Everything I ever wrote for school was required to have a thesis. Well, there was the one paper I wrote for a philosophy course. With a nasty flu bug and a fever above 102. That I finished at 4am. After having drunk way too much coffee to stay awake. I’m surprised my professor didn’t call the narcotics unit of the Lincoln police after reading it. But I digress…
You probably remember what a thesis is, but just in case - a thesis is a sentence that states the purpose for what one writes. It should be brief, clear, and easily remembered. Mission statements are, frankly, thesis statements for organizations. You know our mission statement: “We are disciples of Christ, called to grow in Christ and to invite all to follow Him.” Fits the bill really well for us. Well, believe it or not, but the fourth gospel has a thesis statement, and it appeared in our gospel text today. And, as thesis statements go, it’s a grand one. Did you hear it? Anyone?
First off: THESE THINGS ARE WRITTEN. If you look at our constitution, you’ll find the following sentences: “C2.02.c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world. C2.03. This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.”
We believe that the Bible was written. By people. It didn’t drop down out of heaven, and it wasn’t God moving the hands of the writers so they didn’t miss anything. The Bible was written. By people. And the gospels in particular were written for a reason. They weren’t letters, poetry, prophecy or even straight history: the gospels were the accounts of the life of Jesus, written by devoted disciples after years of stories about Jesus circulated throughout the Middle East and the Roman Empire. They were written to accomplish the next part of John’s thesis statement: so that YOU may come to BELIEVE.
One of the students who was at Iowa State while I was campus pastor there grew up in Dallas, and she loved it when I would tell people what I’m about to tell you. The YOU in John’s thesis statement doesn’t mean “you” individually. In its original Greek it’s second person plural - only Southerners have a 2nd person plural pronoun. They might say, “These things are written so that y’all may come to believe.” Plays real well in Dallas, TX. A bit of a stretch in Story City, IA. But you get the idea. The beauty of this gospel is the fact that it’s not written only for its first readers. God had US in mind when John wrote these words. Later, in John 21, he writes, “I could have written many other things that Jesus did, but if all of them were written down, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Y’all are a part of these stories about Jesus. Jesus has been, is now, and will continue to be active in all y’all’s lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Every time you hear the voice of Jesus, whether it’s speaking to you through scripture, proclaimed to you through the words and deeds of a friend, or given to you tangibly through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, y’all are experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ himself, FOR Y’ALL.
So that Y’ALL may come to BELIEVE. Bishop William Willimon has said, “It is not an exaggeration to say that the entire structure of the Christian faith stands or falls upon the fact of Jesus being raised from by God from the dead.” Belief in Jesus is what it’s all about. Death appears to rule in this world. Without faith in Jesus’ resurrection, we have nothing that can stand against sin, destruction and death. Is it any wonder Thomas questioned whether Jesus was really raised from the dead and among the living? He faithfully followed Jesus. The gospel of John tells us he was even willing to die with Jesus in Bethany when Jesus went there to raise Lazarus from the dead. Once his teacher and friend was crucified, it must have seemed as though sin, destruction and death had won again, that everything Jesus had said was a lie. Of course Thomas doubted. You would have, too, particularly if you’d been all on your own the way he was. It’s hard to keep the faith on your own in the face of sin, death and destruction. Maybe that’s why John uses Y’ALL here instead of the singular YOU - we are meant to stand beside one another in our crises of faith. Thomas wasn’t a bad guy, or plagued with less faith than the other disciples - Thomas just had the bad luck to miss out on Jesus’ appearance the first time it happened. Faith is meant to be shared in community with one another - “so that y’all may come to believe.” Together.
Now listen. A lot of folks just stop right there. In the gospel of John that’s particularly easy to do. But there’s more to the thesis of this kingdom than just that. “These things are written so that you may come to believe, and that through believing you might have life in his name.” We’re not just talking about wrapping your head around the crucifixion and resurrection so you can go to heaven when you die. The gospel of John was written so that your life would be claimed by the name of Jesus NOW. This isn’t life insurance. It’s not a better life or even Your Best Life Now. And it’s not just for Sunday mornings. Your life - 24 hours a day, 7 days in a week, 365 days in a year - has been claimed by the story of Jesus Christ. He gives his life to you - zwh, is the word in Greek - his being, his essence, his spirit and soul, everything that makes Jesus who Jesus is now belongs to you as you come to believe in him. You all know John 3.16, right? “For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The thing we preachers don’t always emphasize enough is that for the gospel of John, eternal life begins NOW. Here’s the last few verses from the story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3: ‘And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ The light that is Jesus comes into the world here - now - and it is working in us from the moment we draw our first breath. When Jesus breathed the Spirit into his disciples here, it was the same breathing that the Father breathed into the dust to make Adam and Eve all the way back in Genesis 2. It is God’s pne,uma, God’s ruach, the breath of God’s Spirit poured into his friends, so that they might continue his work in the world. If we hold on to the resurrection only for hope after death, we’ve missed the point. The gift of the resurrection is a gift for new life here, new life now, new life in this world and the next.
Here’s the thesis for the gospel of John: this is a story written for y’all to believe, to give you new life in the name that is above all names, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It’s a grand thesis - a bold thesis - a thesis that raises more questions than it answers. It’s a thesis to give hope to the hopeless, sight to the blind, light in the darkness, life to we who once were dead. Do you have questions? These things are written so that you may come to believe. Do you have doubts? These things are written so that you may come to believe. Do you want life? These things are written so that you may come to believe, and that through believing you may have life in his name. Thomas’ questions, Thomas’ doubt, Thomas’ loyalty - these things never put Thomas outside Jesus’ mercy, and neither will yours. These things, and everything else in God’s Word, are written so that you may come to believe, and that through believing you may have life in his name. Your belief is God’s purpose, and nothing - not even sin, death and destruction - will stand in God’s way. Thanks be to God.