2nd Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2019
“The Reality of Easter”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our risen Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is a portion of our Gospel lesson from John 20, verses 24 through 29.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Last Sunday was a complete waste of our time. That would be the opinion of a group known as the “Jesus Seminar.” The Jesus Seminar does not believe that the resurrection ever happened. The Jesus Seminar’s founder believes that Jesus’ body was placed in a shallow grave and wild dogs ate His body which explains its disappearance. The Jesus Seminar considers the resurrection, the virgin birth, all the miracle accounts, and 82% of all of Jesus teachings “legendary (additions) with no historical foundations.” For example, the Jesus Seminar considers only 3 of the 9 Beatitudes as authentic and only two words of the Lord’s Prayer as authentic – “Our Father.” They believe the rest of the words were made up by someone else.
The Jesus Seminar’s founder, Robert Funk (deceased in 2005; Seminar defunct since 2006), calls Jesus a “secular (philosopher) who satirized the pious and championed the poor.” He also added that “Jesus was perhaps the first Jewish stand-up comic…starting a new religion would have been the farthest thing from his mind.” It’s ironic that a group called “Jesus Seminar” would have such a low opinion of Jesus! Sadly, Funk is not alone in his low opinion of Jesus and Christianity in general. It seems like these days we face more and more open attacks against Jesus and the Christian faith. The church is no longer the institution it used to be. Fewer and fewer people attend Easter morning services. Images of a burning and collapsed steeple at historic Notre Dame cathedral in France doesn’t help; perhaps that situation is a microcosm of the state of Christianity in Europe these days; still standing, but its heart has been damaged. There was the horrible Easter bombing massacre in Sri Lanka leaving more than 300 Christians dead. Back home, American churches rely on the old “bait and switch,” offering cars and mortgages, in order to get new worshippers in the door. It’s no wonder people are questioning. The church has left them in style and practice and theology. Is it any wonder they have questions and doubts? One of the oldest questions is before us today – did Jesus really rise from the dead? The Jesus Seminar would say “no,” but they’re dead themselves, so there’s that…
Of course, this is not a new question. In fact, a great majority of Jesus’ ministry was surrounded by unbelief, as there have always been questions about the identity and actions and authority of Jesus. Jesus came preaching and teaching as the Son of God (which He was), and very few believed in Him. Even His closest followers did not totally believe. Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, Mary Magdalene expected to find His dead body, and Thomas, well, Thomas demanded living proof before he would believe in the resurrection of the Lord.
And so we come to Thomas, whom we consider EVERY YEAR on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Thomas is often called “doubting” Thomas. This brand, however, is not a fair one for Thomas and neither is it a fair branding for us. It was not so much that Thomas doubted, rather he did not believe what the disciples reported to him. Thomas heard something that caused him call into question the authenticity of what he heard and what he knew. Thomas didn’t necessarily lack faith, he had concerns over what he had heard; maybe Thomas thought this was the first case of “fake news” ever recorded.
There are some BIG verses in John: 3:16, 14:6 (and 6 other “I AM” sayings), 19:30, 44. Perhaps the most important is John 20:31 – “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” As Christians we have faith, and faith always has an object. In our case, it’s Jesus of Nazareth…the Christ. Faith reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God and the very real and historical fact that Jesus rose again from the grave on that resurrection morning. Jesus is risen! He is risen just as He said He would! Sin is forgiven; death has been defeated! We know this as fact, and are confident in that undeniable truth.
Our faith in Jesus is not contingent on demands of proof. Thomas’s faith was, but he had the luxury of waiting to see if it were true or not. Neither you nor I have that luxury. Jesus has bodily ascended into heaven and we cannot stand around waiting to see if He walks into this room today and, if He does, it’s too late by the way. But do you know what? We can still see Him…and we do see Him. We see Him whenever His Word is proclaimed in all its truth and purity. We see Him in the very meal that He Himself provides yet again today. We cannot see His entire physical body, and yet we believe without having to see; “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.”
We were not there to see when the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus inside Mary, and yet we believe it occurred. We were not there that night with the shepherds in the fields who heard the Good News proclaimed of the birth of the Savior, and yet we believe it occurred. The hymn asks us, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and the answer is “no,” yet we believe it occurred. The reality of Easter is that we were not there when Jesus rose from the grave, and yet we know and believe it occurred. And those beliefs, our Christian faith, means everything, especially in the face of hardship and opposition either in your individual lives or the collective life of the Church.
Our sure and certain hope, our Christian faith, is not physically confirmed like Thomas’. But, like Thomas, we can confess “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). We have looked into the tomb of Christ through His Word and found that He has risen, we have known it and felt it in our hearts. What God has done for us in Christ is what we believe. That is our sure and certain hope – a hope that does not disappoint – for it is the hope for this life and the hope of the life to come.
Our faith in our resurrected Savior gives us conviction in the face of the disbelief of so many people today. It gives us certainty in the face of doubt by others. It gives us strength in the face of sinful temptation. Maybe the kid’s song that we know so well (hymn #588) says more than we realize: “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” EXACTLY! Thank you! As Christians we know what we believe and in whom we believe without seeing because God’s Word – the Bible – tells us so. And that is the truth – the reality – of Easter.