“Life in His Name”
Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
John 20:19-31 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=423201179 )
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt 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 come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is simple and straightforward:
"The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." (2016 Book of Discipline)
A disciple of Jesus Christ is a believer;
One who believes
That Jesus taught us how to live,
That Jesus died for to forgive our sins and to reconcile us with God and each other, and
That Jesus rose from the dead, bringing victory over death and the salvation of the world.
A believer comes to know that
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
There are numerous ways to come to believe
That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.
The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus,
As recorded in the Gospel of John,
Highlight a few that deserve our attention.
1. The first tactic is to have a physical encounter with the risen Jesus,
Like Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb,
Like his disciples on the first day of the week behind locked doors,
Like Thomas a week later,
Like Paul on the road to Damascus, one to five years later. (Acts 9)
When the risen Good Shepherd
Recognizes Mary, one of his own, by name,
It is no wonder Mary cries out “Rabbouni! (Teacher)”.
It is no wonder Mary enthusiastically complies with Jesus’ command,
Returned to his brothers,
Delivered his message, and proclaims
“I have seen the Lord!” (20:18)
As the Gospel of John reports,
Belief is complicated for those who see with their own eyes a resurrected corpse.
He stands among them.
The complicated become simple.
When the evidence of resurrection stands right before you,
Wounds from his hands and side gaping and raw,
It is no wonder the disciples rejoiced when they too saw the Lord,
And believed. (20:20)
When the one whose death and burial was witnessed
Now appears and stands before you a week later
It is no wonder Thomas gasps
“My Lord and my God!” (20:28)
My Lord … is a statement about the human Jesus who Thomas had followed,
Who lived, died, and had risen from the dead.
My God … is a profession of faith,
Witnessing to the fact that
God is inherently and completely present in the life of Jesus Christ.
Only God could do
What God has done.
Jesus ascended into heaven, and
With the exception of the conversion of Saul,
His personal appearances on earth ever since are few, and far inbetween.
I’d like to have a meet up with Jesus,
But I’ve never have had that personal,
One-to-one, face-to-face, let’s talk over coffee
meet up with Jesus.
I do look forward to meeting him someday,
At some point in the future, when I am welcomed home to glory.
How about you?
I would never doubt or second guess someone’s account
Of a personal encounter with Jesus.
After all, God is capable of all things.
It just hasn’t happened to me, and
I don’t believe the resurrected Jesus has made a personal appearance
To the majority of disciples in the Church today.
If only it was this simple.
2. The second tactic to come to belief
That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead
Is to be convinced by the testimony or witness from someone else.
This is where the Church must prove its faith today.
This is where the rubber meets the road,
Where our confession, witness, and testimony take on paramount importance.
Dearly beloved, call or get out of the booth.
Go big or go home.
The disciples, like Mary Magdalene,
Had a story to tell the absent Thomas.
“We have seen the Lord.”
Yet, just as it was complicated with the physical appearance of Jesus,
It is so much more complicated without evidence,
Without the reanimated corpse
Standing in front of you and
Calling you by name.
The skeptic inside us all
Draws on the experience of death,
Its biological confirmation,
its complete irreversible transformation from breath to corpse, that
Every one of us must be sympathetic to Thomas and his doubts.
“Unless I see …”
Unless I “put my finger in the mark of the nails” …
Unless I put “my hand in his side,
I will not believe.” (20:25)
I will not believe. Ouch.
How are we to overcome the stubborn refusal to believe?
How can we fulfill our mission?
How are we to bring people to the table of discipleship for the transformation of the world?
Strong arm tactics don’t work.
Think of all the kids forced to come to church
Who grew up vowing to never return.
Threats of hell and damnation don’t work.
Oh, they may work for a while;
But, in time, questions and curiosity overwhelm
Leaving behind a scorched cinder backslider of a person.
An exclusive, literal, fundamental belief doesn’t work;
Eventually, inconsistencies reveal a foundation built on sand.
Grace always trumps Law.
This is my testimony;
This is what has worked for me:
A laser focus on Jesus Christ, as reported in the Gospels.
An invitation to come clean, repent, to be forgiven, and start new.
Authentic love, that first comes from God, that builds and nurtures relationship, one person at a time.
Honesty and authenticity when speaking; I can only witness to the God of my experience, who I have come to know as Jesus.
Consistency in what I say and what I do.
A humble awareness of God’s amazing grace and eternal promise.
Our testimony and witness does bring non-believers and lukewarm believers to Jesus Christ.
Our testimony and witness warms hearts,
And draws people to the table.
Our testimony lights a fire and kindles it to burning passion.
Let’s you and me kindle the fire, and
Let God take it from there.
3. The third tactic to come to belief
That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead
Is to be filled and convicted by the Holy Spirit.
This is even more complicated, if that’s possible!
You and I can’t control the Spirit.
We can invite, cajole, petition, beg, plead, …
anything short of cutting off our right arm.
But we can’t control what God will do.
Nor should we touch that third rail of idolatry.
The Spirit moves where it chooses to move.
The Holy Spirit does what it chooses to do in God’s own due time.
When the Holy Spirit makes its presence known
All we can do is to sit back, be filled with awe, and give praise!
Unlike the author of Luke and Acts,
Who describes the descent of the Holy Spirit
As celebrated on Pentecost seven weeks after the resurrection,
The author of the Gospel of John relates the coming of the Holy Spirit
With the breath of Jesus on the first day of the week,
The evening of his resurrection.
“He breathed on them and said to them, “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.” (20:22b-23)
This, I can say:
I’ve seen some miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
I’ve experienced truly awesome work of the Holy Spirit in my own life.
The key for me is to sit on my skepticism,
Don’t fall for the temptation to try to explain away the circumstance,
Nor blame it on simply an emotional experience.
The key for me is to make room for the Holy Spirit in the world;
To enter, to work, and to have its way.
The key for me is to let God be God.
The method of belief and conversion is important from a tactical standpoint.
Tactics matter when we plan our
Outreach, evangelistic recruitment, and discipleship.
How do we bring people to conversion?
What the best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps we need to employ multiple tactics to cast a wider net?
When tactics are woven together according to God’s design
And our faithful actions,
We can begin to recognize God’s greatest, overarching strategy:
“That through believing
you may have life in his name.” (20:31)
Belief means life.
Belief is the key to life.
Belief is the well from which we draw to live a meaningful life.
Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
Is God’s longing desire that you and I may have everlasting life.