The Chain of Faith

John 20:24-30

We live in a world where a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing. People lie to us all the time. Given that, I am glad to know that, at first, Thomas doubted that Jesus of Nazareth had truly been raised.

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We live in a world where a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing. People lie to us all the time and unless you have a good built-in lie detector, the liars will sell you a worthless extended warranty for your car or convince you that a pack of lies is the true path to godliness and peace.

Given that, I am glad to know that, at first, Thomas doubted that Jesus of Nazareth had truly been raised.

For some reason, Thomas had not been there the night Jesus first appeared to his disciples as a group. When the others told him that they had seen Jesus, Thomas, a twin, could think of other explanations for what they thought they had seen. After all, he thought, the dead don’t rise! (Or could they? Maybe sometimes. Hadn’t Jesus raise Lazarus?)

That he had such doubts, and that Jesus was able to convince him that he had truly risen is comforting, first because someone who was not easily fooled checked out the story before spreading it, and second, because it shows Jesus patience with those who aren’t immediately convinced that he has risen.

Even though Thomas doubted at first, it is worth remembering that Thomas spent the rest of his life proclaiming Jesus as the risen and ascended Son of God, the savior of humanity. He carried the Gospel as far south and east as the west coast of India, where he finally died at the hands of people who would not believe him.

In our Gospel lesson, we hear how Jesus finally confronted Thomas and encouraged him to satisfy himself that he, Jesus, was the one who had been crucified and who was now standing bodily before him. The wound from the spear and the marks from the nails were still visible and easily examined. He had certainly been dead and now he was just as certainly alive.

Thomas had had to be convinced before he could fulfill the purpose for which Jesus had chosen him. He was one of the chief witnesses that Jesus had been raised and one of those who would see him ascend into heaven. Through his testimony and the testimony of the other apostles, God would reach out to the nations of the world to save those who believed.

On the night when Jesus showed himself to Thomas, he pronounced a blessing on those would believe the testimony of Thomas and the other apostles. He said, “blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.”

You and I are among those people. Our faith in Christ is founded upon the testimony of others. In the New Testament we have the combined testimony of numerous witnesses. Matthew and John were part of the twelve. They had traveled with Jesus. They had heard his teaching, and when Jesus had spoken to large crowds, they may well have stood at a distance repeating everything he said so that people even more distant would know what Jesus had said. They had seen his miracles, such as the feeding of the 5,000 and the raising of Lazarus.

They both had seen Jesus alive after his death. Probably, so had Mark. Certainly, James of Jerusalem (author of the Epistle of James), Jude, and of course Peter, who like John had been one of Jesus’ closest disciples, had seen him. Even Paul, who had been convinced the others were all liars had encountered the risen Christ and so had come to believe.

Although Luke probably never met Jesus face-to-face, he spent years carefully researching what he wrote, so that others would have an orderly and reliable account that provided truth without embellishment as the stories about Jesus spread from the original tellers to others by word of mouth. 

The apostle John wrote that Jesus had said and done many things, but that in his Gospel he had selected just a few things that would his readers to believe that Jesus was the Christ, so that by that belief they would receive eternal life in Jesus’ name.

This, then, is the blessing we have received through their testimony: faith in Jesus and through him the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.

But the testimony of these faithful witnesses is not the only ground for our faith. We also have the writings of the prophets. These men lived hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, yet in their preaching and their writing they often looked forward to the work which Jesus would accomplish. They provide many unusual details of his life and work that can be used to prove that Jesus is the Christ, and which also foretold the nature and purpose of his work.

Finally, we have also been heavily influenced by the faith and experience of the people around us. They have shared their understanding of the writings of the apostles and prophets with us. They have told us of the comfort they have taken from those words. They have prayed for us and have encouraged us to pray also so that we might see that we have a God who truly listens and who answers prayer—sometimes even in miraculous ways.

God has used all of these people–prophets, apostles, and other believers–to convince us that we have a true savior in Jesus and that in him we have the forgiveness of sins and an eternal and blessed life.

Yet, let’s be honest, not everyone who has heard these testimonies believes them. In our day many are skeptical of any religious texts or claims. Given that most of the world’s religions are based upon speculations or outright lies, some skepticism is warranted. Yet, those who scoff at our faith rarely listen. Proverbs says those who try to reason with such people are only creating trouble for themselves. 

There are others who know the truth but turn away from it. They live in a state of denial. Because they do not wish to confront the evil of their own deeds they resist the truth and refuse to believe it.

Because of these things not everyone will share our faith, even if we are faithful in sharing it. But some will listen  and we share with them the things that we have learned and believed: the events recorded in the Bible and the things it teaches about sin and grace. We can also tell them about our faith and the way our relationship with God has affected our life, how he has stood by us when life has gotten difficult, how he has helped, and what we hope for. 

It doesn’t take any great expertise or knowledge to share such things. All that is required is a living faith and the openness to share a portion of one’s life truthfully with another. At times that will mean sharing our weaknesses and failings, especially when such sharing will allow us to testify concerning the power and grace of God. The apostle Paul, for example, often told others how he had once persecuted the church, but that Jesus had saved him despite his evil and violence. He would share that to convince the people he told of his past that God in his grace would also welcome them if they would put their faith in Christ Jesus.

All of this, the testimony of the apostles and the prophets, the preaching and teaching of the church, and the things our parents and friends have shared with us over the years have a singular purpose: God has used them to bring us to faith in Christ and to strengthen that faith, so that we can be part of the fellowship of the people who love and serve him and who share in the blessings he has promised.

When we speak to others it should be for the same purpose. Like John whose preaching and writings shared the things he had heard, and seen, and handled, we share our faith and experience with others so that they, too, may believe and receive eternal life. 

The fact the some will not believe should not deter us much less cause us to think of ourselves as a failure. Consider the ten who witnessed to Thomas. His stubbornness overpowered their joy, enthusiasm, and love as they shared the good news about Christ’s resurrection with him, but that did not prevent God’s purpose from being achieved. When they had said all they could, Jesus, himself, stepped in and closed the deal.

Later as they preached to the nations, only some believed. Others turned away. Others even opposed them and tried to silence them. Yet they persevered in the power and purpose of the Spirit that directed them and through that perseverance the church was well establish. Under the leadership of the same Spirit, it has continued their work for two millennia.

May that work continue as you and I share the spiritual blessings that we have received. So that through the testimony of the apostles, the prophets, and the long chain of believers that connects their day with ours, others may also believe and through believing have life in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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