Jesus Is Risen! Believe, Even When You Don't See - Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 16, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22–32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3–9 | John 20:19–31
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29).
Jesus is risen!
It’s hard to imagine three words that have had a more profound and lasting impact on our world… transforming a few humble fishermen, tax-collectors, and other misfits into bold heralds proclaiming to all the world the Good News that God’s Chosen King has conquered death… and that His good Kingdom is here to stay.
Jesus is risen!
These three words are at the heart of everything. Our understanding of the past. Our present practices. Our anticipation of what’s to come. Believing the Good News that Jesus is risen brings it all to life.
Can you imagine just how exciting it must have been for the disciples on that first Easter day all those years ago? To be among the first to see that Jesus really is risen?
Can you imagine missing out on that moment???
Can you imagine seeing your friends so excited… and hearing them tell you news far too good to be true? Telling you that what had seemed like the end of the world had been turned upside down to a brand new beginning… but you have to take their word for it.
Imagine you don’t get to see with your own eyes.
How hard would it be to believe? How many of us might have responded like Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25).
Many today still struggle to believe. Not only in the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning, but in God’s whole intention and ability to bring His good Kingdom to life.
There’s lots of confusion, discouragement, and even despair in our world… both inside and outside the Church… people longing for hope they can really believe in, and not just empty promises. People asking: ‘If God is still showing up in our world today, why can’t we be the ones to see it? Why can’t we see God’s good Kingdom at work? All we see is the world falling apart.’
From the very start, the story of Easter has been meant for people asking those very questions. It’s an invitation for all of us who struggle with doubts to still choose to believe that even when we cannot see the New Life of God’s good Kingdom at work, we can still trust Him to bring it about.
Easter invites us to trust that the Living God will never abandoned us, or His world… to trust that Jesus the Risen Lord will not leave you and I behind.
To hear this invitation, I think it’s important for us to look at how the first Apostles understood and spoke about the hope of Easter: which involved looking back at how the Living God had been at work in the story of their ancestors all along.
Our reading today from the Book of Acts tells the story of St. Peter addressing a crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit. In this first public announcement of the resurrection of Jesus, St. Peter turns to the Holy Scriptures, and connects what had happened to Jesus with God’s promises in the past, especially the hope given to God’s people that a King from David’s line would reign forever.
Long ago, when the Israelite tribes had been united in a single nation, God had made a covenant… a sacred bond with King David: the Lord would establish an everlasting Kingdom for one of David’s descendants. Psalm 132 articulates the hope this gave, not just David and his heirs, but their whole nation. Psalm 132:11-18:
“The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
‘One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.’
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
‘This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”
Such a promise of security and prosperity filled God’s people with great confidence. But in the centuries after King David, their Kingdom was in complete jeopardy.
The Northern half of the Kingdom had already been overrun, and its people scattered among the Gentile world. And Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was now besieged by Babylon, with its people struggling to find hope.
Many people claiming to speak for God sought to reassure those living in Jerusalem that things would turn out for the best. That they would be spared the horrors of Exile because of their status as God’s chosen ones. They had the Holy Temple. Theirs was the city where God Himself chose to dwell.
But one prophet, a man named Jeremiah, had been entrusted with a very different… and difficult message for God’s people: that unlike times gone by, the armies of Babylon would not be turned away… that they would be instruments used by God to bring about justice upon His people, who had time and again betrayed Him, and broken their covenant to be His people in the world.
According to Jeremiah, faithfulness to God in this crucial moment meant surrendering to the Babylonians… it meant accepting this humiliating defeat, and in repentance trusting in God to be merciful… believing that somehow the Lord would not abandon them to destruction, despite their unfaithfulness.
Unsurprisingly, Judah’s King and leadership did not listen to the warning from Jeremiah, and they refused to humble themselves and accept defeat… which ended up leading to the complete devastation of Jerusalem. The people were slaughtered, scattered, and enslaved. The Holy Temple was torn down. They saw the entire world they had believed in die before their eyes.
It's hard to imagine the kind of heartbreak and despair they would have faced.
But again, along with the warning, God had entrusted to Jeremiah a word of hope, even before all this devastation took place. A word calling for God’s people to trust in His divine mercy and everlasting love, no matter what may come… to believe that even despite all their unfaithfulness and humiliating defeat, the Lord would never abandon them. Jeremiah 33:19-21, 24-26,
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne…
Have you not observed how these people say, ‘The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,’ and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.”
