TITLE: The Last Beatitude SCRIPTURE: John 20:19-31
I wish I had known Jesus -- Jesus in the flesh. I wish I had walked beside him as he traveled through Galilee. I wish I could have seen him heal a blind man. Most especially, I wish that I had been there to see the resurrected Christ. I wish that I had seen the nail prints in his hands. I wish I had been there when he ascended into heaven.
I hear people talk about visiting the Holy Land -- about the special feeling that they felt standing where Jesus had stood -- walking where he had walked. I am sure that is special, but it would have been even more special to be there with Jesus in the flesh. There's part of me that envies Peter and James and John --the disciples closest to Jesus. I even envy Thomas -- the one we know as Doubting Thomas.
We call him Doubting Thomas because he refused to believe when the other disciples said that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Thomas 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."
That, of course, does not put Thomas in our book of all-time heroes. We remember him, not for his faith, but for his doubt. There is some evidence that he later served as a missionary to India, but that isn't how we remember him. We remember him as a doubter.
But if his reputation is less than heroic, at least Thomas got to see the risen Christ. He wanted to see the nail prints in Jesus' hands, and he got the chance to do that. Jesus had visited the disciples earlier, when Thomas was absent, but he came again when Thomas was present. He said to Thomas:
"Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Do not doubt but believe."
Thomas was embarrassed that he hadn't believed. He felt ashamed. But then he said, "My Lord and my God" -- acknowledging that he had changed from doubt to belief.
And then Jesus said something that we need to hear today. He said:
"Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have NOT seen
and yet have come to believe."
"Blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe" -- Jesus' Last Beatitude -- Jesus' last blessing. You remember the beatitudes from Matthew:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit....
Blessed are those who mourn....
Blessed are the meek" (Matthew 5:3-5).
The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate "Blessed" is makarios. Jesus said:
"Makarios are the poor in spirit....
Makarios are those who mourn....
Makarios are the meek" (Matthew 5:3-5).
Some people translate makarios as "Happy," but "happy" sounds frivolous -- like a visit to the mall. I like the word "blessed," because a blessing is something that we receive as a gift. When Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe," he is talking about a gift -- a blessing -- that God gives.
I am glad that Jesus said that, because it means that I have the same access to God's blessings as those who were closest to him while he was here on the earth -- maybe even better access. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have NOT see, and yet have come to believe." I have not seen. You have not seen. But we have believed, and we are blessed.
"Blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe." A blessed life is a happy life, yes -- but it is more -- more substantial than the kind of happiness bestowed by a trip to the mall or a new car. A blessed life is a "together" kind of life -- a life built on a foundation of rock rather than sand -- secure even in the face of the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
We need that kind of blessed life, don't we! We need a life built on rock -- secure even in the storms of life. I remember reading about such a life. His name was Arthur Ashe. Ashe was a tennis champion -- the first African-American man to achieve fame in the tennis world (Aletha Gibson, a female, was the first African-American tennis star).
Ashe grew up in the South when segregation was still in effect, so he knew that side of life. But his tennis skills transported him to UCLA -- and thence to the Davis Cup -- and thence to Wimbledon, which he won. He became rich and famous. But then he had to have heart surgery. Those were the early days of the AIDS epidemic -- before the blood supply was properly tested -- and Ashe contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. He could have become a bitter man, but he didn't. Listen to his words. He said:
"I am a fortunate, blessed man.
Aside from AIDS and heart disease, I have no problems.
My stepmother, about whom I care deeply
both for my sake and for my dead father's,
is in fine health;
my wife is in fine health;
my daughter radiates vitality.
I have loving friends in abundance.
I have the support of skilled doctors and nurses.
I need nothing that money can buy.
So why should I complain?
And beyond them, I have God to help me."
" I have God to help me." Hear that! Ashe had been speaking about how his family and friends blessed him. Then he said, "And beyond them, I have God to help me." It is no coincidence that Ashe grew up in the church -- that he was a man of deep faith. Could he have chosen to be a blessed man instead of an angry man without his faith in God? I doubt that he could have.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have come to believe." Ashe was one of the many who had not seen the risen Christ -- had not had the opportunity to touch the wounds in Jesus' hands -- but who believed. As a result, God blessed him -- gave him a life founded on rock -- secure even in the midst of storms.
We might also learn something about blessings from hobbits. Have you heard of hobbits? The movie, The Lord of the Rings, introduced hobbits to many people. Hobbits are fictional creatures who inhabit Middle Earth. They love to celebrate birthdays, but love giving rather than receiving gifts. Tolkien, who wrote the book, explained. He said:
"Every day in the year was somebody's birthday,
so that every hobbit in those parts
had a fair chance of at least one present
at least once a week."
They were talking about GIVING presents, not receiving them. The hobbits had a fair chance of GIVING at least one present at least once a week -- and they counted that as a blessing.
Every parent and grandparent knows that the hobbits had it right -- and that Jesus had it right. It IS more blessed to give than to receive. The joy of giving is one of the blessings that God gives to those who have NOT seen but have believed.
The Christian author Warren Wiersbe puts it this way. He says:
"God doesn't bless us just to make us happy;
He blesses us to make us a blessing."
God blesses us to be givers, and promises that we will receive more than we give. Is there any grandparent here today who hasn't grasped that great truth? You grandparents know that nothing gives you joy like seeing the joy of your grandchild when you give him or her a gift. God does, indeed, bless those who have NOT seen but have believed -- and one of the ways that he does that is to teach us to receive blessings through giving.
But we need to keep our eyes open so that we will see the blessings when they come. Oprah Winfrey has some good advice about recognizing blessings. She says:
"Keep a grateful journal.
Every night, list five things that happened this day
that you are grateful for.
What it will begin to do
is change your perspective of your day and your life.
If you can learn to focus on what you have,
you will always see that the universe is abundant;
you will have more.
If you concentrate on what you don't have,
you will never have enough."
Or, as the old Gospel song put it:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have come to believe." He was talking about me. He was talking about you. Believe him! Count your blessings, and you will find yourself blessed indeed.