How do Christians come to faith?
That first Easter night didn’t start out as a cause for celebration, did it? Recall the setting–a dwelling with locked doors on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Ten of Jesus disciples are gathered, just hours from hearing the revelation the women reported from their early morning visit to the empty tomb. The disciples are worried that the authorities may be out looking for them too. They are seriously concerned that they too would be punished as Jesus’ accomplices–the rabble-rousers and perpetrators of rebellion to threaten the stability of Roman rule. Guilt by association, right?
What do you suppose the mood was that night? Our text describes the disciples as fearful. No doubt we could add in anxious, uncertain, apprehensive, or perhaps just plain scared stiff of what might happen to them if and when the other shoe dropped. If they were discovered they might be hauled in front of the same kangaroo court system that crucified their leader, their lord, and teacher. Even Peter, who went to the empty tomb after the women’s report that morning, is described as “amazed”–not as one convinced, or full of faith, trusting and believing what the women claimed.
Suddenly, in their midst, Jesus appears and says “peace be with you.” Jesus, who fulfilled God’s promise made long ago, one that Jesus had told his followers repeatedly during his lifetime, but one they didn’t understand or believe. Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins. Jesus who overcame sin and death–for us and for our salvation. Finally, his followers rejoiced in the risen Savior and Lord. Seeing was believing.
However, the lone disciple who receives most of the attention from our Gospel this second Sunday in Easter is, of course, Thomas. Thomas–who wasn’t there with the ten for some undocumented reason that Easter night, but was among the 11 the following week, when Jesus again appeared behind closed doors.
Doubting Thomas’ mark in history was born then, established by his lack of faith and his pronouncement, “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.”
What do you think?
Did Thomas get a bad rap–an unfair reputation? One could argue that Thomas displayed qualities which our society today in this post-modern era, value and endorse. Do you agree that Thomas provides a good role model–someone who is thoughtful and discerning. He demonstrated a scientific inquiry approach that includes observation, testing, and measuring a hypothesis before drawing a conclusion. And when Jesus appears again to the disciples a week later, Thomas has the opportunity to do just that. Whether he actually did put his fingers in the nail holes or not isn’t spelled out, but Thomas does respond, “my Lord and my God.” He accepts Jesus as his risen Savior.
Jesus does three things in our Gospel from John this morning. First, he appeared in person, offering his peace to the disciples. Second, Jesus, as recorded in this account in John, gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, of a faith not present in them up until this point. And third, Jesus gave them the authority to forgive sin, creating the Christian church on earth.
Let’s fast-forward 2,000 years to this Easter season 2016 to share the message of this seven week season of the church year to all of you gathered here this morning.
Consider for a moment if you will the range of emotions experienced by the disciples that Easter night in Jerusalem. They had locked themselves up–filled with the emotions of anxiety, doubt, and fear. Sound familiar? It very well might. Every one of us has in the past, perhaps does in the present, and/or will in the future experience these emotions, emotions that keep us too locked up, emotionally, if not physically or spiritually. These emotions of fear and doubt can betray our own disbelief, our own lack of faith, and diminish our own abilities to fulfill the mission Jesus calls us to in our own lives, as well as in the life of the church.
What can we do about it? Nothing–of our own accord. I recall from seminary days our studies and the comparison of our faith like a droplet of water clinging to the side of a glass. Our faith is that fragile, that tenuous–and we ourselves cannot come to faith without Christ Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about us and our own merits. It’s about what God has done for us and how God works in our lives.
So how do Christians come to faith?
There are a couple ways. One means is the old adage “seeing is believing.” For the early disciples in that first century of the common era, those who were blessed to witness the resurrected Jesus in their life time, faith came to them first hand. Pretty powerful wasn’t it? Hard not to accept Christ as the Risen Savior when they knew he had been raised up on a cross, with nails in his hands and feet at Golgotha. The disciples went from cowering followers, uncertain of their futures, in a locked room that Easter night, to apostles. They became God’s messengers throughout the region, spreading the Good News. Nearly all would suffer violent deaths for their beliefs and ministry.
The second way people come to Christ, as they have for these two millennia, is through listening, as we come to do here at worship, by hearing God’s word and believing. We have been given the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul wrote in the tenth chapter of his letter to the Romans: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Recall Jesus’ own words: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus came to his disciples and gave them his peace. Jesus commissioned them to go and preach the Good News, the Gospel, and breathed on them, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We know too that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the law, by which civil order is maintained and by which we are condemned to sin and death. But the law also serves to point and bring us to the cross, the place where God’s son made us–as sinners, as we confessed at the beginning of worship, and at the same time made saints through the forgiveness of sins. At Holy Communion, we receive that gift, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us for the forgiveness of sins.
We too have that gift. We too are called and sent, not to be anxious, apprehensive, and locked up by our doubts and every day fears. We are sent into this world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord over all. We can rest assured, experiencing that peace that passes all understanding. May it keep our hearts and minds in faith through Christ Jesus.