Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. I’m not entirely sure why the Apostle Thomas has gotten such a bad reputation. In the church, when we think of the Apostle Thomas, we tend to think of “Doubting Thomas”—our story for today. But, believe it or not, Thomas is the Apostle who church tradition credits with bringing the Gospel message to India where he was later martyred for his faith. In John’s Gospel, Thomas is portrayed as loyal, though admittedly some-what pessimistic man. Though he maybe wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, he was undeniably a dedicated, passionate man. The first time Thomas makes an appearance in John’s Gospel is in the episode with Lazarus in John 11.
I’m sure you remember that story—Jesus gets news that his friend Lazarus is dying, but rather than hurrying off, Jesus tinkers around a couple of extra days before deciding to back to Judea to see Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. When Jesus tells his disciples that he’s ready to go back to Judea (near Jerusalem), they remind him that everyone there wants to kill him…maybe it’s not such a good idea to go back there so close to Jerusalem. But then John tells us: Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:14-16). Doubting Thomas? How about “Devoted Thomas” or “Courageous Thomas”? Sure, Thomas doesn’t seem to quite “get it”, but when Thomas is with Jesus, you can’t doubt his loyalty and dedication to his Lord.
2. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. Perhaps we’re meant to see Thomas as a courageous, devoted disciple when he’s with Jesus. But when he’s not, it’s a different story. And that’s exactly what we see in our reading for today. It’s been three full days since Thomas has been with Jesus. In fact, the last time he saw him, Thomas was running for his life as Jesus was being arrested. But now it was three days later. Thomas had been away from the other disciples for a while, but when he re-joined them, they started babbling on about how Jesus had appeared to them. “He’s alive,” they said, “We have seen the Lord.” How could they have seen the Lord? Everyone knows what he went through. There’s no way someone could be alive after all of that—after the flogging, the crucifixion, the soldier driving a spear through his side… Jesus was dead. There were no two ways about it. Either Thomas’ friends were pulling some kind of sick joke, or maybe more likely their minds were playing tricks on them after several days and nights of little food and sleep. And so, Thomas declared, Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the marks of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe (John 20:25). Thomas wasn’t just doubting here…it’s really not even fair to call him “Doubting Thomas.” A more accurate name for Thomas on that first Easter evening would be “Unbelieving Thomas.” He wasn’t just doubting. Because Jesus was not with him, Thomas flat out did not believe.
3. But then, the following Sunday, everything changed for Thomas. Jesus came to invite Thomas out of unbelief and into life. In the words of the gospel writer: 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” (John 20:26-27). After those three miserable days where Thomas had to live with the fact that he had abandoned his Lord, after that miserable week where Thomas struggled to make sense of his friend’s insistence that Jesus was alive, after all of that, in an instant, everything changed for Thomas. He was no longer “Unbelieving Thomas.” He was “Believing Thomas.” What made the difference? Jesus presence. See, when Jesus was with Thomas, he was a different man. He had courage, he had strength. But without Jesus, Thomas was a miserable, emotional wreck. Jesus’ presence with Thomas one week after his resurrection literally changed Thomas’ life. And Jesus’ presence also caused Thomas to utter one of the most profound, faith-filled statements in all of the Scriptures: My Lord and my God! (John 20:28). Jesus’ presence invited Thomas out of unbelief and into life.
4. Jesus tells Thomas that his belief came from seeing Jesus. But Jesus also said, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). Then the gospel writer gives us two more verses, which are incredibly significant: 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 (John 20:30-31). Belief doesn’t have to involve seeing Jesus. But belief does always involve experiencing Jesus’ presence, as Thomas did.
5. So, how do we experience the presence of Jesus today? Simple—through God’s Word. How do we know that Jesus is present through this book? Well, the very beginning of John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the word of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us through the words of the Holy Scriptures. And it’s through the Scriptures that Jesus invites us out of unbelief and into the fullness of life in his name. It’s by staying connected to Jesus through the Holy Scriptures that we experience peace in the midst of a chaotic and crazy world. It’s by staying connected to Jesus through the Holy Scriptures that we experience the fullness of life that Jesus desires for us. When we’re with Jesus, life is good.
6. But this story of Thomas also gives us a warning. When we’re not with Jesus, life is not good. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are constantly on the prowl against us. When we’re not regularly connected to Jesus and his word, they’re there, ready to pounce. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther says this: The devil ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against…the commandments. Therefore, you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. God’s word is our best defense against the evil one. Paul doesn’t call it “the sword of the Spirit” for nothing because where the Word of God is, there the Spirit of God is too. And where the Spirit of God is, the devil flees. The resurrected Jesus offers you His Spirit through His Word to bring you back to him. The devil constantly tries to suck you into doubt and unbelief. But Jesus’ presence through his word invites you out of that unbelief and into life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.