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2006-04-16_But Believe_Resurrection Sunday_John 20

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But Believe!

John 20    |   Shaun LePage   |   Resurrection Sunday, April 16, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Eleven years ago, my wife, Beth, was invited to sing at a wedding.

1.     The ceremony was to take place the Saturday after Easter Sunday in a church we’d never visited. I went with her to the rehearsal on Friday evening. At one point while we were standing around, waiting for everyone to arrive, I explored the beautiful church building we were in. I eventually found myself standing behind the large, ornate pulpit. I discovered that the church’s pastor had left his sermon manuscript on the pulpit from the previous Sunday—Easter. I began to read it and as I did, I got angry and I got sad. I stole the manuscript (don’t worry, there were lots of copies available in the foyer) so I could share it with others. But really, it’s not worth sharing. A man who preached from a pulpit with a cross on the front stood there on Easter Sunday morning and explained why the Resurrection of Jesus was not to be taken literally.

2.     It made me sad because the church he preached in was part of a denomination that was begun by men who believed in and taught that the resurrection was not only true—literally—but also foundational to the Christian faith. Where did they go wrong? Why are their seminaries teaching that the Bible can’t be trusted and the Resurrection of Christ was not literal? Because we have a tendency to slide. A tendency to fail to pass the truth on to younger generations.

3.     The other sad fact is that that man’s sermon was not unique. Many churches—dare I say most?—will hear a very similar message this morning. The last statistic I read indicated that only about half of the pastors—so-called “Christian” pastors—in the United States will proclaim that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a literal fact of history.

B.    But there is nothing new under the sun. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has always been hard for people to believe—that’s not surprising. God is not surprised that such a thing seems unbelievable to us.

1.     That’s one of the reasons why this day is so important. No matter what else we are studying or learning or exploring, we always take at least one day each year to return to the eyewitness testimony of those who were there and saw the Risen Lord Jesus. On this special day, we remind ourselves of the fact that Christianity is not based on a philosophy, but on a Person. A historical Person who lived and died and rose again.

2.     But even though the Resurrection is hard to believe, that is exactly what we are asked to do. Jesus Christ Himself looked down through time and invited all who are willing to examine the evidence He has given us to “no longer be unbelieving, but believe!”

II.   Body—John 20:26-29

A.   Jesus welcomes honest doubt. (26-28)

1.     “After eight days” tells us this visit was a full week after Christ rose from the grave. He had already appeared to several people the week before.

2.     “And Thomas was with them.” This time, Thomas was with them. The week before, he had not been with them. We’re not told why, but the fact that he wasn’t sets up what I believe is the climax of the Book of John. Thomas has been labeled “Doubting Thomas” forever because he missed one meeting. Think about it—Peter didn’t appear to believe when he saw the empty tomb, so he could have been called “Doubting Peter” if he hadn’t been in the Upper Room that first night. But Thomas had to wait a week. He had to hear everything second-hand instead of seeing Jesus with his own eyes.

a)    Read vs. 24-25. Thomas didn’t believe the “other disciples.” Who—exactly—is meant by “other disciples” we’re not told. But at the very least, we’re talking about 10 men that Thomas knew well and loved. Despite the fact that 10 or more of his dearest friends were telling him Jesus is alive, he couldn’t believe it—he doubted. But put yourself in the sandals of Thomas. Let’s not be too quick to judge Thomas. If the people you most loved in this world came to you and said a dead person—whose funeral you had attended—was now alive, you’d find that hard to believe, wouldn’t you? You’d want more proof. You see, Thomas was an honest doubter. When faced with the same proof these “other disciples” had been given, he believed.

b)    It’s okay to be an honest doubter. An honest doubter is someone who doesn’t believe just anything he is told. An honest doubter is capable of standing alone—thinking for himself—if necessary. He doesn’t just go along with the crowd. But, he is willing to examine the evidence to see if what he is being told is true. It’s okay to be an honest doubter—for awhile. Eventually, Jesus challenged Thomas to believe. He did.

c)    A dishonest doubter is something completely different. A dishonest doubter refuses to examine the evidence. Refuses to listen to eyewitness testimony. Refuses to consider that he might be wrong. Refuses to believe—no matter what.

d)    For the honest doubter, the evidence is abundant in this chapter.

