Sermon at First Presbyterian Church Lockhart

"Believing Is Seeing"

Acts 5:27-32,  Psalm 150,  Revelation 1:4-8,  John 20:19-31

April 11, 2010

by James Greene

 

           In this Season of Easter we are called to celebrate that Christ has risen from the dead.          He has shown us The Way to the Father, and it is through Jesus,

who is The Way, and The Truth, and The Life.  We believe the Word of scripture shows us the plan of God for the salvation of God’s people, - and in that believing, we can see that salvation.

 

In the reading from Acts - Peter and the Apostles are being brought before the council of the High Priests, by the captain of the Temple guard.  They are reminded that they have been told that they should not teach in Jesus’ name.  They are afraid that the Apostles will bring this man’s blood upon us. 

Here are the two elements at work within this text. 

First in the Hebrew culture, the name is representative.  It is an extension of the personality, caring in it the soul, the vitality, the power and the authority of a person

to whom it belongs.  The Apostles have been healing and teachingin the name ofJesus.  They have taught about Jesus’ teachings with power and authority. 

Second is, that in the Hebrew culture and law if someone killed an innocent person, the blood of the innocent person was upon the murders.  The hanging of someone from a tree was the considered a curse of God”.  The kinsman redeemer could come and claim the life of the murders to avenge the blood of the innocent.  The council is in fear of being accused of killing of Jesus, and the coming of that blood avenger.

Here is Peter and the Apostles who are unschooled, standing before the High Priests of the law, defending their position and actions.  They are preaching theology to the teachers of the Law when they say: “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.”  Peter and the Apostles stand as witnesses to the events and to the Holy Spirit.  They stood, because of their belief.  They have seen and experienced God acting --

in,- with, - and through Jesus, and in their seeing have believed on him.  Now, -

in their belief, they are helping others to see the salvation of God.

           The reading from Psalm 150, calls for all creation to praise the Lord: to let “every thing that has breath praise the Lord”.  The Hebrew word “Ruah” can be translated as spirit, breath, or soul.  So in this verse, we see these three levels of insight: Let everything that has spirit praise the Lord, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,  Let everything that has soul praise the Lord.  It is a call to praise God with all of our spirit, and breath, and soul. 

 

 

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In the text of Revelation, is a greeting from the Apostle John, with a declaration of the timelessness of Jesus: who is, who was, and who is to come.  It is an illustration of Jesus’ statement that he is the “Alpha and the Omega”.  In the middle of the reading is a statement of belief and a praise of God.   It is a doxology.  It is a witness that describes, what everyone shall see.  It is the culmination of time, where all peoples will see Jesus.  We all will see at the Final Judgment.  The question is, will we believe before we see.  We can choose now in belief, - to see what is revealed in the scriptures, or we can,- wait and, see him “coming with the clouds”.  Because God has said, from the time of Moses forward:  “I am the Alpha and Omega”.   Will our believing be seeing before it is time to truly see the God of all creation?

 

           Have you ever thought about nicknames?  We see something about nicknames in the reading from John.  How many of us here have a nickname?  A nickname is usually given because it gives an intimate insight into the person being named. 

 

           An engineer named Jack, who worked with me in a company in Dallas, had moved there from New Jersey.  He had a distinct New Jersey accent.  After getting to know him, I gave him the nickname Jersey Jack, and it stuck.  After awhile everyone knew him as Jersey, and it became his Icon, and a part of his personal identification with in the department.

We see the Apostle Thomas and his encounter with the risen Jesus in the midst of the disciples.  Familiar to us, is Thomas having the nickname as “Doubting Thomas” in our culture.  But, I would like us to look into the personality of Thomas. 

He is discussed four times in the Gospel of John.  He was a fisherman, like Peter, who is both bold and blunt like Peter. 

 

Now Thomas was also called Didymus, in Greek, which means “the twins”.  It is obviously also a nickname. 

Just as James and John were known as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ I think that Thomas’s nickname is important in understanding the insight into Thomas.  So lets to look into some history of things, to help give us insight into Thomas. 

Please bear with me on this.

           In the Greek mythology “the twins” refers to the twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces. Today we know these same “twins” from the Roman mythology, and astrology as the Gemini.  

They were twin warrior brothers. 

Castor was the one that was mortal, and

Polydeuces was immortal. 

