2nd Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s assigned Gospel text from John 20.
My dear friends,
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I was born in 1967 which means I remember the 1970s when I was a boy growing up in Nebraska. I remember the bicentennial of 1976 and what was called the “energy crisis.” I can remember long lines at the gas stations to fill up our car. I remember as a kid the big deal about turning down the thermostat…whatever that thing did. Yet despite the so-called “energy crisis,” I cannot ever remember us going without, well, anything. We always had heat and air conditioning and TV and food and cars. I don’t remember ever doing without…thanks be to God! But in America that has not always been the case.
I once read a book called “The Dirty Thirties,” and it might not be what you think; it’s not THAT kind of book! “The Dirty Thirties” is about the terrible winters and equally bad summers of the Dust Bowl years – the period of the early and mid 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of American families to abandon their farms. The book is a collection of memories of those who lived through those years and the hardships they endured. The book is full of common tales: little to no money, no plows to move snow, no warm clothing to keep out the cold and no air conditioning to keep away the stiffing and oppressive heat. Little to no crops. One writer from Columbus, NE finished her contribution with the statement “the good old days, you can have them. Nothing but hard work and doing without.” Those of you who also lived in that era just might echo her sentiment – “nothing but hard work and doing without.”
Now, in your mind go back not to the 1930s but to the 30s…30 AD. Jesus has risen from the dead – the first Easter. On Sunday evening our risen Lord came to the panicked and afraid disciples and brought not anger or accusations or blame, but peace. “Peace be with you” (John 19:21). But, for some reason, the disciple Thomas wasn’t with the others. Why not? I have no idea. I do know that it’s because of this narrative that we attach the label “doubting” to Thomas.
It’s only been 1 or 2 days without Jesus, and Thomas is already learning to do without Jesus. Instead of accepting the witness and testimony of his fellow disciples, Thomas remained skeptical and wanted proof (20:25). Thomas must “see and touch.” He must have verifiable, empirical evidence. It is not enough that he has the eyewitness of others – 10 other guys (3 was enough in court) – so until he has more, he will do without Jesus in his life. Doing without Jesus – doubt – robs people of the joy of the resurrection. Doubt keeps us locked in our fears.
Thomas was steadfast in his doubt and disbelief. Emphatically, a double negative in the original language, he said, “I will not, no way, believe” (20:25). But cannot we be the same way? When anger and anxiety and pain and strife and fear and stress rise up in life outside these walls, do we not act like Thomas and sinfully doubt God’s goodness and plan and presence and peace? Thomas robbed himself of the joy and peace that a risen Jesus offers! And haven’t you done the same this week? Haven’t you lived the same way this week? Haven’t you denied yourself Easter peace because you’re tangled in the events of daily living?
Then, 8 days later, everything changed. For Thomas, no more doing without. Jesus appeared to Thomas just as He does to all of us personally. He calls Thomas by name. He has come to remove doubt from the heart of Thomas; there is no need for Thomas to do without Jesus any longer. To a man filled with doubt and fear and who was wrestling with an existence apart from Christ, Jesus says instead, “Go ahead…see and touch. Look at my nail marks. Feel them. With these wounds I hung on the cross. With these wounds I suffered for your sins. With these wounds I secured your forgiveness. These nail marks are a sign of my victory over sin and death. Thomas, you don’t have to do without Me any longer, for I have done it all for you.”
When Thomas saw Jesus’ nail marks, his knees buckled from under him and he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” His doubt had given way to saving faith in Jesus. No doubt about it, Jesus IS risen from the grave. Jesus IS the Messiah. Jesus IS the Son of God. Jesus has “destroyed death.” Jesus lived 33 years – half the life expectancy of the Dust Bowl Era – before He was crucified and died, but He rose and lives forevermore. His people do not have to learn to do without Him, for Jesus is alive then, now, and forever more and will be with us always (Matt. 28:20)!
And then the Gospel lesson today ends with some of the most powerful words that John provides for us anywhere in the Scriptures: “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). And what does that mean…to you? Are you trying to live each day doing without the resurrected, living presence of God in your daily actions and decisions? Sure, maybe your current situation is less than ideal. Maybe your bank account isn’t the biggest and your health isn’t where you want/need it to be and your house isn’t the grandest and your electronic gadgets aren’t the newest, but is that what really matters? 50 years of life has taught me that stuff is just stuff; if you do without in some areas God will more than provide in others.
Friends, be thankful today for what you DO have – including the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and eternal salvation – and don’t obsess on what you have to do without. The summers and winters of the 1930s were bad…so I’ve heard and read. Summers and winters come and go. But tomorrow is a new day, a day to live and believe and celebrate that Jesus is the Christ for you and by believing in His life, His love, His forgiveness, and His salvation you will have life and have life in abundance (John 10:10). And no one can truly ever do without that. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!