Sunday, April 16, 2023

“Easter - Fact Or Fiction? The Cure For Doubt” The Gospel Message for April 16, 2023 — Second Sunday of Easter

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 20th chapter of John, beginning with the 19th verse.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “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.”

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.”

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.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31, NIV)

Dear Heavenly Father, you have revealed yourself to us through your Word, recorded in the Scriptures, spoken by the prophets, but most clearly, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Word become flesh. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word so that we might perceive your presence among us, embrace your truth for our lives, and gain the courage to witness your redeeming grace to others. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Easter - Fact Or Fiction?
The Cure For Doubt

“The Easter story is nothing but a myth,” Tom’s high school teacher announced to his class a few days before Easter break. “Jesus not only didn’t rise from the grave,” he continued, “but there’s no God in heaven who would allow his son to be crucified in the first place.”

“Sir, I believe in God,” Tom protested. “And I believe in the resurrection.”

“Tom, you can believe what you wish to, of course,” the teacher said, “However, the real world excludes the possibility of miracles like the resurrection. The resurrection is a scientific impossibility. No one who believes in miracles can also respect science.”

Then the teacher proposed an experiment. Reaching into his refrigerator, he produced a raw egg and held it up. “I’m going to drop this egg on the floor,” he said. “Gravity will pull it toward the floor that the egg will most certainly break apart.” Looking at Tom with a challenge, he said, “Now, Tom, I want you to pray right now and ask your God to keep this egg from breaking when it hits the floor. If he can do that, then you’ll have proven your point, and I’ll have to admit that there is a God.”

After pondering the challenge momentarily, Tom slowly stood up to pray: “Dear Heavenly Father,” Tom prayed, “I pray that when my teacher drops the egg, it will break into a hundred pieces. And also, Lord, I pray that when the egg does break, my teacher will have a heart attack and die. Amen.”

After a unison gasp, the class sat in silent expectation. For a moment, the teacher did nothing. At last, he looked at Tom and then at the egg. Without a word, he carefully put the egg back into the refrigerator. “Class dismissed,” the teacher said, and then he sat down to clear his desk.

The teacher apparently did believe in God’s existence more than he thought. Many people, like that teacher, deny that God exists, yet run from him, question him, and attack him whenever they get the chance. That teacher wasn’t willing to bet his life that God didn’t exist.

Many people doubt the existence of God. Many people doubt the resurrection. On that first Easter many years ago, one of the disciples refused to believe in the resurrection. He had doubts. Today we are going to take a look at that man and see how his doubts are our doubts. We’ll also see how Jesus healed this man of the disease of doubt and how he heals us today.

On Easter night, the disciples were together in a house, hiding behind locked doors. Several of them had seen Jesus alive, and now they were scared. What were the Jewish leaders going to do? Would they be arrested now? Would they be accused of stealing the body? Would anyone believe them if they told people Jesus had risen from the dead? They were hiding from the Pharisees and Sadducees—hoping to avoid confrontation.

Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the middle of them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus always says just the right thing at the right time, doesn’t he? He tells them that they can feel peace in their hearts. He was there, and they had nothing to worry about. He showed them his hands and side to prove to them that he wasn’t a ghost but that he was the same Jesus they had known, the same Jesus they had seen crucified just three days earlier.

The Apostle Thomas wasn’t there. When he returned, the disciples told him that Jesus had appeared to them. But Thomas didn’t believe: “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.” You can’t get much more skeptical than that, can you? I will not believe unless I see visible proof.

Why does Thomas refuse to believe? Because Thomas was a practical person, he lived in a practical world. He was shattered on Good Friday when Jesus died. But he wasn’t about to succumb to fantasy. Dead was dead, and that was it. No one in their right mind would doubt it when the Romans said a prisoner was dead. They were experts at killing! It’s not that Thomas didn’t want to believe that Jesus was still alive. But Thomas knew how the world worked. Dead was dead, and that was it.

That’s how our world sees Jesus’ resurrection today. Nice idea, but it didn’t really happen. Many people are set on proving that the resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual resurrection. Jesus arose only in the sense that his spirit goes marching on, sort of life the way the spirit of Abraham Lincoln continues to influence America.

