God’s faith-creating testimony about Jesus

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Sermon for Quasi modo geniti – Easter 1

1 John 5:4-10  +  John 20:19-31

We’re confronted with doubt in today’s Gospel, doubt concerning Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The Apostle Thomas is now famous for his doubting, for his need to see the nail-holes in Jesus’ hands and put his hand in Jesus’ side that was pierced by the spear. But the other ten apostles were also slow to believe until they saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes.

So how on earth has this Christian faith spread throughout the world? How can it be that so many millions of people over the ages have believed in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, when even His own apostles didn’t believe the “risen” part until they saw Him alive after His crucifixion?

It isn’t by means of seeing. It isn’t seeing Jesus that brings anyone to faith, or seeing the empirical evidence of His resurrection.

Very simply, it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle every time someone is brought to faith in Christ Jesus. It’s a miracle worked by His Holy Spirit as He testifies about Jesus. We’ll be hearing much more about the work of the Holy Spirit during this Easter season, leading up to the Day of Pentecost.

For today, we focus briefly on St. John’s Epistle, where He tells us about the faith-creating testimony about Jesus.

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. The world needs to be overcome. God created the world, but the world denies its Creator. The world rejects its Creator. The world makes up its own stories and teachings and philosophies about who God is. The world makes up its own ever-changing moral code. The world does not believe it needs saving. The world, in its “wisdom,” crucified its Savior, and still refuses to believe that Jesus is the Christ, true God and true Man, who shed His blood for the world’s sins, who rose again from the dead, and who now calls out through the ministry of the Word, “Repent of your sins and believe in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, and you will receive the forgiveness of your sins!” The world calls God a liar, because the world has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.

The world is perishing and will be judged and destroyed. The world will spend eternity in hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. You must overcome the world, or you will die with the world!

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Now, when John speaks of believing that Jesus is the Son of God, or believing that Jesus is the Christ, he includes more than just acknowledging who Jesus is. Even the demons believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Even the demons believe that Jesus rose from the dead. No, the victory that overcomes the world is to trust in Jesus, true God and true Man, who died for our sins and was raised again in order to apply His sacrifice to us, through faith in His name. The victory that overcomes the world is to know Jesus as your Savior from sin, death, and the devil.

But again, where does that faith come from? It comes from hearing—hearing the divine testimony about Jesus.

There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. I’ll tell you that this verse of the Bible is one of the most controversial verses of the whole New Testament. The KJV and NKJV include it, because many ancient Greek manuscripts include it, but most modern translations omit this verse. It certainly gives us a very clear testimony about the Holy Trinity: Father, Word (that is, the Son), and the Holy Spirit, who are three and yet one. The beauty of Scripture is that we don’t rely on any single passage to establish doctrine; the teaching of God is made clear throughout the Bible. But there is good reason to recognize this verse as inspired Scripture, and it certainly agrees with the rest of the Bible’s teaching about God.

How do Father, Word, and Spirit testify in heaven about Jesus being the Christ, the Savior? Here we think of how God revealed Jesus to the world directly: in all the Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus, from His birth in Bethlehem to His crucifixion and resurrection. That remains the testimony of God about His Son.

We think also about that final testimony of God at the death of Jesus, where Spirit and water and blood bore witness all at once. He “bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.” And then, when they pierced His side with the spear, John tells us that “immediately blood and water came out.” That in itself was a miracle that we shouldn’t overlook. It was the testimony of God from heaven that this Jesus was true God and true Man, the Christ who truly died for the sins of the world. That testimony about Jesus stands for all eternity. It has already been given by God from heaven.

But there are still witnesses on earth. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

Not only were Spirit, water and blood bearing witness at the death of Jesus. John makes the connection from that testimony to another ongoing testimony of God. The Spirit, the water, and the blood continue to bear witness on earth that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior sent from God to be the world’s Redeemer. What does that mean? How does the Spirit bear witness on earth that Jesus is the Christ?

What did Jesus say to His disciples on that first Easter evening? He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus instituted the ministry of the Word, which is also referred to by St. Paul as “the ministry of the Spirit.” He gave His apostles divine power and divine authority to preach the Gospel, that Jesus is the Christ.

And He gave them divine power and authority to administer on earth the Sacrament of “water and the Spirit,” Holy Baptism, which is also a testimony to Jesus as the Christ, who adds the power of His all-atoning blood to the water of Holy Baptism, making it a washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit, where He forgives sins and raises us up to new life.

And Jesus also gave His apostles that other Sacrament to administer on earth, the Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus, which is a continual testimony to both the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, that His body and blood were given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, and can only still be given to us to eat and to drink because He took up His life again and now lives forever.

Those three—the preaching ministry, together with the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion—“agree as one,” John says. God gave these three witnesses on earth to bear the same witness: Jesus is the Christ, true God and true Man, who died for our sins and rose again to apply His sacrifice to men by faith in His name, so that we sinners may be saved.

He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself. Or as St. Paul writes, The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Do you see what God has done for you who believe? He has blessed you even beyond His own apostles. As Jesus said to Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. See the miracle that God has already performed on you who believe that Jesus is the Christ, true God and true Man, crucified for your sins and raised again to life! How can you possibly believe such an outlandish story? Only by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

And, of course, God isn’t done bearing witness about His Son, and God isn’t done performing this miracle of bringing people to faith in His Son. He will continue to bear witness to you and to those who don’t now believe, so that they may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. When you’re assailed by doubt or uncertainty or fear, remember God’s testimony in the life of Jesus, and run to God’s testimony in this ministry of the Spirit, because it remains the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Amen.

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