Recent headlines from the Middle East tell us that many Christians are losing their lives because of their faith. What many people don’t know is that many of these martyrs can trace their faith back to the Apostle Thomas. While the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Thomas, extra-Biblical histories indicate that just as Paul went west, Thomas went east.
Historical artifacts seem to place Thomas in the area of Mylapore, India at the time of his death. The accounts of his death vary widely, but the most likely account indicates that Thomas died of spear wounds when four soldiers pinned him to the ground with four spears.
In spite of the fuzziness of the historical record, we do know that Thomas was a faithful apostle of Jesus Christ. We know that he proclaimed the gospel and many of the Christians who are losing their lives to the sword of the Islamic State can trace their faith back to Thomas. There are even a few active congregations that claim that they were founded by the Apostle Thomas.
In spite of all the wonderful work God did through the Apostle Thomas in his later life, the world will always remember Thomas as Doubting Thomas. He missed the appearance of Jesus on that first Easter evening, and he refused to consider the eye witness account of his fellow disciples. Therefore, his legacy as Doubting Thomas will remain until the Lord returns on the Last Day.
Strictly speaking, doubt is not the right word to describe Thomas. Listen to Thomas again. He said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Thomas did not say that he wasn’t sure. He did not say that he needed time to think. He said, “I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Thomas did not merely doubt. He flat out did not believe. We need to call Him Unbelieving Thomas.
But before we are too hard on Thomas, we need to check out the other disciples. Listen to their response when the women returned from the tomb and reported that they had seen Jesus. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:10–11) So, all the disciples were unbelievers until Jesus revealed Himself to them. The first time Jesus showed Himself to the disciples, He was showing Himself to unbelievers.
Jesus would have had the right to show up and scold the disciples. “You thick-headed people, I told you over and over and over again that I was going to rise on the third day. How come you never got it?” Jesus had the right to do that, but He did not. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) Instead of scolding them, He gave them peace. They deserved wrath, but Jesus gave them peace.
Jesus even showed them the wounds of the cross in His hands and side. In fact, it is these wounds that show the price Jesus paid so that He could even give peace to the disciples. These wounds tell us that Jesus hung on a cross. It was while He hung on that cross that He faced the hell that these disciples deserved for their thick headed stubbornness … for their refusal to believe everything that Jesus had told them.
These wounds tell us about our salvation as well. We also sin daily and deserve nothing but eternal punishment. Never the less, for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, we receive eternal life. This is the most important news of all times and places. This is news that everyone needs to hear.
So what amazing plan did Jesus have to spread this good news throughout the world? Today’s Gospel has the answer to this question. Jesus unveiled this plan right after He showed Himself to His disciples. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Did you hear that? To send someone is to make them an apostle. Jesus basically told the disciples, “Up until now, I have been the apostle of the Father. Now, you are to be my apostles.”
Now wait a minute! I’ve heard about these guys. You remember Peter. Jesus had to scold him with the words, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33) Then there were James and his brother John who asked Jesus to place them at His right and left when He came into His glory. How many times do we read that these men tried to establish a pecking order amongst themselves arguing over who was the greatest. They ran away as cowards when Jesus was arrested. These are not stellar examples of virtue.
Then, as if sending these guys out as His Apostles wasn’t strange enough, He gave them even more authority. 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:22–23) It is as if He said, “You know that forgiveness that I just finished earning with my suffering and death a few days ago? I now give you the authority to administer that forgiveness in my name.”
Think about it. A few hours earlier, these same men refused to believe the report of Jesus’ resurrection. Now Jesus has commissioned them to be His apostles and administer His forgiveness. If I were there, I would turn to Jesus and ask, “Jesus, are You sure You want to commission these losers as Your apostles? Do You really want these guys to take over from You?”
God regularly works in these strange ways … ways that make no sense from a worldly point of view.
When Moses was forty years old and all fired up to be the great liberator of Israel, he might have taken credit for liberating Israel. So God sent him out into the wilderness. Then, when he was 80 years old and did not want to go, then God sent him to Pharaoh.
Gideon was terrified of the Midianites and did not want to fight them. So God sent him out with a whole 300 soldiers to take on an army of 120,000 Midianites.
Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, but God drafted a fish into making sure that Jonah went anyway. So a grumpy old Jonah told Nineveh that God was about to destroy them and they repented.
An up and coming Pharisee named Saul was arresting Christians for trial and consenting to their executions. Then Jesus knocked him to the ground on the road to Damascus and called him to proclaim the Gospel.
Augustine lived the immoral life of a spoiled playboy until God got a hold of him. Then he became one of the foremost theologians of the late fourth and early fifth centuries.
It seems as though God goes out of His way to scrape the bottom of the barrel of humanity in order to find His servants. In every case, God took away any chance of boasting on the part of the human being. In every case, the odds of human success were so pathetic, that it is absolutely certain that only a miracle of God could provide success. The absolute helplessness of God’s servant showed the power of God’s salvation.
If I were God and it were up to me, I would have set aside a few legions of angels to do my preaching for me. The holy angels are way more dependable than human beings. Humans have a bad record of messing things up. Never the less, that is not what the true God does. He places foolish, sinful men into the office of preacher. Then He puts the administration of the forgiveness of sins into the mouths of those same foolish, sinful men. When He needs to proclaim salvation, He sends sinners to proclaim it. It makes no sense from a worldly point of view.
The comfort for Christians in all ages is that no matter how odd or weird or boring or ugly or whatever their pastor is, they can know that their salvation is sure. It is sure because it does not depend on the pastor. Instead, it is God Himself who deserves all the credit for our salvation. Jesus Christ earned it on the cross. The Holy Spirit delivers it in Word and Sacrament. Your pastor is merely the servant who administers the gifts God gives to you.
The Gospel account we heard today tells how Jesus came to a bunch of unbelieving cowards and gave them forgiveness and peace. He then appointed them as Apostles and gave them authority to administer the forgiveness of sins. Even though the world would say that these men were totally unqualified, the Holy Spirit used them to proclaim the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
The plan of the Lord has not changed. He still sends sinners to tell other sinners about salvation. He still gives sinners the authority to forgive sins. The wisdom of the world insists that this is a plan that can never work. The forgiven sinner knows that the foolishness of this plan simply shows that it does not depend on human power. Instead, our salvation is provided by
God the Father’s grace for
God the Son’s sake through
God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.
When it comes to our salvation, God does all the work, and He loves to do that work in you. Amen
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