Welcome to worship today as we continue our Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection! And welcome if you’re listening on the radio. Today in the Gospel of John, we heard the story of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples---and of one disciple who wasn’t quite ready to believe it was true.
What an experience that must have been! To see Jesus alive and well after his horrible suffering and death!
And look at what Jesus does first in meeting his disciples---
John 20:19-20 “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
By this Easter Sunday night, we read that Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdelene earlier in this chapter of John 20. We hear of Jesus walking with 2 of his followers on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. There’s also a brief reference to Jesus appearing to
Peter in Luke 24. So the disciples know something amazing has happened, but the door is still locked. They are still afraid and uncertain what to make of it all.
But look at what Jesus does first---He gives them his peace. The Jewish greeting of “Shalom” is about much more than the absence of war. It’s a greeting offering wishes of completeness, wholeness, well-being, calm. Peace in every way. Jesus is saying “I come in peace. I’m not angry that you all deserted me at the cross and I am here to calm your fears.”
And then he shows them his hands and his side---proving that he is not a ghost, a vision, or a dream. He has a physical body. He showed them his physical scars.
Jesus’ resurrection body is clearly one that is recognized as being his. But he can also pass through locked doors. He appears as he will, not bound by time and space.
John 20:21-22 “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus again reassures them of the gift of his peace. But then he gets right to the point. This resurrection appearance is not just to reassure the disciples, it is to give them their mission. They are to carry on what Jesus has been doing.
---Now since Jesus has just been crucified for doing the Father’s will, hearing that they were called to do the same would have been a formidable message to hear. But notice what comes right after that---Jesus says “receive the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, Jesus says---you can only do this if you do it with the power of my Spirit. So this is a kind of preview of Pentecost when God sends the Holy Spirit to be with all his followers.
And what will be central to their mission will be carrying the message of God’s forgiveness---
John 20:23 “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
He is giving the disciples the job of declaring God’s forgiveness through Jesus to all the world. They have the awesome responsibility to get the word out.
Then we come to the part of the story related to Thomas.
John 20:24-25 “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
For some reason Thomas wasn’t there that night Jesus appeared to the disciples.
John 20:26-28 “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
What are we modern people supposed to make of this? How would we react? Hard to say until you’re in the situation. I mean, the Lord has created us with minds that are capable of excellent reasoning. We gather information and use our reason to make conclusions. Great things happen when human minds are put to good use. Medical advances. Musical masterpieces like the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Writers like CS Lewis illuminating the Christian faith.
We have been given the ability to reason for a reason. But we also need to learn that as beings created by God, that we are not God ourselves, and that God can use his power to act in ways far outside of our reason and experience.
I mentioned in the sermon on Maundy Thursday to our young people who received their first communion, that it’s OK that we can’t explain exactly how Jesus is with us as we share the bread and wine. But Jesus has said he will be with us in Holy Communion.
So there are times that it is reasonable to believe things to be true that go beyond our ability to reason. Because God is not bound by the same laws of nature that we are.
So back to Doubting Thomas. Who gave him that name? Probably some preacher. He’s called Didymus in John 20 which means “the twin”. Being a twin has nothing to do with doubting.
Jesus didn’t call him “Doubting Thomas”. The closest he gets to scolding Thomas is in verse 29---
John 20:29 “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It’s not even so much a reprimand Thomas as it is encouragement for those who will come after---for you and me who have not seen Jesus in bodily form.
Doubting Thomas? Why not Loyal Thomas. In John 11 when Jesus said he was going to Judea because Lazarus had died, the disciples warned Jesus that he shouldn’t go. There were people there who had tried to stone him before. But when it became obvious that Jesus was still going, Thomas was the one to say—
John 11:16 “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Why not curious Thomas? Like the time in John 14 when Jesus was describing the home that he was going to prepare for his followers. Thomas was trying to understand, but he wasn’t getting it. Jesus was talking about heaven, but Thomas was thinking of a nice home, maybe a retirement cottage along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said---
John 14:4–6 “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
What about Courageous Thomas? We don’t know many facts about what happened to Thomas after Jesus ascended into heaven, but there are Christian groups today in far-away India that claim Thomas as the one who brought Christ all the way to them. Thomas doubted, but please note that he didn’t get stuck in that doubt. When he finally saw Jesus, he powerfully proclaimed--
John 20:28 “My Lord and my God!”
Why Doubting Thomas? I don’t know but sometimes we humans do seem to like to see others fail, see them fall, see their flaws. Maybe because it’s perversely comforting to know that they’re just like us? It’s big news when the great ones fall---not when they do well.
But notice how Jesus responds to Thomas. He doesn’t scold him for his lack of faith. Thomas had insisted on a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus----Jesus graciously granted Thomas just such an encounter with Him and as a result of that encounter Thomas worshipped the Lord, acknowledging Him to be his Lord and his God.
So how does Jesus respond to us? Does he look at us and only see our flaws and sin? He certainly knows they are there. He knows the pain our sin causes for us and others and for God.
Does he look at us and only see our flaws and sin? No. He looks at every one of you as a child of God, created to receive the blessings of the Father. Your sin doesn’t define you.
Jesus looks at you like he looked at Thomas and he sees a treasured child that he died for. He sees the potential in you that is put there by the Father.
Today he offers you himself. In the meal he has prepared, he offers you an earthly sign of his heavenly love and forgiveness. And in the form of bread and wine, he comes to be truly present with us.
Thomas was blessed to experience the risen Jesus alive and in person. But each of us are also blessed by his gift of true life, eternal life.
John 20:30–31 “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”