Seeing and Believing (John 20:24-31) – Easter Sunday 2024

Seeing-Believing
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Seeing and Believing
Easter Sunday, March 31st, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

John 20:24-31

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. 30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

Prayer

O Father, we thank you for opening to us from Christ’s side, the door of life. We thank you most of all for the death and resurrection of Your Son, which is the greatest of all signs, and is a perpetual testimony that your love for us is stronger than death. As we open now Your Word, we ask for spiritual strength, so that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is incomprehensible:the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fulness of God. We ask for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And his disciples answer him saying, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

  • The chief purpose of the four gospels is to make you to say what Peter said, and more personally, to make you say what Thomas says here in our sermon text. In answer to the question, “Who is Jesus? Who do you say that I am?” The gospels are written so that you might answer, “Jesus is my Lord and my God.” My lord and my God.
  • More important than any other truth there is. More important than any other confession you make. Is this confession of faith from Thomas the Apostle. Who is Jesus? He is “My Lord and my God.”
  • We are told in Philippians 2:10-11, that there will come a day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    • And so Scripture teaches us that there are two ways of confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
      • One is voluntary and arises from the grace of faith: “Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God.”
      • The other confession is involuntary. It is the forced confession of a conquered foe. It is the fearful and shuddering confession that demons and the reprobate shall make when they stand before the throne of the Lord Jesus on judgment day.
        • James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
        • The unclean spirit in Mark 1:24 says, “what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.”
      • So you can believe that Jesus is Lord and God like a demon with a lifeless faith that has no love in it. Or you can believe like an apostle, with a faith that flows from charity, and thanksgiving, and joy that God loves you and has forgiven your sins. Which confession shall you make?
      • Every rational creature, angel and saint, demon and sinner, will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But one confession will come from loving faith, and the other will come from a fearful hatred. When the final judgment comes, there will be no other options. And so I declare to you today what the Apostle Paul declared to the men of Athens 2,000 years ago, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, [and why?] because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
      • What does the resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago mean for you today? It means that Jesus is Judge, Lord, and God whether you like it or not. He is Lord and God objectively, irrevocably, and there is nothing you can do to change that.
        • The resurrection of Jesus means that Psalm 2 has come to pass, and that “He who sits in the heavens now laughs, and holds his foes in derision” (Ps. 2:4). It means the nations of men are put on notice and the notice the church proclaims is Psalm 2:10-12, “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, And ye perish from the way, When his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
  • The resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago means that to Christ and his body has been given, “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
  • So do you want to reign and live with Christ in glory? Do you want to be seated with in heavenly places? Then confess now with Thomas, while you still have life, while you still have breath in your lungs and time to say voluntarily, Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” And if there is any hesitancy in you to make that confession, I invite you to consider these words from John’s gospel and the example of Thomas.

In our sermon text this morning, we are given the story of how Thomas came to make that personal confession of faith. And my hope is that by retracing Thomas’ steps, and by considering the pitfalls of Thomas in his state of unbelief, we too might be healed and rescued from our doubts. So with that, let us turn and expound these most precious words of God.

Verse 24

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

  • Here we are given the occasion for Thomas’ unbelief. And that occasion is his absence from church. His absence from the assembly of the apostles. For some reason (we are not told exactly), Thomas did not gather with the other ten disciples on Sunday.
  • We are told in verse 19, just before our text, that after Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”
  • And so Thomas is absent for this first appearance of Jesus to the apostles on Easter Sunday. And this absence tells us at the very least, that Thomas must have not been listening when Jesus said very explicitly, that “the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day” (Mark 9:31). Explaining the disciples’ ignorance it says in John 20:9, “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”
    • So Jesus had already told the disciples what the gameplan was. He is going to die, but three days later, he will rise again. But for some reason, Thomas thinks that Christ’s death is the end of the story. For Thomas, the crucifixion was merely another evil thing happening to a good man, and not the divine plan of God to save the world.
    • So Thomas does not believe what Jesus had told them earlier, he does not understand the Scriptures, and we see in the next verse he does not believe his fellow disciples when they tell him Jesus is risen and has appeared to us.

Verse 25a

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord.

  • It is here that Thomas’ unbelief is perhaps most shameful. It is one thing to not believe Jesus prior to his death and resurrection. After all, nobody in the history of the world had ever died and come back again like Jesus did.
  • But now, here are ten additional witnesses to that resurrection, confirming what Jesus had himself foretold, ten men who Thomas had lived with and done ministry with for years, and yet when they say, “we have seen the Lord,” he does not believe them. Instead, how does Thomas respond?

