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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Believing without Seeing
Text:John 20:28-29 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 96:1,5                                                                                            

Ps 6:1,2          

Reading – John 20:1-31

Ps 115:1,5,6,7

Sermon – John 20:28-29

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 61:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, there are some things about us that we just have, naturally. Think about how children look. Every child receives some features from his or her parents, like red hair or brown eyes or a certain shape of nose or chin.

And sometimes we think faith is like that too. We say, “I’m pretty sure I have faith, because my parents have faith. It kind of runs in the family.” Or we make the assumption, “I have faith, because I grew up in the church.” But faith isn’t like that. And it doesn’t come naturally. Faith is—it must be—a gift of God.

Why? Because by ourselves, we’re all dead. By ourselves, we don’t have even a drop of God-pleasing stuff. Quite naturally, all human beings reject the good things of the LORD, and every one of us would be lost in wickedness and condemned for lack of faith.

I know that’s a gloomy way to begin a sermon. Yet the good news is we’re not lost nor condemned! Instead of conforming to the pattern of this world, we’re being transformed by God to walk in the newness of life.

And in our text, Jesus speaks about what a marvel faith really is. For we can believe in the risen Lord Jesus without seeing him. We can be sure of what we know, even without having it all proven and verified. By God’s grace we believe in Christ, and by his grace we are richly blessed. This is our theme from John 20:28-29,

Blessed are those who haven’t seen the risen Christ, yet believe!

  1. the faith of someone who saw
  2. the faith of those who have not


1) the faith of someone who saw: The disciples had been through quite a week, a lot of ups and downs. Only six days ago they’d been filled with great joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. But the excitement of his triumphal entry soon fizzled. Because just four days later, Jesus has been betrayed by Judas. He was hunted down, abandoned by his disciples, arrested by soldiers, and put on trial. It was all so dismal and disappointing.

At the mercy of his captors, Jesus was knocked around and flogged and ridiculed, until the sentence of death was handed down by Pilate. There followed the torture of the cross—spikes hammered into hands and feet, and an agonizing death by suffocation, as He was suspended in mid-air on those wooden beams. Then came blood and water, rushing out of his pierced chest. Finally, Jesus’s lifeless body was taken down and buried.

It looked like all was lost. The disciples cowered in hiding on that Sabbath. But then came the rush of events on Easter Sunday. Disciples had gone to Jesus’s tomb, and they found it empty! At the same hour, Mary Magdalene was met by the Lord Jesus himself. Not dead, but alive! Not bruised and bloodied, but changed and glorified—so glorified He needed to tell her, “Do not cling to me” (20:17).

The risen Lord sends Mary to tell the others. They don’t have to wait long to see how wonderfully true her report was. For later that day, “When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (v 19). They don’t have to grieve or fear. It’s as if Christ comes to his own funeral service, and He announces to all gathered, “Cheer up, everyone. Cancel the funeral. Because I’m alive!”

And Jesus wants to make sure his disciples know that it’s him. For maybe later they would doubt themselves. Maybe they’d look back and say it was all a dream. So Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (v 20).

His body had been changed and glorified, and the wounds partially healed. Yet the disciples could still see where the nails had been, could see where the spear had found its mark. This was no phantom-Jesus; this was no dream. This was their flesh-and-blood Jesus, alive and well—still bearing the marks of what He’d been through.

Compare it to how people tell the stories of their scars. “You see this scar?,” they say, pulling up a pant leg. “Knee surgery, back in ’98.” Or, “See this burn mark? From an accident at work.” In a way that cannot be argued, scars confirm a person’s story. Those marks in our skin connect us to what happened, even if it’s decades in the past.

So when the disciples see Jesus’s hands and side, John tells us, “[they] were glad” (v 20). They really knew it was him. But think about why Jesus has done this. He showed himself, not to give them a last curious look before He went to heaven. No, Jesus had a specific purpose in appearing on that day. For these were his disciples, the men who would first bring the message of his salvation into all the world.

This is why, right after Jesus appears, He gives a mission mandate, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (v 21). Just as He will also commission them before He ascends into heaven, here Jesus sends his disciples out: “Now that you’ve seen me, go and preach to all nations! Now that you know how true my message is—now that you know that I have risen from the grave, go tell everyone! The Father sent me, now I’m sending you. Tell it with boldness!”

Later on, the apostles have to fill the spot that was left empty by Judas Iscariot. And this was key qualification for the man who’d replace him: he needed to be an eyewitness of the risen Christ. The apostles needed to know the whole story. They needed to be able to say, “Jesus is risen from the dead—believe me, I’ve seen him with my own two eyes. So his word is true!”

