Written (A Serioiusly Theological Sermon)
April 30, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
EASTER 2/C (2019): Acts 5:12-32; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31
Written, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30, 31).
This is St. John’s “purpose statement” for his Gospel. John is aware he is a scribe of Holy Writ; explicitly so when the ascended Lord commissioned his Apocalypse, directing, “Write in a book the things that you have seen…” (Rev. 1:19), “and send it to the seven churches...”(v. 11).
An interesting thought: given John’s commission to “write of things seen” in the Apocalypse, may suggest that it predates his Gospel account; that as it may, John recognizes takes cognizance of only two bodies of Scripture; the OT canon, and his own writing.
The gist of John’s “purpose statement” is that the man Jesus is the full revelation of God’s word and will for his church, who is the same God revealed in the OT. John’s target audience is not only the Church catholic, but first of all outreach to Jerusalem’s synagogues.
In contravening God’s Life commandment, the ruling Jews murdered God’s enfleshed Torah and source of Life. On the cross Jesus declared of the OT, “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30). By Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, God’s NT reign begins revealed in the presence of the crucified Son of Man with his church. In today’s Gospel we encounter Jesus’ Easter presence with his church and the following Lord’s Day.
Fresh from the grave Jesus is grasped by Mary Magdalene; he tells her not to hold to him in the old way as he has yet to ascend to the Father. He delivers to her proof of Life, the good news. Jesus then ascended to the Father (20:17). Later that Easter he came to his beloved Church in the new reality of his resurrected and ascended flesh. Appearing to his disciples, they are stunned, their Lord is alive! At first, the resurrection was incomprehensible, until Jesus displayed his death wounds, part and parcel of his living flesh.
With the OT purposes accomplished and God’s enfleshed Torah raised in victory over the grave, how in the world are we to understand the OT Scriptures; according to Pharisaical rabbi’s who rejected their Messiah (9:38-41), or from a God-forsaken temple cultus soon destined to destruction? Hardly!
From the new household of God founded upon Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, the Church is now possessed of en-Spirited, ordained teachers, informed of Moses, the Writings, and the Prophets, now in the Light of Christ, the Son of God. We believe that all Scripture has progressively and always testified to Jesus, “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) is “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28).
How then does the church understand St. John, and for that matter, the entire canon of NT Scripture? Is having life in Jesus’ name (v. 31) simply a matter of employing a prayer shibboleth, “in the name of Jesus”? or does belief in that Name signify substantive knowledge of the Man present with his worshipping congregation? Surely, the latter, and if so; how is his identity imparted in truth?
Jesus’ identity is significant, especially in our post-Reformation era; when we look around, to coin a phrase, there are “fifty shades of Jesus”. St. Paul would have us discern, “in which Jesus and by what Spirit and gospel” is belief proffered among us (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6); but woe! How can we know the Jesus in whom alone there is eternal Life?
For this, today we look to St. John whose purpose statement is revelatory for faith and faithfulness. The Apostles’ testified to Thomas of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the very same Jesus, who days earlier was crucified, died, and buried to molder. Thomas rejected their witness, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (Jn. 20:25b). Certainly, this says something about our Spirit imparted faith in Baptism; we shall see!
What accounts for ten believing apostles over Thomas’ singular unbelief? Was it simply that Thomas was deprived of a visual epiphany? Perhaps, after all the male disciples on first hearing the women dismissed the Resurrection as an “idle tale”. Still the contrast of belief and unbelief is more profound; it is baptismal.
John points out that his Gospel is purposed for creating and sustaining faith in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God; not an abstract faith, but faith that “sees” God’s work through designated things of creation: preeminently the incarnated Word, his eternal Son; and “seeing” God’s tactile word in the stuff of water applied to the head of an infant for belief, new hearing and sight.
This is the work of God explicated by St. John’s reportage of signs. The point of Jesus’ signs is that no one is drawn to “belief” in Jesus by the HS unless the Father is baptismal Begetter (Jn. 6:44; cf. 12:21). Do not get “Calvinistic” here about predestination; God predestines, yet desires all to receive his mercy by an unlimited atonement (Jn. 1:29, 36).
On Easter Sunday the Ten received Baptism in the HS for new hearing, new sight, and faithful hearts! Jesus, the Speech and substance of the Father breathed into the Ten, saying, “Receive the HS.” (20: 21). This was their Baptism in the moisture of Jesus’ breathed word for man’s new exodus to God.
Where St. Luke writes of the Father’s promise of the HS to the church from Jesus on the day of Pentecost; in St. John, Jesus bestows the HS on his Apostles on the day of Resurrection. His Breath and word was their Baptism into the water and the blood issuing from his crucifixion.
Eight days later Thomas had not, by ordinary means of Word and water (the Breath), received a new begetting (3:5 ff.); and so, Nicodemus-like Thomas was in unbelief and darkness. Apart from the HS there is no new begetting to faith for participation in God’s gracious atonement.
Thomas vehemently denied the witness of Jesus’ resurrection; Jesus was dead and buried! Thomas may have believed in “another [spiritualized or apparitional] Jesus”; but denying Jesus’ resurrected flesh, Thomas deprecated the exalted value God attaches to Jesus’ atoning self-gift to his Father for his Church.
Jesus, incarnate Son of God, is the church’s revelation of God’s merciful character and love for our Life. Jesus possesses the same Name as his Father and the Spirit. Jesus, in today’s Epistle Reading self identifies, “the First and the Last, and the Living one” (Rev. 1:17, 18a) by which he relates with his church, her spouse and Life giver.
According to the prologue of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ has a name, “Full Gift of the Truth” who bestows the HS (Concordia Commentary, John, p. 113, n. 14). Jesus is “Lord” and revelator of God’s love through his atoning flesh. OT identities of God were subsumed in the name, “YHWH”. In the NT that name is comprehended by the Church’s confession that the Father is “Lord” Jesus is “Lord” and the HS is “Lord” (Athanasian Creed).
On the 2nd Sunday of Easter Jesus appeared to the Ten and to Thomas, inviting him into the Baptism of his band of brothers. Thomas’ new begetting was exceedingly more dramatic; the piercing of his hand into the veil of God’s new Temple, the flesh of God, as was the dipping of Roman nails and a spear into Jesus’ flesh.
By Thomas’ penetration of flesh, he participated with us in God’s atoning sprinkle of love in Jesus’ sacrificial wounds. Thus baptized, Thomas, by the HS, confessed Jesus’ true Name, “My Lord and my God”.
The church began her sent apostolic Life by a ministry of delivering Jesus’ true identity into the world. We who are baptized by water and word in the Spirit, discern from Jesus’ command, “take, eat”; an invitation to an ever deeper union with God in the household of his dwelling; our sinful flesh into Christ’s innocence; his flesh into us as Atonement’s “Full Gift of the Truth”. Amen.