But William Lane Craig, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the resurrection, dismisses such a theory. Dr. Craig is an English scholar with two earned doctoral degrees. Currently, he teaches at the University of Louvain near Brussels. Dr. Craig points out that it would have been a contradiction in terms of an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead, but his body was left in the tomb. That’s not how people talked back then.

Furthermore, Dr. Craig points out numerous disciples were executed because they would not deny the resurrection. No sane person would die for something that didn’t happen. Of all the events that took place in the first century, no historical event has better or more widespread documentation than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And yet, we Christian today live in a sea of doubt. And when you’re swimming in doubt, it’s hard not to get wet and have that doubt seep into your thinking. Have you ever doubted? Have you ever wondered about the whole business of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection? Have you ever asked yourself if your faith is really only a superstition? Have you ever wondered, “Am I a Christian only because my parents were? Often we’re afraid to face our doubts because we’re afraid of what we might find. We’re fearful of what others might think. People might find out how weak our faith really is, so we keep our doubts to ourselves. And yet, our doubts don’t go away—they’re always there, and like a cancer, our doubt slowly eats away at our faith until we believe in Jesus less and less, and we become more and more skeptical, like Thomas, in our story for today.

What can you do to get rid of doubt? Nothing, really. There is no cure on this earth that will take away your doubts. If they find Noah’s ark up in the mountain, if they find the burial shroud of Christ, if all of your friends and family have the most amazing arguments in the world – none of those things can cure you of your doubt. Only one thing can.

That one thing happened to Thomas one week later. The disciples were together on the Sunday after Easter, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked again. Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the middle of them. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says again. And then, he focuses on Thomas. He invites Thomas to do what he said he wanted to do—to touch the wounds he had sustained on the cross. “Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus told Thomas.

This is what cured Thomas of his doubt. Thomas responded by saying, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas had become a man of faith, a man who believed in Jesus, even though everything he knew about the world would tell him otherwise.

The only solution, the only way, that you can get rid of the doubt in your heart is to have moments with Jesus Christ like Thomas had that Sunday after Easter. “Now, wait for a second,” you might say. “Jesus appeared to Thomas. How am I supposed to have a moment like that?” When does Jesus come to you and speak to you, as he spoke to Thomas? When does Jesus chase away your doubts? When does he transform you into someone who strongly believes in him, like Thomas did after it was all over?

Today, Jesus comes to you in an invisible way through his Word. Every time you hear the Word of God, Jesus steps into your life and says, “Peace be with you.” Every time you receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is right there, through his body and blood, and he chases away your doubts and fills you with faith, hope, and trust in him. Through the Word, through the Sacraments, that’s how Jesus appears to you and speaks to you, just as he spoke to Thomas.

I was reading an article from a student publication put out by the WELS called “Lightsource.” It’s written by college students about their experiences in college. The article on the front page is entitled “Faith vs. Reason,” and it’s about a student who was really wrestling with doubts about her faith in God. The classes she took had caused her to question the existence of God. She was losing her faith, swimming in a sea of doubt. Trying to rely on her reason to find proof that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead.

But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get rid of your doubts that way. And then, she turned to the only thing that could cure her of her doubt: “Finally, I turned to the Word of God to find a foothold,” she said. “I needed the Holy Spirit to change me and fan into flame once more the faith in my heart.” God is who changed her, and he did that through his Word.

That’s how Jesus changes you today. In verse 29, Jesus says to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.” Jesus is talking about you. You have not seen him with your own eyes like Thomas. But you have believed. You have believed by having Jesus come to you in an invisible way through his Word. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus did other miraculous signs that are not recorded in the Bible. “But these are written” (these stories, these accounts of Jesus and his disciples) “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Stay close to the Word of God. Take the Lord’s Supper regularly. Let Jesus speak to your heart, just as he spoke to Thomas. Let Jesus take away your doubts. Let Jesus change you into a Christian who strongly believes that Jesus is the Christ, even though you have never seen him. May God grant you the same heart he granted to Thomas, a heart that says, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Today's sermon shared by Don Schultz on Mar 28, 2002.
“The Easter story is nothing but a myth,” Tom’s high school teacher announced to his class a few days before Easter break.

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