"Jesus Brings Us Peace, Forgiveness, and Sight"
Second Sunday of Easter
St. John 20:19-31
April 23, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
The Holy Gospel appointed for today is the historic Gospel reading for this Sunday in the liturgical year. That is to say, this reading of the Gospel, from the twentieth chapter of John, has been included in the Church's lectionary for centuries. It has been read on this Sunday for so long because of the events that transpired in the latter portions of the reading, taking place one week after the resurrection of our Lord. On Easter evening, ten of the disciples had locked themselves in a room for fear of being persecuted by the unbelieving Jews, especially the religious leaders who doubtlessly were gloating yet over the fact that they had Jesus killed, and they had not seen His resurrected body yet. There were only ten disciples present, for Judas had committed suicide rather than seeking the Lord's forgiveness for betraying Him to the chief priests and elders, and Thomas was not present with them, the reason for his absence not stated in Holy Scripture.
So there were the Ten, fearing for their well-being, having locked themselves in, seeking to save their own hides. Then, in the very midst of them, the Lord Himself appears. It would have been extremely easy for the risen Lord to chastise and condemn His disciples for their weakness of faith at this time. Instead of bringing His wrath, He brought words of forgiveness to them. He did not place a pox upon them, but He did place His pax upon them. Pax is the Latin word for "peace." He gave them His peace, that peace which the world cannot give, that peace they did not have, for they were living in fear. This is the Pax Domini, the Peace of the Lord, that peace we also receive in the Divine Service prior to our singing the Agnus Dei, that peace we also receive in His benediction: The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. The Ten were at peace, for they had seen the Lord. They beheld His wounded hands and side, and they rejoiced. The Lord was with them, and so was His peace. We rejoice this day as well, for the Lord is with us, bringing us His Word and His peace and coming to us in His body and blood on this eighth day of this joyous Eastertide, the joyous news of His resurrection and now of His appearing to the disciples.
The Lord appeared, as we heard a moment ago, to only ten of His disciples, for Thomas was not there. It makes no sense for Thomas to not be with his brethren during this tense situation, but one can only speculate as to why he was not with them since the Scriptures are silent on this. But when Thomas returned, the other ten told him that they had seen the Lord. But Thomas rejected their testimony. He is often mistakenly referred to as "Doubting Thomas," for he did not simply doubt that the Lord had risen; he actually refused to believe it. "He said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe'" (v. 25b). Eight days later, the day we celebrate today, Jesus appeared among the Eleven, for Thomas was now present, and once again granted them His peace. He came to Thomas and bade him to touch Him. "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'" (v. 27). Many modern translations of the Bible render an incomplete translation of the word for "unbelieving"; these translators prefer to use the word doubt, which seems less harsh to say, "Stop doubting," than to say, "Do not be unbelieving," for they seek to project a warm and fuzzy Jesus. Be that as it may, Jesus called Thomas from the sin that would have condemned him, the sin of unbelief.
You see, to be a follower of Jesus, one must believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, as He has promised in His Word. To deny the Resurrection is to, in fact, deny the resurrected One Himself. Those who claim to be Christians, yet deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ, are hypocrites and imposters, and their so-called faith is a sham. The Lord did not want Thomas to fall into disbelief and other great shame and vice. For this reason the Lord came again among the disciples, that Thomas too may believe, as St. John notes Thomas' reaction: "And Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!'" (v. 28). It took a physical appearance of the Lord, rather than the testimony of his fellow disciples, to believe that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead. James, brother of our Lord, was not a believer in Jesus until a post-resurrection appearance from his risen Brother, who then moved him to lead the Church from Jerusalem. Jesus' response to Thomas was simple and direct: "Jesus said to him, 'Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed'" (v. 29). This is not to say that Thomas was not blessed. Indeed he was blessed, for he had truly seen the risen Lord. Jesus is stating that future believers, even to this very day, are blessed by believing in Him although they do not see Him physically, "for we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7), and again, "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).
What Scripture teaches us is the opposite of what the world would have us believe. We live in an age of skepticism, even cynicism. We live by the secular proverb: Seeing is believing. If we cannot see something for ourselves, we tend to not believe that it is true or that it exists. And even when we do see something, we are not always sure we believe it. The Preacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes, lived in a time of comparable cynicism. He says, "All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccles. 1:8-9).
How does this apply to our faith? There are times when we doubt that God loves us, that He cares about us, or that He is even here for us. We become critical of God and wonder why He would allow bad things to happen. We make the mistake of believing that these are all parts of God's will. It is never God's will that we suffer, but He does allow suffering so that, through these trials, we would be drawn closer to Him.
We hear a message each week that may have become tired to us, no longer having the pizzazz it needs to capture our attention. Yeah, Jesus has risen—so what? we say to ourselves. So He is here...big deal. It is indeed a big deal the Christ is risen and is with us this very moment, for without His resurrection there would be no point in our being here, and we would all go to hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. There would be no reason to believe, and we would join Judas, as well as Thomas, had he remained in his unbelief.
We are here this day to celebrate our Lord's resurrection, for He has conquered sin, death, and the devil forever. He has conquered Thomas' unbelief. He has forgiven the disciples of their weakness. He has won for us the forgiveness of all our sins. He has brought us His peace. He has sent us His Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel, that we would believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. The Spirit calls us by the Gospel, which is "written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name" (v. 31), "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Our Lord comes to us in His Word, to which the Holy Spirit points us. It is only by the Spirit that we may exclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" It is only by the Spirit that we see the Lord as He comes to us through His Means of Grace. The Holy Spirit gives us the eyes of faith that we may behold our risen Lord in His Word and in His body and blood. The Holy Spirit came upon Thomas, that he would no longer live in unbelief, but that he would firmly believe that the Lord is risen. The Spirit has come to us, so that we too would live in the Easter triumph, the Easter joy, the joy that is ours forever, for He has risen and come to bring us forgiveness, life, and peace...His peace, that peace which the word cannot give.
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! Amen!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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