Sunday April 19th 2020
Psalm 16:5-11; Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Pastor Galen Zook
I’ll Believe It When I See It
Two months ago, if you had told me that businesses, restaurants, and schools would all be shut down, that grocery stores would be completely out of toilet paper, and that we would all be walking around with masks on our faces, I’m pretty sure I would have told you, “I’ll believe it when I see it!” Even now, the whole situation that we find ourselves in due to the Coronavirus pandemic feels rather surreal and hard to believe.
Many of us have probably said something along the lines of “I’ll believe it when I see it” at various points in our lives. Even the most gullible among us often demand some sort of physical evidence when we’re confronted with the most implausible of scenarios.
The apostle Thomas, one of Jesus’s core inner 12 disciples, who followed Jesus for 3+ years, listening to his teachings and watching him heal people and do miracles, was understandably skeptical when his fellow disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas had not been there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples, and he refused to believe it until he saw Jesus for himself.
The idea of someone rising again from the dead was not completely unheard of. Jesus had raised several people back to life during his ministry here on this earth. Thomas had even seen it happen. But the idea of someone resurrecting himself from the dead seemed completely impossible. How could Jesus, as wonderful and powerful as he was, raise himself from the grave? It seemed to defy all logic.
Not only that, but the type of resurrection that Jesus experienced was a resurrection unlike any other. In his resurrected body, Jesus was apparently able to walk through walls and appear and disappear out of nowhere. The other disciples had told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them in the room, when all of the doors and windows were locked. He just appeared out of nowhere, spoke to them, and then disappeared again.
To Thomas this probably sounded more like a ghost story than a resurrection story. And so he said, “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” (John 20:25).
Thomas wanted to touch Jesus, to put his fingers in the holes where the nails had been driven through his hands and his feet. Only then would he know that Jesus was truly risen and that it was not some sort of spirit that was haunting his friends, or some sort of figment of their imagination.
Thomas wanted physical, tangible proof if he was going to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. And the surprising thing to me is that Jesus gave it to him!
Jesus didn’t get offended or criticize Thomas for his unbelief. He wasn’t hurt that Thomas wanted to see him in the flesh. Instead, Jesus showed up, he revealed himself to Thomas and the other disciples, he invited Thomas to see and touch his hands, to reach out his hand and put it in his side. He met Thomas in his doubt and disbelief, and he invited him to believe.
Blessed are Those who have Not Seen and Yet Believe
Of course, Jesus does go on to say that those of us who have never seen Jesus in the flesh and yet believe are blessed — happy. I don’t think that he said that as some sort of snide passive-aggressive rebuke aimed at Thomas.
Rather, Jesus was acknowledging that it’s difficult to believe in something that you have never seen, and so if we have been given the faith to believe without seeing, then we are indeed blessed.
Just as we believe in the wind even though we can’t see it, because we feel it and we see the effects of the wind, so too many of us have felt the effects of Jesus in our lives.
Perhaps you’ve been freed from fear, or anxiety, or addiction. Perhaps you’ve become kinder, or gentler, or more humble since Jesus has come into your life. Perhaps you’ve become more loving, merciful, or more grace-filled since you’ve received God’s forgiveness. Maybe there are other ways that you’ve felt the effects of Jesus’s resurrection in your life, and even though you haven’t seen him, you know that he’s alive because you’ve experienced Jesus in your life. Blessed — happy — are you!
For others, perhaps you’ve analyzed all of the data and the facts, and you’ve arrived at the logical conclusion that Jesus is alive. Just as we believe that certain historical figures are real based upon the detailed documentation of historians, and just as we believe certain events based upon the first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses, so too many of us rely upon the testimonies of those who have come before us. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus, you believe. Blessed — happy — are you!
As I shared last week during the Easter message, for me, the idea that the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection was entrusted to women in a time when the testimony of women was not permissible in court leads me to conclude that the earliest disciples would never have fabricated such an account, and it’s one of the reasons that I believe it must be trust.
In the same way, Jesus’s male disciples are often depicted as skeptical, and prideful, and even disloyal to Jesus throughout the New Testament Gospel accounts. Why would they have ever chosen to depict themselves in that way unless it were true, and their lives had been utterly transformed by the power of the risen Christ?
All of this leads many of us to believe in Jesus’s resurrection, even though we haven’t seen him in the flesh. We believe based upon the testimony of others, or because we’ve experienced Jesus directly working in our lives. And because we believe even though we’ve never seen him, Jesus calls us blessed — happy.
Seeing the Risen Christ
Of course there are many in our world who struggle to believe, and it’s understandable. Many have never experienced the power of the risen Christ at work in their lives — or at least they have not recognized it to be so. Perhaps they don’t know any believers, or perhaps the believers they have met have not seemed so credible.
For many people, the conclusion that Christ has risen is not so logical, or not so obvious. In order to believe they need to see the risen Christ in the flesh. Like Thomas, they need to touch him, to see him, to experience him for themself in order to believe.
But how they can do this, when Jesus has ascended back into heaven and no longer seems to be making physical appearances on this earth? How can we as the Church show the world the risen Christ? What proof can we offer to them that Jesus is alive?
The Body of Christ
Well, one of the most intriguing metaphors in the Bible is to the Church as the “Body of Christ.” In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27), and the book of Ephesians tells us, “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23).
Throughout the New Testament we see references of this sort that indicate that we, collectively as members of Christ’s church, are to be the physical, tangible presence of Christ in this world.
And, just as Jesus was filled with God’s holy spirit, so too Jesus breathed on his disciples and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). As followers of Christ, we have been filled with God’s spirit, and we have been sent forth to be the living, breathing proof to the world that Jesus has risen.
While we may not be able to convince everyone that Jesus has risen, we provide further proof and evidence to the risen Lord when we live lives that are different from the world around us. When we love like Jesus loved, and serve like Jesus served, we proclaim Jesus to the world. When we gather on Sunday morning (the day that Jesus rose from the grave) for worship, whether here in our church building, or at home watching the livestream, we remember and proclaim that Christ has risen. When share our food with those who are hungry, when we serve at our Food Pantry even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when we call someone who is lonely to check in on them to make sure they are OK, when we love our family members and sacrificially put their needs before our own, we proclaim with our words and deeds that Jesus has risen.
Yes, we as Christ’s body have been wounded. Yes we have holes and scars. Yes we have been bruised and beaten. Yes we have failed and fallen short. And yet, Jesus has entrusted us with the responsibility to be his hands and feet, and to carry Christ’s message into all the world, to extend God’s love and grace and forgiveness to all the world.
So let’s show the world Christ’s hands and feet! Let us be the Body of Christ, in all of our wounded glory. Let us welcome the world to see, touch, and experience Christ’s body – the Church – in action. Let’s point them to the One who redeemed us and set us free, so that they too can say, along with the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”