3 things of importance
1. Jesus breathes on the disciples “receive the Holy Spirit.” And in the act, he says we are sent, even as the father sent his son. What does this mean? It means everyone who claims the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is supposed to seek and save the lost. We are to bring hope and healing into this world. We are to make disciples in the way of the Lord. We are to reach out to the poor and tax collectors alike, to extend the grace of God to every corner of the world…
You know, I feel most churches understand this very well as an outward thing. We all do “good works” all the time. Sadly, I also feel MOST churches have completely lost track of this as an inward thing.
We ought to be working ever so hard on cultivating the inward life in Christ, and if we do, the outward will follow. We need to become like Christ on the inside: giving, forgiving, full of grace and truth. As I said, and churches really need to work on this because if we get our inward parts functioning like they should, giving up all anger, hatred, bitterness and all, then our outward path will be made clear. I truly believe this.
You see, the fruit of the spirit is not food banks, counseling services, Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. These are inward things that the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit wants to produce in us, if we stop fighting him. Yes, it may be painful at times, giving up those well worn grudges and those desires and wants. It may be painful moving out of the center spot and putting God at the center of our lives.
Listen, good works are good, but not sufficient for anything and not a substitute for the real Christian life. We are to cultivate the inward life of Christ, that is the work of the Holy Spirit, and if we do that, all the food, counseling, habitats and goodwill will follow like day follows night. First of all, we are to be Jesus’ light of the world, but we cannot be light if we keep our inner selves filled with darkness.
2. John understood our weaknesses. Clearly he gave us the story of Thomas for that reason. This is contrast for last week and Mary’s confession that “I have seen the Lord.” Thomas, in effect says, “Yeah? Well I will believe it when I see it for myself.”
Do you remember Thomas? When Jesus said they were going to visit Lazarus, knowing that Jesus was wanted in that part of the country and if caught he might be stoned to death, Thomas was the one who said, let us go and die with him… It is not that Thomas did not believe, he simply did not understand how it could work.
Then earlier, in John 14, Thomas got confused. Lord, we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way? Jesus answered, “I am the way,” and if you have seen me, you have seen God… Again, I don’t get the impression that Thomas was unwilling to believe so much as he did not understand how it all worked.
Now here Thomas needs to see to believe that Jesus is risen. He already believes beyond seeing that Jesus is God, but he can’t imagine how it might work. It doesn’t square with his view of reality. Death, for Thomas as for us is final. How can Jesus be alive? That’s impossible.
The truth is, I don’t believe Thomas doubted, at least not in the way it is most often represented. I feel the name “Doubting Thomas” is incorrect. I feel that on the inside, Thomas believed well enough, only he could not get the inside to square with the outside. He was concerned with the outward appearance of reality (if you want to cal it that) and Jesus did not disappoint him. Why? Because inwardly, Thomas was already a believer. He was told by Mary and the women as well as his fellow disciples that they had seen the risen Lord. He had no reason to doubt their word, only he wanted his outward experience to match up with what he knew to be true.
How like us Thomas was. How exactly like us. But there is a way, and God understands our needs. You have heard it said that blind faith is foolish. Well, let me suggest that blind doubt is equally foolish. Blind Doubt is that which believes that ONLY the outside things matter, that only the outside things are real. Blind Doubts deny the reality in the mind and in the heart and in the spirit. If we were ants or trees, I could understand blind doubts. But God did not make us that way. Listen to the voice of God. Listen to your heart.
Thomas did not have blind doubt. I have no doubt he would have lived the rest of his life as a believer even if he did not see the Lord with his own eyes. Only, he was concerned with outward things. What he did not realize is God is much more concerned with inward things.
“Go ahead,” Jesus said. “Touch. So now you believe?” And Jesus added this (in effect) you were blessed when you believed, even if you did not see. So it is for us, Jesus said. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
John, like Thomas, knows that we also don’t know how Jesus passing from death to life can possibly work. We have legitimate doubts and perhaps need help to believe. Thus his gospel. John tells us that is why he wrote it, and it is a help, but then there is this: The Point:
3. The point of all of this, as John wrote, is so we believe, even though we have not seen. (Even though we may be like Thomas, inclined to disbelieve until we see with our own eyes). Of course, to help us with the faith part, God gave us the Holy Spirit along with his word, written, as we call it in any number of confessions and catechisms. Still, these words are just words, like Mary’s confession. Even John knows this about his own gospel. He wrote his words so that we might believe, but he knows our weakness.
John told us about Thomas as evidence that he knows our weakness. Some of us need to see something to square the outside with the inside. I might say, get the eyes off the outside things and look at the inside, but well guess what: God knows our weakness, too, and so apart from his written Word and his Spirit, he gave us two additional helps along the way. These are things we can see and touch for ourselves.
First of all, he gave us baptism, a physical manifestation of our spiritual cleansing. As I have often said, God is less concerned with our outside cleanliness and more concerned with our inner being, that we should be clean in our minds, eye, ear, tongue. It is not what goes into a person but what comes out of a person that defiles a person, we are told.
Thus the waters of our baptism do nothing much on the outside as far as bathing is concerned, but in the act we see God doing everything special on the inside of a person. We are sealed in our baptism by the Holy Ghost. That is how it has always been understood. It is the same Holy Spirit given to us that was given by the breath of Jesus, and it is the job of the Holy Spirit first of all to tell us about Jesus. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the most fundamentalist person I know. All he talks about is Jesus. It is also the same Holy Spirit that grants us the faith by which we receive salvation. “This faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.” Thus in our baptism we confirm that we are among the saved. We are included among the people of God.
Then God gave us the Lord’s Supper. Why? Sometimes we need to see. We need to partake and participate in the death of the Lord in order to participate in his life. This is the constant reminder for us that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The bread and wine are the body and blood. For us they are putting our hand in the holes in his hands and in his side. It is something we can hold on to and make the whole proposition real, if we believe on the inside, like Thomas, and do not have blind doubts.
Of course, all of the water in the world and all of the bread and wine will do nothing for an unbeliever. But for us who, like Thomas, believe and only need the confirmation of seeing for ourselves, it is everything. It is, as we say, the gracious gift of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.