Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
John 20:19-31 19 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.” 26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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 gospels following the Resurrection of our Lord show us that the saving work of Jesus is not done, but that it continues until the day of his return and we are an integral part of his plan of salvation. For even after his ascension back to the Father, he is still at work here on earth among us, in us and through us. Here in this gospel we begin to understand how He prepares his disciples and us to continue the work which he began with his life, suffering, death and resurrection.
First, we must look at the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, and the confusion among the disciples. They did not immediately believe that he had risen. It was not, as Easter is for us, one great day of faith and rejoicing. We have already seen how in the first day of the week after his death, the women went to the tomb to anoint him with spices. We have heard about the angel sitting in the tomb showing them the place where Jesus had been laid, that was now empty. We heard the angel as he told them to go and tell his disciples that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. We heard that the women were too afraid to tell anyone.
Today, we read in John that Mary Magdalene was the only one who ran to Peter and the other disciples and told them not that Jesus had risen, but that someone had taken the body of Jesus and she did not know where they had laid him. Then Peter and John ran to the tomb with Mary and found the same thing, but they did not yet understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.
Now, in the evening, all the disciples, except Thomas, were gathered together in the upper room with the doors locked out of fear. It is inevitable the confusion; the doubt; the fear. Some were saying Jesus had been stolen. Others that he had risen. Rumors were flying everywhere and not one agreed with another. Much like today. Talk of religion is confusing. The devil has his finger in the pot stirring it into chaos. No one agrees on anything. Teachers proclaim absurd and contrary things. Who is right? To whom should we listen? How can we know the truth? Is there any truth? We throw our arms into the air in utter dismay and unbelief. No two people agree on anything. This is where sound confessionalism is important. It keeps us steadfast on the Word. It provides a basis for truth in Scripture and uniformity among teachers. We are fortunate as Lutherans to have a uniform Confession of Faith to which we subscribe and which guides us into the correct understanding of the Scriptures.
But, most people do not have such a foundation to rely upon. The disciples of Jesus on that first Easter day did not yet understand the Scriptures that Jesus must be raised from the dead. They were confused, afraid, and dismayed, hiding behind locked doors.
Then suddenly, Jesus was standing among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” No one heard him knock. No one saw him enter. No one unlocked the door for him, but there he was standing in their midst. Fear gripped their hearts. Was it a ghost? Was it an apparition? Was it a hallucination? He breathed the Holy Spirit into them, and not until then could they believe in Jesus. For faith is the work of the Spirit, not our human reason.
St. Luke gives us more detail about this event. He showed them his hands and his feet. He invited them to touch him and see, for a spirit has no flesh and bones. Then he ate a piece of fish right before their eyes to prove that he was flesh and blood. Not until they had seen the evidence and felt his flesh and observed the scars in his hands and feet did they believe that he was risen in the flesh.
So why do we accuse Thomas and call him the doubting one? All the disciples had the same unbelief. Mary Magdalene didn’t believe until she had seen his wounds and saw him with her eyes. The other women didn’t even tell what they had seen at the tomb. Peter and John had not understood that he had to rise. The entire group of disciples were skeptics and had to have the visible and physical evidence before they would believe. It was not until a week later that the disciples were gathered together again, and this time Thomas was with them. He had still not seen or touched the risen flesh of Jesus. So, Jesus showed him the same evidence he had shown the other disciples a week earlier, that he too might believe in the resurrected Lord.
Why this evidence? Why this proof? Because the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are without hope in the world. If Jesus did not die on the cross, our sins are not forgiven. If he did not rise from the dead, we are not saved. This historical event that took place in history is the essential element of our salvation and eternal life. Without them, we are lost! Eternally condemned! Our faith is in vain and there is no eternity. No wonder the devil wants to stir up confusion here and create doubt and uncertainty about the veracity of these reports of his resurrection.
So, Jesus made sure that there were ample eye witnesses who would testify to his resurrection. At the cost of their own lives, many men and women of the first century gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus set up the disciples and Thomas as eye witnesses. Jesus appeared to other disciples as well. He appeared to 500 of his followers at one time, and last of all, he appeared to St. Paul.
To the disciples in the upper room he said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And to the twelve on the mountain he said, “Go, make disciples of all nations.” And to St. Paul he said, “You are a chosen instrument of mine before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel…. That you may preach me among the Gentiles.” Now these eyewitnesses gave their testimony about the risen Lord. They wrote their testimony in Scripture. They in turn sent others to continue the work of the Lord after them, generation after generation until today. We are all a part of God’s plan of salvation. For we too are sent as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to go and proclaim the resurrection to all the world.
But we have never seen the risen Jesus. We are not eyewitnesses. Our faith is based on the testimony of the witnesses of the resurrection. It is by their Word of testimony that we believe, and it is by the Holy Spirit that we believe their testimony. For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. No one who does not hear and believe the testimony of the Word of God spoken by the witnesses of the resurrection shall be saved. For without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith, we are separated from God eternally and condemned to eternal punishment.
But by the grace of God who has given us the Holy Spirit in Baptism, we have been given faith and trust in the resurrection. We believe not only that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that by his resurrection God has absolved us of our sin. We believe that by his death on the cross, God is reconciled to us and no longer counts our sin against us, but gives us everlasting life.
Yes, the work of salvation goes on today. Faith comes by hearing, and if there is none to tell, no one will believe. No one will be saved. Jesus is continuing to work in the world through you and me. You are a key element in God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. It is to you and me that he has given us the command to go and tell the world so that all who hear and believe might be saved. You are just as important in God’s salvation of the world as the disciples, as the Virgin Mary, as Joseph, as St. Paul, and St. John. Yes, you play a different role, but without you, God’s salvation will not go into all the world. For as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends you. Amen.