Easter 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Seeing is Believing
John 20

Introduction:

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

But when doubting Thomas heard those words, he didn’t buy it.  He had to see it for himself.  Has someone ever told you something so outrageous that you said, “I’m going to have to see that to believe it!” 

ILL: In February, Laina and I got away for a few days in Hawaii to celebrate our 40th anniversary.  One day, my good friend Rick Noll and I rented a two-man kayak and paddled three miles out into the ocean hoping to see the humpbacked whales up close.  We saw several at a distance, and two passed within a hundred feet of our little kayak.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out. 

Seeing is believing!  Ok, here’s the deal.  We really did see the whales only 100 feet from our kayak.  But we didn’t have a camera with us.  This picture is was taken only 50 yards off shore as we’re waving goodbye to our wives—here’s the original.  Later, that wicked Rick photoshopped the whale tail in!  He’s good!  He also got this shot of me with a dolphin!  Not buying it, are you? 

But despite lack of photographic evidence, we really did see a couple whales only 100 feet from our kayak.  The only evidence you have of that is my word, and Rick’s word.  Do you believe us?  Me, of course; wicked Rick, doubtful!

Most of us can think of something we’ve heard and wanted to see it to believe it.  And often, seeing is believing.  

Or, is it?  Do you have to see to believe?  And if you do see, do you really believe, or have you passed beyond belief to knowledge? 

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of Jesus’ resurrection and His subsequent appearances to His followers as it’s told in the gospel of John.  You’ll see that for all of the disciples, seeing was believing—they refused to believe Jesus was alive until they saw Him.  And you’ll see that Jesus challenges that idea that seeing is believing. 

The Big Idea: Even though we haven’t seen the resurrected Jesus, we believe those who did, and we can experience life to the full!

Here’s the story.  (OFFERING)

1. The story of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances.

Actually, I have to give you a little backstory first.  The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says that the gospel is good news about Jesus—particularly these two things:

  • Jesus died for our sins and was buried.
  • Jesus rose on the third day and appeared to many.

You can’t really understand the second one without the first.

On Good Friday, Jesus was arrested, beaten and crucified.  But He wasn’t a martyr or a victim.  He was a sacrifice.  No one took His life from Him; He gave His life.  He didn’t just die from something—crucifixion.  He died for something—for us, to bring us back to God.  He died for our sins.  He died in our place, absorbing the punishment that we deserved, so that we could be forgiven and restored to God. 

ILL: Have you ever had a relationship go south because of money? 

Let’s imagine that you borrow a substantial sum of money from a relative—like $50,000 from your father to start a new business.  But the business fails and you are bankrupt, unable to repay your father.  You feel guilty and ashamed and avoid your father.  You ignore his calls and texts.  In fact, his attempts to reach out to you make you angry.  “He probably just wants his money,” you think.  The relationship is broken.

So your father tries a new approach.  He asks your brother to help.  Your brother tries to convince you to talk with your father, but you still refuse.  So your brother takes action: he empties his retirement and savings and scrapes together $50,000 and gives it to you.  “Here,” he says, “Pay dad back and make amends.” 

“Where did you get this money?” you ask.

When he tells you that he emptied his retirement and savings, you protest.  But he insists.  The sacrifice is worth it to see you and your father restored.

Jesus did something like that.  Our sin had separated us from a holy God.  Our guilt and shame makes us avoid and ignore God.  Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay our debt, remove our guilt and shame, and restore the relationship.  That’s what it means when we say, “Christ died for our sins.” 

They took His dead body down from the cross on Friday afternoon, hurriedly wrapped him in a burial shroud with spices to slow the decay, and placed him in a borrowed tomb.  They rolled a large stone across the mouth of the burial cave, and walked away thinking that was the end.  It was over.

Early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and some other ladies went to the tomb with more spices to care for Jesus’ body.  But to their surprise, the stone had been rolled away.  Mary ran as fast as she could to find Peter and John and tell them, “Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they’ve put him!”  Notice what she didn’t say.  She didn’t say, “Jesus is alive!”  She assumed that someone had tampered with the grave and moved Jesus’ body—not that He was raised from the dead. 

