Title: Those who have not seen
Date: April 19 (Easter 2)
Texts: Acts 4:32-35, Ps 133, I Jn 1:1-2:2, Jn 20:19-31
Author: Isaac Villegas
“if the church does not live by miracles she does not live at all.”
~ John H. Yoder
Last week was Easter. And we heard the story of Mary’s encounter with Jesus by the empty tomb. Mary returns to the disciples and tells them what she saw: she says, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18). Mary has seen Jesus.
Now this week we find the disciples huddled together in a room. And Jesus shows up. They rejoice. But Thomas doesn’t make it in time for the party. So the disciples tell Thomas what they saw: they say, “We have seen the Lord” (v. 25). Like Mary, the disciples have seen Jesus.
But Thomas doesn’t believe them. He says, “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” (v. 25). I totally understand where Thomas is coming from. That Jesus came back from the dead is completely unbelievable. That stuff just doesn’t happen. When was the last time you saw someone come back from the dead?—besides the movies.
But Thomas gets what he needs in order to have faith. Jesus comes back to let him have a peek at his resurrected body, to see what he wanted to see. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says, “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (v. 28). Thomas sees and believes.
You can start to see the pattern—people see and then believe. Mary, the disciples, and Thomas—they all must see before they believe. But Jesus messes with this pattern at the end, when we get to his teaching moment. He says to Thomas, and to us, the readers: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
This is a part of the Bible that jumps off the pages of history and into the present. Jesus is talking to us—people who didn’t see, and yet believe. At the end of the resurrection account, Jesus tells us why any of it is important: so that people who don’t see, people like us who were born thousands of year too late, can believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
But wouldn’t it be easier if we could have seen him? I mean, faith doesn’t always come easily. It’s hard to believe that the resurrection of Jesus really makes a difference. It’s easy to see how Jesus teaches good things for us to believe and do. Who could argue with Jesus’ moral teaching?
Everyone knows that we should love people. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t steal and we should be good neighbors and be trustworthy. And plenty of people know that it’s a good thing to give money to the poor—water to the thirsty, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked.
It’s not very hard to believe that doing those things is a good idea. Ever since the 17th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, everyone in our culture knows that we should do good to others: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s just what it means to be a product of European culture. No need to convince anyone to believe in Jesus’ teaching because it’s already in the air. But the resurrection? Now that’s tough.
Of course Thomas had to see in order to believe. Anyone would. “Unless I see,” Thomas says, “I will not believe.” That’s a reasonable request. Let me see this resurrected man first, then I will believe.
So, why in the world do we believe without seeing? Why do we get together for church and sing all these songs about how Jesus is God, even though we’ve never seen his pierced side? Why don’t we walk away from this whole Christian thing, until we get to see what Thomas saw?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Or, should we say, Most gullible are those who believe without seeing? I have to admit, I am jealous of those first disciples who saw Jesus’ resurrection body. I’m jealous of Thomas. He gets to see—the hole in his side, the holes in his hands. Of course Thomas believes. But me?—why do I believe? Why do you?
I’m tempted to end my sermon here so we can wrestle with that question together. But let me say a little more about belief, about faith, before we get back to that question.
I bet that if you had to point to the part of your body where belief happened, you would probably point to your heart, or maybe your head. No one points to his or her feet. That’s just silly. Those of us who think that faith is a matter of feelings, of an experience of God’s presence, would probably point to our hearts as the place where belief happens. It’s an emotional thing; faith is a feeling of God’s love or acceptance or forgiveness.
And then those of us who think that faith is a matter of theories or convictions about God would probably point to our heads, our brains, our mind, as the place where belief happens. It’s a cognitive thing. Belief is about weighing the options, the logical coherence of propositions, then thinking to yourself, Yes, I can believe this stuff.
Now, I don’t want to say we’re wrong to talk about faith as something we feel or something that we think through. What goes on in your hearts and in your heads is also important. People have all sorts of reasons for believing. But what’s striking about our passage from Acts is that faith in the resurrection is something people do with their whole bodies, their whole lives. Let me read Acts 4, verse 32:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
That’s what resurrection faith looks like. Faith is something that happens to the whole body, your whole life. And people could see what resurrection looks like by looking at this group of folks who denied private ownership and instead shared with any as they had need. Sharing their faith meant sharing a way of life. The whole church testified to faith in the resurrection by what they did with their possessions.
To believe the resurrection is to start on a new way of life, a new path, a new existence where all of life becomes miracle. We share our lives because Jesus shared his life with us—going to the cross for our salvation, and resurrected by God to enable us to have abundant life.
And this abundant life isn’t something that begins after we die. Abundant life is what we see in Acts 4—people getting together, enjoying one another, providing for the needy, sharing life, the fullness of life that comes to those who share one heart and mind.
That’s the same message we hear in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity…. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore” (vv 1, 3b). Eternal life, life forevermore, abundant life, begins now as we share our lives together, which is our testimony of what belief in the resurrection looks like. Our lives testify. Our lives display resurrection.
Ok, back to my questions: why do I believe? Why do you have faith? Well, I wonder if part of the answer is that we believe because we’ve seen the wonders of resurrection in one another’s life. We’ve seen people who live by miracle. Sure, we haven’t seen what Thomas saw—the resurrected body of Jesus. But we’ve come to know the fruit of the resurrection, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if a better way to think about this question about our faith is to ask someone what they see in our lives. When people look at us, do they see people who live by miracles? Can people see resurrection when they look at what you do and how you do it?
I can see your faith. I see it every time you come together for worship. There are plenty of other things you could be doing right now that make more sense in your head or that make you feel good in your heart—like an afternoon nap, watching t.v., a good book, or getting caught up with work. But the way you drop everything and come together for fellowship and worship is an act of faith.
Our fellowship is our declaration of faith. Our life together is our confession of belief. And the way we live during the week should be our invitation to others to join our faith, which is our way of life. Sure, we can talk about doctrines or compare our theories about God with other people.
But that’s not the point of our Christian faith. We are people who receive the joy of God as we assemble. We are people who fellowship with God in and through one another. We are people who share our lives, and by doing so we share God’s life with the world.
I John says it best. And I’ll close with a verse 3:
we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Our fellowship together is also our fellowship with God.