Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sermon Starters: Blessed Belief (John 20:19-29)

Title: Blessed Belief
Text: John 20:19-29
Date: Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018, Forest UMC

  • The first week of the new age. Some questions about how to fit the gospels together. We know that somewhere in the next forty days, they went back to Galilee. Matthew, Luke, and John all tell about an appearance that first Sunday night in Jerusalem. Matthew, Mark, and John all indicate appearances back in Galilee, but in Luke it almost sounds like Jesus ascends immediately (cf. Acts!), and Luke-Acts never give any hint of appearances in Galilee.
  • None of this is any reason to worry or doubt. It does indicate that the Gospels are not simply video tapes. Luke knows about the appearances in Galilee. He intentionally chooses not to tell the story that way. Some of our doubts about the Bible come because we have the wrong expectations, not because there is any problem with these presentations. 
  • In fact, differing presentations speak to a reality that has rippled in different ways. The Gospel authors are not just copying and developing each other. These are multiple ripples. 
  • 1 Corinthians 15 + empty tomb = reasonable faith
  • John is the only one who tells about the appearance in our Scripture today one week later... Thomas was not there the night of the resurrection to see Jesus.
  • Thomas symbolizes all of us who would love to believe but have honest doubts.
  • Illustration
1. We need faith to live.
  • We need faith because we need hope.
  • Victor Frankl - "A man can live with any how, if he has a why."
  • Simone Weil, philosopher who died in England while France was under German occupation
  • Star Wars - Padme at the end of the third movie
  • Hebrews 11:1 - "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
  • What is faith?
  • There are distinct definitions: 1) simple belief, 2) faithfulness, 3) confidence or trust. The last definition is the one we are concerned with today.
  • Faith implies a lack of complete certainty, but it is not necessarily blind.
  • You can't keep doubt from flying overhead, but you don't have to feed it. (A "double-minded" person is not a person who has doubts go through their head. It's a person whose loyalties are truly divided between God and the world.)
2. God understands doubt
  • 1) Doubt can be healthy - Reagan - "Trust but verify."
  • 2) Faith is not confessing the creeds or quoting the Bible. The demons have belief without faith.
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson - "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds."
  • The biblical "debate" between James and Paul - "You show me your faith without works, and I'll show you my faith by my works." Jas 2:18
  • 3) Some people do not question because they lack faith. They are afraid what they will find.
  • On the other hand, as long as you are not hypocritical about it, it is okay to protect oneself from questions because you are not sure you can handle it.
  • 4) Without really considering other possibilities, you do not yet really believe. You are just a slave to what someone else told you.
  • Doubt seeking faith. (which is a form of faith seeking understanding)
  • Pascal - God has not made things definitively clear because that would move our head and not our heart. God wants to see our hearts.
3. Faith is a miracle available to all.
  • Faith isn't something we can work up on our own. It is a gift from God. Prevenient grace
  • Arguments never make someone believe. Only the Holy Spirit makes it possible. Arguments can only alleviate obstacles to faith.
  • If you want faith...
  • Ask God for more. Ask others to pray for you to have more.
  • Surround yourself with people of faith. Some people have the gift of faith.
  • Immerse yourself expectantly in Scripture. What might God say to me?
  • Illustration
  • Matthew 28 and the great commission - "some doubted"
  • Easy to doubt on the individual level. If we could see the big picture...
  • "I believe. Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) - the object of our faith in the New Testament is primarily God the Father, sometimes in Jesus. Saving faith is not faith in the Bible, although trust in the Bible can lead to faith in God. 
  • "I am willing to believe. Help me to believe."

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