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Reasons and Rationales

John 20:19-31

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Second Sunday of Easter
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View PDF file

Sun, Apr 23, 2017 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

“Unless I see the marks of the nail and put my fingers into the nail marks and my hand into His spear-riven side, I will never believe.” Everyone knows these familiar words of Thomas… “Doubting Thomas,” as I’m sure most of you know him by.  It’s easy to look down on this guy, and many people do.  This first Sunday after Easter is often treated as “Pick on Thomas” day.  Many a Christian proudly postures themselves above “Doubting Thomas,” the thick-skulled rube who refused to believe unless he first had hard-proof.  Thank God we’re not like him, right?  Others swing the pendulum to the opposite side, offering up very empathizing explanations and justifications for Thomas’ unbelief.  They don’t pick on Thomas.  They defend him.  After all, we can relate, right?  “Thomas wasn’t there on that first Easter Sunday.  He didn’t get to experience what everyone else did.  Those guys got to see and touch Jesus. Thomas missed out.  He only wanted to do the same thing they did.” And so Thomas winds up getting a pass.  Coveting gets a pass.  Unbelief gets a pass.  You can argue that this isn’t what you’re doing, but it is what it is. 

Here’s the thing: When you get down to it, both realities are correct.  So often we wind up arguing over who is “more right,” missing the bigger Law/Gospel picture.  Thomas did demand proof before he would believe.  That’s not good.  Nowhere in Scripture is that ever praised or encouraged.  Jesus Himself even says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” It is also absolutely correct to say that Thomas wanted the same proof that the others had been given eight days earlier.  It’s true.  “It’s not fair!  I want to see and touch too!” I get it.  I don’t condone it, but I understand it. 

But…rather than get bogged down debating the motive and rationale behind Thomas’ unbelief; rather than debating who’s more right, let us, instead, focus on the real reason all this is recorded for us.  All too often this text is turned into “all about Thomas.” The focus gets put on him.  He’s the star of the show.  Jesus makes a very special cameo appearance, but the focus winds up getting put all on Thomas.  But that’s not what this text is all about!  That’s not why the Holy Spirit inspired John to record this event. 

Believe it or not, but this account of Thomas isn’t recorded simply for the sake of showing what a schlepp Thomas was.  It’s not pick-on-Thomas day!  I know that’s how it’s often treated, but that’s not it.  Truth be told, all those apostles were just as thick-skulled and stubborn in their unbelief eight days earlier.  John tells us that the first word out of Jesus’ mouth on that first Easter Sunday to the apostles (minus Thomas), who were hiding in that locked room out of fear, is “peace.” He then shows them His hands and His side, and then He proclaims “peace” again.  How often this gets overlooked and unmentioned.  We get so focused on Thomas that we wind up missing how Jesus makes a very deliberate point of tying together His crucifixion, resurrection, and God’s peace that surpasses all understanding.  He proclaims peace.  He immediately shows them what true peace is and where it is found—in the wounds of the once dead, but now alive Son of God—and then He reinforces the object lesson with a second proclamation of “peace.” Let there be no doubt! 

And that’s where St. Mark’s Gospel account is very informative and revealing.  Mark gives us a little bit of the dirty laundry that John doesn’t.  Mark tells us that Jesus also rebuked these guys because they had refused to believe the ladies and the Emmaus disciples when they first came and proclaimed Christ’s resurrection that first Easter Sunday.  “We have seen the Lord!  He is risen from the dead!” They didn’t believe.  They refused to believe.  It seemed like a crazy, fanciful, grief-fueled tall-tale.  They refused to believe…sounds a lot like Thomas, doesn’t it?  Jesus rebukes them for their stubborn unbelief; their purposeful deafness to the Word of Gospel (not to mention the Word of Resurrection Jesus had been foretelling for three years beforehand).  It’s almost comical.  Some folks go out of their way to defend Thomas and try and show that he only wanted to be like the rest of the apostles.  He already was!  He was just like them, and they were just like him, which isn’t a good thing.  They were all deaf, dumb, blind, and dead in their unbelief; that is, until Jesus put a stop to it and turned things around.