Peter and John set off at a dead run to investigate.  John tells us that he got there first. John wants us to know that he beat Peter to the tomb—it’s a guy thing!   John didn’t go all the way into the tomb, just peeked around the corner.  Peter barged right in.  What did he see?  An empty tomb—no body—but the grave clothes were lying undisturbed.  John says they were lying there “still in their folds”—undisturbed, as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them.  This is not what they were expecting.  If someone had stolen the body of Jesus, you would expect the grave clothes to be gone too.  And if for some strange reason they had removed the grave clothes and moved Jesus’ naked body, you’d expect the clothes to be in a pile somewhere.  What did this mean?

Peter saw all this and went away bewildered, wondering what had happened.  John saw this and believed. 

Peter and John headed back to the other disciples to report what they had seen, but Mary, still distraught, stayed at the empty tomb, weeping.  When she looked into the tomb, she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head, the other at the foot.  “Why are you weeping?” they asked her. 

“They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they’ve put him,” she said.  She still wasn’t thinking that Jesus was alive.  So when she turned around, and Jesus was standing there, she didn’t recognize Him.  Maybe it was because of her tears, or maybe it was because Jesus wasn’t always immediately recognizable in His resurrected body.  Remember the two men on the road to Emmaeus didn’t recognize Him either. 

“Why are you crying?” Jesus asked.  “Who are you looking for?” 

Mary, thinking it was the gardener, answered, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”  She still wasn’t thinking that Jesus was alive.  Then Jesus spoke again:

“Mary.”

There must have been something about the way Jesus said her name, because she turned and cried out, “Master!” and clung to Him.  “Let go, Mary.  And go tell my brothers that I’m alive and ascending to my Father.” 

So the first person to see Jesus alive was Mary Magdalene.  A woman.  You go girls!  Why was this significant?  Women were not allowed to testify in Jewish courts; they were considered unreliable witnesses.  Don’t shoot me, ladies; I’m just the messenger.  Worse, Mary was a woman of questionable character.  Jesus had cast several demons out of her—she had been a mess.  Maybe because she had come so far and been forgiven so much, Mary loved Jesus deeply.  And maybe that’s why she is the first one to see Him alive.  But here’s the thing: if the disciples made this whole story up, they would have never made Mary the first witness to the risen Jesus.  It would have been a reliable man, not an emotional woman.  Mary’s part in the story has the ring of truth to it—you’d never make this up.

Mary runs to the disciples and announces, “I have seen the Lord.”  She describes her encounter in detail.  And the men?  They didn’t believe her.  It sounded like nonsense.  “Crazy Mary!”

But that evening, everything changed.  The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid that they might be next to be arrested and crucified.  Suddenly, Jesus was standing there in their midst.  What do you think their reaction was?  What would yours be if a dead person suddenly materialized in a locked room?  Shock and terror! 

ILL: Ken Davis writes about a woman who looked out of her window and saw her German shepherd shaking the life out of a neighbor’s rabbit. Her family did not get along well with these neighbors, so this was going to be like a disaster.

She grabbed a broom, pummeled the dog until it dropped the now extremely dead rabbit out of its mouth. She panicked. She did not know what to do. So she grabbed the rabbit, took it inside, gave it a bath, blow dried it to its original fluffiness, combed it until that rabbit was looking good, snuck into the neighbor’s yard, and propped the rabbit back up in its cage. An hour later she heard screams coming from next door. She asked her neighbor, “What’s going on?”

“Our rabbit! Our rabbit!” her neighbor cried. “He died a week ago. We buried him, and now he’s back!”

If you think they were shocked by the rabbit, well…you get the picture.  Jesus’ first words were: “Peace be with you.”  I think those words were spoken to calm those shocked and terrified men!  “Easy, fellas.  Relax.  Take a deep breath.  It’s me.” 

Then He showed them His wounded hands and side.  “See—it’s me.”  And they were overcome with joy.  “It’s Jesus!  He’s alive!”  And I think someone had to start jumping around and celebrating!

Jesus talked with them and commissioned them.  “As the Father has sent me, I’m sending you.”  They were to continue the work Jesus started.  And to empower them, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and he sent them out to proclaim forgiveness of sins! 

