refuses to believe. In the original Greek, Thomas uses a double negative which, when translated literally, means, "I will never believe." Thomas does not accept the word of the other disciples; he doubts their sanity and questions their sight. He says,
(Jn 20:25) "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."Notice, Thomas asks for more than what was offered to the other disciples. Jesus showed the other disciples His hands and side, and they rejoiced and believed at this sight of the Lord. But Thomas, he wants both to see and to feel and then he will believe in the risen Lord.
B Thomas is to be reprimanded and rebuked, first, for doubting the word of his fellow disciples. He has lived and walked with them for 3 years now. He has come to know them and trust them. Yet, he refuses to believe what they tell him about the risen Lord.
Second, Thomas is to be condemned for insisting on proof, on a sign, on a miracle which shows that Jesus really is alive. When the other disciples see Jesus, they believe; but that is not good enough for Thomas. He will believe only if he can see and touch. Earlier, at Cana in Galilee, Jesus condemned the sort of attitude displayed by Thomas.
(Jn 4:48) "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," says Jesus, "you will never believe."Thomas is like those people at Cana. He wants something spectacular, wondrous, and miraculous before he will believe that Jesus really is alive.
But hasn't Thomas already seen and heard enough? He was with Jesus when Jesus raised from the dead the widow of Nain's son (Lk 7:14). He was with Jesus when Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave (Jn 11:43). He was a disciple of Jesus when Jairus' daughter was called back to life by Christ (Mk 5:41). Thomas heard from the lips of Jesus at least 3 predictions of His death and resurrection (Mk 8:32, 9:32, 10:33). Thomas knows that the Old Testament speaks about the Christ's resurrection (Ps 16:10). Thomas was present when Peter made His great confession: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). Thomas has seen all this, heard all this, knows all this, and yet he demands a sign before he will believe.
C In His appearance, Jesus identifies Thomas' problem. "Stop doubting and believe," He says. Since then, the church has had a nickname for this disciple. He is called "the doubting Thomas." Literally, what Jesus says is, "Stop being an unbeliever and be a believer." That's what doubt is – being an unbeliever. Thomas sounded like, acted like, and thought like the unbelieving Jews. He was a doubter. He knew better. Yet, he refused to believe. He doubted the testimony of his friends and companions. He doubted the truth of the Scriptures. He doubted the prophecies of Christ. He doubted the miracles he had seen with his own eyes.
My brothers and sisters, are you like Thomas? Do you doubt the express testimony of Scripture? Do you demand a sign before you believe? Do you have a "wait and see attitude," a "bring me the proof attitude"? I hope and pray that none of us are like Thomas. I hope and pray that none of us doubt what is written in Scripture. For don't forget, to doubt is to disbelieve; to doubt is to adopt the mindset of the unbelieving. To doubt is to forfeit salvation.
II The Faith of Thomas
A One week later Thomas and the other disciples are in the same house. It is exactly the same situation as before: they are meeting secretly because of the Jews, the door is locked, the windows are blocked, and once again Jesus suddenly appears in their midst.
After greeting and blessing those assembled, Jesus turns to Thomas and says,
(Jn 20:27) "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side."Here is the proof that Thomas demanded. Thomas has the chance to prove to and for himself that Jesus really is alive. Jesus also says, "Stop doubting and believe." Or, to put it another way, "Show yourself as a believer rather than as an unbeliever."
B It turns out that Thomas is not quite the skeptic that he thought he was. At the sight, and possibly the sound, of Jesus all doubt is removed and unbelief is chased away. As Jesus puts it in our text, "Because you have seen me, you have believed." It is enough for Thomas to see and hear Jesus. He doesn't have to touch and feel Jesus. He doesn't have to probe into the wounds. Instead, he sees, he hears, and he says, "My Lord and my God!" Here we see that a skeptic becomes convinced, a doubter stops doubting, an unbeliever begins to believe.
And what a beautiful profession of faith it is that Thomas makes: "My Lord and my God." Thomas says to Jesus what the psalmist says to God (Ps 35:23). Thomas sees the resurrected Christ and he makes a tremendous leap of faith. He recognizes in Jesus Someone Who, besides the Father, is deserving of worship and praise. He recognizes in Jesus Someone Who, as Master and King, deserves our life, our breath, our all. Now is fulfilled what Jesus had said much earlier: "that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father" (Jn 5:23).
III Faith Without Sight
A John 20 gives us 4 instances of those who see and believe! First, it mentions John who comes to faith not by seeing Jesus Himself but by seeing the empty burial wrappings. Second, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize and confess Him as Lord until He calls her name. Third, the disciples see Jesus and they believe. Fourth is Thomas; he also sees Jesus and believes, but only after insisting on a sign. As Jesus says in our text, "Because you have seen me, you have believed."
B In our text of verse 29 Jesus also tells us about another kind of faith: "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Up to this point in the Gospel, there has been only one type of faith or belief: a belief that has arisen because one has seen the glory of the resurrected Christ. But when Jesus leaves this earth and goes to the Father in heaven, there will be and there must be a new kind of faith: a belief without having a visible encounter with the resurrected Christ.
