Of Faith and Doubt in the Risen Christ
John 20:19-31; Hebrews 11:1
We have all probably heard the phrase “seeing is believing.” In this university community, full of well educated, scientifically minded people we already know what this refers to. In order to fully accept something to be true, someone needs to see it with his own eyes.
One thing about the society and culture in which we live is that it is a culture of skepticism. We want to test every truth-claim we hear. We want proof. And when we talk of proof, we generally mean that we need scientific proof. We need genuine, physical evidence of what you are claiming and which you want us to believe.
That is one of the reasons why many people say they don’t believe in God. They say, “You can’t give me physical proof that God exists, therefore, I can’t believe in him.” This is just like the position of theoretical physicist and theoretical cosmologist and author, Stephen Hawking who just died recently, who strongly holds the belief that there is no God at all. It’s all just a delusion.// I think when we ourselves are under pressure, there could be times when we ourselves may be raising some questions or a certain degree of doubt at some point. This is quite understandable.
But then we celebrate Easter each year. We rejoice and join in proclaiming and singing the good news that Jesus was risen from the grave on that Easter morning. But honestly, how many of us truly believe this? There are many people who believe in the resurrection. But there are also many who don’t.
We have a fellow student then at the Divinity School, who during the oral comprehensive exams for graduating seniors declared before the faculty that he doesn’t believe in the resurrection, declaring that it is simply an impossible thing to happen. The faculty then led by Dean Levi Oracion, made the decision that the student cannot graduate because of his unbelief. Then just 2 or 3 days before graduation, the student came barging in the office of Dr. Oracion, saying, “Sir, I now believe in the resurrection, I believe in anything, just let me graduate.” But this is believing for the sake of convenience and self interest and not because of honest conviction.
In reality, this is crucial to our faith. This is a non-negotiable article of the Christian faith. If Christ did not rise from the grave, then there is no victory over sin and death. Yet there are many people who remain skeptical about this. One of them is Thomas and even the rest of the disciples. The other disciples had earlier doubted the testimony of the women disciples who first discovered the empty tomb. According to the Gospel of Luke ch. 24, when the women reported this news to the disciples, they did not believe them because the news came from women. For them this must be nothing but idle talk of women.
Our text tells us that the disciples were in the upper room “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” These people had just seen their leader arrested, put on trial and crucified. They fled the scene in fear for their own lives. Now they are hiding for their own safety. They feared that the Jewish leadership would come after any followers of this man Jesus. It was a tense moment. If they killed Jesus for being a rebel and blasphemer, then they might come after those who followed him and listened to what he taught.
But in the midst of their fear, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” In the midst of their fear Jesus was able to stand in their presence and give them a message of peace. (Kalinaw, kalma ra!) Imagine this, the one they abandoned when he was arrested, the one whom they denied 3 times, is now standing in their midst pronouncing peace to them. Instead of a rebuke or a scolding for abandoning, or even denying him 3 times, they received His reassuring peace. This kind of reassuring peace is sorely needed now in our world that is filled with unpeace and fear.
Then he “showed them his hands” and side. And when they saw the marks on his hands and side, they knew that it was truly him. It wasn’t just a ghost or some sort of vision. It was truly Jesus. He indeed had risen from the grave. And seeing him, they were so overjoyed.
Again Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus is commissioning them to carry on with his mission. Just as the Father sent him, so now he is commissioning them to carry on his work. And he breathes on them the Holy Spirit to empower them in carrying on his work.
Indeed, the church, the fellowship of Christ’s followers is a body always on a mission, gifted with the Spirit of God. It cannot remain contented in just attending and doing worship services every Sunday and sitting on the pew. We are all sent out by the risen Christ to carry on and continue His mission. A church if it is to remain a church must be always a church in mission, always mission oriented!
Now, can you imagine the emotions the disciples then must have felt? This all happened a few days after Jesus was crucified. They had just witnessed him suffering on the cross, being pierced, bloody and hanging on the cross. They had seen his dead body taken off the cross. A few days later, he is standing in their presence and greeting them and sending them out to carry on his work.
Then they saw Thomas who just came in? They told him in all excitement, “We have seen the Lord!” But you can imagine the skeptical response of Thomas. “O really?“ The disciples must then be asserting their claim, “Its true Thomas, we have really seen the Lord and he even spoke to us.” Thomas then must have replied “Ok, ok, I will believe it when I see it and when I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, then I will believe it.”
We can’t blame Thomas. He saw Jesus being crucified, dying a bloody, gory death. Now you say that he is alive? It just isn’t possible. People don’t just rise from the dead. It would be hard to accept.
A week later they were gathered in the house again. This time, Thomas was with them. Again, the doors were locked, but yet again, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” Now, Jesus speaks directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Jesus tells Thomas to do exactly as what he said he needed in order to believe. Jesus seems to be addressing the doubt of all the disciples here. When Thomas hears this command he made this major confession. “My Lord and my God!” Suddenly he was the skeptic no more with his declaration, “My Lord and My God!”
Jesus did not congratulate Thomas for what he had said. In fact, it’s probably a gentle rebuke of Thomas’ doubt. He says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” Fair enough. Those that saw him after the resurrection probably believed because they had seen him. We don’t hear of many that believed without seeing. But Jesus goes on, “but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Many followers of Jesus would believe without seeing. Jesus commends Thomas while mildly rebuking him, but also he gives a blessing to those who believe without seeing, that is, in spite and despite the seemingly irrational, unscientific basis of such belief.
John concludes this story with the last two verses. He tells us the reason why he wrote his gospel. It tells us, “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.”// This gospel was primarily addressed to people who never saw Jesus in person, like us. Some people would always have doubts and questions concerning this Jesus Christ.
We, who never had a chance to see him and hear his teachings, who never witnessed his mighty acts, his miracles, but who sincerely believed without demanding for any proof at all are actually more blessed than Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is where our faith becomes the assurance of things hoped for and where we base our conviction on things not seen. The object of our faith does not require physical proof. It only requires trust, in the same way that the Lord had always trusted in us.
Truth and reliability of the basic gospel claim about Jesus do not have to be demonstrated just for the sake of satisfying popular demands for verification. This is all because God’s revelation in and through Jesus has become more than enough proof and sealed by his resurrection. This is further evidenced by the witness of our Bible, as our own Statement of Faith says, “That the Holy Bible is a faithful and inspired witness to God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ and in history.” This is our most reliable, faithful witness and we believed this because that is our faith, it is our article of faith. This is what will give meaning, substance, purpose and direction in our life, a life lived in faith and obedience to a living, dynamic and loving God.
The one who was once dead is now our risen Lord and God. Let this our faith confession now and always. He is risen, risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
NCC/ SU Church/ April 8, 2018.