Verse 25b

But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

  • Compounding the unbelief already in Thomas’ heart is this doubling down on doubt. The disciples may have seen Jesus, but Thomas says seeing Jesus is not sufficient! He must physically touch his body and feel with his own finger the places where the nails pierced him. He must thrust his hand into Jesus side and feel where the soldier pierced him. Thomas will not believe he says unless his physical senses, his feelings are gratified.
  • Now the Bible has a name for this kind of person, do you know what it is?
    • Thomas is being what the Bible calls a carnal man, that is someone who walks and lives according to the flesh. The carnal or fleshly person is someone who is more concerned with worldly things than heavenly things. And because worldly possessions and material goods are finite, carnal men often bite and devour one another for those worldly goods. Or they are anxious and fearful about tomorrow, about food and clothing and things pertaining to the body. The carnal person’s life revolves around and terminates in the temporal goods that God gives and never traces them up to their Source. This is the essence of carnal living.
      • Paul charges the Corinthians with acting this way in 1 Corinthians 3 when he says (to a bunch of baptized Christians), “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”
      • Likewise, Paul says in Romans 8:5-8, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace…So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
      • So do you have life and peace? Does peace of soul characterize your life? If not, then you, like Thomas, have a carnal mind.
    • So the carnal/fleshly person is the person who lives to gratify his sensual appetite. The carnal man or carnal woman lives to acquire and enjoy the lusts of the flesh. They are the “Anti-Joseph” or the “Anti-Moses” who embraces Egypt and the fleeting pleasures of sin, who embrace the seductions of Potiphar’s wife, and esteem the riches of this world as preferable to suffering with Christ.
    • This is the carnal and fleshly mind that all of us default to unless we are born again by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And even after we are born again, Paul says in Galatians 5 that there is now an ongoing war that goes on between the spirit and the flesh, and if you make provision for the lusts of the flesh, if you sow to the flesh and feed your carnal appetites, you will from your flesh reap corruption (you will die!).
    • So no man ought to presume that just because he has had some spirit-filled moments in the past, that he is no longer at war with the flesh. Otherwise, Paul would not have told us in Romans 8:13, “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
    • Your salvation is dependent on you cooperating with God’s grace to put off the old man and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).
    • Your salvation is conditional upon you working out the grace that God works in (Phil. 2:12-13).
    • And it is because your salvation depends upon a living and loving faith and not a empty belief, that the Apostle Peter says, “Brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
    • Summary: So salvation is ALL of grace, and that grace includes you freely willing and choosing to obey Christ and trust Him. That grace includes the hard work of denying yourself, taking up the cross, and following Jesus. There is no conflict between free grace and hard work. And this the life of Jesus bears witness to. For Jesus is Himself the very fullness of grace and truth, and yet no man worked harder and suffered more than Jesus.
  • So Thomas at this stage in verse 25 is being a carnal man. He is faithless. He is doubting. He is stubborn. He is not pleasing God.
  • And yet behold how God condescends to love this carnal sinner.

Verses 26-27

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

  • So a full week passes between Thomas hearing that Jesus has risen, and him actually believing that Jesus is risen. And we can only imagine what that week must have been like for doubting Thomas.
  • While the women and the other ten disciples are rejoicing that Jesus is alive and pondering the implications of his resurrection, Thomas is still skeptical. Thomas is still faithless and distressed. Thomas is still indulging the doubts of his flesh.
  • In this instance, Thomas exemplifies what the rest of the world is like before they come to faith. It is an objective and verifiable fact that Jesus Christ is risen. The tomb is empty. You won’t be able to find the body. People have seen him and touched him. The sun is rising in the eastern sky. The world is being reborn. And yet Thomas in unbelief places his hands over his eyes.
    • This is what the carnal world is like when they refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are stubbornly saying “I refuse to believe in the sun,” while their eyes are closed and their hands are covering them. For as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
  • One of the lessons we learn from Thomas is that there is a kind of unbelief that cannot be reasoned with. Would you argue with someone who did not believe that the sun existed? Well, there are people who have chosen to live in the dark, and their eyes have grown so accustomed to living in the dark, that even if they were to stand in the sunshine at noonday and open their eyes, it would only blind them and confirm their belief that the sun does not exist!
    • This is the blindness that man has chosen for himself because of his sin. And it is for this reason that Jesus says in John 3:3, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
  • So a full week goes by after Jesus Christ has risen, but there is no joy in Thomas’ heart because of his unbelief. For Thomas, the resurrection of Jesus has not yet become true. And yet, there is enough hope in his heart (or perhaps some doubting of his doubts) that he chooses to gather with the other apostles on the following Sunday. And it is then and there, with the doors shut, and the church assembled, that Jesus chooses to appear, stands in their midst and says, “Peace be unto you.”

