What’s up with Thomas? Have you ever wondered about Thomas? But the same could be said for all the disciples. What is their deal? They had been raised in the Jewish faith. They knew the promises of the Old Testament. They had spent the last three years of their lives with Jesus. They had listened to Him preach. They had watch the sign, the wonders, the miracles He performed. They had “special” sessions with Him where He explained everything to them. Why were they afraid? Why did they not “get it?” Of course, we are looking back with twenty-twenty hindsight. We can see clearly all the events and their significance. What we might rather ask is why do we so often act like Thomas and the disciples? Why do we hide in fear and why do we doubt? Let us look at the account and see how it very much reflects our own lives.
Last week we came and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and the events of that first Easter morning. By the time we get to our text for today, Jesus has already shown Himself to be alive to many people. For others, for those who have not yet seen Jesus, rumors were going around concerning His “possible” resurrection. The beginning of our text brings us to that evening, that first Easter evening. Our text last week told us specifically that Jesus had risen from the dead, those events of last week happened already early on this day. So, our text for this morning is a continuation of the day of Easter. Now it was evening and in our text for today we are told that the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. The disciples were afraid because they thought that what happened to Jesus, His crucifixion, could happen to them and since the body of Jesus was missing they knew they would be the first suspects, so they gathered together behind locked doors. Well, I guess being all together and being behind a locked door is not such a bad idea, we all know that there is safety in numbers. Again, by this time they had certainly heard rumors of Jesus’ resurrection and some of them had already witnessed the empty tomb. Maybe the good news was just too much to believe.
How often do we find ourselves like these disciples? We come here to this building once a week and we gather. We gather, not necessarily behind locked doors, but we do gather because we know that in here there is some safety in numbers. In here it is okay to admit that we are Christians. In here it is okay to talk about God, at least to some extent it is okay to talk about God. During Bible class we have a little more freedom to discuss the Word of God as well as the events of the world and how these two things collide and mesh and yet, very often, we are much like the disciples, unsure of how all these things fit together.
The disciples were all gathered together and then, Jesus appears to them. He comes to them and He puts His peace on them. Jesus’ peace is peace beyond all understanding. His peace is a complete peace, a peace of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. For His disciples, His peace was so wonderful that their fears were immediately calmed and they were overjoyed at His presence. Jesus brings peace and He also brings a blessing. He comes to bless them and to send them out with a mission, “I am sending you,” He says. But there is more to this sending than just words. Along with His sending is His authority. He is giving them the authority to forgive and retain sins. What an awesome authority, an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility.
And here again, is this not what happens to us each and every Sunday? We come to the Lord’s house for worship. We come here. We confess our sins. We hear God’s Word of absolution which is His Word of forgiveness and His Word of peace on us. We hear His Word read and expounded. Our fears are calmed. We might even think in our minds as the Psalmist, “it is good, Lord, to be here,” in Your house of worship. We are strengthened through His Word and through His body and blood in His Holy Sacrament. We are given His authority and we are sent out. We are sent from this place to live as witnesses of the faith that is in our hearts. We are sent out into our various vocations to live offering our lives as living sacrifices as priests in the priesthood of all believers. Even the sign in our parking lot reminds us that as we leave this place we are going out into the mission field. We are sent out with an awesome authority, an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility.
But what about Thomas? Thomas was absent. He was not there the first time the disciple saw Jesus. Certainly when Thomas returned his fellow disciples were excited to tell him that they, too, had seen Jesus. Certainly they could not contain their own enthusiasm in sharing this good news with him and they expected that he would believe and return their excitement. But, Thomas would not believe. Thomas could not believe. Thomas wanted evidence. He wanted proof. Thomas demanded, “Unless I see in his hands the marks of the nail, and place my finger into the marks of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” It is no wonder Thomas has been affectionately called “Doubting Thomas.”
