From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

March 30, 2008 – John 20:19-31

The gospel reading for this Sunday is the third in a 3-part series of resurrection appearances in John 20: Peter and John at the empty tomb; Mary Magdalene; Thomas and the other disciples.

Thomas is named two other times in John, and neither pictures Thomas negatively. I don’t think his reaction in John 20 (“unless I see the mark of the nails…”) should be taken negatively either. In my Easter sunrise sermon, I took these three responses to the resurrection as relating to evangelism: John believes on the merest of evidence; Mary Magdalene believes when Jesus calls her name; Thomas believes when he sees the wounds. John seems to be pointing up that people come to belief in different ways, and therefore evangelism is not a “one size fits all” kind of thing. John needs the slightest evidence (perhaps a logical proof?), while Mary needs to be known and loved, and Thomas needs to see the wounds. In all cases, the point or aim is belief (John 20:31) but that belief is arrived at in different ways. I think it would be well for churches and Christians to consider what type of person they’re evangelizing (a John, a Mary, a Thomas) and tailor the message accordingly.

This coming Sunday I’ll be trying to relate this story of Thomas to the 3:16 campaign. The theme for this Sunday is God’s love (the first in Max Lucado’s summary “He loves, he gives, we believe, we live). One direction I’m thinking of is that the love of God, unlike human love, is strong enough to bear the scars of loving us. (love “bears all things, endures all things”). When I consider the cross, it comes to my mind that it cost Jesus something to love me. That cross, and the remembrance of his wounds, does not leave me frozen in guilt, however, or despairing about my own sinfulness. Instead, the cross reminds me of the magnificent strength and durability of God’s love. Therefore it makes me less afraid.

On a different note, here’s one place I disagree with Lucado. His take in his 3:16 book is that 1) you can’t win God’s love; 2) you can’t lose God’s love; 3) you can resist God’s love. I’m quite in agreement with #1 and #2, but since I’m predestined to be a Calvinist 🙂 I quibble with #3. Classic Reformed theology holds that God’s grace is irresistible.

In the short run, we all resist God’s grace and love. Biblical examples abound: Moses, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, etc. But in the long run God’s grace cannot be resisted.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

If God’s grace can be resisted, then He may fail. If He may fail, why bother with faith?

Your thoughts are welcome in all this – the sermon isn’t written yet!

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5 responses

  1. “He Gives” is why I believe we cannot resist his grace. Humanity has no Free Will (we like to think we do), and it is only God’s Will that exists on earth and in heaven. If it is his will that grace is given to someone, and it is through that grace that faith grows by the working of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us and through the hearing and study of his Holy Word, then we have no say in the matter – we cannot create faith or resist it. It is His Free Will alone.

    March 25, 2008 at 12:12 am

  2. Becky

    Weelllll, sinced I’m not “singularly-predestined” to be a Calvinist (at least not at this time) I’m not so sure about the “not-being-able-to-resist” thing. A couple scriptures that seem to question the notion (at least in my admittedly limited understanding) are Heb6:4-6, John 12:47-48, 2peter 2:20-22.
    It’s confusing to me…I know God already knows what we’re going to do, or the choice we will make…but these few scriptures sound like he allows some to resist.

    March 25, 2008 at 8:55 pm

  3. I am going to study this some more, but from reading other scriptures, such as Ezekiel 36:27 “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgements, and do them.” It is God who “causes” us to walk in his statutes and keep his judgements. If we don’t keep them (resist or walk away), then it was because God did not will it for us.

    March 26, 2008 at 6:30 am

  4. Irresistible grace – the “I” in the Calvinist acronym TULIP – doesn’t mean grace isn’t resisted – it almost always is! It simply means that we resist until God chooses to overcome our resistance. The scriptures Becky cites (Heb. 6:4-6, John 12:47-48, 2 Peter 2:20-22) all indicate that some do not hear the word, some fall away. The question is, “why do they fall away”? Calvinist answer: either they temporarily backslid and will be restored, or they were never real Christians anyway. Non-Calvinist answer: some variation of “they didn’t try hard enough”.

    Grace is, ultimately, irresistible because election is unconditional. If grace can be ultimately resisted, then your election depends on you, not God.

    Whattya think?

    March 26, 2008 at 6:57 am

  5. That is an excellent response to both Becky’s and my posts, which according to your post, we are both partially correct. Your last sentence is extremely powerful. There is no way anyone can receive salvation without God’s free grace, which opens our hearts, minds, and souls to believe in Christ through faith given to us by God. Our faith is developed through God’s Word by the workings of the Holy Spirit in us. Like a banquet meal set before us that we didn’t know we wanted and didn’t order, and we sure can’t pay for it, but once we get a taste of it, we find ourselves so ravenously hungry we can’t get our fill! All because of God’s unmerited mercy and grace.
    I thought about your statement on back-sliding and I have experienced it. I had periods of “doubt” after years of being so sure of all I had learned in church, confirmation,… and then many years of sailing along through life thinking my baby faith was adequate. (didn’t realize it was baby faith then)
    I know now that God planned for me to experience these “dry” times with me in control, for my good, and for his good purpose. He drew me back and I no longer need “things” of the world to feel secure and loved!

    March 26, 2008 at 3:02 pm

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