A week passes, and then Jesus appears to his disciples again. The first time He showed himself, Thomas wasn’t there. We don’t know where he was. Back at home, crying? So discouraged that he’d given up? But a week later, he’s there. And when the others tell him, he’s skeptical. Thomas says, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (v 25).

This is what it would take for him to believe. Not just look, but touch! Thomas wanted it to be confirmed, beyond any shadow of a doubt: Was the Lord really alive? Was Jesus so alive that you could put your fingers right into the nail holes?

You know that Thomas is considered “the doubter” among the Twelve. Today if someone is always skeptical about things, we call him a “doubting Thomas.” For Thomas doesn’t accept the word of his fellow disciples, and he won’t even consider how Jesus predicted his resurrection. He sets a high demand before he’ll change his mind: I have to see and feel!

Yet we shouldn’t be too hard on our friend the doubting Thomas. For was he such a doubter? Was he any more of a doubter than the others? It’s hard to say, because we see him in only one other incident, in John 11. After Lazarus dies, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go to him” (11:15). Thomas misunderstands. He doesn’t think that Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the grave. Instead, he thinks the Lord is planning to go to where Lazarus is—to the place of the dead.

So the next thing you know, Thomas says to the other disciples, “Let us go also, that we may die with him.” He didn’t get what Jesus was saying, but there’s no question that Thomas shows great devotion; he is ready at a moment’s notice to die with Jesus. That’s not what you’d expect from a doubter and hesitater!

Remember too that Thomas wasn’t the only one to reject the news about the resurrection. All the disciples doubted when the women brought the report. Later, when it was time for Jesus to ascend, some were still unsure. In other words, Thomas wasn’t the only “doubting Thomas!”

But Jesus wants them all to know the truth. He understands exactly what Thomas is looking for: “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side” (v 27). Jesus is a teacher who has a lot of patience and care, and He will give Thomas a hands-on lesson. He’ll prove the resurrection.

Did Thomas do it, and put his fingers into the holes? The text doesn’t say. It might have been enough to see Christ’s body with his own two eyes. When Jesus held out his hands, there were the nail holes—the scars still soft and pink. When Jesus opened his robe, there was that wound in his side, not fully filled in with new flesh.

What do you think about the opportunity that Thomas had? Sometimes Christians wish for the same kind of things. It’d be so reassuring, a great confirmation of our faith. Seeing Jesus would put to rest any of those little doubts and niggling uncertainties that I have—to see my Saviour in the flesh, just for a moment. Then I’d really be sure! Then I would know that my Lord lives and breathes, that He hears my prayers and watches over me. Do you ever wish for that?

We might like it, but it won’t happen. Christ has ascended into heaven, and He hold us He’s not going to come back until the time is right. Only on the day of his return will we see him, in person, face to face. So we are those who have not seen. We are those who have not touched and seen and heard.

And that is actually close to the heart of true faith. Remember Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” Notice especially that last phrase: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” We haven’t seen Jesus. We won’t see. Not yet.

So what do we need to do? We don’t have to think that we’re missing out. Instead, we need to listen to those who were there. We need to believe those who saw him, people like John and Peter and Paul. And we hear their testimony whenever we open the Scriptures.

The Scriptures are such a crucial foundation for our faith. God works through them in a way we don’t fully understand. But the more we read Scripture, the more we study God’s Word in a spirit of prayer, the more God reinforces that all these things are true. More and more, we have the certainty that these things are real and trustworthy. More and more, we can believe them and build our life on them.

Seeing Christ has an immediate effect on Thomas. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!” (v 28). The disciple who wavered now becomes absolutely sure of his faith: “I believe this is the Lord. I believe this is God!” His master now stands in resurrection glory. Those nails, that cross, the spear—none of this could destroy the Christ.

Thomas makes the good confession, yet Jesus has something to say: “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet have believed” (v 29). Thomas was sure of his Saviour because he could see him in the flesh. And not to say the faith of Thomas wasn’t blessed. Remember, it had to be this way. This apostle went on to be used by Christ for great things; Thomas is said to be the first who brought the gospel into Asia, perhaps traveling as far as India. This was a real confession, a real faith—granted by God. But what about everyone else, like us? What about all who haven’t seen?


2)  the faith of those who have not seen: When John sat down to write the words of this Gospel, there were still many people who had seen Jesus. He had been around for more than thirty years, and had a ministry for three. Hundreds, thousands, had witnessed what He could do: his miracles, his teachings. But as the church grew, and as time went on, more and more Christians would never have seen Christ in person. It was just a very small number who ever got the chance to see Jesus.

We live in a time when that’s considered to be a serious problem. In our day, if there’s not a picture of something, then it didn’t happen. Even more, if there’s not a video clip of it somewhere, it didn’t take place. Actually, that’s how it always been: people need to see. There is an implicit trust in what can be touched and handled—and there is a suspicion about what is unseen.

