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The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier: “The Blessing of Faith”

May 4, 2015

From the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier of Providence REC in Texas, here is an excellent sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter, titled “The Blessing of Faith.”

The Blessing of Faith

3rd Sunday after Easter, April 26, 2015
Last week we considered how the early disciples were transformed from discouraged, doubting skeptics into bold believers and preachers of the good news by their personal encounter with the risen Lord and his opening of their hearts and minds to the truth concerning himself revealed in Scriptures and confirmed by the resurrection.
We saw how this transformation offers us the correct paradigm necessary for the right interpretation of Scripture and the pursuit of Truth in every realm of knowledge. This means that the truth concerning Christ is the necessary condition for all knowledge especially our knowledge of ultimate truth and that therefore our minds and hearts are in need of Christ as much as our bodies and souls.

On this the third Sunday of the Season of Easter, I would like to turn our attention toward the conclusion of the first day of the resurrection and what happened a week later, on the following Sunday.

According to St. John’s account, Thomas one of the twelve apostles was not with the rest when the Lord appeared to the whole company of disciples and sent them into the world as the Father had sent him, blowing unto them the Spirit of life, opening their understanding to the true meaning of the Scripture and authorizing them to proclaim the good news of forgiveness of sins to all nations by faith in Him.

Thomas missed all this.

This reveals to us that the two disciples on their walk to Emmaus were not the only ones having second thoughts concerning the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the true messiah.

Thomas, one of the twelve had walked away from the company of the apostles and probably had little intention of ever returning back. As we mentioned last time, this reaction was natural and to be expected due to the hard implications of the fact that Jesus was not only rejected by the rulers of Israel, but had suffered a form of death which was cursed by the law. Therefore to their minds the possibility that Jesus could be the true Messiah, grew thin very quickly.

Yet, in the case of Thomas we find something more. Among all the disciples the twelve apostles were chosen early in the Lord’s ministry to be closer to Him than any one else. They were hand picked by the Lord himself among the many and given power and authority to preach and to heal, to expel evil spirits and even to raise people from the dead. They also had access to Jesus at all times and witnessed the extraordinary manifestations of his power, like the feeding of multitudes, his calming of the storm and walking over the waters and the resurrection of Lazarus after four days, on top of the healing of multitudes from all sorts of diseases; all the which attested to the fact that He was more than any prophet; as St. Peter confessed, his teachings and signs revealed him to be the Christ, the son of the Living God.

Upon this earth there was no other person with a better chance for knowledge and understanding the truth of Jesus identity based upon all these marvelous facts. The twelve had seen all his words fulfilled. And they had been warned specially concerning the difficult times ahead. The Lord announced in many occasions to his disciples and again to them specially on the night of his betrayal, how the time of affliction because of his death was coming upon them; but he also encouraged them with the prophecy that that affliction would be turned into joy because after he had suffered and been killed by the elders and chief priest, he would rise from the dead on the third day.

Thomas, with the other apostles, was a witness to all these things. Yet on the third day, he was no where to be found. He went by himself away from the body of believers.

At least the others stayed together and shared their confusion. Not Thomas he separated himself, which suggests that he crossed the line of doubt and fell on the side of unbelief; for there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubts are normal hesitations when our minds have unanswered questions. No one has all the answers to every question therefore everyone has doubts about something. But Doubt is not necessarily the same as unbelief.

Unbelief involves an act of the will. Unbelief comes when the mind has reached a conclusion, with doubts or no doubts, a position is chosen. And in the case of Thomas his choice was made clear by the way in which he answered to his brethren when they shared with him the joyful news of what they had all experienced on the day of the resurrection. When the other disciples told him how they “had seen the Lord” he answered to them:

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25.

It is ironic that Thomas here quotes the details of the account of the crucifixion which he must have received on the basis of the witness of the women and John. They were the only disciples present before the cross. Thomas like all the others fled into hiding and did not personally witnessed the crucifixion; so He received their word when they saw him die; but would not receive their same witness when they told him they had seen him alive.

But, the key to his position was stated at the end: “I will not believe.” His mind was made up. The first part of his statement was a declaration of the conditions necessary for him to change his mind, and the emphatic form in which it was stated reveals that he probably thought it impossible that these conditions would ever be meet.

In other words, Thomas was telling his brethren you cannot be right; they must have been all fooled by some kind of delusion and that he would not fall into the same error they had. For Thomas the resurrection was not only improbable but it was simply impossible.

It is important for us to understand this position for it lays a step further below the situation of the disciples as represented by those on the way to the Emmaus road. Doubters and unbelievers are distinguished one from the other by this: Doubters are not sure what to believe, Unbelievers are “sure” of the truth of their error. And therefore they are harder to convince than anyone else.