We then read in verse 27 what Jesus says directly to Thomas, “Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

  • So how does Jesus condescend to his elect when they are doubting, when they are being carnal?
    • Well, note first that He does not come to Thomas immediately. He makes him wait. He gives him time to repent. He gives him time to think it over. And this is often how God deals with us and it is why the Psalmist sometimes cries, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me” (Ps. 13:1).
    • Moreover, it is during this period of feeling that God is absent that our faith is tested, and mockers start to run their mouth. The Apostle Peter speaks of this in 2 Peter 3:3-4 saying, “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
    • So God’s timing and our timing are not the same, and often what we think is the right time for God to show up in the way we want him to, is often not what is actually best for us. And so the Psalmist also prays and exhorts us saying, “Wait on the Lord: Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: Wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
    • So Jesus gives Thomas time to change his mind and walk back his bold doubting. And something happens during that week to make Thomas go to church and gather with the disciples. And it is significant that only then and only there, where two or three (or ten) are gathered, that Jesus chooses to appear in the midst of them.
  • The next thing Jesus does for this doubting apostle is offer to him the proofs he desired, to touch and feel his resurrected body. And by offering his body to Thomas, he also reveals his divinity. Because although Jesus was not physically present when Thomas made those stubborn demands, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe,” Jesus was there listening, He was spiritually present. And this is because Jesus is God and there is no place where God is not. So Jesus was there all along according to His divine nature, even when Thomas was doubting. And it is this truth that should be a great comfort to us when we feel like God is absent. You cannot get away from Him for it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.
    • David says in Psalm 139:7-12, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
    • So despite the felt darkness that Thomas was living in, the darkness of doubt and unbelief, even in that hell, Jesus was there all along. And Jesus wants Thomas to know that, and so he offers to him the very things he demanded when thinking that Jesus was still dead and absent, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. And be not faithless, but believing.”
  • In these words, is a kind and gentle rebuke from our Lord, “be not faithless, but believing.”
    • Doubt and unbelief are sins that we must confess and repent of. Paul says in Romans 14:23, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”
    • And so do not pretend that doubt is something that just happens to you, but rather, treat doubt as Jesus treats it, as an action and decision of your will to hear the truth and not believe it.
    • Remember, the sun is up, Christ is risen, this is the truth that saves the world. And so make war on anything thatmight undermine your precious faith. Make war on your doubts and doubters and carnal desires that dull your spiritual senses. Remember how the righteous man lives, “the just shall live by his faith.”
  • Summary: So Jesus comes to Thomas when he is gathered with the disciples on the Lord’s Day. For where two or three are gathered in love, there is Christ present in a special way. And it is there that Jesus reveals his resurrected humanity and the power of his divinity. And all that is left is for Thomas to keep his word and believe.

Verse 28

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

  • We are not told whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. The text does not say. Perhaps seeing and hearing Jesus was enough. Either way, Thomas makes a confession that only someone with the grace of faith can make, he calls Jesus “my Lord and my God.”
  • Notice that seeing and touching Jesus is one thing, it proves his resurrection (here he is!). But it is another thing altogether to believe that this resurrected Jesus is the invisible immortal all wise and only God.
  • Physical sensation alone cannot get you there, and that is because supernatural truths are not arrived at by the five senses. Supernatural truths are by definition above natura (supra sensible).
  • Where do you apprehend truth and choose what to believe? In the immaterial and spiritual part of you that the Bible calls the soul, or the mind, or the heart. It is in that part of your being that continues to exist even after your body dies that truth is found and faith is activated.
    • For as Jesus himself says in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
    • Likewise in 1 Corinthians 2:14 it says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
  • So you could see and feel the risen Lord Jesus, and still not believe that that Jesus is God. And so what we have here in Thomas confession is the light of the Spirit shining upon him. Thomas sees one thing, and believes another. Thomas sees Jesus with his physical eyes, but he believes a truth in his intellect that physical eyes cannot see, namely the divinity and lordship of Jesus. And therefore, Jesus says in the next verse…

Verse 29

29 Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

  • Here again, Jesus calls us to become spiritual creatures and not carnal. Thomas was uniquely granted to physically see Jesus, and with that help he then believed that in Jesus was the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily.
  • As a good theologian proceeding from faith, Thomas attributed to the one divine person of the Son, a full humanity and full divinity, “my Lord, and my God.” Orthodox Christology.
  • But Jesus says, there is a greater blessing, it is more praise-worthy, to believe that same truth without seeing him. And that is because faith is what pleases God.
  • Finally, in verses 30-31, we are given the purpose for all of this story.

Verses 30-31

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

  • The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the purpose for John writing this all down, was so that you might hear and believe. And by believing have life through his name.
  • Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh, so that you might die to your flesh and put away your carnal mind. And Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, so that you too might rise again and become a spiritual creature.
  • The carnal man settles for carnal goods. But the only good that can satisfy the infinite desire of your soul is a spiritual good, namely God. So make him your best and highest end. Say from faith He is “my lord and my God,” and you also shall be resurrected never to die again.
  • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.
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