Easter 5 May 26, 2019
465, 394, 425, WS2000 785
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior, in whose wounds we find healing, dear fellow redeemed,
Most of us have scars. Each scar tells a story. Like the story of the knife that slipped or the tool that dropped. The story of the door that slammed, the horse that kicked, the car that crashed, the nail that pierced, the grease that splattered, or the branch that broke.
There are other types of scars we have too—emotional scars, even spiritual scars. These scars may not been visible in human flesh, but they are clearly visible in human behavior. For example, people wounded by divorce may find it difficult to risk future relationships. They move on with life, yet the scars of divorce remain, impeding their ability to openly love and trust.
Imagine how wounded the Lord’s disciples were after His crucifixion. What were the disciples doing on the first Easter? Were they celebrating a living Lord or mourning a dead Savior, questioning everything He had taught them, wondering what would happen to them now that Jesus was dead and buried? They were mourning, of course, not celebrating. They were hiding behind locked doors.
Yet, this was very the setting in which the risen Jesus first appeared to his disciples. He came to them through the locked doors of their house and the locked doors of their hearts. And this is very setting for which the message of Easter is intended—a setting of locked doors, broken hearts, and human impossibilities. And in this setting, a message that is meant to release us from our doubts, like Thomas, and liberate us from the fears and wounds that so often imprison us.
I have scars. You have scars. But then Jesus has scars too. Isn’t that a wondrous thought? Jesus has scars. He didn’t have to keep the scars of His crucifixion. With the work of redemption complete, Jesus could have eliminated the nail-prints and spear-wound. But He didn’t. Instead, these wounds were to forever define and identify Him as our crucified and risen Lord and Savior. What story do Christ’s wounds tell?
First, Christ’s wounds tell the story of His true identity. Ironic, isn’t it? In autopsies and forensic science, scars may be used to help identify a dead body. In the case of Jesus, however, His scars were meant to identify Him not only as once dead, but also as now resurrected. He was not a ghostly apparition. He was not Wishful Thinking. He was not a grief-induced hallucination. His wounds were identifiers. His wounds were unmistakable proof that the same Jesus who was crucified, dead, and buried rose from the dead, and in rising, conquered death.
Jesus Himself spoke of His wounds in this way, that is, as identifying marks. On the First Easter He told His startled, frightened disciples: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:37-39)
The wounds in Christ’s hands and feet identify Him to us in the same way, namely, as our unchanging Savior. And I can think of nothing more comforting than an unchanging Savior amid all the changes in our lives—youth to age, health to sickness, success to failure, companionship to loneliness. As we go through these types of changes, particularly through troubled times, we so often think, “Maybe God doesn’t love me the way He used to. Maybe God has changed His attitude toward me.”
No, He hasn’t. And each time you’re tempted to feel that way, remember the wounds in Christ’s hands and feet. Wounds incurred when Jesus suffered and died to atone for your sins. Wounds that identified Him as the same Jesus after His resurrection. Wounds that prove He will never change the way He provides, protects, forgives, loves, and cares for you. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Or in the words of that favorite Easter hymn, “He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same.” (TLH #200:8)
Second, Christ’s wounds tell the story of God’s compassion for sinful humanity. Here again there is an irony. Immediately following Good Friday, the Lord’s disciples, driven by grief and fear, MAY have viewed Christ’s wounds as proof of His lack of compassion. “Lord, we tried to talk you out of this. Remember what Peter said that day in Caesarea Philippi, when you started all that talk about suffering, dying, and rising? Peter said, ‘Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!’ You should have listened to him. If You had listened, You would still be alive. Instead, You went and got yourself killed. Did you even give a thought about what would happen to us after Your death?” Did the disciples actually think such thoughts? Scripture doesn’t say.
Yet, accusing God of a lack of compassion is very common amid times of suffering, fear, and loss. “God, You don’t care about me. You couldn’t care less about what I’m going through—this divorce, this cancer, this depression, this job loss, this foreclosure, or those collection agencies calling me constantly from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.”
However, nothing could be farther from the truth. God always cares for us. As said countless times in the Psalms, “His mercy endures forever.” Or as in Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
If you’re hiding behind locked doors today, wondering if the difficulties in your life are proof that God doesn’t care about you, remember the wounds still visible in the glorified body of the resurrected Christ. For His wounds tell us much different story. His wounds declare, “I do care about you. I care more for you than anyone else ever could or would. The proof lies in My wounds.”
Third, Christ’s wounds tell the story of His personal involvement in our lives. Years ago I did a marketing presentation for the Corporate Marketing Director of Insight Communications, a cable TV company headquartered in New York City. After listening politely, the Director asked me this question, “So, how much skin are you willing to put into the relationship.” “Excuse me?” I said, thinking I had misheard. “Could you repeat that?” “Skin,” he said. “You know, personal involvement. Commitment. How much is your company willing to invest to earn my trust?”
I’ve never forgotten that expression: “How much skin are you willing to put into the relationship?” It may be a strange expression for business, but somehow it seems an all-too-appropriate expression for matters of salvation. How much “skin” did Jesus put into our salvation, into restoring our personal relationship with God? His wounds tell the story, don’t they. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, He gave us His everything.
And here lies a third great irony, namely, that we who so regularly confess, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;” that we who sing such hymn verses as “Crown Him the Lord of Love, behold His hands and side, rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified;” that we of all people should ever doubt God’s personal involvement in our daily lives and daily problems.
From time to time all of us feel that God is detached, distant, uninvolved; content to offer us hopeful words but not meaningful actions. At all such times, how wrong we are. How much we need to hear the same admonition Jesus gave Thomas: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” Christ’s wounds are the proof of His total, ongoing, and daily involvement in our lives.
Finally, Christ’s wounds tell the story of our perfectly complete salvation. There is no greater healing than that which comes from knowing that all of our sins—sins of thought and word and deed, sins of commission and omission, of things we do and fail to do—were completely atoned for through the grievous wounds and sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
So many Hollywood movies about the life and death of Jesus present Him as a good man who died for His beliefs, for His sincere desire to help the less fortunate, and for His condemnation of religious hypocrisy. Regardless of how self-sacrificing, the wounds in the hands, feet, and side of a dead Messiah would be tragic but meaningless. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) And again, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (v.17) However, wounds in the hands, feet, and side of the resurrected Jesus mean that the work of salvation had been both completed and accepted.
Rare is the Sunday when you come to this church and don’t hear about sin and forgiveness. In fact, our historic liturgy is filled with such references. For example, in most services we confess, “Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed.” Thereafter we hear the absolution, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.” Is it possible that we lose the significance of these words in their sheer repetition?
The time will come when each of us will become suddenly or fully aware of our sins—when the weight of our sins crushes us, and we realize that by nature we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. A time when we, like the Publican in the parable, cannot so much as lift our eyes toward heaven, but rather beat ourselves with blows or words, and cry out “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) When these times come, remember the wounds in the hands, feet, and side of the risen Jesus. For these wounds tell the story of your complete forgiveness and eternal salvation.
In the words of the hymnist:
Jesus, grant that balm and healing In Thy holy wounds I find,
Every hour that I am feeling Pains of body and of mind.
Should some evil thought within Tempt my treacherous heart to sin,
Show the peril, and from sinning Keep me ere its first beginning.
Every wound that pains or grieves me, By Thy stripes, Lord, is made whole;
When I’m faint, Thy cross revives me, Granting new life to my soul.
Yea, thy comfort renders sweet Every bitter cup I meet;
For Thy all atoning passion Has procured my soul’s salvation. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.