Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen and Have Believed
Easter One Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 18, 2004| John 20:19-31
When Jesus provided proof of His resurrection to Thomas He provided proof to us as well. “Seeing is believing.” While Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” He nevertheless did show Thomas precisely what Thomas, in his unbelief, insisted on seeing.
The resurrection of Jesus is a real, historical event. It was not an event that only faith could see. Christ’s appearance to Thomas makes that crystal clear. Jesus said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And then, when Thomas confessed Jesus as his Lord and God, Jesus replied, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.” This means that before Thomas saw Jesus he did not believe. Faith was not required to see Jesus after He rose from the dead. It was not a “faith event” as some confused people imagine. It was an historical event.
Had you been there with a video camera, you could have recorded Jesus walking out of the tomb. You could have taken a picture. When Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first Easter, the doors were shut. He did not open a door to get into the room. He did not need to open a door. But this does not mean that He was only a spirit without a body. He showed to them clear proof that He rose bodily from the dead. He showed them the wounds that He had suffered in dying. He showed them the nail marks in His hands and He showed them the wound in His side where the Roman soldier pierced Him and out of which water and blood flowed. By seeing these wounds the disciples could see that Jesus was standing before them in the same body that had suffered and died for them on the cross.
The risen Lord Jesus is always the crucified Lord Jesus. The crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ cannot be separated. They are bound together historically. The same people who witnessed His death witnessed His resurrection. The reason that the Jews and the Romans could not debunk the resurrection is not because nobody tried. It was because there were too many witnesses. St. Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to over five hundred Christians at the same time. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is an historical event with far more attestation that the vast majority of historical events that happened so long ago. Jesus provided to the disciples and through them to us the historical proof of His resurrection. The resurrection of Christ from the dead on Easter Sunday is just as much an historical fact as is His crucifixion on Good Friday.
The crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ are bound together historically. And they are also bound together theologically. He died for our sins. He rose for our justification. If we do not see our need for forgiveness of sins, we will not understand the death and resurrection of Christ. He died because God reckoned to Him the guilt of our sins so that Jesus would pay for them. He rose because He fully paid for our sins. Had He failed to do so, He could not have risen from the dead. The wages of sin is death. If Jesus, in bearing our sins did not fully page their wages, He would have remained dead in the grave. The fact that He rose from the dead proves that He took away the sins for which He suffered. They are gone. This is what justification means. God justifies or forgives us for Christ’s sake. His resurrection declares this to us.
What does Jesus say when He appears to His disciples? He says, “Peace be with you.” He speaks words of peace. The Old Testament calls the promised Savior “Shiloh” or Man of Peace. And so He is. He makes peace on the cross by bearing the cause of all enmity between God and man. He reconciles us to God by taking away our sin. He speaks a real peace. He isn’t just talking. He is giving. When Jesus says “Peace be with you” He is giving peace by saying the words.
Then He goes on to tell the apostles that even as the Father sent Him, He is now sending them. They are to speak the words Christ gives them to speak. He breathes on them and gives to them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. So the preachers must preach the truth that the Holy Spirit reveals. This truth is both law and gospel. The law is words that retain the sins of those that are not sorry for their sins and refuse to repent. The gospel is words that forgive the sins of those that are sorry for their sins and desire forgiveness from Christ. The same Jesus who bore all of our sins and rose from the dead having fully blotted our sins out by His vicarious suffering is the Jesus who speaks to us today through the preaching of the law and the gospel.
The apostles were the first preachers. Jesus put them into office by breathing on them the Holy Spirit. The preachers who came after the apostles were put into office by means of the laying on of the hands of those who were already in the office. We call this ordination. While Jesus instituted the office into which men are ordained, He didn’t personally ordain the first incumbents of this office. He breathed the Holy Spirit directly into them.