The Greek Spartans when they formed up for battle they would sing hymn to Castor, who was the mortal warrior.

These same two “twins” were also sailors that were part of the warrior crew on the ship Argos, in the Greek epic of Jason and the Argonauts.

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Now realize that Thomas is a fisherman, just like Peter, James, and John.  So his nickname Didymus referred to him as a warrior-sailor.  I think it is a play on words. 

It gives us some insight into Thomas’ nickname.

 

Thomas is a warrior for the Lord.  He is outspoken and brash like Peter, James, and John.  He is deeply devoted.   Like myself, he is a visual learner.  This is why he may be viewed as dull.  But once he is shown something, he intimately understands it.  And once he understands the essence of a thing, he is stubbornly loyal. 

He is a true warrior-sailor like the twins of Greek mythology. 

 

The first glimpse of Thomas is John 11:16.  This is right after Jesus has says plainly and bluntly to the disciples that “Lazarus is dead”.  He is this blunt with “the intent that they may believe.”  The village of Bethany was near Jerusalem, and when Jesus calls the disciples to go with him, it is a trip into harms way.  The High Priests of the temple want to kill Jesus, and their going into the vicinity of Jerusalem will place them in mortal danger.  Here Thomas affirms in his own bluntness and his faithfulness, like a warrior, that we do not “hear” from the other Apostles;  Let us also go, that we may die with him”.

           The second glimpse of Thomas is in John 14:5.  Here Jesus has said that he is going to the Father to prepare a way for his followers, and that they would know the way where he was going.  Again Thomas in a direct and blunt way asks Jesus “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  It is here that Jesus visually shows Thomas and the disciples when he says “I am the way and the truth and the life.”   And later in 14:9 Jesus says to Philip “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

It our last glimpse of Thomas  is in our reading from John this morning. 

Thomas was absent from Jesus’ first appearance to the apostles.  He is later told how Jesus has returned.  He again is blunt and frank to a fault. 

 

He needs to see, in a visual understanding way.  He has to see the physical evidence to fully understand the event, and Christ  (the teacher)  comes in patience and understanding and visually shows Thomas his wounds.  With this, Thomas clearly sees and understands.  He is a believer. 

It is not his doubting, but that he was a visual learner.  Once he is shown, he now intimately understands and believes.  He "sees" and stands with his full confession of faith "My Lord and my God."  He lives up to his nickname Didymus, the

sailor-warrior.     He is truly a warrior for God.

 

We see, time and again, in the Old Testament where the Israelites question and doubt that God will do what he said he would do. 

    We see Abraham's doubting that he will have offspring;   

Jacob's doubting that God would be with him, and

Gideon's doubting of God's power. 

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We see Thomas's questioning faith of Jesus' resurrection.

 

           After all that Jesus had said and done: Healing the sick,  Giving sight to the blind,  Walking on water,  Casting out demons,  Raising Lazarus from the dead. 

Thomas still has a question as to the identity of the Christ. 

Isn't that just our own human nature?

 

Once he is convinced,    once he intimately understands,

it cements not only his faith in Jesus but that of the disciples.  It firmly establishes the believing of the fellowship of the early church and its sense of community. 

Because it is established not just by seeing and participation but by faith.

 

 

Now there is a term that theologians use to describe this kind of process.  It is called Hermeneutics.  Now what this “word” means is that the “understanding or explaining of the scriptures”.  It is making the past scriptures meaningful in and to the present.  It is basically what does this mean to us today.

In the last two verses in the text from John, are a testament to the oral tradition of the Gospel, they are the hermeneutical key to the Bible.   

“Jesus did many other miraculous ‘signs’ in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing that you may have life in his name.”

 

They explain that this is written that we may understand that what happened then, 2000 years ago, is the reason we believe today, that Christ is the Son of God and that we may have life in His Name.  These verses make this past event meaningful to us now.  They tie together the Old Testament demonstration of how God cares for and saves His people, and how the New Testament He is sending his Son, the Messiah, predicted and revealed, with his coming, and by believing in Jesus, we will have eternal life.

This is so, we can hear and believe the charge, and call by Christ to us today.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  It is in our believing that we truly see the Christ, and His salvation for all of God’s people.

 

           It is in hearing and reading The Word that we may believe, and in our belief,
we may see and confess - like Thomas: “My Lord and My God.”

 

           In the Name of    the Father,   the Son,   and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

 

 

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