(i)   Verse 1: The stone was removed. Matthew tells us one of the angels rolled back the stone. Did you ever ask why? If Jesus could walk through the locked door of the Upper Room, surely He could walk through the stone in front of the tomb. No, the stone wasn’t rolled away so Jesus could get out, but so Mary and Peter and John and whoever could get in. They could look in and see that Jesus’ body was gone. The first piece of evidence was the stone.

(ii) Verse 2: Mary made it clear that the tomb was empty. The empty tomb has no other explanation than that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

(a)  If Jesus’ body was stolen, the robbers somehow had to get past a Roman guard. If the Apostles took the body, then they all suffered and died martyr’s deaths for nothing. That’s simply harder to believe than the Resurrection. People don’t die for a lie. The enemies of Jesus didn’t take His body either. A few days after Jesus died in Jerusalem, His followers were proclaiming—in Jerusalem—that He had risen from the dead. All the enemies of Jesus had to do was produce the body. In fact, don’t you think they went to the tomb and tried to find the body? They couldn’t produce the body because Jesus had risen from the dead.

(b)  Some have suggested that Jesus didn’t really die—this is called the “swoon theory”. He didn’t really die, but was placed in the tomb, somehow revived in the tomb—despite massive loss of blood and no medical attention—got up and managed to move the stone and get out and convince everyone that He had miraculously risen from the dead. But this, too, is harder to believe than the resurrection.

1.     The scourging alone probably came near to killing Jesus. The loss of blood must have been tremendous. Then, He was crucified. It seems preposterous that anyone who understands the brutality of crucifixion could suggest that Jesus survived it.

2.     Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had already died, so he had the fact confirmed by a Roman centurion.

3.      In John 19, John reported that blood and water flowed from the pierced side of Jesus. Concerning this report, author Michael Green writes, “This is evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death. It is all the more impressive because the evangelist (John) could not possibly have realized its significance to a pathologist. The ‘blood and water’ from the spear-thrust is proof positive that Jesus was already dead.” (Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p. 199)

4.      The Jewish burial process alone would have most likely suffocated Jesus had He not died on the cross.

5.     Several books have been written in recent history suggesting this theory that Jesus didn’t really die. But there is absolutely no evidence and it is a complete contradiction of Scripture. You might as well say that aliens from the planet Krypton in the Gamma sector came and stole the body of Jesus. It’s a theory, but there’s not a shred of evidence to support the idea.

(iii)    Verses 3-8: But there’s more evidence than the moved stone and the empty tomb. Look at John 20:3-7. The fact that the grave clothes were still there is very important. Had someone come and stolen the body of Jesus, the grave clothes could either be gone or crumpled up. I believe John wanted us to understand that Jesus came through His grave clothes in the same way He came through a locked door.

(iv)    Verse 9: The Scriptures. Peter and John and the others “did not understand the Scriptures” yet. The point is, the Scriptures said long ago that the Messiah would rise from the dead. Peter makes this point at Pentecost 50 days later. Apparently he did some Bible study in there somewhere. Look at Acts 2:24-32.

(v) The rest of John 20—up to the story of Thomas—is more evidence for the honest doubter. Jesus began to appear to eyewitnesses. Mary Magdalene, then the other disciples. Paul would later report in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people. If this were a trial and we could produce 500 eyewitnesses, it would be an open and shut case.

(vi)    We could add to this list of evidence, too.

(a)  We could point out that Jesus predicted not only that He would die, but He predicted the way He would die.

(b) We could look at the radical transformation of the disciples. Despite the fact that they had been frightened and discouraged by the crucifixion of Jesus, whatever they saw—no, Whoever they saw three days later—changed everything.

