Life is in His name

Life is in His name

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


As time has passed and, Lord-willing, it appears the curve is flattening, I’ve noticed the news coverage, analyses, and opinions have turned to the question of How will we know? How will we know when it’s safe to reopen our country? How will we know when we can relax some of the social distancing guidelines?


That’s a difficult question. Our leaders are wrestling with it and I suppose each of us individually has to wrestle with it as well. How will I know that the time has come when I’ll feel safe resuming a little bit more of a social life? Probably we all have a slightly different criteria. Some may already chomping at the bit, others may follow the experts and the leaders, for others it might be a long time before their criteria are met and they feel safe heading out again.


Bottom line: each one of us has to reckon with the question: How will I know?


That’s not unlike the reactions we find in the aftermath of another cataclysmic event, the clash between the One and Only God and all the forces of sin, hell, and death. You find that, as word got out that the Easter tomb was empty, the disciples and Jesus’ followers all had this same question on their minds. How will I know? How will I know that it’s true?


The women who were first to arrive at the scene and who heard the angels words, we are told, did not at first believe them. They seemed like idle tales to those women, Luke says. Yet those women ran and told the disciples. And what did the disciples do? Peter and John had to go see for themselves. It took John stepping into the tomb on Peter’s heels and seeing the neatly-folded linens to believe. Later on, it would be breaking bread at a table in a little village a few miles outside Jerusalem, or showing up behind locked doors and eating fish and pointing to pierced hands and feet and side. 


I have no doubt that there were other followers of Jesus who missed out on all these resurrection encounters. We’re told about just one of them, just Thomas, but surely there were more. Surely some simply heard the reports from others and believed. But that was not enough for Thomas. How would Thomas know? He had a simple test. I will know by feel, Thomas said. By doing what a very little child does when they see someone else has an ow-wie. They stick their finger into it and say, “You have an ow-wie!” That’s what Thomas wanted to do.


In this realm, too, we aren’t off the hook. We also have to reckon with this question. How do I know that Jesus really did rise from the dead? What will take for me to say that Jesus is not just a God or someone else’s Lord but My Lord and My God?


Will it take a twist off Thomas’s idea? Feeling is believing—not in terms of the sense of touch but in terms of some emotional reaction within my heart that will assure me beyond all doubts that Jesus lives and I am his. Well, emotions are tricky. They change and they can deceive us. And what one day seems to feel so sure and certain on another day may not feel certain or real at all!


Ok, then something else. A logical argument, a reasonable case. Demonstrate to me why I should believe in Jesus, do the deep dive into apologetics and find some fine and very wise points. But consider this. Anything that is won by human wisdom and reason can also be overthrown by the same. What happens when your bulletproof argument is outgunned by an atheist’s better argument and in the end your case looks like Swiss cheese, full of holes?


So then what? A miracle? A sign? You know the miracles of Jesus are proof only for those who already believe. There were guards at his tomb who knew the resurrection took place, but were not convinced to do anything other than spread falsehoods. Besides, if you want Jesus to do a miracle for you, you’ll end up exactly like Thomas. You’ll always need him to do one more. Don’t forget, Thomas had seen so many of the miracles and signs Jesus did. But they weren’t enough for him to believe in the resurrection. He needed another one, another shot, another dose.


It is really important, my friends, that we realize exactly what this account about Thomas and Jesus’ appearance to him is all about. It’s not suggesting that we should expect Jesus to show up in our living room and let us thrust a finger into a nail hole. It’s not promising that there will be unmistakeable signs happening in your life that will make it clear Jesus in control. 


What is this account all about? Well, consider how significant it is that first Jesus comments on Thomas’s reaction and then John interrupts the flow of his narrative to address us, his readers, directly, so that we don’t miss the point that Jesus was making.


Those two comments are like flashing signs, drawing our attention away from the astonishment on Thomas’s face and directing us where? Well, what does Jesus say? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed. What does John drive home? I’ve written these things down for YOU, so that YOU may believe and, by believing, have life in his name.


How do we know? The answer is so simple, a little child can sing it. The Bible tells me so. Seriously, that’s it. These words are written down and now they have come to us and we hold them in our hands in a book on our lap and listen to them as they are preached and hear them anew once more this year: He is not here! He has risen, just as he said. See my hands, touch the nail holes, do not disbelieve but believe. Jesus died and rose again! We know it through the simple words of Holy Scripture. And through those simple words, the Spirit of God works faith. He puts an end to the questions and the doubts and the disbelief. He testifies that this is true and that we need no more evidence than God’s Word. 


And it’s the Spirit who causes us to fall on our knees, like Thomas did, and say, My Lord and My God! What was I doing, searching for you in all the wrong places? For my sins of doubt and for sins of putting you to the test, forgive me, Lord. Be my Lord and my God. And Jesus says, This, too is written down. Your forgiveness is won; my resurrection assures you of it!


See how much more blessed than Thomas we really are? We don’t need to put ultimatums to God. We don’t need the circumstances in our lives to align perfectly. We don’t need to doubt or worry that someone or some new argument is going to shake our conviction and our faith. The powerful and mighty Word who stepped alive out of the tomb has stepped into our hearts through his Word to bring his true life to us.


What’s left for us, now that endless circles and doubts and worries and fears are all so readily dismissed? What’s left? The true joy of the resurrection, that Jesus lives and we have life in his name. No matter what. No fretting about how I’ll know for sure.


My friends, the real joy of Easter is that it’s My Lord and My God who stepped out of that tomb. Knowing that gives me peace and confidence and courage to face each new day. My hope isn’t built on vain idols but on the living Savior. Who assures me that he now lives and rules over all things for us, for the benefit of his people, his Church.


We’re living through confusing times. There’s a lot sorting out still to be done. But we’re God’s people. Anchored in his resurrection, we have everything we need. No, he’s not going to reveal to us when it’s “safe.” He gives us brains and the ability to use them for that kind of work. What he tells us is that we’re not only safe in his hands, we’re even blessed. 


Why? We haven’t seen, but yet we have believed. And without a doubt the day is coming when we’ll stand before him and gaze in awe and wonder at those pierced hands and side and we’ll say the very same thing we’re saying right now. This is my Lord and my God! Amen.