Doubting Thomas gives us Confidence
The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is always this one. It's tempting to rename today "Let's beat up on Thomas Sunday." But let's not this year. Let's make him what he really is with a view toward seeing ourselves as we really are before God.
I know the words "doubting" and "Thomas" have historically been welded together as firmly as "bad" and "economy" are now, but that's giving Thomas a brand he doesn't deserve. Thomas wasn't "doubting"; he didn't hem and haw. He was graphically unbelieving. Thomas doesn't say, "I doubt Jesus rose from the dead," or, "I'm not sure if He appeared to you." No, Thomas says, "I will not believe it." The Greek is more intense. It's a double negative which of course English doesn't do but Greek does when it wants to state a negative strongly. About the closest idiom we have is, "There ain't no way." Thomas says, "There ain't now way I will believe you have actually seen the risen Lord."
Thomas isn't a doubter but an unbeliever. Unbelievers are outside of the Church; doubters may be in. Gideon with the Midanites, Peter on the water, and Elijah on the mountain all had doubts. Thomas had unbelief, and that puts him outside the Church. The text agrees. It says, "A week later Jesus' disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them." Thomas isn't numbered with the disciples. Finally, Jesus doesn't say as the insert has it, "Stop doubting, and believe." No, He says, "Stop being unfaithful but faithful."
How hardened an unbeliever you have to be to resist the Word of the Lord for seven days! The insert reads, "So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord!'" It actually says, "The other disciples were repeatedly telling Thomas." They were telling Thomas how they saw His hands and side; how He ate food in front of them; how He gave His peace and Spirit to them, but Thomas remained an unbeliever and his unbelief was resolute if not dissolute. Thomas says He will never, ever believe unless he not only sees with His eyes the mark of the nails but sticks his finger into the holes and his whole hand into the side of Jesus. Thomas is trying to shock them with his immutable unbelief.
I tell you this not to beat up Thomas, but so you might have an accurate picture of him, but knowing his unbelief is only part of the picture. Thomas was not only an unbeliever; he was a rock. The Doubting Thomas image is one of a reed swaying in the wind, of a man not sure of anything. This wasn't Thomas. Even in his unbelief Thomas was certain. He was no reed swaying in the wind but a rock in the surf. Rather than being moved by the crashing waves, he broke them.
Where's my evidence for this? Our text tells us that where the disciples were "the doors were locked for fear of the Jews." Thomas alone was not huddled behind locked doors. By implication, he wasn't afraid of the Jews who had just had his Master, Teacher, and Friend murdered. How long do you think 11 men can stay locked up without food? Who do you suppose was out getting it? One brave man named Thomas.
John's Gospel gives further evidence of the bravery of Thomas compared to the other disciples. Earlier when word came that Lazarus had died and Jesus decides to go back to Judea to help him, the disciples said, "Rabbi a short while ago the Jews tried to stone You, and yet You are going back there?" But what does John report about Thomas? "Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him.'" This is bravery.
But there's more, and it makes the case of Thomas tragic. When Thomas bravely says they should all go to die with Jesus, John mentions for the first time that Thomas was called Didymus which means "the twin." Curiously nowhere in Scripture is his twin identified. Some early church heretics said that because John identifies Thomas as "the twin" in connection with his wanting to go with Jesus even into death, Thomas was the literal twin of Jesus. This can't be of course because that would mean Thomas was God in the flesh too, so I think John is indicating Thomas' nickname. As Jesus called Simon "the rock" and James and John "sons of thunder," perhaps the disciples called Thomas "the twin" because he always wanted to be where Jesus was. We say of two close friends, "They're twins."
So here's the picture. You're as close as twins with Jesus; you're a brave man, but in the hour of Jesus' extreme need in Gethsemane you ran like a coward. You wouldn't follow Jesus to the judgment hall like Peter and John did, and unlike the young John, you couldn't even bring yourself to be at the cross. How miserable this past week has been for you. Guilt, shame, sin smother you; you can't stand yourself. You're surrounded by others with smiles on their lips and joy in their eyes. You have no risen Jesus, and therefore you have no forgiveness, no Lord. All you can think of is how badly you let Him down and what are you going to do now?