(c)  We could explore the whole issue of the reliability of Scripture. This book is not a bunch of legends, but eyewitness accounts which have been confirmed repeatedly by historians, scientists and archeology. The fact that we can trust the Bible as an historical document is strong evidence that the Resurrection is true.

e)    So, here’s the question for those who don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ—whether that’s you or someone in your life you are witnessing to: Are you an honest doubter or a dishonest doubter? (write that under “A” on your outlines).

f)     Various scholars and intellectuals throughout history have decided they were going to disprove the Resurrection so they could disprove Christianity. In the process they proved themselves to be honest doubters. As they examined the evidence, they discovered that the Resurrection of Christ is true and they believed.

(i)   Frank Morison set out to write a book that disproved the Resurrection. He ended up writing Who Moved The Stone?—one of the greatest books of the past century written in defense of the Resurrection. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace is a similar story. Surprised by Joy is the story of how C.S. Lewis—an Oxford scholar—examined the evidence and became a believer. Jesus Rediscovered and Chronicles of Wasted Time tell the story of how scholar Malcolm Muggeridge became a believer.

(ii) Evidence That Demands A Verdict lays out the evidence that Josh McDowell found when he set out to disprove Christianity. What was the verdict according to McDowell? True! Listen to a few lines from that book. [Read from pages 364-5]

(iii)    Lee Strobel—an investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune set out to disprove Christianity—specifically the Resurrection—and ended up writing The Case For Christ. Listen to a brief account of his story. [Read pages 359-60]

3.     Thomas—Doubting Thomas—proved himself to be an honest doubter.

a)    Turn back to John 20:26-28. Thomas saw and believed.

b)    Clearly, John—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—recorded this story for us because he knew people would have difficulty believing the Resurrection. It only makes sense! Nothing like it has ever happened! So, he laid out the evidence and then showed how a skeptic like Thomas had not believed the evidence presented to him at first. But then, he received a visit from Jesus Himself. He then believed. He then became an eyewitness to the truth.

c)    Jesus demonstrated that it’s okay to doubt. He presented Thomas with the proof he required. If your doubt comes from an honest skepticism, that’s okay. It’s wise to be skeptical in most cases. If you see certain teachers and so-called healers on TV claiming they can heal you or make you wealthy if you send them a seed gift of $1,000, you should be skeptical. It’s wise to be skeptical.

d)    But when it comes to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s not okay to be a dishonest doubter. It’s not okay to ignore the Resurrection of Christ. It’s not okay to refuse to examine the evidence and pass judgment on it as a legend or myth. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important fact of history and Jesus welcomes honest doubt.

B.    Jesus blesses simple faith (29)

1.     Look at John 20:29. I love this verse. I imagine Jesus looking down through time and speaking these words to you and me. To every person who will ever pick up and read the Gospel of John.

2.     Yes, Thomas should have believed without seeing Jesus. The evidence was strong enough. Perhaps he was confused. Perhaps his grief over the death of Jesus was too strong and he just wouldn’t let himself have hope. But, the fact is, he should have believed. Go back to the beginning of John 20 when Peter and John ran to the tomb and found it empty—except for the grave clothes. Look at verse 8. John believed. He had not yet seen the imprint of the nails or touched Jesus’ side. Apparently, at that moment, John remembered that Jesus said He would die and rise again. Apparently, John—with the help of the Holy Spirit—put it together and realized what had happened. Thomas should have, too. He had even more evidence by that time—the testimony of several people he knew and trusted and loved. So, Jesus rebuked Thomas a little for believing only after he had “seen.”

3.     But He promised blessing for those who believe without seeing. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” That’s John. John believed before he saw Jesus. That’s also you and me. We believe in One we have not seen. We believe He died for us and rose from the dead. Jesus promises us we are “blessed.”

a)    Jesus is not saying, “Blessed are those whose faith is blind.” Who have no evidence to back up what they believe. As I said, He provided much evidence for His followers to prove His Resurrection. The Christian faith is an evidential faith.

b)    I also don’t believe He is saying, “Blessed are those who have believed.”

