The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you All. Amen.
John 20:19 “When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ 26 And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.’ 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’
30 Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)
“When therefore it was evening, on that day [Easter Sunday], the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
Thomas wasn’t there. He didn’t get to see the Visitor’s hands and side. So when he got the report of Jesus’ visit, he said, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
All four of the Gospels provide us with various details about Easter Sunday. Beginning at sunrise, they all make it clear that there were plenty of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrections. The first witnesses to the resurrection were the angels who told the women that Jesus was not there, but He had risen.
In the dark hours of the mourning none of the women or the men could yet be called witnesses. They couldn’t even be called men and women of true Christian faith. None of them were mindful of the doctrines that Jesus had been teaching. Everything He had said, done, and taught during His earthly ministry regarding His life, death, and resurrection were lost on them on account of the fear and grief of Good Friday.
They all, men and women alike started the morning as skeptics or worse cynics. They didn’t, well it seems they couldn’t bring themselves to believe the words and promises of Jesus regarding His rising on the third day. As a result they all hid behind locked doors fearing for their lives.
After Jesus rose from the dead and before He visited His Father in heaven, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. A little bit later He appeared to some of the ladies, then to Simon Peter and next to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, Clopas being one of them. He walked, talked, and ate with them. In the evening He appeared to all the disciples except Thomas. Over the next 50 days Jesus would appear to hundreds, including eating fish on the shore of Tiberias with seven of His disciples and to a large group on a mountain top in Galilee.
The writers of the New Testament Gospels and Epistles make sure that the readers of their writings hear the truth, know the historical facts surrounding the resurrection, and consider their testimony and the testimony of others that Jesus lived, was crucified to death, and on the third day rose from the dead just as He taught He would.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning is essential to Christian doctrine and faith. Without the teaching and belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus, then there is no forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
St. John, writing some 60 years later and dealing with false teachers who questioned the physical resurrection of Jesus– neo-platonists called Gnostics, confirmed the physical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He wrote, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)
Of its essential physical nature of the resurrection St. Paul wrote, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:14-17)
But on the Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas still did not believe the reports of the eye and ear witnesses. He still did not understand the doctrines he had been taught by Jesus Himself. He demanded the same evidence that everyone else got to see, hear, and touch. The fact is that none of the disciples or women, not even Peter looked forward in faith to the resurrection of the Promised Messiah even though the Old Testament prophesied it and Jesus taught it.
Even after Jesus appeared to the two of His disciples in Emmaus and after they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had been with Jesus, the disciples didn’t believe their report either. The Gospel of Mark reports (16:14) that Jesus “reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
What Thomas did that maybe . . . maybe some of the other disciples didn’t do was to issue a defiant demand for physical evidence. “Unless I see . . . I will not believe.” Thomas was stuck in the same unbelief as the others until they saw the resurrected Jesus. That was no excuse. Nowhere in Scripture is skepticism or cynicism or doubt or unbelief condoned when it comes to God’s Word. If He says it; if He has it written down; if He does something we are to believe, that is trust His words and deeds. That’s what’s meant when we are told not to put the Lord our God to the test.
We are to believe His Word because it’s His Word. Thus in the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus told Thomas, in the hearing of all the rest of the disciples, I might add, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
In the presence of His Lord, at the hearing of His greeting, and at the seeing of Christ’s wounds, Thomas’ unbelief is crushed and all he can do is offer his simple confession of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
No doubt the unbelief, the skepticism of the disciples, and especially the defiance of Thomas are important parts of the resurrection story. They are included in the Gospel record for a reason. Even though they had seen Jesus raise three people from the dead over the course of His earthly ministry, they just couldn’t imagine that now that Jesus was dead, He could rise from the dead. On Easter morning there was a disjunction between what they had experienced and what Jesus had taught them and the reports of Easter day.
That’s how doubt and unbelief work. They are stubborn things because they are the bread and butter of the old sinful nature. Luther said of doubt, “The art of doubting [God’s Word] is easy for it is an ability that is born with us; we derive it from our parents.”
Faith, real Christian faith is a work and gift of God. “I cannot by my own strength or reason believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened, and sanctified me, just as He calls gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.”
Real Christian faith is created and sustained by God’s Word and that is the point of the assigned Gospel lesson this morning.
When Jesus appears to the disciples behind those locked doors on Easter morning, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “Peace be with you,” then He showed them His hands and His side and said it again,“Peace be with you.” In that series of actions, Jesus pieces together His life, death, and resurrection with God’s peace. God and sinner reconciled. Peace between God and sinner is a recipe consisting of Jesus’ perfect life of obedience, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His glorious resurrection. Thus, St. Paul wrote that without the resurrection there is no remission of sins because with the resurrection the final part of the recipe is left out.
St. John tells us why he has written the things he had written. Everything in the Gospel of St. John, including the struggle between faith and unbelief from Good Friday to the appearance of Jesus before Thomas was written for a purpose. Verses 30-31 “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
John did not tell us about Thomas and his demand for physical evidence and Jesus’ response so that we would justify our own moments of unbelief (well even “Thomas doubted and it turned out okay”) or so we could feel superior to Thomas and others who do not believe (“I’m, glad I am not like him or them”).
These things were written to create and sustain Christian faith and that is particularly meaningful in the Gospel of John. It is the Gospel of John that makes it very, very clear, that the Word of God, the Second person of the Holy Trinity took on flesh. (John 1:1-2,14) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
These thing were written so that we may believe. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life. . . what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.”
We aren’t any different than those original disciples. There exists within every Christian a battle between unbelief and faith, doubt and confidence, sin and grace. Yet, Christ comes to us in His Word– the same doctrine and the same promises. He has left us a record produced by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and written by His eye and ear witnesses. In the two thousand years that have followed, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have continued to send preachers to preach His Gospel truth. He continues to come to us in His Word and Sacrament ministry of the church.
St. Peter saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him, but 30 years later Peter would write to Christians who did not see or hear the resurrected Jesus, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . . 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith . . . even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him . . . obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-12)
God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit still sends sinners to tell other sinners about salvation. He still gives sinners the authority to forgive sins publically in the pastoral office. And blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. Your sins are forgiven.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen