Sunday, April 28, 2019
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Driving through Pennsylvania Dutch Country with their seven‑year‑old grandson. The family passed an Amish horse and buggy, and the grandson asked, “Why do they use horses instead of automobiles?” The grandma explained that the Amish didn’t believe in automobiles. After a few moments, the grandson asked: “But can’t they see them?”
I’d say that’s a reasonable question, wouldn’t you? Once you’ve seen something with your own eyes, it’s hard not to believe in it. That’s why followers of Christ are so often considered fools. We believe in a God we can’t see, in a Savior who performed miracles and came back from the dead, and a Holy Spirit who lives in us and guides us in the way of truth and of love. No wonder so many people reject our faith.
Our Bible message today is based on a man who has been nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas was a faithful follower of Jesus. He had proven his loyalty as a disciple when Jesus was alive. But Thomas was also a rational man. And when the other disciples and the women claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, Thomas wasn’t going to get excited until he saw Jesus with his own eyes. “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were,” he said, “and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
That, of course, happened on the following Sunday evening. The Gospel of John tells us, “A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.’”
You know what happens next. It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible. Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So often when we look at this important passage we focus on Thomas’ doubts and we say, “Yes, I can identify with that.” And we miss the punch line. We miss the important part. We miss the words of the Master. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We’re not talking about the smugly self-righteous who spout off answers to questions no one is even asking. We’re talking about people who have come to grips with their doubts in an honest and forthright way and have made a commitment of their will to trust in the care and providence of God.
They are the blessed of this earth. They are healthier, happier, and generally more effective in relating to others than are the doubters and the cynics. It is they who move the world forward, for there is power in believing, more power than the unbeliever can ever know. Part of that power is the power of vision. Truly if seeing is believing, the converse is equally as true. Believing is seeing, seeing possibilities and promises that imply good fortune for all who perceive their presence. So, I say it again, blessed are the believers.
Of course, we have our doubts. All thinking people do. Woody Allen was right. Faith would be easier if God would show Himself by depositing a million dollars in a Swiss bank account in our name.
Why can’t God do something like that for us? It would be easy. A giant comet streaking through a dark winter night with its tail sky-writing in our behalf, “I love you, God.” Of course, if that happened, immediately a group of cynics would get together and explain to us that it was just a freak product of certain atmospheric conditions.
But why doesn’t God do something spectacular like that to let us know He’s there? There is a part of us that says with Thomas, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Undoubtedly, God has His reasons. If His aim is to produce mature spirits fit to spend eternity in His presence, it makes sense that He would not reveal Himself in His fullness to us. Such certainty would keep us perpetually immature. If a child knows that his father will always be there to solve every problem, to resolve every crisis, to comfort every sorrow, the child will never develop self-reliance. It may be that our insecurity is essential to spiritual growth.
God has His reasons for not revealing Himself more clearly to us. Probably it is because it is essential to our spiritual growth to question and to ponder and to seek God as a thirsty person seeks for water.
Besides, most of us have certainty enough. Jesus said that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed and we will be able to move mountains (Matthew 17:20). It’s not how much faith we have that makes the crucial difference in life. It’s how much we love God and our fellow human beings.
We believe in God, and we see God’s presence and power everywhere we look. We believe in God’s kingdom. But the real meaning of our lives as Christians is to believe God’s kingdom in.
Look at how amazing the world is and how complex. Could something this wonderful have occurred without Divine Guidance? Are you kidding me? You would have to strain all credulity to believe that! For most of the world’s people, there is certainty enough.
This isn’t to say that faith is to be accepted without careful thought. God gave us minds protecting us from gullibility to every silly idea that comes down the pike. We need to closely examine every new idea to which we are exposed, whether it comes from a preacher, a politician, a professor, a news publication or a TV pundit. God doesn’t honor gullibility. Nevertheless, we’ll never make much progress in life until that moment when we take our stand, until we resolve in our own mind what we do believe and to whom we are committed. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s the first thing we need to see. Blessed are the believers. Here is the second.
Believers are a blessing to the world. Where has there ever been a monument erected to the cynic, the critic, the doubter? As someone has said, “He who pulls on the oars has no time to rock the boat.” Believers are those who know that the world can yet be a better place. Consider our own society. Who have been the builders? Who have constructed the hospitals, the great universities, the social service agencies? Behind everyone you will find persons who hold in their hearts not cynicism but hope, not doubt but faith, not hostility but love.
Would you be offended if I said that most cynics are idiots? I mean that in the original sense of the word. The Greek word IDIOS meant “to look after one’s own private affairs.” The Greeks considered anyone who turned his or her back on the public good, who ignored the health and security of the whole society in order to look after his or her own affairs, an idiot. So, now you know the rest of the story. An idiot: one who turns his or her back on the public good in order to look after his or her own affairs.
Are you an idiot? I know that doesn’t sound like a question I ought to ask from the pulpit. I’m merely asking, are you content with paying attention strictly to your own affairs and letting the rest of the world literally go to hell in a hand basket?
Believers are not idiots. They’re people who know that if they make this a better place for their neighbors, they will also make it a better place for themselves. They have learned that the path to greatness is the road of service. In the soaring language of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your noun and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
“When evil men plot, good men plan. When evil men bomb and burn, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glory of love . . .”
A prominent newscaster once put it like this: “A successful [person] is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.”
Where are you this morning, on the side of the doubters or on the side of the believers? Anybody can be a doubting Thomas. It takes no particular strength of character to say, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It does take strength of character to say, “I don’t have all the answers. But I know who is making this world a better place to live. It’s those who are followers of the Man from Galilee. And I want to make my stand with them! I don’t have all the answers, but unless someone proves otherwise, I will take my stand with those who believe this beautiful world was the creation of a good and loving God. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary has somehow changed this world forever. I don’t have all the answers but put me down as a believer.”
Listen again to the words of our Lord to the disciple Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”