So…what does it all mean for us today?  Well…I don’t know about you, but as a parent, I don’t ever want my kids to have to go through all the trials and tribulations I had to go through.  I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did.  I don’t want them to have to suffer the same pains and sorrows and worries that I went through on account of my stupidity and stubbornness.  If they can avoid all the tears and pitfalls and traps and bombed-out, smoldering wrecks that I’ve left in my sinful wake, WONDERFUL!  Because I love them, I tell them how stupid I was.  I tell them and share with them how dumb and foolish and reckless I was.  I don’t get into all the nitty-gritty.  That’s not what it’s about.  I don’t share these things because I want to tell war stories and revel in my stupidity and my sinfulness.  Rather, I share these things with them because I don’t want them to ever be as stupid as their dad and have to pay the prices I did and suffer the consequences I did.  I love them enough to tell them the truth. 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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.” There it is!  There’s what is so often missed in this text.  This is why this whole account, particularly that of Thomas, is recorded.  As I said earlier, this isn’t recorded so that we can hold ourselves up to Thomas and find Pharisaical comfort in the fact that at least we’re not like him (which is what often happens).  This account isn’t recorded so that we can justify our own unbelief and assuage our own guilt by pointing to Thomas and saying, “Well…he just wanted what everyone else had.  Is that so bad?” Yes!  It’s called unbelief!  It’s unbelief when Thomas does it, and it’s unbelief when you do it.  Don’t try and justify it.  Repent of it! 

This account is recorded for us; for our sakes; for our good.  Our heavenly Father loves us so much that He records the foibles and failures of our apostolic forefathers so that we can learn from them and learn from their mistakes; mistakes which could prove eternally deadly.  Remember: The only thing that damns a person is unbelief.  “He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe is condemned.” Just look here [Word and Sacrament].  Yes, I know I told you to look.  I’m well-aware that faith comes through hearing.  I’m well-aware that faith means trusting your ears, not your eyes, which is precisely what got Thomas in trouble, and what earned the other ten apostles a stern rebuke from their Lord and Savior eight days earlier.  I understand…but look!  Listen to what your almighty God and Lord has already said.  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  Where two are three are gathered in My name, there I am also.  Those who hear you, hear Me, and they hear the One who has sent Me.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  As often as you do this, remember what I have said about it.  This is My body.  This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin; given and shed for you and for the peace that only I can give; the peace that surpasses all human understanding.”

Listen.  Look.  Behold!  Here is your resurrected Lord and Savior, holding out to you the gift of peace that is Himself.  In a very real way, Jesus is doing for us the very same thing He did for Thomas (and for the other apostles eight days earlier).  Jesus is holding out His victorious body and blood to us.  He’s proclaiming His peace into our ears, our hearts, and our minds, not by some kind of secret telepathic supernatural way, but through the very real and tangible means of written and spoken Word.  His Word hits your eyes; it resonates in your ears.  You hear it!  Let there be no doubt!  His body and blood, in, with, and under the very real and very ordinary elements of bread and wine, is given to you to inwardly digest for peace and comfort and assurance; peace, comfort, and assurance that ONLY Christ Himself can give.  You can see it.  You can taste it.  You can feel it.  By God’s rich and undeserved grace, you believe it.

And that’s where I want to end today: with God’s rich and undeserved, ever-present, real-and-tangible grace.  I know life is tough.  Sometimes it can be downright terrifying and depressing.  It’s very easy to get caught up and beat down by what we see going on all around us in this fallen and sinful world.  Here is Christ, not because I say so, but because He says so.  Here is a peace and comfort and assurance the world cannot and does not know.  Here is the victorious One, holding out to you the gift; the sure and certain hope that is Himself.  Turn and flee to Him!  Hold fast to Him! 

It’s not a question of “if” life will be tough and you’ll have crosses to bear.  No!  WHEN life is tough; when you’re feeling the crushing weight of your crosses; when you’re feeling like all you want to do is lock the doors, kill the lights, and throw the covers over your head and avoid the rest of the world, turn your ears and your eyes of faith here; turn around and turn back to Christ Jesus.  Here He is, arms spread wide open, reaching out His pierced hands to you to take you up and place you on His mighty, cross-bearing shoulders, like a loving shepherd places His little lost lamb upon His shoulders.  It is finished.  He’s declared it.  He’s proved it!  The empty tomb, the wounds, the blood and the water that poured forth from His spear-riven side, His own Word…all these bear witness to the Truth of your peace.  He said what He meant, and He meant what He said.  It is finished, and by virtue of your baptism into Him and His victory, you are victorious.  You belong to Jesus, and nothing and no one can ever snatch that from you.  You have His eternal, unfailing, and unconditional peace. 

My prayer for you today and every day is that you never doubt this or disbelieve this.  Instead, may you always see this [Word and Sacrament] and hold fast in trust and faith to what your Lord has already said about all of this.  May you believe and be at peace, now and into all eternity.

AMEN



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