Second Sunday of Easter / April 8, 2018
Second in a Series “Jesus Building His Kingdom”
John 20:19-31 / Acts 4:32-35 / I John 1:1-2:2
Dear Friends in Christ,
About 25 years ago or so, a Lutheran pastor was arrested in the small town where my parents lived. He was a highly respected preacher and family man right up until he was arrested for window peeping. Some time later, I was chatting a neighbor and friend of my parents who happened to be a member of that congregation, and she spoke to me about how devastating it was for their little church. It was even more awful for her family, she said, because her husband hadn’t been brought up a Lutheran, he didn’t belong to any church, but in fact, he was almost ready to join the (Church). Of course this scandal put a stop to any interest he had in joining a Lutheran church, or any church for that matter. I haven’t talked to her for many years, and I have no idea if she and the Holy Spirit were ever able to persuade him to change his mind, but this we know in this Easter season, while it’s of first importance that we preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen, it matters that we pastors and people practice what we preach. While on the one hand, our good behavior can be part of a witness that helps attract others to the Church, the opposite of that is true as well – bad behavior can be a major obstacle to the spread of the Gospel.
In our sermon series this Easter, we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in this school year that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Last Sunday we focused on Jesus living for us, in the next five weeks, we will focus on Jesus preparing, Jesus shepherding, Jesus abiding, Jesus choosing, and Jesus praying. This morning, we see Jesus persuading Thomas and us that He is in fact risen from the dead.
Statistics these days suggest that few and fewer Americans are believing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, fewer and fewer are holding on to the believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved, fewer and fewer folks are joining and attending Christian churches these days. While 40% of Americans say they attend church regularly, churches report that less 20% do so. Whatever the statistics are, we can see that the Holy Spirit has a lot of persuading to do. Paul writes that “no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Luther explains the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, etc.
The Holy Spirit is the great persuader. In John 16, Jesus said that he would send a helper and that when he comes he would convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment In these days, the Holy Spirit persuades and convicts primarily through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In our text for today, we see Jesus persuading Thomas face to face. We would learn three lessons about the work of the Holy Spirit. First, we see Jesus reaching out and being patient with Thomas. Secondly, we see Jesus inviting Thomas to examine the evidence for His resurrection. Third, we hear Jesus hinting at a grand plan for his resurrection good new and peace to spread.
First, See Jesus (reaching out) to and being patient with Thomas. For whatever reason Thomas was absent the previous Sunday evening, he missed out on Jesus standing in their midst and declaring with his familiar and reassuring voice, “Peace be unto you.” For seven long and miserable days, Thomas missed out on the gladness that came along with Jesus showing his wounded but now healed hands and side. He missed out on Jesus commissioning the other ten disciples, as the Father had commissioned him, to be witnesses and messengers of Easter peace. For seven restless and distressing days and nights, Thomas resisted, he wondered, he doubted that in fact Jesus had risen from the dead, as promised.
This morning we see the Holy Spirit at work as Jesus reaches out and is patient with Thomas. Jesus draws near, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, he gives Thomas a second chance. Jesus takes his time, he listens, he makes a special effort to help Thomas think more clearly about the events of the past ten days. One more time, we see how patient is our God, we see how determined is our God for us to be on the same page as Jesus and these early disciples, “As the Father sends me, so I am sending you.”
The kingdom of God is like a grandma who reaches out on a Sunday afternoon to her grandson who has drifted away from the church. With tears in her eyes, she asks him why he doesn’t go to church anymore. With a heart that is breaking, she listens to him say he’s not really sure why. With her familiar and reassuring voice, she tells him one more time how much she loves him, she mentions how her daily devotions and church involvement have blessed her over the years. In that very moment the Spirit of God is stirring in this grandson’s heart. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His Kingdom in His time and in His way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and be patient with Thomas, step #2 is to See Jesus (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection. In this conversation, Jesus had an advantage we don’t often have. He knew exactly what Thomas had been thinking and saying. He knew that Thomas had been saying that unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my fingers into the mark of that nail, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my hand into the wound of his side, I will not believe. Notice, dear friends, how Jesus patiently invites Thomas to examine the evidence. Go ahead, Thomas, and see my hands, draw close and put your finger here where the nails went through, step on up and put out your hand and place it in my side. Please Thomas, no more doubting, no more disbelieving, it’s time for you to believe.
