Summary: John writes his Gospel for the future generations of Christians.
Sermon for 2 Easter Yr B, 27/04/2003
Based on Jn 20:19-31
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The coach for a little league team had not yet learned the names of all his players, so he called them by the numbers on their uniforms. When he yelled, “Number five, your time to bat,” Tommy came to the plate. When he called, “Number seven,” Ricky jumped up.
Then he yelled, “Number one,” but no one responded. “Who’s number one?” he called. The entire team responded, “We are, coach! We are!” 1
In today’s gospel, although many verses are devoted to the eye witnesses of Christ’s resurrection; although Thomas in particular is a prominent figure in today’s gospel; nonetheless the closing verses speak directly to all would-be Christians who have not seen the risen Christ. Jesus says to Thomas after he makes his confession of faith: “Have you believed because you have seen me? BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE COME TO BELIEVE.” It is Jesus’s way of making the same point as those players to their coach: EVERYONE ON THE TEAM IS NUMBER ONE! EVERYONE WHO FOLLOWS AND BELIEVES IN JESUS IS THE SAME, ALL ARE NUMBER ONE!—WHETHER FIRST GENERATION EYE WITNESSES, GOSPEL WRITERS, APOSTLES, OR CHRISTIANS DOWN THROUGH EACH CENTURY SINCE THEN, INCLUDING US NOW IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY; WE’RE ALL NUMBER ONE!
Adding to and building upon those words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe;” John tells us: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in his book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Here John also takes the future generations of would-be Christians seriously by writing down these words. Here John states his purpose for writing his Gospel—namely, to bear witness to Christ so that others may come to believe in him. Notice though that now, at the time of John’s Gospel, the church has moved from the importance of seeing the risen Christ face-to-face; to hearing and reading the Gospel as a testimony to those who live after the fact. Scripture, in the form of the written word becomes of central importance to all post-resurrection Christians, including us today. It is through the preservation and passing on of the scriptures from generation to generation, century to century that God continues to work and speak to us. So, in this sense, we are as important as the first eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection; we, like they are all number one!
It is true that the church is always one generation away from extinction. God relies on each living generation to preserve, read, study, proclaim and pass on the scriptures and the faith into the next generation. This work has never been easy, especially so in a hostile world. Yet, somehow, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do it. There is so much resistance to it in the world, then add your resistance and mine to that! Is there not a doubting, sceptical Thomas within each one of us?! I believe there is—I know there is in me personally. All of us would like the luxury of Thomas; all of us would most likely PREFER TO SEE BEFORE WE BELIEVE! Yet, somehow we stumble onward without seeing. Somehow the risen Christ is alive and working in and through each one of us. Somehow, in spite, or perhaps because of our resistance, he is able to reach us and others. Somehow, even in the smallest of thoughts, words, and actions, he speaks through us.
About 1930, the Communist leader Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev. His mission was to address a huge assembly. His subject, atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling argument and ridicule. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smouldering ashes of people’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” The vast assembly arose as one person and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” 2
History has indeed born the truth of this and similar stories—namely, that Christianity has prevailed and even flourished in the most hostile and difficult of circumstances. Insofar as it has prevailed and flourished, the risen Jesus Christ himself is powerfully present in, with, and through Christians around the world—including us! The following story attests to this truth.