John 20:19-23 (24-29 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The section I just read from Saint John’s Gospel might be considered as Stage 1 of Jesus disciples coming to faith in the resurrected Lord. It didn’t begin on a happy note! In fact it began behind locked doors! Somewhere, in some house in Jerusalem a number of Jesus’ disciples, those who were called to be the leaders of this Jesus movement, were sitting behind locked doors, fearful that at any moment the Jewish leaders who had pushed for the execution of their leader would come after them.
The earlier Gospel accounts indicate these men had already been told by the women who had visited the tomb that Jesus’ body was not there. They were not impressed with the accounts of the women. In fact one writer said They believed it was an idle tale! But this evening, it was different. The risen Lord came through a door that was locked, showed them the marks of the nails in his hands and his side, and told them not to be afraid. Peace be with you! He said it twice and then, for extra good measure he brought the Holy Spirit to them, telling them to go out with the Word. John said the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. But there is no indication they got busy sharing the good news of the risen Lord who died for their sin. The only thing we know is that when Thomas, who had not been present when Jesus came, returned, they told him We have seen the Lord!
That brings us to Stage 2 of the Gospel lesson. But Thomas, one of the 12, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord”. But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And for having said those words, he is forever known as “Doubting Thomas.” But Thomas isn’t the only person who has ever doubted.
Remember that song about people who doubt. They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round. They all laughed when Edison recorded sound. They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly!
Speaking of Wilbur Wright and his brother, Orville, many years ago, I served as Pastor of a large church in Virginia Beach, VA. It was a few miles from Oceana Naval Air Station so many of the members worked there. One members name was Orville Wright. He told me he was a Navy pilot! I thought that was a funny story. Then he said, “I have a brother named Wilbur. He is also a Navy pilot. I thought he was telling a joke. But guess what? I doubted, but he was telling the truth. True story; that Orville Wright did have a brother named Wilbur! They both did fly planes in the U.S. Navy. I doubted it at first, but then I met them and believed!
Should we blame Thomas for doubting the other disciples when they said “We saw Jesus; He was here! He is alive!” Thomas knew Jesus had died a horrible death on the cross. He could not believe the other disciples at first. Then it happened. A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Like all of us, Thomas doubted until he saw with his own eyes. Part of our human nature is to doubt. This is equally true about so much of what we see and hear in our lives. We wonder why life challenges our very sense of what we believe is right and wrong. Sometimes we doubt doctors, lawyers, or Pastors. At other times we doubt weather reports, statistics of all kinds, and even new ideas. A certain amount of doubt is healthy; it causes us to search for the truth. But when it comes to our almighty God, our creator and redeemer, there are some matters that are beyond doubt. When Jesus appeared to Thomas in the flesh, all of Thomas’s doubts about Jesus resurrection disappeared.
History tells us Thomas was so filled with the Holy Spirit and faith in the risen Lord that he sailed 100’s of miles to India, where he spread the word of Jesus, our Savior. When I visited India many years ago, I was told that a couple of states in India have Christian churches and the Christians there are called “St. Thomas Christians.” Guess what the most common name is for boys in that region?!
While we may have good and valid reasons to express doubts about many things, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not a doubting matter. God’s Holy Spirit came to Thomas the week after the first Easter. Like Thomas, God has called us to believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As Thomas would now say to us “No doubt about it! Christ rose from the dead. Death does not have a victory over life.
Saint Paul wrote about it in 1 Cor. 15 when, quoting a portion of Isaiah he said “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Saint Paul also began as a doubter. He even persecuted Jesus followers. But after his conversion his doubts disappeared. In quoting Isaiah he added these words The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. BUT THANKS BE TO GOD WHO GIVES US THE VICTORY THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
George Frederik Handel put those words to music in his Oratorio “Messiah.” We don’t have a big choir to sing that today, BUT we have other music by Handel that was put to a rousing Easter hymn with similar words. It’s called Thine is the Glory!Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death has won! Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay…
Lo, Jesus meets thee, risen from the tomb! Lovingly he greets thee, scatters fear and gloom; let his church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for the Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting!
No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life; life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife; make us more than conqu’rors, through thy deathless love; bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.
Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son; endless is the vict’ry thou o’er death hast won! AMEN
— Preached at St. Michael Lutheran on April 28, 2019 by the Rev John Weinbach.