Unbelief always has been, is today, and will always be picking away at the faith of God’s people. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds /tares. Jesus pictures Satan as the enemy who goes out while the farmers are sleeping and sows weeds among the wheat, and then he slithers away in the darkness of night.
So also in the hearts of those of us who have been baptized and instructed in basic Bible teaching, Satan is constantly finding ways to plant seeds of doubt. In times of tragedy,we find ourselves struggling to be certain there is a good and a gracious God ruling all of heaven and earth. In times of failure, we find ourselves doubting that God is answering our prayers in the way that is best for us. We find high school aged believers doubting that church attendance is important, we find college age Christians doubting that the traditional teachings of the Church are still relevant, we find Christian parents doubting that the spiritual disciplines still need to be insisted on, we find middle aged folks doubting that you really have to choose between the kingdom of God and all these other things, we find the elderly doubting that God still has important work for them to do.
The kingdom of God is like a middle aged believer who sees all that is wrong in this world, but he can’t really see God being present in the midst of it all. As the years go on, he finds the Easter message ringing more and more hollow. He is pleased when a confirmation classmate of his reaches out and takes the time to listen to his story. Together they remember what they learned at the knees of their dear mothers, together they reminisce about what old pastor so and so taught them years ago, together they examine the evidence of nature, the evidence of Scripture, and the evidence of the witnesses and messengers in their lives. In those very moments, the Spirit of God is stirring in their hearts. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His kingdom in his time and in his way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and being patient, and if step #2 was for Jesus to be (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection., then step #3 is to Hear Jesus (hinting) at a grand plan for His resurrection peace to spread.
Whether or not Thomas actually did touch his Savior’s hands or thrust his hands into his side, we don’t know. What we do know is that Thomas saw, he sank to his knees, his doubts gave way to a clear confession of faith. Jesus accepted this confession, but he didn’t really commend it. Not the way he had commended the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed of demon possession (Woman, you have a great faith!”), not the way he praised the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed of paralysis. (I tell you the truth, not in all of Israel have I found such a faith!”)
To Thomas, Jesus speaks, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus knew what He wants all of us to know this morning- Blessed are they in every generation who hear the Word of God and believe it.
This is the grand plan our Easter season sermons would lay before us today and in the five weeks to come, that as the Father commissioned His Son to seek and to save lost sinners, so as Jesus commissioned us to spend our days spreading God’s resurrection peace and strength, near and far. Tradition tells us that Thomas was martyred in India for proclaiming the Christian message. There is a church in today’s India that attributes its beginnings to the work of Thomas. Proving once again that the Spirit of God is stirring wherever and whenever the seeds of God’s Word are sown. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus Himself building the kingdom in his way and in his time.
Our sermon series in this Easter season is focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom. I read an article this past week that suggested that as many as (10,000) Chinese become Christians each day. A Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, who is a published author on the subject of religion in China, writes that according to his calculations China is destined to become the country with the largest population of Christians in the near future. He writes that China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949 and which has been subject to a government trying to eliminate Christianity, has grown to 58 million in 2010, and is predicted to swell to 160 million by 2025. By 2030, China’s total Christian population would exceed 247 million. We don’t have time to explain in depth the secrets of church growth there in China, but we may be sure there areallkinds of little home churches living out their life together in the spirit of our first reading today- Christians taking care of each other, Christians confessing their faults to one another, Christians walking in the light and in fellowship with one another, and the grace of God getting poured out in rich measure.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks getting down on their knees tonight along with Thomas as all kinds of new believers in far away lands. They are quietly rejoicing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, they are taking their doubts and questions to Jesus Christ in prayer, they have not seen, and yet they believe on the basis of testimony of those who have gone on before them. Even as they pray, the Spirit of God is stirring. Silently, invisibly,and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, the Spirit of God is stirring, and the Kingdom of God is advancing.
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