19On 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.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
26Eight 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but 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 20:19-31 (ESV) ]
1 What unbelief, not just doubt, looks like
The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are mighty foes indeed to faith. Truly, unbelief is an easy thing. It comes natural to all of us. As the Psalmist says, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5). From birth man is cursed with an unbelieving heart. Of ourselves and by ourselves, we do not know what it is to truly have faith in the Lord Jesus, for of ourselves and by ourselves, we are not able to receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to natural man, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned, as God reveals through the hand of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:14).
It is a result of sin that natural man does not believe the promises of God or the Holy Word of God. To remedy this state which man is in naturally, help must come from the outside, not from within. Thus did God the Father send His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).
Man must be born anew and not remain in his first birth of sin and death. Therefore does God give His Holy Word and Baptism, Word and water, by which your are washed of your sins and made clean, declared His child, and birthed anew of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Through the waters of your Baptism, God makes you new creatures. The old has passed. The new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Through Baptism, God gives faith, the faith given by means of the Word. It is that Word, God’s Word, ‘in, with, and under’ the water, that gives new life. Baptism is not water only. It is water and God’s Word applied to the one who is Baptized. God does the doing. And God doing the doing means that it is done.
Faith takes this to be so. Unbelief does not. Unbelief wants proof, evidence, and verifiability. It wants to see and know for itself with tangible kinds of evidence that can be handled, felt, and experienced. It doesn’t go on what another says. It goes by what is felt in the heart, seen with the eyes, and known in the mind according to reason. Such was the case with Thomas. Whereas unbelief trusts what it knows according to the senses, faith in God rests in God and His Word, hoping for what it does not see and resting in another’s Word and Promise and not its own (Romans 8:24-25).
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve disciples of our Lord, was a man with a nature such as we too are born with. This one was not with the other disciples when the risen Lord Jesus Christ had first appeared unto to them on that first day of the week called Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord. Though the others had certainly told Him the good news that Christ Jesus was alive and no longer dead, this news and their words fell on deaf ears. Thomas did not believe them. With hard-headedness and in unbelief did Thomas, one of the Lord’s chosen disciples, say that he would not believe that the Lord had risen form the dead, unless he would see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place his finger into the mark of the nails, and place his hand into his side (John 20:25).
This is a sure sign, not of doubt, but of stubborn unbelief, unbelief that denies the word of not only one voice, but several voices testifying to what had indeed been seen. So much for the picture of a Holy Saint Thomas who believed what was told him and had not a thread of sinning unbelief yet in his heart! But what of St. Peter, who dared rebuke the Lord Jesus for speaking the truth of what was to be, that Jesus was to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21)? What of him who also denied the Lord three times and all who scattered like sheep when their shepherd Jesus was struck and arrested (Matthew 26:31, 56)?
Holy Scripture reveals such testimony of God’s people, and even His disciples, as sinners, sinners to whom God is gracious and kind, yet sinners who remain sinners, sinners with failings and weaknesses, sinners who doubt and even disbelieve God’s Word and promise. This is given for your comfort and for help, for you, like the examples of God’s people in the Testaments, both Old and New, are of the same flesh and blood. You too do not believe as you ought. You have been given the witness of Christ risen from the dead, but you still at times fear. You are at times uncertain. You at times give in to temptation. Though you have God’s Word placed before you, it is not always evident that you are full of confidence and have complete trust in God’s Word alone all times and in all places.
2 The grace of God and the blessing of faith given from Him through His Son
But you, like Thomas and others throughout the Bible, are not left without help. Yur Lord is compassionate to the troubled, kind to the meek, and gentle to the lowly (Matthew 11:29). The stubborn He reproves and the exalted He humbles (Mathew 23:12). Our Lord did not leave Thomas in unbelief, for Jesus had surely known what state Thomas was in on that eighth day when He appeared unto him an declared, 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 20:27). But these were not Jesus’ first words to Thomas and the disciples on that day. Jesus’ first words were as the week before, but now Thomas also heard for himself and with His own ears that word which first proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). That word was peace.
Peace unto you, Jesus said, who also stood in their midst, not as one dead, but as one who had died and was now risen from the dead (John 20:26). With these words, Jesus calmed their fears and put to rest their anxieties. Also for Thomas. And also for you.
The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead is no myth, untrue event, or merely a teaching of what some had believed to have happened, but with no basis in reality. Thomas and the other disciples had seen the Lord with their own eyes. Thus does John write in his first letter, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
The Word of life that John speaks of is none other than Christ, the crucified Christ, the risen from the dead Christ. Jesus who once was dead has burst forth from His three day prison. If it had not been so, utterly vain and futile would our faith in a dead savior truly be, and more pitiable than all men would we be. But now Christ is risen from the dead! (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 20)
No longer are you in our sins. Christ has conquered death. This means your life. The Good News is true. Fear and anxiety is cast aside in the resurrected glory of Christ who has overcome death and the grave and through whom you too overcome death and the grave. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead means your bodily resurrection from the dead, which means that you need not fear death and the fear of death, for these Christ has overcome and swallowed up in His victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Holy Scripture testifies to the Good News of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and that peace with God through Jesus which the world cannot give and which passes all human understanding. And through God’s Word preached and proclaimed, Christ speaks peace to your heart, blesses you with confidence before God in Jesus Christ, and gives you His grace and favor. Unbelief is replaced by faith in God’s Son for your salvation, not because you see, but by God bringing about that faith in you through His mighty and effective spirit and life Word (John 6:63). By means of that Word, God creates faith within your heart that you believe what you have not seen and trust alone in His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God does not leave you on our own. He does not abandon you to unbelief. Rather does He, by means of His Holy Word, call you to the truth. In His Word, you know that Christ is for you and not against you, Christ dying your death and Christ in the grave no longer. But go not by His Word, and on your own and in your sin you will continue to be. But thanks be to God! God has revealed His Son that you not remain in sin, but have eternal life. Christ comes to you, revealing Himself as your risen Savior. In Him is true confidence of a loving God and sure hope of the life to come.
3 The purpose for the Gospel of St. John, indeed, for all of the Holy Scriptures generally
The Thomas in our text did not believe until the Lord showed Himself to him. But the Lord was kind and gentle to the troubled Thomas who trusted not in the word of others but only the self-seeking evidence of his own heart. Jesus appeared to Thomas, nail prints, spear mark, and all. And then did Thomas confess with his mouth what certainly was believed in His heart of Jesus, My Lord and My God! (John 20:28). He confessed what was right and true because the Lord revealed to Him what was so. He denied it not any longer.
And that you may continue in the confession of Thomas, saying with him, My Lord and My God unto Jesus Christ, Jesus reveals Himself to you, too. By means of His Word, even the testimony of the Apostles and prophets, God makes known unto you that we are indeed sinners, but sinners for whom Christ died. These things, writes St. John, are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you have life in His Name (John 20:31). You stumble and fall, but your Lord who comes unto you is gentle and kind. He speaks to you the word of peace; peace with God, sins forgiven, and life everlasting in Christ Jesus. He gives you His Word, that you hold to it and believe it, trusting His promises. And thereby does He give you certainty of His favor and mercy. Amen.
The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.