Thomas was not doubting but unbelieving, but Thomas was a rock in the surf not a reed in the wind, and Thomas was worth more than the whole world to the Church and Jesus too. That's a pretty big statement, but if it's true, then from this so-called Doubting Thomas we can gain great confidence.
The events of Lent, Easter, really from Advent till now, are about the whole world and one Man, not Thomas, but Jesus. God puts His foot down to stop the reign of sin, of Death, and of the Devil, and He does this by putting His foot down on one Man, not Thomas, but Jesus.
For the sake of the world, God sends His only beloved Son into it through the Virgin Mary. All that men are suppose to do and all that they never do was required of this one Man, Jesus. Upon Him was put not only your sins but all the do's, don'ts, should's, musts, and have to's. All that the Law accuses you of not being Jesus was perfectly. And then not to make up for but to pay for what the world doesn't do, this Man Jesus was put to death without mercy. Your feeling bad, your promises to try harder, your pledges to do better, cannot satisfy God's wrath against your sins let alone the sins of the world, but one drop of the Blood of the God-Man, Jesus, does.
For the entire world of sinners, Jesus was put to death. Having paid in full the world's debt because of sins, God the Father raised His perfect Son from the grave. One Man died in place of the world. He was risen from the dead thereby showing that the world's sins had been paid for in full. I want to be sure you see the worldwide nature of this. The whole world could now be told there sins had been atoned for; the whole world could now be told the Devil and Death had been defeated. But what's this? God makes the world He had saved by one Man, Jesus, wait for the sake of one man, Thomas.
Last Sunday you heard the angel say, "Go to Galilee, and Jesus will meet you like He promised." You remember what happened there? Jesus gave the commission to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. Yet what do we find in our text? The Church delays going for a week. More than that, there are only 40 days between Easter and when Jesus ascends to heaven. During this time, Jesus taught His disciples everything that was written about Him in the Old Testament. Jesus gave up 17.5% of His teaching time for the sake of the unbelieving Thomas.
Books are written, movies are made, legends are born from a teacher who singles out a difficult student, bears with his bad attitude, makes extra time, all to reach him. With what? With information, with knowledge that is useful for this world. Yet, because we hear of this event every year, it's ordinary, expected. It doesn't touch us the way it should.
Thomas is mired in unbelief. Thomas is going to hell and is in hellish guilt and despair right now all because he won't believe the word of the disciples. In a place where no man can reach him, the God-Man does. Step by step Jesus gives into Thomas' unbelieving demands. He takes Thomas' finger and pushes it into the nail holes that had bled to cover his sins, and He takes Thomas hand and pushes it into the side out of which had poured the Water that forgives and the Blood that nourishes. And from the mouth of a once hardened unbeliever the Church's confession of faith is advanced. Where the disciples had only called Jesus Lord, even as they did before Easter, Thomas confesses Jesus to be not only His Lord but His God.
Gain confidence from so-called "Doubting Thomas." Gain confidence that Jesus doesn't want you to go through the horrible week of unbelief that Thomas did. Gain confidence that Jesus loves you more than the whole world. Gain confidence that Jesus can reach the depths of guilt, despair, unbelief that you have fallen to even though others can't. Gain confidence that His Word that I teach and preach to you is more than enough to do all this. You don't need to see Jesus' hands and side. His Word is enough to work saving faith in your heart forever.
Where would we be if His Word wasn't enough? We would have no lasting confidence, no lasting joy, no lasting certainty concerning His victory over our sins, death, or the Devil. Every year, every month, every week, every day, indeed every hour He would have to appear to us with His pierced hands and wounded side. And you know what? Even that would not be enough for us. We would get to the point of needing to see Jesus in Flesh and Blood every minute of ever day. But by His Word we have the confidence to look at our Baptism, Absolution, and Communion and say, "My Lord and My God." And Jesus pronounces such confidence "blest." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Second Sunday of Easter (20090419); John 20: 19-31