That You May Believe

Text: John 20:30-31
Date: Easter II + 4/7/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He comes to us today mysteriously, but nevertheless really, presently, though invisibly, body and soul. As doubting Thomas finally didn’t need to touch the risen Jesus to confess Him as his Lord and God, nevertheless our Lord and God, the blessed King comes to touch us; to touch our hearts with faith, our tongues with His body and blood, our minds with understanding of the scriptures.

Today we come to and hear the end of John’s Gospel when he says, “these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” That’s been his goal ever since he penned the words, “In the beginning was the Word.” So now, on the basis of the eyewitness testimony of all the signs of Jesus’ life, teaching and work, and now especially the “sign” of His cross and resurrection, that is the one and only place, the means by which the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in any human heart, that is, the inspired, inerrant, written testimony of the apostles. No witness? No word? No faith! These things are written that you may believe, because that’s how it works; that’s how God works.

Did I say this was the end of John’s Gospel? “But there’s one more chapter,” you say. Since John 21 is only scheduled to be read on Easter Wednesday and St. John, Apostle and Evangelist day, we most likely will not hear it in our regular round of the liturgical year and so this may be a good opportunity to say a few words about it. Yes our gospel today, the last two verses of John 20 were clearly intended by John to be the conclusion of his work. It has, therefore, been debated whether someone else added chapter 21 later, or whether John added it at the request of others or even that it was added by others after the apostle’s death. Though we will never know, most of us prefer to think that the presbyters or elders in Ephesus requested John to add this chapter. In it is the only account we have of a resurrection appearance of the Lord to seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Then follow some final words re-establishing Peter as the leader of the apostles and predicting his martyrdom, and finally concerning John’s long life. The famous “we” passage at the end—“This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true”—reveals the Ephesian elders’ desire to testify to the truth both that this gospel was the work of the apostle John and of John’s testimony.

It is fascinating to wonder what John was thinking about when he tells us that, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” Is he referring to those things he left out that are found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke? John obviously assumes that you are aware of the content of those gospels. Or were there even other things we’ve never even been told about? The miracles Jesus “did” testify, first, to the unbelief of those John repeatedly called “the Jews.” But they are also the basis of the church’s faith. Of course it wasn’t only because of the miracles, which can end in a superficial faith only in miracles, but was also Jesus’ words as John remembered the Lord saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). This faith sets you free, free from sin’s condemnation and death, free to live reconciled to God both now by faith and for eternity in the day of resurrection.

These things are written so that you may believe. Believe what? Well believe something you can in no other way discover or figure out on your own, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth around whose earthly life our calendars are numbered, Jesus the son of Mary is the Christ, the Messiah promised of old through the prophets. God promised the Messiah, the Savior, first in the Garden of Eden at the fall into sin in the mysterious words God spoke to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). The promise of a Savior “took on flesh,” so to speak, through the promise to Abraham. The Old Testament is the record of how that promise was handed down to men named Isaac, Jacob, the great King David, until it found its goal in a young girl “of the house and lineage of David,” Mary of Nazareth. According to the promise the Savior was then born in Bethlehem, the royal city of David.

In the first half of the liturgical year we have just told the whole story of how Jesus fulfilled everything that was predicted and written about Him in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms including His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection from the dead. Through all these words the Holy Spirit creates this thing we call faith in those who hear them, faith in the atoning work of the Savior. Therefore whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is given life in his name—the hopeful life of faith now and the eternal life that reaches beyond the grave to the day of our joyful resurrection.

“These things 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.” Life, eternal life, comes by means of faith, “by believing.” Faith is the hand that grasps the gift of God. So, though even faith itself is a gift and work of the Holy Spirit, it is also, at the same time, nevertheless, a personal possession. You say, “I believe,” not just “I’ve been told.” It is the personal faith that so many have staked their very lives on, “the noble army of martyrs” and “the holy Church throughout all the world.” It is into this fellowship of the saints that this faith admits you and to which John’s witness testifies.

The holy Church throughout the world has ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned, grown and shrunk and grown again, been prized and persecuted. It seems the worst times are the result of our “wisdom” and management. The best times seem to happen in times of persecution, the result only of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. John’s gospel is such a means. The entire Bible is such means. So also is the sacred liturgy, the Catholic creeds and Lutheran Confessions, and the living witness of believers in every age. Ordained, inspired and inerrant, however, is the holy scripture, from the first book of Moses to the last letter of John, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”