The Fifth Sunday after Easter May 10, 2015
1 John 5:1-6
339, 376, 380, 50
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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 His 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.
All of us have scars, and each scar tells a specific story. The scar on my left palm tells the story of a loaded BB-gun in 1964 as well as a doctor’s attempt to remove the BB. Fifty-one years later, the BB remains and so does the scar. Or the scar on my right index finger—the story of a sharp knife in 1968. The scar on my left knee— the story a basketball injury, 1978. The scars on my abdomen—the story of surgery, 2013. Each scar tells the story of a wound that has healed. Each scar is the summary of many details: Where I was, whom I was with, what I was doing, and why I was doing it.
There are other types of scars too—emotional scars, even spiritual scars. We may not see these scars in human flesh, but we can see them clearly in human behavior. For example, people wounded by divorce often find it difficult to risk future relationships. They move on with life, yet the scars of that divorce remain, impeding their ability to openly love and trust.
People who feel wounded by God may find it difficult to trust Him again. They may feel betrayed by Him and may even want nothing more to do with him. “This is all your fault, God. What kind of God are you? Why did you let this happen to me?” Job lamented, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison” (Job 6:4). These words refer to spiritual wounds, don’t they? And while Job did not turn away from God because of his many trials, his wife urged him to do so. She said, saying in Job 2:9, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
All of us know people who’ve done this very thing—that is, people who’ve turned away from God because they blame Him for all the wrongs and pains in their lives: loss, betrayal, financial difficulties, sickness, divorce, death. “You may not have caused these problems, God. But you did nothing to prevent them either. I want nothing more to do with you, your Word, or your Church.” Scars.
Imagine how wounded the Lord’s disciples were after his crucifixion. What were they doing on the first Easter? Were they celebrating a living Lord or mourning a dead Savior—questioning everything he had told them and wondering what would happen to them now that Jesus was dead? They were mourning, of course, not celebrating. They were hiding behind locked doors; the way too many of us live our lives because of our scars, because we don’t fully apply the message of Easter or live in the power of Christ’s resurrection. I include myself in this indictment.
Yet, this was very the setting in which Jesus first appeared to His disciples. He came to them through the locked doors of their house and the locked doors of their hearts. This is the very setting for which the message of Easter is intended. It is a message that is meant to release us from the doubts like Thomas and to liberate us from the fears and wounds that so often imprison us. It is a message meant to fill us and empower us with “living hope,” as Peter described it in his first epistle. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV).
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-wounds. But He didn’t do that. Instead, these wounds are to forever define and identify Him as our crucified Lord and Savior.
For this reason, John records (chapter 20) that twice on Easter Day and again on the First Sunday after Easter, Jesus specifically directed His disciples to His wounds. Listen carefully to John 20:19-20: 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.
And then part of today’s text, John 20:26-28: 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!”
Did you notice the striking similarity between these two resurrection appearances of Jesus? In both instances, His first words were, “Peace be with you!” His first actions after saying these comforting words were to show His disciples His wounds, His scars. A coincidence? Not in the least. Peace comes to us through the wounds of Christ. Peace in every way that word can be defined in Scripture: peace with God, peace of heart, peace of mind, peace in relationships. As Isaiah wrote of Jesus centuries before the Savior’s birth: “And by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
HEALING IN CHRIST’S WOUNDS—what can we see, more importantly, what does Jesus want us to see when we look at his wounds? What story do his wounds tell?
First, and perhaps the most obvious, 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—to prove that a living person was now dead. 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 was the same Jesus who 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 NIV).
In essence Jesus was telling His disciples: “Look, it’s me. The same Jesus who called you. The same Jesus who taught you for more than three years. The same Jesus who performed so many miracles in your presence. The same Jesus who led you, protected you, and provided for you. The same Jesus who died for you on the cross. I haven’t changed. I will never change.”
Those wounds in Christ’s hands and feet identify Jesus to us in the same way, namely, the unchanging Savior. And I can think of nothing more comforting 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, what do 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 His hands and feet. Wounds that led Jesus unswervingly to the cross to die for your sins. Wounds that identify Him as the same Jesus. Wounds that prove He will never change the way He provides, protects, forgives, loves, and cares for you. “Jesus Christ 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).
I can promise you this because Scripture promises you this: Whatever difficulties you may have today, whatever fears or worries, Jesus Christ is standing right beside you, showing you His wounds, and saying, “Don’t worry about a thing. It’s me.”
Secondly, Christ’s wounds tell the story of God’s compassion for sinful humanity. Here again there is an irony. Immediately following Good Friday, I wonder how many of the Lord’s disciples, driven by grief and fear, began to view 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!’ (cf. Matthew 16:22). 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 lacking compassion is a very human accusation in the midst of suffering and 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, those collection agencies calling me constantly from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.”
I’ve said this. 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” (NIV).
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 of Christ. For His wounds tell us much different story. His wounds declare to us, “I do care about you. I care more for you than anyone else ever could or would. The proof lies in My scars.”
In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul declared the wounds of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice on the cross, to be the absolute, undeniable, and irrevocable proof—not only of how much God has had compassion on you, but the proof that He will always have compassion on you and always provide you with everything you need. “If God is for us,” Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, “who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (NIV)
Thirdly, 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 to all the services my company had to offer—direct mail, analytical databases, internet marketing, call center operations—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 of yourself are you 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.
Here lies a third great irony, namely, that we who so regularly confess “I believe 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 sing such hymn verses as “Crown him the Lord of Love, behold His hands and side, rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified” (TLH 341:3)—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 hands and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [v.27 NIV] Christ’s wounds are the proof of His total, ongoing, and daily involvement in each of 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 which we are aware and sins of which are not aware, 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 NIV).
So many movies about the life and death of Jesus present Him as a good man who died for His beliefs and His sincere desire to help the less fortunate and His condemnation of religious hypocrisy. So far, but no farther. Yet, 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…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 NIV). However, wounds in the hands, feet, and side of the resurrected Jesus meant that the work of salvation had been both completed and accepted.
Rare is the Sunday when you come to church and don’t hear about sin and forgiveness. In fact, our historic liturgy is filled with such references. For example, the Morning Service, where 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; when we, like the tax collector 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 NIV). 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.
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
Ev’ry bitter cup I meet;
For thy all atoning Passion. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) 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.