Better to Be Thought a Fool
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, whose Gospel is foolishness to the world, but power and wisdom and life to us, dear fellow redeemed:
Picture yourself riding in the family car as a kid. Suddenly, someone else in the car points at something—“Look at that!” You look but don’t see anything. Everyone else says, “Wow! That’s amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that before!” You keep looking around desperately: “Where? Where is it? I don’t see anything!” But it’s too late. You missed it. You won’t enjoy what the others did. How does that make you feel?
Or if you’re old enough, think back to your middle school, junior high, and high school days. Remember all those little groups and exclusive clubs and cliques? Some of you may have been self-secure enough that you did not care about them. But others of us worried our way through these years. We wanted to fit in. We wanted to be accepted. The thing we dreaded was for no one to notice us, like we didn’t even exist—or worse, to be singled out and picked on or made fun of.
It is no fun to be on the outside looking in. It is no fun to miss out on what everyone else seems to enjoy. These feelings can hound us even when we get beyond our teenage years and enter adulthood. We don’t want to be left out. We want to be included. If we are left out, we assume it is for one of two reasons: it is someone else’s fault, or there must be something wrong with me. Either those who exclude are mean, uncaring, or shallow, or I am not good company, and people would rather not have me around.
What was Thomas supposed to think? He was one of the “the Twelve.” He had followed Jesus from the earliest times of His public work. But when he returned after Easter evening and heard the reports of Jesus’ resurrection, he was troubled. He learned that Jesus had supposedly appeared to some of the women that morning, and to Peter, and to some others on the road to Emmaus. Then the Lord was said to have appeared to all the disciples gathered together in a tightly secured room in Jerusalem.
But why should Thomas have been left out? If Jesus had actually risen and appeared to people all over the area, couldn’t He have found Thomas too? He was no less important than the other disciples, was he? Thomas couldn’t bear the thought of a resurrected Jesus deliberately concealing Himself from him. So instead of pinning the problem on himself, Thomas pinned it on his fellow disciples. No matter how much the disciples repeated what they had seen and heard, he refused to listen. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”
Thomas would not play the part of the fool. He wanted the facts. He wanted visible, tangible proof. This is why many today reject the claims of Christianity. They want visible, tangible proof of God. They want undeniable proof that the Bible is entirely God’s Word. They are not satisfied with Christians telling them they just need to “have faith.” And we can understand their hesitation. They have doubts, just as Thomas did.
But for many, no proofs that are put forward about God and His Word could ever be enough. Christian teaching does not fit the way they want to look at the world. Even the very idea that there is a God is offensive to many. They believe that everything came about by chance starting with a Big Bang. They believe that more complex organisms came from less complex ones, and that humans evolved over time from monkeys.
We have legitimate questions about these theories. They offer no explanation for where matter began. If it was through a Big Bang, where did that explosive material come from? And how was it possible for living things to come from material that had no life in it? This is certainly something that humans cannot duplicate. And if humans evolved from monkeys, and one species of animal from another, where is the evidence of these half-and-half creatures?
So which side has the facts? One side says that humans have a sufficient answer for all of life’s questions. The other says that God is the answer to all of life’s questions. Those are very different ways of looking at the world. Thomas wanted to rely on his own reason and experience. He was not willing to humbly listen to the Word that was shared with him. He was going to make the rules. He was going to set the conditions for establishing fact.
Why was Thomas wrong to think this way? He was wrong because Jesus actually had risen from the dead! Everything about the Christian faith hinges on whether or not this happened. If Jesus did rise from the dead, His Word is true, and everyone should listen to what He has to say. If He did not rise from the dead, then the Christian religion is no different than all the other religions of the world. Then we have no certainty of God’s grace and no certainty of a blessed life after this one.
We confess that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, and that He rose again on the third day. We confess this based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw all these things happen. The world of unbelievers mock Christians for this confession. Unbelievers can live with the idea that Jesus was a really nice teacher, who told everyone to be loving. But they don’t want to hear that Jesus is true God who took on human flesh, so He could suffer and die for their sins and rise again in victory over their death. If that is true, they cannot remain how they are. If it is not true, they can go about their business as they always have.
And so they look down on pious Christians and call them simpletons. They regard the Christian’s faith in Jesus as little more than superstition. Ultimately they think Christians are fools, who would benefit from using their brains once in a while.
There is no shame in being thought a fool. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “It’s better to be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” (possibly derived from Pro. 17:28). Being called a fool, or suspected of being a fool, does not mean you actually are one. Those who call Christians foolish like to think they are the intelligent ones. That isn’t how David put it. He wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good” (Ps. 14:1). David argues that a person using his intellect would conclude there is a God.
Another Psalm speaks of the greatness of the LORD’s work, which can be seen all around us in creation. But instead of praising the LORD, the fool exalts himself. He ignores his own mortality, the destruction which comes upon all people (92:4-9). He thinks he is the master of his own fate. But unknown to himself, it is the devil who controls him. The prophet Isaiah described this situation: “For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink” (Isa. 32:6).
But we do not despise those who single us out, who call us fools. Jesus died for them just as He died for us. He rose victorious over their death just as much as for ours. The forgiveness He won is for everybody’s sins, and it is imparted to all who repent of their sin and trust in Him. Jesus gave this power of forgiveness to His Church, as you heard in today’s text: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The sins of penitent sinners are forgiven, while the sins of the impenitent are not forgiven.
For the repentant person, no matter what foolishness he has pursued, no matter what sins he has committed, Jesus forgives. He died for that sin, and His resurrection proves that this payment was acceptable to His Father. This goes for the times that you avoided making a clear confession of your faith, because you were afraid of what others might think of you. You wanted to fit in. You didn’t want to be left out. You didn’t want to be different. And now you regret that. You see how you let your sinful flesh take control, and how you disregarded and despised your Lord’s Word.
The merciful Lord forgives that sinful foolishness, just as He forgave the foolishness of Thomas. He came again into that room and said, “Peace—Peace be with you.” This was for Thomas too. Jesus was not angry with him. He did not put Thomas out and act like he didn’t exist. But He did encourage him to set aside his pride and cling to God’s Word. He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The death and resurrection of Jesus is no fairy tale. It is no superstition. It is a fact that in this way, Jesus accomplished your eternal salvation. The apostle Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18). The world can say what it wants about the Bible’s teaching, but it has nothing better to offer—not by a long-shot! All the world knows is sin and death. But Jesus gives us His righteousness and everlasting life. The world’s heroes all die. But Jesus lives!
Because of what Jesus has done for you, you are not on the outside looking in. You haven’t missed anything. You are on the side of the resurrected Lord, which means that even though some may think you a fool, you are no fool at all.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is portion of “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)