This was to teach us that the office the preachers hold does not belong to the preachers alone. It belongs to everyone who has the Holy Spirit. If need be, any Christian can forgive sins by the command of Christ. And if you had no preachers to preach God’s word Christians could choose from themselves qualified Christians to preach because they have the authority to do so. The authority to do so comes from the Holy Spirit.
Those who publicly preach, teach, and administer the sacraments can do so only because they are sent to do so. Jesus sent or called the first preachers directly. Since then, the pastors have been sent or called by God indirectly, that is, through the church. Since the office of forgiving and retaining sins belongs to the whole church, the call from the church is the call from Christ. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He says this not only to the original preachers that He called directly, but He says this as well to all subsequent preachers that He calls through the call of His church. This is how your pastor knows that He has the authority to preach the law and the gospel to you. God gave him this authority and God did so through His church.
And that’s the only authority God gave to the pastor as the pastor. He cannot teach you what kind of politics you should support or which presidential candidate to vote for. He has no business telling you how to do whatever job God has called you to do. Chances are you know your job a whole lot better than any pastor you’ve had or will have. But when Jesus breathed on His disciples and commanded them to forgive and retain sins, He was talking to the whole church and that means us. We must have preachers to preach the law and the gospel and we must hear their words as if Jesus Himself were speaking them. Jesus is speaking these words. As He said to seventy preachers He sent out during His earthly ministry, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16)
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is not saying there was nothing to see. He rose bodily from the dead and hundreds of witnesses saw it. The New Testament was written by eyewitnesses of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The reason we are blessed without seeing is because what we see with our own eyes can often deceive us, while the words of Jesus cannot deceive us.
The forgiveness of sins can be considered in three ways: How it is gained for us; how it is given to us; and how we receive it. Forgiveness of sins is gained for us by Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus did not give to the disciples an authority that He had not earned. He earned the right to forgive sinners by taking upon Himself the sin of all sinners. When we think of forgiveness as it is gained for us, we must look to the holy life and innocent death of Jesus where He labored hard and long for the right to forgive sins. He purchased the right to forgive us with His own blood.
The forgiveness that Jesus gained for us is the same forgiveness He gives to us. He gives it to us in the words that He speaks to us through the men He puts there to speak those words. Should there be no pastor to speak the words of Jesus that give forgiveness to us, we can hear these words from any Christian. We need to hear the words. Jesus gives us what He won for us when He speaks to us the words of the gospel.
Most Lutherans do not go to private confession anymore, though they most certainly have the right to do so. Any member of this congregation may visit the pastor for the purpose of receiving from him the words of Jesus’ forgiveness. If there is a sin that bothers your conscience and you want to hear the words from Jesus that give to you forgiveness for that specific sin, you may go to your pastor and ask him to speak those words to you as Christ’s servant. He may never tell anyone what you confess because you are confessing to Jesus who took your sins away. You go to the pastor not because he needs or wants to know of your sins. You go to the pastor because Jesus has given you your pastor to speak to you God’s word. That’s his job. His job is not to judge you, though God’s law always judges. His job is to speak God’s word to you. We need to hear the words that Jesus speaks, and He doesn’t speak directly to our hearts or through angels. He speaks through men who are just as sinful as you are, who have the same doubts, the same weaknesses, and the same need for forgiveness that every Christian has.
The forgiveness that Jesus gained for us on Calvary and that He gives to us through His spoken word benefits no one unless it is received. It is received by faith alone. When we believe what the words say we have what the words give. To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to have life in His name is to believe that Jesus, the Son of God, forgives us all our sins and promises us eternal life. Jesus and the forgiveness of sins go together. You cannot have the one without the other. The giving of Christ’s forgiveness is for the purpose of the receiving of that same forgiveness. We cannot receive what is not given to us to receive. This is why we need the word spoken to us. None of us can see anyone else’s faith or give faith to anyone. Only God can. We cannot see faith any more than we can see Jesus. But Jesus keeps speaking the words that bring us to faith. And Christians keep listening.