Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series B)

Reading Time: 4 mins

John wrote so people would have faith in Jesus, so you would believe in Jesus, and that by believing, you would have life in His name.

John did not just write his account of Jesus’ life because it was true and historical... although it was true and historical. John did not just write his account because he was moved by the Holy Spirit... although he was moved by the Holy Spirit. John wrote with a purpose. John wrote so people would have faith in Jesus, so you would believe in Jesus, and that by believing, you would have life in His name.

Different communities of faith have different relationships with “personal testimonies.” All too often, the person testifying becomes the center of attention, the hero of the story, or the one who has overcome and moved beyond whatever brokenness used to be in their life. This is not good. Jesus is the center of our faith. Jesus is the hero of the story. Jesus has overcome sin, death, and the Devil, even when we are still mired in sin, buried in the ground, or daily assaulted by our ancient foe.

But the fact that some people or communities share their experience of faith in unhelpful ways does not mean there is something inherently unhelpful or wrong about recounting one’s journey of faith. There is great value in finding helpful ways to share and celebrate how God works in real time, in real lives to really save real sinners.

The Gospel of John testifies to Jesus. It was written so people would believe in Jesus. Throughout the Gospel of John, we are given glimpses into a variety of ways people encounter Jesus and express their personal faith in Him. This post-Easter episode is a prime example, but it is not the only one.

A major moment in the scene is Thomas’ declaration of faith. He is singled out in the narrative, and he is singled out by Jesus. Having heard the words of Jesus and having seen with his own eyes, he declares (with first-person singular pronouns): “My Lord and my God!” One moment in this week’s sermon could be Thomas retelling this scene years later.

On the heels of this confession of faith, John tells us what his whole book is about: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).

For Thomas, a significant sign was literally seeing the physical body of the resurrected Jesus. No small sign! But this is not the first sign in John’s Gospel, nor is Thomas’ response the only possible one. A preacher could work through the signs in the Gospel of John and celebrate the various ways God worked through Jesus to lead various people to various expressions of faith.

 For Thomas, a significant sign was literally seeing the physical body of the resurrected Jesus. No small sign!

Water into Wine (John 2:11)

We can labor to theologically connect the first sign to the events of Holy Week, but the simple reality is that after they saw Jesus turn water into wine, “His disciples believed in Him.” Sometimes, an earthly blessing points us towards belief in Jesus.

Destruction of the Temple (John 2:21-22)

When asked for a sign, Jesus told them He would raise up the destroyed Temple. But it does not appear the disciples understood or believed, since John tells us it was not until Jesus was raised that “His disciples remembered He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” Sometimes it is only much later that we see what God was doing or saying.

Healing the Official’s Son (John 4:50)

This man comes to Jesus for a personal request, not on some spiritual quest or looking for a savior. But when Jesus spoke a word of promise, “The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him.” Sometimes, Jesus meets our immediate needs even before we know our greatest needs.

Healing at the Pool (John 5:12)

Jesus does not quote Moses. He does not talk about the Last Day or the forgiveness of sins. He asks a man what he wants and calls him to a healed life. And when asked about the episode, the healed man does not even know who Jesus is! “The man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn.” Sometimes, the sign only shows part of the picture, and it may be much later (if ever) that we see the hand of God behind it.

Feeding the Multitudes (John 6:14)

We do not know what each of the people among the thousands believed about Jesus after they were miraculously fed. They certainly did not have a fully articulated faith like we have in the Second Article of the Nicene Creed. A pastor today probably would not accept their answer on a confirmation quiz. “Who is Jesus?” “The Prophet who is to come into the world.” Sometimes, God is at work even when people have an insufficient understanding.

Healing the Man Born Blind (John 9:11, 17, 38)

This chapter is all about Jesus, but it focuses on a single man’s experience of Jesus. As this man keeps talking about his encounter with Jesus, his confession of faith grows. At first, he identifies Jesus as a “man” (9:11). But after talking through it more, he recognizes Jesus is a “prophet” (9:17). Finally, he sees most clearly and confesses, “Lord, I believe” (9:38). Sometimes, we have to talk through things, even inadequately, to come to a fuller faith.

The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:27)

Martha is grieving the death of Lazarus. Her brother is dead and buried. But with only the words of Jesus to cling to, believing without seeing, she has hope. “I believe you are the Christ.” Sometimes, we believe in the midst of pain and grief, even when we cannot see what God might be up to.

From there, the preacher could share some contemporary examples which embody the blessing Jesus speaks of in 20:29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Rather than seeing our testimonies of faith today as wholly different from “the people in the Bible,” the preacher could celebrate the continuity: God so loved the world that He sent His son Jesus, that whoever believes in Him shall have life.

The people who encountered Jesus in the first century were real people with real experiences. God met them where they were. God worked in their lives and gave them faith, and through that faith they received life through Jesus. We do not have the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to reveal everything God is doing in our lives, but, like Psalm 107 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on John 20:19-31.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 20:19-31.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 20:19-31.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!