That's the kind of faith you and I are to have.
You and I don't have the benefit of seeing and hearing the resurrected Christ the way Thomas, Mary, John, and the other disciples did. You and I are called upon to believe without seeing.
The Apostle Peter talks of this kind of faith in his first letter to God's elect:
(1Pt 1:8-9) Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Imagine the events of Christ's life as taking place on a stage. On the stage with Jesus are Mary, the disciples, and Thomas. The other people of Jesus' day are in the audience listening and watching. You and I, however, are in a far off room where we can not see or hear what is happening on the stage. We follow the events on the stage by reading about what has happened. And, we are not given a full account either; we are given only the highlights. Unlike the people of Jesus' day, we don't have the benefit of sight, touch, taste, sound, or smell to convince us that Christ has risen, He has risen indeed, alleluia.
Your faith and my faith, my brothers and sisters, can not depend upon sight. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, "We live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). We can not even depend on eyewitnesses and the apostles for they have long since passed from the scene. We have to live by a faith that does not see what we believe. We witnessed neither the resurrection nor the resurrected Christ, yet we are still to believe that Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.
Topic: FaithLike the little girl, we have to believe without seeing. We have to believe in the risen Lord without seeing the risen Lord.
In Paduka, Kentucky at Mt. Piska Church, there was a preacher with a 6 year old daughter. One day the daughter was admonished by her mother not to stick her finger in the lamp socket because electricity could hurt her. She dropped a cookie on the floor and was admonished by her mother to put it in the garbage because there now were germs on it. This time the preacher's little daughter stomped her foot and said, "Electricity, germs, and Jesus. That's all I hear about and I have never seen any of them."
If you think about it, you will realize that almost everything about our religion comes down to faith rather than sight. Without seeing we also have to believe:
-that there is a God
-that God made the universe out of nothing
-that Christ right now sits at God's right hand
-that there is a heaven and a hell
-that there is a Spirit, and that He makes His home in our heart
-that there is forgiveness, but only by the blood of Christ
-that there is a resurrection of the body
-that there is life everlasting for those who believe.
Faith without sight – that's what you and I are called to have. Believing without seeing – that's what you and I are called to do. This should be nothing new to us. After all, that is the definition of faith:
(Heb 11:1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
C How do we get this kind of faith, a faith that believes without seeing? And, how come Thomas didn't have this kind of faith? How come he believed only after seeing?
Two things are necessary to have this kind of faith. First, we need the Spirit with us and in us (John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). Without the Spirit it is impossible to believe without seeing.
Second, the Spirit produces faith – faith that believes without seeing – when we assemble together in worship to hear the Word (cf Rom 10:17; 1 Pt 1:23-25). Here Thomas is to be condemned. We notice that Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week, on the Lord's Day, as they were assembled together for worship and prayer. Where was Thomas? He was missing. Thomas was not with them, so he did not see the Lord or hear His Word. That's why Thomas did not believe. That's why Thomas was filled with sorrow over Jesus' death. Heaviness of heart always stays and is never removed when we avoid worship and prayer. There is much spiritual weakness among Christians because of irregular church attendance.
It isn't until one week later, again on the Lord's Day, again during worship and prayer, that Jesus reappears and invites Thomas to touch and see. Christ could have appeared to Thomas sooner, but why should He? The testimony of his fellow disciples should have been enough. Likewise, Christ can speak to you and me in spectacular miracles, but why should He? He has ordained the ministry of the Word through the operation of the Spirit to give us faith.
How, then, do we believe without seeing? How, then, do we have faith without sight? Very simple, really: by going to church, by hearing the Word. Through the operation of the Spirit this is how God produces faith within us. Through the operation of the Spirit this is how we can say, "Christ has risen, He has risen indeed. Alleluia!"
D Did you notice how Jesus praises and blesses those who believe without seeing? "Blessed are those," says Jesus, "who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus praises those of the new covenant who, though they do not see Him, still proclaim Him as Lord and God. They are dear in the sight of God. There is a special blessing reserved for those with a faith which can trust absolutely. Jesus praises and rewards those with a belief which does not need to "see" at every turn. Jesus praises those who without seeing can still say and confess, "Christ has risen, He has risen indeed. Alleluia!"
Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Subtopic: Example of
Sweeping across Germany at the end of World War II, Allied forces searched farms and houses looking for snipers. At one abandoned house, almost a heap of rubble, searchers with flashlights found their way to the basement. There, on the crumbling wall, a victim of the Holocaust had scratched a Star of David. And beneath it, in rough lettering, the message:
I believe in the sun--even when it does not shine;
I believe in love--even when it is not shown;
I believe in God--even when He does not speak.
Do you have this kind of faith? Do you believe without seeing? Are you convinced of what you believe? If so, Jesus praises you and blesses you. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." "Blessed are those who without seeing can still say and confess, 'Christ has risen, He has risen indeed. Alleluia'"
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page