The First Sunday after Easter April 27, 2003
1 John 5:4-12
209, 205, 208, 206(7-10)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in is hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, our Risen and Triumphant Lord:
Apart from Judas who betrayed the Lord, who among the disciples is most remembered in a bad light? Some people might answer Peter for having denied the Lord, but many others would think of Thomas who was famous for his skepticism when presented with the news of Jesus’ resurrection. His words of unbelief leave no wiggle room: “Unless I see the marks of His hands and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” [v.25]
Here’s a man who wanted evidence. He wanted something he could touch and feel before he would believe that Jesus had conquered death. He wouldn’t just take the others’ word for it. Thus he has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas.”
But our view of the disciples is not always quite fair. This skepticism or resistance to faith is something that has always cropped up among Christians. At times, rather than resisting the Thomas problem, we feed it.
I will give you an example. When we start to base our Christian beliefs on things we can prove, we are in trouble. But it can be so very tempting to do so. Years ago, I saw a video series by a popular reformed speaker titled “Evidence for Faith”. It presented a large array of facts that tended to support the Bible in the areas of history and archeology. Recently, I saw another volume titled “More Evidence for Faith”—evidently the fellow’s books have been selling well.
But does faith require evidence? Can we argue another person into faith? Ask the ten disciples who spent a week arguing with Thomas! Can we strengthen our own faith and hope by poring over the scientific evidence for things that God wants us to believe?
When Jesus presented Himself alive to His closest disciples following His crucifixion, He brought up some very important issues, but one rises above all others in importance: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” [v.29] Let us consider today The Resurrection and Christian faith. I.Christ revealed Himself to show the power of the Resurrection. II. Christ sent the disciples as witnesses so salvation might be of faith.
First, it is clear that Jesus did not appear to the disciples that night just to impress them or make them feel better. Christ revealed Himself to show the power of the Resurrection. The doors were closed—barred from outside entry—for fear of the enemies who had killed Jesus. It had been a bizarre day with the news of the empty tomb and the accounts of some people having actually seen Jesus. These men were frightened and confused, uncertain of what to make of this.
Then Jesus appeared. His first words were ones of peace and comfort. These men had plenty of reason to suppose that Jesus, if He were alive, would be angry with them for behaving in such a cowardly manner. But His first words were “Peace be unto you.” [v.19] There was no anger, no retribution, no disgust.
Then Jesus showed His hands and feet and side. He gave them evidence that He was the same Jesus they had seen brutally executed only days before. Those wounds were, from a human standpoint, fatal injuries. The wounds bespoke the horrible suffering Jesus had endured during those dreadful hours. This could only be the same Jesus whom they had known all along.
In the same presentation, Jesus showed that He had conquered death. The grave could not hold Him. He was alive again. His body was restored and enhanced for He had just passed through a solid barrier into their room. He was not a phantom sent to deceive. He was the real thing in convincing flesh and blood. He even ate a bite of food to prove the point. What they were seeing went beyond any miracle they had seen or heard of before: Jesus, who had raised others, had raised Himself from the dead. The power of the resurrection was God’s mastery over man’s ultimate enemy: Death. Jesus’ words of a few nights earlier took on new meaning: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
Next, Jesus gave these men a commission. It centered on the cause for death, despair, and God’s wrath over man. It centered on sin. Jesus, who died for our sins, was now the source of forgiveness of sins. God had vented His wrath on Jesus, now there was nothing but the fresh air of God’s peace. Jesus breathed on the disciples demonstrating the invisible manner in which the Holy Spirit moved. Jesus told them that they would now be equipped and authorized to announce forgiveness in Jesus’ name to penitent sinners anywhere and anytime in this world. They could announce salvation and peace to others just as certainly as He had announced it to them! In the same stroke they were authorized to preach God’s judgment against the impenitent and to warn such as live in their sins of the wrath that is to come. The power of the resurrection is the power to proclaim the Christian Gospel. Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death confirmed all that He said and taught. Jesus was sending the disciples as His witnesses to tell everyone all that He had taught them, above all that He had died for the world’s sin and rose again.