And God did have mercy on His people. Despite their devastating journey into Exile, God did not abandon them. Instead, God went with them… in their suffering, confusion, humiliation, and despair, God was with His children through it all. And at the right time, He brought them back out of Babylon… back to their own land. True, things were never the same as they were before, but they had a renewed sense of hope that the Living God could be trusted to stay true to His word… that one day King David’s descendant would reign again, and their future would be secure.
No matter how bad things might get, now they could believe that God’s good Kingdom would one day be raised up, even from the ashes of despair, and that it would endure forever.
Centuries after the Exiles returned from Babylon, our story picks up again in Jerusalem: with St. Peter telling the crowds at Pentecost that their King has finally come. Telling them that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised One, crucified by His own unfaithful people, but never abandoned by God… who raised Him to life again against all expectations and beyond all hope.
Jesus is risen! St. Peter told them. And the world has never been the same.
But for St. Peter, the resurrection of Jesus was far more than just a glorious victory for God’s Chosen King, a great thing for Christ alone… St. Peter sees what happened at Easter as the unexpected and undeserved triumph for all God’s people. The ultimate gift offered to all who place their trust in the Risen One.
In our New Testament reading today, we heard St. Peter say as much to his fellow believers. 1 Peter 1:3-5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
St. Peter knew firsthand that God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up, beyond all hope. And in His great mercy, God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up with Him to share in His blessed life as well!
Because Jesus is risen, we too who trust in Him will rise!
Of course, this does not mean that the road ahead will be easy. In fact, St. Peter says quite the opposite! 1 Peter 1:6-7,
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
St. Peter encourages his fellow Christians, including you and I today, that our sufferings and trials are not simply signs of defeat, or reasons for us to despair… imagining that somehow God has abandoned us to fend for ourselves, or that His mercy and grace are unable to see us through.
Rather, our times of suffering, are opportunities for us to exercise our faith… to practice trusting in God, and clinging to Jesus Christ our Saviour… to humbly look to Him always, especially when it’s hard to see Him at work. 1 Peter 1:8-9,
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
St. Peter offers us this encouragement, confident in God’s mercy and everlasting love made known to us in Jesus, the Risen Lord, who humbly surrendered His life over to death in order to bring life to His frequently unfaithful but yet still beloved people.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign of the faithfulness of God… of His amazing mercy, which longs to embrace us all, even when we completely fail Him… to offer true hope to the hopeless… true love to the loveless… true faith to the faithless… turning us back to Him and raising us up with His Son, King Jesus, to share in His Kingdom forever.
One week after that first Easter, the disciples had gathered together again. It had been a week since the Lord had surprised them. Seven days since their world had been turned upside down. And despite all his doubts, Thomas was right there with them… which is, by the way, the perfect place for anyone who has doubts about the Risen Lord and His Kingdom... wrestling with these questions alongside brothers and sisters also seeking to understand.
And right there, Jesus again makes His presence known… and this time He comes straight for Thomas.
In mercy and love, the Risen Christ turns to His beloved but struggling student, and Jesus answers his prayer for a reason to truly believe: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:27). Believe.
In the blink of an eye, Thomas is convinced. Seeing Jesus alive again, he cries out: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:28-29)
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
The whole of John’s Gospel has this intent: that we too who have not come face to face with the Risen Lord would come to see Jesus with the same eyes of faith as Thomas… that we too would come to believe the Good News that He truly is the Son of God… raised from the dead, even though our own eyes have not seen Him… yet.
John’s whole Gospel, leading us as it does to the wonderful news of Easter, is an ongoing invitation to trust that, just like He came to Thomas, the Risen Lord will not just leave you and I behind!
God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up to reign forever.
God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up too, to reign with Him.
And God knows sometimes we find it really hard to believe. He knows all the reasons we struggle. He understands and He shares in our sufferings… be they in body, mind, or spirit. And He longs for us to lean on His love, and to trust that He’s right here, unseen but always near.
Whether or not we are struggling with doubts about God’s mercy, or faithfulness, or resurrecting power, Jesus invites us all to place our trust in Him today: To continue to gather along with our brothers and sisters… to humbly seek His mercy, forgiveness, and grace… and extend it to each other too… to draw near together to His table and receive from Him the New Life of God’s good Kingdom… and to share the Good News that Jesus, the Saviour of the World is risen… and that He will raise us up to be with Him and share His reign forever. Amen.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School