John 20:19-31 (2nd Sunday of Easter—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 11, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from John 20:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, 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 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.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, 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; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed.” 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.
The modern world is a well-fertilized garden for those who doubt and distrust. Here in the United States, ever-advancing technologies and a staggering rate of change lead to loose footing. The media throws a blanket of cynicism over the attitudes of the nation. We have been trained to be skeptical of politicians and popes. We do well to become alarmed that we are raising an entire generation whose main characteristics are pessimism, disinterest, and a critical eye towards the lifestyles and beliefs of those who have gone before.
Listen to how some researchers have described the typical belief system of many Americans, especially those born between 1961 and 1981. “In her despiritualized life, she strips billowy questions down to their real-world fundamentals. Having come of age without war but with an obsessive fear of nuclear holocaust, she sees apocalypse for what it is—just death. She sees herself as post-ideological, in some ways even post-religious. She’s hesitant to impose her beliefs (on everything from school prayer to abortion) on others. Her . . . God is straightforward, prone to action. What God sells, He services; when He bills, He collects—then it’s over.”
The person described sounds pretty skeptical to me. It’s almost hard to imagine a generation of people filled with doubts about the things of God and the ways of God and the Word of God. So many of you grew up and lived most of your life in what we might call the “Christian world.” In that world going to church was the norm, not the exception. In that world, Christians were seen as the majority and if you wanted to “fit in,” you were part of a Christ-confessing congregation, whether or not you were “really into it.”
Those days are long over. We live in a world of skepticism and doubt, a world that is post-Christian, even non-Christian. The Church is no longer the “in” group. Today people go around claiming to be spiritual, but not religious. I’m not even sure you can actually do that! They claim that they pay attention to spiritual things while throwing away religious teaching or doctrine. They end up creating a version of God that looks more like God was created in their image rather than God being the Creator who made mankind in His image, which was lost in the Fall into sin.
Oh, and speaking of sin . . . well, with the exception of the church, and maybe even with the exception of Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans, there’s not a whole lot of talk about sin. In a 2002 Barna research survey they found, “In yet another break from biblical teaching, three-quarters of adults (74%) agree that, ‘when people are born they are neither good nor evil – they make a choice between the two as they mature.’ In other words, the concept of original sin is rejected by most Americans in favor of a rational choice approach to human nature. At least seven out of ten members of every demographic segment examined accepts the notion of choice over that of original sin. Unexpectedly, the survey data revealed that a slight majority of evangelical [Christians] (52%) also buy this notion.”
Think about this one—popular TV evangelist and author Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, never mentions sin in his TV sermons or best sellers such as Your Best Life Now. “I never thought about (using the word ‘sinners’), but I probably don’t,” Osteen told Larry King in an interview. “Most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church, I want to tell them that you can change.” The Rev. Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif., calls this “moral therapy.” “It’s changing your lifestyle to receive God’s favor,” Horton says. “It’s not heaven in the hereafter but happiness here and now. But it is still up to you to make it happen.” He finds sad truth in an old newspaper headline he once saw: “’To hell with sin when being good is enough.’ That’s the drift of American preaching today in a lot of churches. People know what sin is; they just don’t believe in it anymore. We mix up happiness and holiness, and God is no longer the reference point.” In other words, he asks, if you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?
I suppose that is the real heart of the matter for those who are skeptical. What difference does it make for people that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised again on the third day? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I wonder if Thomas might have been thinking along these lines, as well as the other disciples. The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus certainly were when they said to the yet unrecognized Risen Lord, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:19-20)
They were skeptical. Was Jesus the one? Was He the Lord and God, the Messiah-Savior? They had hoped so. But He was crucified, died, and was buried. But some women had gone to the tomb early in the morning but didn’t find His body. They said they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Is it at all possible? Can we dismiss the skepticism about Jesus from our minds?
Absolutely. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
Here is proof for all who doubt. Here is evidence for all who are skeptical. Here is verification that the same Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and died and is now alive. The marks of the nails in His hands and the mark of the spear in His side is confirmation! This Jesus is not a ghost. He is not a manifestation of their grief. He is truly living and the disciples are able to touch and to see. Luke’s account of the Easter evening appearance of the Risen Christ tells us, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” (Luke 24:36-40)
Therefore, we cannot and should not be too harsh on “doubting Thomas.” He, like all the rest, was skeptical of what the death of Jesus was really all about. He, also, doubted the resurrection testimony of the women who had gone to the tomb. He was unsure about the words of the others who told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But one week after Easter, Thomas was given his assurance just as it had been given to all the rest. 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; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
There before Thomas was the living proof—the Living Christ, still marked with the nails and spear, to verify and assure all who doubt that He, and He alone went to the cross to win forgiveness for the very real sins of all people. Sin is so significant a problem for the world God so loved that He sent His only Son to be the once-for-all sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. If sin was no big deal, then no sacrifice for sin would have been necessary. No punishment for sin would have been needed. But sin is that big of a deal, so much a big deal that Jesus had to die on the cross and take on Himself the punishment for our sin. Jesus suffered our condemnation and died our death. Then on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, guaranteeing that God the Father accepted the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross as full payment for our sins. The Father accepted fully the punishment for sins which Jesus endured by His suffering and death so that you and I now have forgiveness and eternal life instead of condemnation and eternal death. Of this there can be no doubt—see His hands and His side!
In the Word and in the Sacraments we do see Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again for our justification. We see Jesus with the eyes of faith gifted to us by the Holy Spirit who enables us to say of Jesus Christ, along with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” In the Word and in the Sacraments the Risen Christ comes to us with His complete forgiveness and everlasting life, the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection delivered to each one of us personally! That’s why we come together in this place. We come here to meet Jesus because He Himself comes here in the Word and in the Sacraments. He comes to be with you, the sinners for whom He died and rose, making you into the saints you are by grace through faith in your Lord Jesus. Jesus comes and shows Himself to you in the water of Baptism, in the words of forgiveness spoken by the pastor in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. Jesus comes and shows Himself to you in the words of Scripture read and preached, and He comes in, with, and under the bread and wine with His true Body and Blood for you to eat and drink. See Jesus as He comes, and believe!
Today, we live in a skeptical world that operates by the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We live in a world of doubt and unbelief, a post-Christian world that struggles with the revealed message of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. Yet, through that revealed Gospel Jesus continues to come to people in Word and Sacrament so that they may see Him and believe by grace through faith that He is Lord and God. Jesus continues to come through His Means of Grace so that many will receive the blessings of His death and resurrection. Give God all thanks and praise that through Jesus’ Gospel Word, through these things that are written, you have been given saving faith in Jesus and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you do have life in His name because He is risen indeed. Amen.
 Mueller, Peter E. In Walks Jesus: A Bible Study for Adults. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, © 1997.