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LSB Easter 2B Sermon – John 20:19-31

April 20, 2015

April 12, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Peace be with you! … Do not disbelieve, but believe!”

Today marks the Eighth Day of Easter, the final day of specifically celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection.  Traditionally, the Church had a whole week dedicated to the Festival of the Lord’s Resurrection, followed by the multiple weeks of Easter that led up to Pentecost. The Sunday one week later was important, as it was the day when the entire story of Easter was completed. And again this year, the Church hears about what happened on the Eighth Day after Jesus rose from the dead.

The focus of today’s Gospel reading is the Apostle Thomas. In fact, this day is sometimes referred to as “Thomas Sunday.” Forever, Thomas has been saddled with the label “Doubting Thomas.” The reason for this comes from today’s reading: on the night of His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” So when they tell him that Jesus had come and visited them, that the Lord was risen from the dead, Thomas doesn’t believe: “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.” 

Thomas wants proof, proof that Jesus was alive. He has all the proof that he needs that Jesus had died. Thomas knows all about the events of the past days: Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Jesus’ arrest and trials, the torturous beatings that Jesus endured, Jesus’ gruesome death by crucifixion with all the natural phenomena that surrounded it, the solemn burial of His Lord in a borrowed tomb. But now, Thomas is hearing wild talk from the women of the group that Jesus has left His tomb alive. The Emmaus disciples say that Jesus had walked and talked with them, even broke bread with them. The other Ten say that Jesus had even appeared to them behind locked doors.

But how could this be? Thomas knows the reality of the cross. Those who end up there don’t live. Before he trusts the word of the other disciples, Thomas wants to be sure that they’re talking about the same Jesus. Thomas wants to see this crucified Jesus, the One who bears the nail marks and spear wound. If the crucified Lord walks and lives, if He shows up, then Thomas will believe. In essence, Thomas says: “Unless Jesus interacts with me, I will never believe.”

But before any of us harp on Thomas, we all need to look at ourselves first. Because we are actually not different than Thomas. The story that the Ten tell, that the women tell, that the Emmaus disciples tell is unbelievable. The dead coming back to life is unbelievable. But even more so, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying and rising for the redemption of sinners is unbelievable.

If we were to honestly look at ourselves, we would know that what Thomas is asked to believe is something that we would not and could not believe either. We would make the same demand that Thomas makes. Or more precisely, we have the same requirements that Thomas has. His response to the Ten disciples is our response: “Unless Jesus comes to me and shows me and tells me, I will never believe.”

But thankfully, something changes both Thomas and us. Or more precisely, Someone changes Thomas and the Ten and the women and the Emmaus disciples and us. For as Thomas is sitting in that Upper Room on that Eighth Day, his Lord and God appears. Jesus comes to Thomas, stands right in front of him, and greets him. Jesus finds His disciple and grants His peace to him. And that is what changes Thomas.

With Jesus sharing His peace, greeting and calling Thomas by name, the unbelievable becomes believable: “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.’” And with that, Thomas goes from the impossibility of believing to the great confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Remember his first statement about the disciples’ story: “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.” Only when and Jesus interacts with Thomas, can he make his confession. And that is the story for us, too.

We need to have Jesus interact with us before we believe anything about Him at all. We need Jesus to interact with us before we not only believe that He rose from the dead, but that He was born and died for us. We need Jesus to interact with us before we believe that He is our Savior and that His teaching is our way of life. Why do we need Jesus’ interaction? As Luther puts it so bluntly in his Small Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”

Just like Thomas, we have that interaction with Jesus take place for us. All of us who have been made disciples had that interaction with Jesus.  Jesus has come to us and spoken His greeting: “Peace be with you!” And that is more than a “Good morning” or “Hello” or “Hey, how ya’ doin’?” For when Jesus speaks about peace, when He gives peace, He grants forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus says: “Peace be with you!” and He really means it. All the separation between us and God has been bridged. All the wrath of God directed at our imperfection has been removed. All the worry about our fate, our ultimate end has been alleviated. And all the things that keep us from believing in Jesus are overcome.

Now how does this happen? Jesus’ death and resurrection brings peace between God and mankind. That peace brings us into communion and fellowship with Him. And that is what Jesus authorizes His apostles to carry into the world: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

That peace which creates true life and reconciles mankind with God has been carried by the apostles to us. It was done, as Luke recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” This testimony is what John gave in his Gospel account: “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.” And he speaks of it further in his letter to the Church: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

This is how Jesus interacts with us. This is how Jesus’ peace is extended to us—through the proclamation of what He has done, through baptism into His death and resurrection, through the forgiving of sins in absolution, through communing with His life in the Lord’s Supper. That peace belongs to us, as Jesus sends His Spirit to interact with us. We are no longer at odds with God. We are no longer unforgiven. And most importantly, we are no longer unbelievers with no knowledge of Jesus and no trust in His acts that bring salvation. With Jesus giving His Spirit and peace to us, the unbelievable becomes easily believed.

This turns the story of that Eighth Day that took place a week after Jesus’ resurrection from being a matter of past events to the story of our own Eighth Day: the final day of creation when God acts in us. The entire Easter story is about the dead becoming alive—even we who were dead in sin— by having life created in them by the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life.

So we can be unashamed to be like Thomas. For what is important about this Eighth Day story of Thomas is not that he doubted, but that Jesus led him to his shared confession with the other apostles: “My Lord and my God!” Our Lord Jesus has come to us, greeted us, and shown Himself to us. It has come through the word of life that the apostles proclaimed, so that we would have fellowship with Jesus and them. Let us remember our own Eighth Day story, when we were led from unbelief to the confession that this Crucified and Risen Jesus is indeed our Lord and our God and that we have peace with Him.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


From → Sunday Sermon

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