The Lord warned the Pharisees about the danger of such willful unbelief, when he spoke to them concerning the unforgivable sin of Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and is the source from which all truth comes and to which all truth points back.

A person who willfully despises and speaks evil against the Holy Spirit uses his will to turn all his faculties against the truth. The result of this is a twisted understanding in which evil is called good and good is called evil; and since the recognition of truth is a necessary condition for correcting any error and since conviction of sin and repentance, which implies a renewal of the mind in light of truth, only comes from a humble acknowledgement of the Truth, a person choosing to abide in such a condition of willful rebellion against the Holy Spirit, cannot turn from his error nor, of his sin, nor of his unbelief.

Willful unbelief is a prison cell without a lock; it cannot be opened from without nor from within, is the blind leading the blind after they have fallen on the pit. Is what Scripture calls reprobation and it is the most dreadful condition any human being may place himself and that is why the Lord so sternly warned us against such a path to destruction.

This was the road Thomas had begun to travel when he refused to believe both the teaching of the Lord announcing his death and resurrection, which he himself had heard, and the witness of all his fellow disciples who shared with him the truth they had witnessed of how the Lord had fulfilled his word.

When Thomas said, “I will not believe,” he was implying that both the Lord and his friends had lied to him and were deceived. He trusted more his personal opinion than the truth spoken by the Lord and his disciples; Had he continued upon such a path, he himself would have ended in that dreadful spiritual state Scripture warns us against. But the Lord had mercy upon him.

A week later, Jesus came again while the doors were shut and stood in the midst of them, and said:

“Peace be unto you, 27 Then he said to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

The Lord had mercy upon Thomas and forced him out of his faithless disposition, giving him direct evidence showing the truth of the resurrection to him as he had done to every one else. But notice the important difference, Thomas lived a whole week in willful unbelief. Although the others also responded with doubt to the initial reports of the resurrection, they stayed togehter and their doubts were quickly removed by the Lord; but Thomas had followed his doubts with a refusal to receive the truth. While the others wondered, Thomas walked away; while the others received the initial witness of the others who first witnessed the risen Lord; Thomas chose the path of faithless unbelief and was only saved from it by the mercy of the Lord, who thereby showed his mercy towards unworthy sinners and that God has no delight in the death of unbelievers but would rather all come to faith and trust in him.

The Lord appeared to him and to the disciples once more eight days later, that is on the next Sunday; (and by the way these recorded appearances on the first day of the week and on the eighth day are not coincidental, they were the means by which the Lord, began to mark Sunday as the primary day of worship; since being the day of the resurrection, it became the sign and symbol of the new creation for all Christians to commemorate as the central characteristic of the New Testament dispensation, the life of the resurrection.) and confirmed once more the truth of the resurrection, which confirms the universal truth of the central claim of Christianity to all with ears to hear and eyes to see.

The light of truth is universal; it is available to all those who are in error, but an essential part of our fallen condition is a strong inclination to justify ourselves even when we are wrong. Therefore it is easy for us to embrace our error and deny our need for correction and salvation.

Humility is the opposite tendency. It is self-denial expressed in a humble recognition that we need instruction from above, we need correction and illumination from the Spirit of God, if we are to begin to understand anything about everything as reality really is. As Jesus said:

“For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” John 9:39

Hearing this, the Pharisees dismissed Jesus with derision: Are we also blind? the Lord answered:

“If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” John 9:41

The Pharisees were proud of their knowledge and position as authorities in all matters of religion. They could not perceive themselves in need of illumination; to their understanding they could “see”; yet, they conspired to kill the author of life. They were blind to the fact that the light of the world was speaking to them the word they needed to understand and believe, and instead they rejected and persecuted, and killed him as if he was a blasphemer.

They were blind to the Truth, but were not aware of their spiritual blindness. And so it is with anyone who does not recognize Christ for whom He really is. This is the light of truth which transforms our blindness into seeing, our doubts into conviction, and the only way for us to begin to see it is to humble ourselves and trust in him more than we trust ourselves, as Thomas finally did, calling Jesus:

“28 … My Lord and my God.

The Lord mercifully answered him with a blessing that applies to the whole church after the first generation of personal witnesses to the resurrection:

“29 Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

This blessing, the blessing of faith, is for us who have heard and believed the teaching of Christ and the fulfillment of his promised resurrection by the witness of the body of these faithful disciples. May God grant us to continually grow in that faith to also grow as witnesses to others of this glorious gospel, until he returns and we see him personally once more as he has promised, to his honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

 

by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin E. Bernier

 

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