Thomas’ skepticism was only an example of the unbelief with which all the disciples struggled. Remember that Jesus had stated several times exactly what would happen in Jerusalem, including His resurrection, but they didn’t fully understand it nor believe it. The disciples were lost in grief, they weren’t expecting a resurrection even though Jesus told them it would take place. Thomas was not the only one who doubted when news first came that Jesus was alive. The disciples and the women who had the sight of a dying and dead Jesus seared into their memory were not easily convinced of His resurrection. Only the power of the resurrection could change their minds—and that is why Jesus showed Himself to them.
Having shown Himself to these men who were to be His apostles, Jesus sent them as witnesses of the resurrection’s power so that salvation might be of faith.
After Thomas saw Jesus and received the physical proof he had demanded, he and the others received a gentle rebuke from Jesus. They had refused to believe the Word, until they had physical proof. A different tone must be set for the generations to come: “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” [v.29] They were to be the witnesses to the rest of the world that Jesus lives. They were to bestow on all nations the blessings that can only come through faith in Jesus as the Savior.
Jesus was visibly present among them, but that would not continue for very long. Having finished His work, it was right and beneficial that He ascend to the glory and majesty that was His all along. There He would function as King of Heaven and act in the best interests of His Church on earth.
It would be through the testimony of these few followers that Jesus would reach out to the nations with His saving Gospel. It seemed impossible, but these men were not to be stopped. They had seen what they had seen, and when the Holy Spirit came, they would be divinely inspired to bring the Good News before all the world. Neither man nor angel would stop them, nor could it silence their words which were written down and passed to the Church through the ages.
They received the Holy Spirit and divine authority to proclaim peace and salvation in Jesus’ name. That same Spirit would work through the Word and Sacraments so that others could and would believe the unbelievable: Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus gained forgiveness for all people! Jesus lives in glory! Jesus gives everlasting life to mortals like ourselves!
It all begins and rests with Jesus and His work. Salvation is through faith, not works. It comes to the heart resting itself in the glorious word of the apostles and prophets and not in the things we can see or feel. Paul forcefully makes this point to the Romans: “To him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Paul’s example was Abraham, who believed God’s promise of a child to come even though there was no earthly reason to believe this would come to pass!
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Just because we were not in that room with the eleven disciples, does not mean we’ve missed something. For all that they truly received is also ours through faith in the same Lord Jesus—faith in the righteousness imputed to us through Christ, faith in a Living Lord and God. In both the Old and New Testament it is said that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). So let us live by faith not by sight.
Let us take to heart the Gospel news of the resurrection, and all that it means for the repentant sinner. “[Christ] was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised again because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). In Him we stand righteous and forgiven before God. But since we are continually plagued by unrighteous thoughts, human weaknesses, and sinful deeds, how can we have any certainty before God? Certainty lies in the true testimony that a real Jesus lived, died, and now lives again! Through faith in that unsurpassable truth we have the utmost peace.
We live by faith not by sight. God gives us a physical world in which to live. It is a world in which things happen predictably and consistently according to the laws of nature. God Himself is the one who has put the laws of nature in place. He is not confined by physics or bound by time and therefore, His Word is not bound by what is observable or provable by human standards.
God comes to us, reveals Himself to us, in His Word. His own eternal Son is that Word, and it is through Him that God would have us come to Him. All religious thought that rejects or skirts around that divine Word cannot truly know God. Only faith in Jesus is a fully informed faith. By knowing Jesus, receiving Him, and reflecting on Him through the Word and Sacrament, we live in God and He in us. In this way we are brought into a relationship with God that is not bound by time and space. We have eternal life—life lived in the heart, soul, and mind. It is a life cannot be quenched by any of the cruel facts of this world like death and taxes, violence and sickness, greed and fear.
We live by faith, not by sight. Hearing the Word of God and believing it, we are equipped to rightly judge and evaluate the crazy world around us. We can listen to the Word of our Lord and find our way. The Word that tells us that Jesus lives is the same word that becomes “A lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Believing in the counsel of God’s Word, we have a guide that sees through all the doubts and uncertainties of this world. As our living Jesus said: “He that believes in Me shall never walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Or as John wrote to the early Church, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4). Lord, grant that we walk in this victory always. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.