What about us? Every Sunday, we remember the resurrection of Jesus: to celebrate an event that no one saw. There are no photos. There is no grainy footage hidden somewhere on YouTube. And yet we believe. We’re even certain of what we confess.

How has that happened? How has God granted the amazing gift of faith, worked it in us? If you read just one verse after our text, John writes, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (v 30). This 21-chapter gospel is just a sampling of all that Jesus said and did.

Yet this little collection has a monumental purpose. Says John, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (v 31). That’s how we know. Through the Word! In the Word, we can’t see him, but we can hear him. We can hear his words of grace and wisdom. In the Word, we can’t touch him. But we can be touched by his Holy Spirit, and we can be moved by his power.

This is how God brings about the miracle of faith. In many of our homes, our parents read the Bible, and they spoke to us about it. At church, in worship and in Catechism class, ministers explained God’s Word to us, year after year. At school, our teachers opened the Scripture and let its light shine onto all of life. And then we kept reading Scripture, at mealtimes and in our devotions and in study groups. God used all of that to bring us to faith.

And so without ever seeing him, we can know the living Christ. We know his hands were punctured by nails. We know his side was pierced by a spear. We know He died on the cross, and that He came back to life on the third day. Though it happened many centuries ago, we can know it from the Word.

This is another great encouragement for us to remain in the Scriptures! To read and to study the Word of God, each and every day of our life. To make sure that we’re ready to hear it preached on Sunday, that we’re prepared to hear it today, and ready to work with it.

And what an encouragement for parents, to keep opening the Scriptures with the children—teach your children the ABCs of who God is, what He’s done, and what He commands. These are the building blocks of faith! And for teachers, to do this at school. And for elders and deacons, to bring the Word into the homes of Christ’s people. These things are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

We need the Word, because like Thomas (and the other disciples), we can sometimes doubt, we weaken in our conviction. Sometimes we find God’s words hard to believe, or we simply forget what He told us. So we start to wonder, “What if it’s not true? How can we know? What if we’ve spent our life believing a fraud?”

We can wrestle with doubts and uncertainties. And isn’t it doubt that is often near the root of our anxieties? We don’t always live in the fullness of knowing God’s truth. We don’t always enjoy the refuge of that certainty. We can be like the man in Mark 9, asking Jesus for his son to be healed. He cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Faith, and unbelief, in the same heart. In times of sickness and stress, a person might realize more than ever his helplessness, and he might be moved to seek the Lord’s strength. But then in times of health and prosperity and success, we start to trust our own ability again, while our dependence on God weakens. For months, we don’t look to God in a childlike attitude of trust, because we feel like we’ve got things under control.

And then think of how our faith suffers when we live with an unconfessed sin in our life. Our sins cause us to live under a dark cloud of guilt, and then we start to doubt the goodness of the Lord toward us. We can be caught between our doubts, being pushed back and forth like the waves of the ocean: “Could God really forgive what I’ve done wrong? I doubt it. Or will I ever make progress in my faith? I doubt it. Am I able to bear up under all this suffering? Or is God really going to lead my life in the coming years? I kind of doubt it.”

In times like that, we should doubt our doubts, and we should believe our beliefs. Because we believe in a God who doesn’t change. We believe in a God who never fails, never lies. We know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that He is faithful, that He can keep what we have entrusted to him until Christ’s return!

We know that He who appeared on that day is no phantom. He isn’t walking around on this earth beside us, but He’s not distant. When we ask him to, He gives us the power to change. When we ask him to, the ascended Christ gives the heart to serve, the ability to understand, the faith to believe.

In his first letter, Peter writes of this amazing work of God. Peter was another eyewitness who brought the message of Christ to many people. And he writes to some of these believers, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:8-9).

There were lots of people in his congregation that had not seen the Lord. They just had to take Peter’s word for it. But then Peter points to the evidence of the Lord’s work in them. Even though you don’t see him, you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

When we believe in the risen Christ, He gives joy—joy, because we know He died, and that He died for us, and that He also lives again. We have joy, because we can echo the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

And in answer, Jesus pronounces, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The blessing of knowing Christ isn’t something that can be measured in dollars, or counted in possessions. This blessing isn’t something proven by good health, or the absence of troubles and afflictions. No, the blessing is that we can be joined to the Triune God. We can walk with him by faith, and enjoy the abundant life. That’s the blessing that endures forever.

It is the blessing that one day, our faith in the unseen will give way to sight. And then we’ll see our Saviour, face to face. We’ll see him, just as He is, in glory! So as we celebrate the risen Lord Jesus today, He declares us blessed. You are blessed, because Christ is your Lord and God! You are blessed through the risen Jesus, whom you believe, though you have not seen!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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