Text: John 20:19-31
Date: Easter II + 4/27/14
He never did it. Though Thomas insisted on examining the evidence, seeing in His hands the mark of the nails and placing his finger into them, and placing his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side, when Jesus appeared he never did it, he never followed through. Jesus even invited him to do it. But that invitation sounded almost more like deserved mockery when the risen Lord suddenly was standing right in the middle of them all in that upper room. With a word the objections Thomas raised were overruled and he believed.
Through the centuries there have been plenty of objections to the claims of the Christian faith. Some have been complete rejections such as the continuation of Judaism, then the rise of Gnosticism. Satan has been inspiring alternatives to the Christian gospel ever since the beginning, as when St. Peter himself reacted to Jesus’ prediction of His suffering and death, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But Jesus turned and said to [that familiar voice], ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matt 16:21-23). By the sixth century there arose the most powerful enemy, the imitative-alternative of Islam. Then, of course, there is atheism. But some objections have arisen along side of or even within the Christian Church herself. Along side, for instance, you have the strange appearance of the Mormon church. After the first 1500 years of what is still our own history, we Evangelical Catholics or so-called Lutherans have claimed that we are not a “break away” but rather represent the main trunk of the tree, the Roman church being the wayward branch infected by false doctrine. As if that were not enough, then even among those calling themselves “Lutheran” various objections arose. The most important one inspired by the radical reformers, the issue of the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament of the altar. The most recent objection, of course, is the destructive heresy called the Historical-Critical method of Biblical interpretation.
Thomas’ objections were simply overruled by the Lord’s appearance and word. Many objections since then, however, must be confronted and exposed as false teaching. St. John writes in his first epistle, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Recall also the apostle Paul’s instruction to the Romans, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Remember Paul’s last words in his first letter to Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20-21). And what should we say about our day? Our opposition to false doctrine is called the work of “apologetics,” meaning to make a defense of the truth.
Remember Jesus’ words of warning in the Sermon on the Mount, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Then He said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:13-16).
We, like Thomas, find it hard to admit our objections to the gospel. And, like Thomas, the key to be able to do that, the key to the narrow gate is the risen Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We may wish that He would, just for a moment, satisfy our doubts by suddenly appearing right here in the midst of our gathering. I mean He could do it, right? But, as with Thomas, Jesus does come to be among us and to invite us to a God-given faith. But, of course, He comes among us invisibly (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”), yet with His same, powerful word, His same powerful word of law and gospel.
“Thomas, put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” The first words were the word of Law uncovering and revealing the shallowness of Tom’s doubts, his objections. Notice we’re not told that Thomas actually did touch Jesus. I believe he didn’t. Rather, at the Lord’s simple word and command, “believe,” Thomas made the most important confession of faith. He didn’t say, “Okay, you got me, I can see you, so now I’ll believe that you are risen from the grave.” He didn’t say, “Well seeing is believing.” No, believing is more than that.
Remember when Jesus spoke to Martha when Lazarus her brother had died? Jesus told her he would rise from the dead. And Martha agreed confessing her faith in the resurrection at the last day. But Jesus made it more. He said, “Martha, I AM the resurrection.” Now what did He mean by that? Salvation is more than a vague hope for some mysterious future deliverance. Salvation is faith in a Person. She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe.” But then catch what she believed. Believe what? That her brother would rise as He said? No. “I believe,” she said, “that YOU, you are the Christ the Son of God.” So today Thomas is brought to full faith. Not just faith in some mysterious theology of how the human and divine natures of Christ now exist in their fullness, but faith in Jesus. “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
It was only by His terrible, violent and innocent death on the cross that Jesus was able to take away the sin of the world, to proclaim liberty to all who are captive to sin and death. It was only by the mighty resurrection of the Person of His very human body and very divine nature that He is able to take away your sin and speak to you today, as He did to Thomas, through His authoritative word.
Therefore, it is to this authority and word that St. John concludes telling you the purpose of his writing, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written to that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” You may believe because the Holy Spirit of Jesus actively works through the word of the gospel proclaimed. So today, St. John testifies, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Thomas joins his brother apostles and the women in the upper room testifying, “Jesus is my Lord and my God.” Martha and her sister Mary have been heard, likewise, “He is the Christ the Son of God.” It is the miraculous work of God the Holy Spirit that you and I believe and can say, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, my Lord and my God!” And in so believing and saying, we are saved, as the apostle Paul said, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
That faith and salvation was summed up by the Lord Jesus Himself when He said, “Peace be with you.” His peace is eternal and everlasting. His peace is graciously given. It is the peace of knowing the warfare with sin and death is over. So He comes and says again to you today, “Peace be with you.”