Our Eternal Inheritance

John 20:19-31, 1 Peter 1:3-9              Our Eternal Inheritance              Pastor Teddie McConnell
The disciples were hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Although Mary had seen the risen Christ and John the empty tomb, there were still things to fear. The world outside didn’t become paradise again after Jesus was raised from the dead. Even now, it’s difficult to live without fear, especially since going through COVID and hearing more and more in the news about crazy people with guns, criminals stealing cars, and on and on.

I’ll bet the disciples almost jumped out of their skins when Jesus miraculously appeared in their midst. He knew they were scared and reassured them, saying, “Peace be with you.” This blessing in Hebrew is a wish for that person’s total well being  and completeness. The infusion of the Holy Spirit also calmed them, and seeing Jesus alive again gave them overwhelming joy.
But Thomas was out running an errand when Jesus showed up that first Sunday, and didn’t believe the stories of Jesus’ appearance. The nickname “Doubting Thomas” is not really fair. Thomas wasn’t disloyal. He was the first to say he was willing to die with Jesus.

Even though Jesus had said repeatedly that he would die and rise again on the third day, it hadn’t sunk in with any of his followers until they saw the risen Christ for themselves. They all needed hard evidence rather than hearsay. The idea of rising from the dead is, after all, unbelievable on its face, more so because, unlike us, they’d never heard of anyone being raised from the dead by God. Jesus raised Lazarus, but he was alive again in his mortal body, not resurrected into an immortal body as Jesus was. So it’s reasonable that Thomas responded with something along the lines of, “Yeah, right! Tell me another one.” At least none of the disciples gave him a hard time. They’d all been on a similar journey.

Children learn at a young age to be skeptical when they hear something unusual. Older kids play practical jokes, children’s books and movies are full of fantasy, and even dreams can seem real until you wake up. Some skepticism is a healthy survival tool. Look at all the scammers who bilk people out of their money on a daily basis. One must trust the source of a surprising story completely, and even then, it can be difficult to believe without proof. That’s why trust takes so much time to earn, even for preachers and teachers.

As a former art teacher, I know that people learn best when you can introduce the new material by connecting it to what they already know to be true. There are three main learning styles. Some people learn best by seeing, some by hearing, and some by touching, using their hands to engage with the material. Jesus realized how difficult His rising would be to understand, and gave Thomas a chance to touch His wounds with his fingers so that he could learn the truth. Then Thomas believed and became the only person in the gospels to call Jesus “God.”

I find it comforting that Jesus showed up still wearing the scars from those terrible wounds, scars that would reassure His friends that it was, indeed, Him. To quote Nadia Boltz-Weber, “He knew that he would be known by his wounds. And isn’t that true for us as well? We can only really know and be known when we show our scars. I never really feel a connection to someone until they have shared with me the lumpy, broken, petty parts of themselves. I may be inspired by the virtue and accomplishments of others, but I only feel less alone when someone shares their failures with me, the parts of themselves that have been hurt.”

These are the conversations that help us really see each other, that help us all realize that life is hard and we all get hurt, damaged by the choices we make and the things we go through.
My husband, David, and I are both widowed. I saw his profile on a dating website, and one reason I decided to contact him was that he had also been through the loss of a spouse. He had the same type of scars, and would understand when I would be blindsided by grief. Only someone who has been through a similar kind of pain can truly empathize, not just sympathize.
That’s why Jesus gets us. He understands us completely and loves us anyway.

After talking with Thomas, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” This may sound like a criticism of Thomas, but it could be Jesus’ prediction of how the church would spread after He left for Heaven. Every new believer since the Ascension has had to take the word of a Christian who can only show them the risen Christ through stories and examples. All of us have had to take the idea of the resurrection on faith. We are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe. This allows us to receive, as Peter said, our eternal inheritance, kept for us in heaven.

While we won’t have the opportunity to meet Jesus in the flesh in this life, we can still experience His touch through the sacraments, through hands held in prayer, and other touches that convey the love of Jesus to each other. We can see his love in the caring smiles, the written words, and the artwork of fellow believers. We can hear it through the music inspired by the Holy Spirit, played by Seung-Mee or sung by the choir or as a hymn, and in our uplifted prayers as we worship. No matter what our learning style is, the Holy Spirit can use it to fill our hearts with the love of Christ.

Jesus himself knew that faith is a blessing and that belief in something miraculous that you’ve never experienced is a miracle in itself. When you think about how the church has evolved and grown over the centuries based on four short books about the life of Jesus, the book of Acts and the letters the apostles wrote to other Christians, it’s incredible. Interestingly, while the other three gospel writers simply told the story, John also talked to us, the readers, directly. “This is written so that you may believe.” In other words, listen up! Pay attention!
Once we’ve heard the Gospel, each of us has a choice whether or not to believe in Jesus and the promises of God. Some days, we make that choice anew after experiencing doubts. There is no sin in doubt, no shame in it. Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for doubting. As human beings, our natural inclination is to want life to go smoothly and to go our way. The more pain we’ve experienced, the more we may find ourselves expecting the worst and wondering whether God really loves us.

Here's a joke.
Doctor to patient: "I have bad news and worse news."
Patient: "So let's have it."
Doctor: "The bad news is that you only have 24 hours to live."
Patient: "I can't imagine what could be worse than that!"
Doctor: "I forgot to tell you yesterday."

As we wrestle with this fallen world, we can choose to remember the amazing sacrifice God made through the suffering of His only Son so that we might be forgiven and freed from the eternal consequences of our sins. That’s what Peter was talking about in his letter. He spoke of an inheritance of genuine faith more precious than gold that produces the eternal salvation of our souls. Even though the Christians he addressed had experienced suffering, even though they’d never seen Jesus, they loved Him and kept their hope through their belief in Him. Gold can be purified by melting it in a fire, the analogy Peter used for their testing through trials.

In case anyone thinks persecution no longer happens, here’s just one story from persecution.org. “11/20/2022- Christians in Odisha, India were severely beaten for refusing to deny their faith. A mob of radical Hindu nationalists, along with the village leader, interrupted Sunday worship in the home of a Christian family. The mob burst into the house, took two Christian families, and beat them brutally. Among the three who suffered serious internal injuries, one man was unconscious for nearly an hour.

“The two Christian families who were attacked came to faith just four months ago. Since then, they have been constantly harassed by radical residents. According to sources reaching International Christian Concern, the village leader amassed the mob, including residents of neighboring villages, and accused the Christians of converting to a foreign religion, abandoning their gods, and luring innocent tribal people to Christianity. The mob started to attack the Christians, including the women and children. The pastor fell unconscious after a significant beating. The crowd assumed he had died and left the scene. After an hour, he regained consciousness. The Christian community went to the police station to report the attackers, but the mob led by the village leader arrived to file a First Incident Report against the pastor. There is little hope for justice for the Christians….Odisha was the first Indian state to have anti-conversion laws. Today, eleven Indian states have enacted anti-conversion laws. We pray for our Indian brothers and sisters.”

We don’t like to talk about suffering, especially once Easter and the intense reminders of what Jesus went through are over for the year. Yet Peter not only spoke about the persecution and suffering of the early Christians for their faith and empathized with their misery, but also about the suffering we all go through as part of life. Peter said we should rejoice in our suffering, because God won’t let our pain have the last word. He suggested that trials have a refining effect on our Christian faith.

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, "Why do the righteous suffer?" "Why not?" he replied. "They're the only ones who can take it."

Peter did not suggest that suffering automatically and necessarily increases our faith. He also didn’t explain how suffering helps us in our faith journey. But there can be positive effects from going through hard times if we choose to rely on God to get us through them and thank God when they’re over. It’s not the suffering we’ve endured that will result in rejoicing when we see Jesus. The angels will dance because we allowed those times to refine and reinforce our faith in God and allowed the Holy Spirit to help us through. Our joy in our salvation and in our new life in heaven will far outweigh our suffering in this life.

Let us pray.
Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the difficulties and pain of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in His resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

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