Faith Founded on Fact
Quasimodogeniti Sunday Sermon| April 19, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. John 20, 24-29
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” St. John 20, 24-29
Thomas did not believe the apostolic word. The apostles had spoken to him with Jesus’ authority. They had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They were officially designated spokesmen for Jesus. But when they told Thomas that they had seen Jesus he refused to believe.
Thomas demanded proof. Jesus gave it to him. But first, he chided him for his unbelief. He said that those who believe without seeing proof are blessed. He made it clear that his Church would be established on the authority of the apostolic testimony. Christ gave the ministry of the word to the apostles. He also gave to the apostles the task of writing the New Testament Scriptures.
Both the ministry of the word and the New Testament Scriptures are apostolic. Preachers are to preach what the apostles preached. There is no other legitimate Christian preaching. The apostolic writings of the New Testament are God’s written word. We do not accept the various Gnostic Gospels that have been popularized in recent years because they are not apostolic. Jesus gave the apostles the authority to speak in his name and to write his words. St. John concludes this section of his Gospel, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
One might wonder why Jesus gave Thomas the proof he demanded. It was not faith that demanded proof. It was unbelief. Thomas should have been content to accept the word of the apostles. Why did Jesus acquiesce to a demand that rejected the very testimony to which he binds his Church? Surely, he wasn’t encouraging unbelief. He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Everything written in the Bible is for our benefit. It is for our benefit that Jesus gave to Thomas the proof he was seeking. Faith does not demand to see, but faith is based on fact.
The Christian faith is grounded in history. The miracles of Jesus were witnessed by reliable men who wrote down what they had seen. The greatest miracle of all was Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The resurrection is an historic event. It happened.
There have always been those who have denied the resurrection of Christ. They deny Christ’s resurrection because they don’t believe in the resurrection of the body. But apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Christian faith is utter foolishness. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, 12-19,
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
The denial of the resurrection rejects the clear facts. The facts prove the resurrection. St. Paul records that Jesus was seen by over five hundred people at the same time. All of the apostles saw him. He appeared to the women who had watched him die.
The risen Lord Jesus was not a ghost or a spirit. He had a real body. St. Luke records that he ate fish and honey. Here in our text it is plain that he is no apparition. He rose bodily from the dead. He displayed the scars he received in his suffering and dying. There can be no mistake that the Jesus who suffered on the cross is the same Jesus who rose bodily from the dead and appeared to the disciples.
When Thomas denied the resurrection he was denying Christ. If Jesus had remained dead he would have been a false prophet because he said he would rise. If Jesus had remained dead he would be nobody’s Redeemer for he could hardly have taken away the world’s sin if the sin he bore had left him dead. Jesus’ resurrection proves he told the truth. It proves he is the Son of God. Thomas confessed this when he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves that his crucifixion really did take away sin. This is why Jesus showed to Thomas the marks of his crucifixion in his hands and side. When Jesus was suffering he was paying the price for our redemption. He was setting us free by the payment of his innocent life in the place of our guilty lives. This is what brought back innocence to the human race.
Then, when he rose and appeared to his disciples he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the beginning, God breathed in Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul. The words breath and spirit are the same, both in Genesis and in St. John’s Gospel.
When Adam was created he was created filled with the Holy Spirit. All that he did was good because he was good. Before the fall into sin when Adam and Eve did what came naturally to them to do it was good and pure and wholesome. After the fall, when we do what comes naturally we do what is sinful.
This is why we need Jesus to breathe the breath of the Holy Spirit on his Church. In dying he took away all sin. In rising he has forgiveness to give. This forgiveness is the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new life. The source of this forgiveness is Christ’s suffering. This is why Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds.
The wounds of Jesus are not a magical sort of power by which miracles can be performed. They are rather the bodily evidence – the visual evidence – that Jesus did what he set out to do. The wounds he suffered on the cross are clearly visible on the risen body of Jesus. This proves that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is a real historical event. It is no myth. It is historical.
The Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery was an atheist who set out to disprove the Christian faith by disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As a lawyer, he employed legal evidence in his efforts. But instead of disproving the historicity of the resurrection, he proved it. He later became a Christian. The resurrection is an historical fact.
But more than an historical fact, the resurrection validates the gospel in which we trust. Why did Jesus display his wounds to the doubting Thomas? It would have been a small matter for the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ to have rid his body of unsightly scars. Here is a man who can walk through walls. He can choose to be wherever he wants to be and then be there by the simple act of his own will. There is nothing he cannot do. So why does he retain the scars?
His scars teach us. The evidence of Jesus’ suffering remains on his risen body. We are to think of Jesus as the One who suffered for us. We are to think of Jesus as the One who died for us. Whenever we think of Jesus we are to take to heart the authority he gave to his disciples after rose from the dead.
Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the authority of his Church to forgive sins. When the minister of Christ tells the openly unrepentant sinner that his sins are bound and not forgiven it is Jesus Christ who is saying so. When the minister of Christ tells the penitent sinner that his sins are forgiven it is Jesus Christ who is saying so. You should never doubt that the absolution spoken by the pastor is from God himself. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees it.
In cases of need, any Christian may hear the confession of a fellow Christian and pronounce absolution. This absolution comes from Christ. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Any Christian – anyone who has received the Holy Spirit – has the authority from Christ to absolve the penitent.
But Christ has also with these words established an office or position within the Church. We call it the pastoral office. In the Bible pastors are called a variety of things: elders, bishops, ambassadors, teachers, even angels. The duty of this office is to preach God’s law and God’s gospel. The law accuses and convicts us all. It condemns us. It doesn’t enable us to do what it requires. It demands pure and holy love. It makes no suggestions. It demands. It threatens God’s anger. The pastor must preach the law. The law is especially intended for sinners who are confident of themselves and need to repent. The purpose of the law is to crush the conscience and leave the sinner helpless in his own estimation.
The preacher who preaches only the law is a faithless man who has no right to be in the pulpit. For all the law can do is to kill and condemn to hell. The Christian preacher preaches Christ crucified for sinners. He points the sorrowing sinner to the wounds of Jesus. He explains how Jesus’ suffering takes away all sin. He tells the guilty sinner who wants forgiveness that Christ has won forgiveness for him. He speaks the words of Christ to those suffering from guilt so that through those words the Holy Spirit may set them free.
The historicity of the resurrection of our Lord is no historical detail. It is the foundation of our hope. Our faith is founded on fact. The gospel we hear and trust is true. Jesus showed himself risen from the dead and he guarantees it. Amen