(i)   Don’t get me wrong—we are blessed. Those who believe in the Risen Lord are the most blessed people in this life. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul said that if Jesus has not risen from the dead, our faith is futile. But since He has risen, we have the promise of an incredible future—eternal life with God. We have the promise of being raised in bodies that cannot die or age or fall apart. We have the promise of being raised in bodies that will be far superior to our present bodies.

(ii) And even before all this takes place, we are blessed simply knowing that this life is not all there is—a far greater life is coming, so in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

(iii)    We who believe are blessed—we will be blessed. But this is not the blessing Jesus is speaking of in John 20:29 because Thomas, too, will receive those blessings. The implication is that those who believe without seeing are more blessed than Thomas.

c)    Jesus’ blessing is specifically for those who have not seen as opposed to those who have seen. In other words, Jesus’ blessing is for those who do not require Jesus to show up and physically display Himself in order to believe. Those who do not require visible proof. Those who do not require visions and miracles and experiences.

(i)   This seems backward to us. We think it would be a huge blessing if Jesus would make a visible, physical appearance here this morning or in our living room this afternoon. We think it would strengthen our faith if Jesus would do more miracles in our lives or instruct the Holy Spirit to sweep us off our feet with emotional experiences in our worship services.

(ii)  No, blessed are those who have not had the experience Thomas had—and yet believed. Blessed are those who have not received a personal visit from Jesus in the flesh—and yet have believed. Blessed are those who have not heard an audible voice from heaven—and yet have believed.

(iii)    God blesses those who put their faith in what He provides. What has He provided? His Word. Sometimes He chooses to provide miracles. Sometimes He chooses to touch our hearts with an emotional experience. Sometimes He speaks to us in very clear ways. But, blessed are those who are satisfied even if God does not provide those miracles and experiences and voices. Blessed are those who believe the Word—the Revelation—which He has provided. Whether it’s telling us that Jesus rose from the dead or that a life of honesty is best or that suffering can be God’s will for us. Blessed are those who believe.

(iv)    How do we know this is what Jesus meant? Look at the last two verses of chapter 20. The Gospel of John—and the entire Bible—was written so that we would believe. This written text is the way God has chosen to reveal the specific truth about Jesus—about Himself. So, God’s blessing is on those who believe His written revelation—the Bible. So, the question I’d like you to write under “B” is this: Am I walking with God in simple faith?

d)     The blessing is that we will not be driven and tossed by every wind of doctrine. Our walk with the Lord will not be dependent upon greater and more exciting experiences, but upon knowing and believing and trusting His Word. The spiritual life—life in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit—is a life of faith. Faith in the revealed will of God found in the Word of God. It’s simple—not easy, but simple faith. The blessing of that life is a very satisfying, stable and steady growth in Christ.

e)    Having said that, I don’t pretend to know what all those blessings might be. Jesus simply promised that those who believed without seeing would be blessed. I believe it simply pleases Him more when we believe Him without requiring Him to provide more and more evidence. Perhaps the blessings come in unique and various ways to each individual. Perhaps God blesses those who believe without seeing by giving them greater and deeper spiritual eyesight into the ways and thoughts and heart of God. Perhaps those who have not seen with their eyes—and believe—will see far more of the deep things of God with their hearts and souls.

III. Closing

A.   A boy named Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully. The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought Leggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.” Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.” “Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted. “There’s nothing there!” I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!” Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg. (Source unknown)

B.    It’s really very simple. The tomb was empty! The greatest fact of history. But it’s so easy for us to slide and drift away from what is most important—taking God at His Word and simply believing Him. No matter what is being taught in other pulpits today, we must believe what God’s Word tells us is true. The cost is too great—for ourselves and our children—if we do not.

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