“I want to see Jesus.” This is one of those pious statements made by Christians. Show me your face, let me see your glory. People say these things with good intentions. They mean well. But I often wonder if they realize what they are asking for.
We often think that if we could see the face of Jesus, if we could see Him resurrected from the dead, then we would have an easier time trusting Him. Non-Christians think that if they could see Jesus, touch Him, if we could have a Saint Thomas experience, then they would believe in Him.
But we must all be careful what we wish for. The pious Christian desire to see the glorious face of Jesus and the non-Christian’s desire for hard evidence can both take the same risk: actually seeing Jesus.
The gospel lesson and the epistle lesson both record the encounters of an Apostle with the resurrected Jesus Christ. In John 20 Thomas, sometimes called “Doubting Thomas” demands to see and touch Jesus, just as the other disciples had. He is not asking for anything extra, only to see and feel what they had seen and felt. Thomas just wants to see Jesus.
The apostle John, however, did not ask for anything. To be sure, he had already seen Jesus risen from the dead the same way that Thomas had. But decades later John finds himself, the last living apostle, exiled to an island. And on that island John sees Jesus. He did not ask for it. He certainly was not ready for it. But John saw Jesus, not only resurrected, but glorified.
An encounter with the resurrected Jesus can have one of two effects. Sometimes it has both. It can either kill us, or make us alive.
John, on the island of Patmos, starts to hear some pretty strange things. He hears a voice trumpeting behind him that he should prepare himself to write a large letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor, what we would call Turkey. So, naturally, John turns to see who it is that is speaking to him. And what he sees lays him flat.
John sees Jesus, risen, ascended, and glorified. This is not Jesus meek and mild. This is Jesus, ruler of the kings of the earth, letting His God out. Everything about this vision of Jesus screams power and glory. He is glowing, burning bright, from His head to His toes. His voice is like the roaring sea. The words of His mouth are as sharp as a two edged sword. And He holds stars in His hands.
What is John’s reaction? He falls down as though dead. John is not just bowing out of reverence. He is forced down on his face and loses consciousness. John saw Jesus and it nearly kills him.
We are not told that Thomas fell down as though dead when He saw Jesus risen, but you can imagine that he probably felt like it. All of the disciples had deserted Jesus. All of them had run away. All had doubted His promise to rise again. I am certain that when Jesus came and stood before them, risen indeed, they felt about this (little) big.
An encounter with the risen Jesus can be hazardous to your health, it would seem. The rule applies to us today as well. We encounter Jesus through His Word. Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, comes at us through the preaching and teaching of pastors, through the singing of our hymns, through the pages of Scripture.
We cannot escape Him. There He is. Whether we believe in Him or not, Jesus Christ is there, not dead, but risen.
And that can kill us. As well it should. When the non-Christian encounters Jesus through His Word they see clearly the one person whose existence they have denied, whose salvation they have scorned, whose love they did not want. Encountering the resurrected Jesus we come face to face with the one person who is everything that we should be, everything that we were meant to be.
Jesus is everything that you and I are not. He perfectly keeps the commandments of God. He flawlessly loves His neighbor. His compassion is without end. And we are not like Him at all.
More than that, we are the very reason that He went to the cross. We are the cause of His need for suffering and death. It was our evil deeds, our guilt, our shameful actions that drove Him to die.
And now He is back. By all rights He should exact revenge. He should have annihilated those 11 disciples cowering in their upper room for abandoning Him. He should put us to a miserable death for not only leading Him to the cross, but for continuing to lead sin filled lives after receiving His forgiveness. John fell down as though dead, but he deserved the real thing.
That, of course, is the last thing that Jesus has in mind. He is not interested in revenge or getting even. By His death He has already made everything even. The resurrected Jesus does not want more violence, more death, more bloodshed. He wants more life.
Jesus reaches out and touches John as he lay incapacitated on the ground. “Fear not,” He tells the petrified John. He has not come to bring death, but life. And He brings it in spades.
To Thomas, doubting the promises of God, the risen Christ invites him to see and believe. Touch My hands and side. Stop doubting and believe!
For you and me, we encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism, cleansed by the working of Christ through His word of promise. We encounter the sacrifice that He made for us when we eat His resurrected body and drink His risen blood.
Although we deserve it, we are not consumed. “Fear not,” Jesus tells us. “I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead, but behold, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”
Jesus is not the bringer of punishment for those who trust in Him. He is not the harbinger of doom. He is the Living One. And His life is infectious. It is contagious.
Jesus reaches out and touches John. And John stands. He invites Thomas to place his finger into His hands, his hand into Jesus’ side, and Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus Himself washes us with His blood in baptism. He speaks the words which enliven our hearts, move us to trust Him, to face death with confidence because He holds the keys. He feeds us with His sacrificial body raised to new life.
The Lord’s Supper, perhaps, serves us well in this matter. It is a mistake to think that we are eating and drinking the dead body of Jesus. For that to happen, Jesus would have to be slain again and again week after week. But He is not. Christ is risen, never to die again. He is the Living One. And He gives us His living body, His life giving blood, to eat and to drink.
Christ infects us with life. The life of Jesus is given to us, given to you. Jesus Christ died and was raised. He renews your life today. He restarts it fresh. And He extends it forever, just as His is extended forever.
Fear not. Jesus Christ is the Living One. Behold, He lives forever and ever. And if He is living, all who trust in Him shall live as well. Amen.