Unfortunately, one of the apostolic band was missing: Thomas.  We don’t know if he was out getting a slurpee or booking a ticket home, but he missed it all.  When he showed up, the others told him, “Jesus is alive!  We’ve seen Him!”  And you all know his response.  “Unless I see Him and touch Him myself, I will not believe.”  Think about that.  His ten closest friends are all telling him that they’ve seen Jesus alive and talked with Him, and he refuses believe them.  I’m betting they tried as hard as they could to convince him, and he still refused to believe.  If ten of your best friends all earnestly told you the same thing, would you believe them?  Or would you have to see it yourself to believe?

Eight days later, Jesus shows up in that locked room again, and this time Thomas is there.  Jesus goes straight to Thomas, and says, “Go ahead, touch me Thomas.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas for honest doubts.  He answers them.  As we’ll see in a moment, doubt is part of faith.  Thomas has seen and he believes; now he says, “My Lord and my God.” 

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

There’s the story.

That last verse raises two questions, and I will finish with these.

How can we believe without seeing?

How are we blessed when we believe without seeing?

 

2. How can we believe without seeing?

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

That’s us.  We’re the ones who have not seen, yet have believed.  And yet, how can we believe without seeing?

Do you ever believe without seeing?  Yes.  All the time, in fact. 

You believe many things without seeing because you accept someone else’s testimony.   For example, how many of you believe that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president and that he was assassinated?  Have you seen him?  Were you there when he was shot?  Why do you believe this?  Because you accept the testimony of people who were there.  While their testimony doesn’t prove Lincoln was president or was assassinated, it strongly suggests it—enough so that it’s reasonable to believe.

This applies not only to all of history, but also to our everyday interactions with people. 

  • You tell me, “The check is in the mail.”  I didn’t see you write the check or mail it, but I believe you.
  • At the shop, you tell me, “We changed the oil, topped off your fluids, and rotated the tires.”  I didn’t see you do any of that, but I believe you, so I tell you the check is in the mail.  I write the check.

Actually, believing without seeing is fundamental to human relationships and knowledge.  We do it all the time.  We trust people to tell the truth.  Do we ever get burned?  Yes.  Not everyone is reliable or honest.  But does that mean we stop believing?  No—that’s simply impossible.  Both human relationships and human knowledge are built upon a certain measure of faith, of believing what other people tell us without seeing it ourselves.  You believe the testimony of others without seeing.

You believe many things without seeing because of the evidence around you.  Back to Honest Abe: you believe that Abraham Lincoln existed because of evidence like photographs and documents that he wrote.  And you believe because of the impact and effects of his life.  When you think of slaves being emancipated, who do you think of?  Abe Lincoln.  The evidence doesn’t prove that Lincoln existed, but it strongly suggests it—enough so that it’s reasonable to believe. 

This is true even in science.  For example, no one has seen gravity but we believe it exists because of the evidence.  We see its effects.  Watch.  (Jump)  In fact, that is evidence that gravity is getting stronger: my vertical leap used to be a couple feet, now it’s only a couple inches!

This also applies to our everyday life and relationships.  We believe in many things without seeing them because we see the evidence or effects. 

  • Someone says, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”  I can’t actually see their sorrow, but I can see its effects: the tears in their eyes, the pain on their face.
  • I used to get a paper check on payday that I physically took to the bank.  Then we went to direct deposit.  Now I never see my paycheck.  But I believe it’s there because I see the evidence in my bank account. 

If we believed only what we could see, we wouldn’t believe very much at all.  Life is built more than we realize on the foundation of believing without seeing.  Perhaps this is why Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 5:7 For we live by faith, not by sight.

This is true of life in general, and of God in particular.  I can’t see Him, but I believe in Him.

“But what if I have doubts?”  As long as you have faith, you will have doubts.

ILL: Who believes that I have a $5 bill in my hand?  (Invite a volunteer o come up and see.)  I am about to destroy your faith.  (Show him the bill.)  Do you believe I have the $5?  No, you know I have it.  You don’t just believe; you know.  When you see the $5, you don’t need faith anymore.  Faith is required only when we can’t see, when we don’t know for sure, when we have doubts.  When knowledge comes, faith is no more.  (Give him the $5 and a big hand!)