Yet, before we “beat up” on Thomas too much let me first remind you that this is the same Thomas who was ready to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. And, before we “beat up” on Thomas, maybe we need to examine our own lives. How often are we like Thomas? Oh, maybe not here at church. We know that this is a pretty safe place. It is okay to show ourselves to be a Christian here at church, but what about in the rest of our lives? Do our neighbors know we are Christians? Do our co-workers know we are Christians? Does our family know we are Christians? Do the people with whom we work, shop, eat, play, and so forth know that we are Christians? Does our life show forth the faith that is in our heart? Do our thoughts, our words, and our actions show forth the faith that is in our hearts? Being a Christian is not a one or two hour a week obligation. Being a Christian is a lifestyle. It is a way of life. When being a Christian becomes anything less than a way of life, a complete way of life, not just one compartment of my life, then what we are saying is that we doubt that He is so important in our lives, and like Thomas, we thus doubt His death and resurrection for us, for you and for me.
In the case of Thomas, Jesus accommodates Thomas. But let us be careful, just because He accommodates Thomas does not mean that He will accommodate us, nor does He have to. Our text continues by taking us to the following week, eight days later, which is how the Jews counted days, starting with the day they were on, thus eight days later was the next Sunday. Eight days later when the disciples were in the house again, and this time Thomas was with them, Jesus showed Himself again. And He showed Himself especially to Thomas. Certainly that would have been a sight to see. The disciples continuing to try to convince Thomas, “yes it did happen.” And Thomas continuing to doubt, “I just cannot believe it unless I see or unless I feel something (which sounds a lot like people of today).” And as Thomas continues to express his doubt Jesus comes up behind him and calls his name, “Thomas.” And Thomas speaking as he turns says, “now don’t you try to start with me,” and seeing Jesus his mouth drops open and he is speechless. At which point, Jesus shows Thomas the evidence for which he has asked. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” I do not believe that Thomas needed that evidence anymore as we hear his confession, “My Lord and my God!”
Every morning we have the privilege of remembering our Baptism. Every morning we have the privilege of remembering our Baptism. Everyday we have the privilege of reading God’s Word. Every week we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s House, confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” Every Sunday we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood. Whether we take advantage of the fact that we can do this or not, we do have the privilege and we still have the freedom to do this. As the doubts of life build each day to the end of the week we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s house to have those doubts squelched. The old cliche is true, seven days without the Lord does make one weak, that is “w-e-a-k.” On the first day of the week, on Sunday we have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s house and to see our Lord, to taste Him, to hear Him and to confess as Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Every Sunday we have the opportunity to come and be strengthened in our faith so that we might be able to face the struggles, the trials and tribulations that will face us the rest of the week.
We might imagine Thomas as our hero of sorts. It was because of his doubt that brought Jesus to show Himself specifically to Thomas. Thomas had convincing proof of Jesus’ resurrection which for us means we have convincing proof as well. Jesus’ words to Thomas are His words to us, especially in our time of doubt. Jesus’ words to Thomas are words about us as well, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” that is us. We have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes, but we continue to see Him with our hearts. We see Him in His Word. We see Him in Holy Baptism. We hear Him in Holy Absolution. We see Him and taste Him as we partake of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. We are blessed.
I believe the last two verses of our text are definitely a part of this Thomas story. John reminds us that Jesus did even more than what was recorded in the Bible. At the end of his Gospel John tells us that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Thomas wanted proof. Too often we and others in our world want proof. We have the truth of Jesus Himself and the proof of the witness of His Holy Word.
As John finally tells us in our text for today, the reason we have the Bible is so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We have God’s Word, we have opportunity to read His Word on our own, to come to divine service and Bible Class to hear His Word and to hear His Word expounded so that we might be brought to faith, so that we might be strengthened in our faith, and so that we might be kept in our faith until Christ comes again to take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
For us, Thomas’ doubting was good. What happened to Thomas reminds us that we are not alone. And just as Jesus came to Thomas to encourage Him, so He comes to us to strengthen and encourage us. So that ultimately we might stand together before the heavenly throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.