You may be tempted to think, “I can’t be a Christian because I still have doubts; I’m not sure.”  But that’s exactly why faith is needed.  I don’t see everything. I can’t know for sure, but I have enough testimony and evidence to make a reasonable decision. As long as you have faith, you’ll have doubts. I have to trust.

We believe without seeing all the time because of reliable testimony and clear evidence.  We believe in the resurrection of Jesus the same way.  I didn’t see it, neither did you; but I believe the testimony of the people who did see it.

And I see the evidence of its effects.  For example, the disciples went around the world proclaiming this message—that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was raised from the dead and appeared to many.  Every one of them would die for this message.  They believed it enough to die for it—that’s some serious belief!  The resurrection changed them dramatically! 

I see the effects of Jesus’ resurrection in my own life, and in the lives of many others.

1 Peter 1:8–9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I know many Christians who have never seen the resurrected Jesus, but who believe in Him and are filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy!”  In fact, it was the evidence of that joy that I saw in a Christian that led me to believe in Jesus.  I saw that joy, and said, “God, I don’t know anything about you, but I want what that guy has.  Here is my life.”

Which leads me to my final question:

 

3. How are we blessed when we believe without seeing?

            The answer to that question is found in the last two verses of John 20.

John 20:30–31 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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 says, “I wrote this so that you would believe in Jesus—without ever seeing Him, you would believe in Him.  And by believing you will have life—life to the full.”  The blessing of believing is that you will have life, a life that Jesus describes this way:

John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Just so you get a feel for what Jesus is saying, listen to these different translations of this verse:  I came so that they can:

  • Have life and have it abundantly.  NET, ESV, NRSV, NASB, NKJV
  • Have life in all its fullness. GNT
  • Live life to the fullest. CEB
  • Have a rich and satisfying life.  NLT
  • Have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  The Message

Abundant life, life in all its fullness, a rich and satisfying life, real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.  Does that sound good?  When you believe without seeing, you are blessed with this life—eternal and abundant. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying—and Jesus is not saying—that everything will go just like you always wanted, that your life will be perfect and blissful.  In fact, the last few weeks, we read Jesus’ last words to His followers before His death, and He warned them that it would be hard.  They would be hated and persecuted; they would suffer and die.  It is hard to follow Jesus; but it’s worth it.  The pain is temporary, the joy is forever.  It’s a difficult life, but it’s full and satisfying and better than you can imagine. 

This is what Jesus offers: more and better life than you ever dreamed.  You might be wondering: so what do I do?  You’re not the first ones to ask that question.  You believe and repent and get baptized, then start following Jesus!  Take a look at this: Baptism Video.

So here’s what we’re going to do.  168 people have signed up to baptized this Easter weekend.  These people have made their decision.  They have believed and repented, and now they are being baptized to signify their faith in Jesus and their decision to follow Him.  They will be buried with Christ in baptism and raised to life—a new life, an abundant life.  In just a moment, we’ll ask them to come up and be baptized as we worship God and rejoice with them.

What about you?  Have you believed, repented and been baptized?  If not, today can be your day too.  I know you weren’t planning on getting wet when you came to church—but you’ll dry out!  Don’t let something as small as wet clothes keep you from an abundant life!  Or maybe you made your decision to follow Jesus a month ago, or a year ago, or a long time ago, and you’ve never been baptized.  Today could be your day too.  When we begin to sing, if you’re ready to do this, you can come up here and go out the back door.  Volunteers will direct you every step of the way.  We have clothes you can change into, so that you don’t go home wet—or you can go home wet if you want.  Either way, you get to keep this sweet Tshirt that says “Raised to life”.  We have 1000 towels ready.  We even have someone to take your picture and we’ll have it ready for you afterward.  We’ve thought of everything—trust me!  So don’t let any excuses hold you back.  Be brave and take that step of faith and start a new life in Christ.

Here’s the thing: we’re only going to go 30 minutes.  The service will be over in 30 minutes—and I’ll wrap things up then.  So you don’t want to hesitate and miss out.  And you don’t want to leave before we’re done, because the next 30 minutes are going to be awesome!  Are you ready?  Let’s worship our hearts out, and let’s celebrate with all these people taking their next step as they follow Jesus.

Closing prayer at the end of worship and baptisms.

“Yes” packets at the doors.