Easter 2011 Year A
May 1, 2011
In the name of our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
That is a beautiful phrase. He is risen! A phrase that can only be understood properly and fully by hearing it explained to you. He is risen, is not a phrase that we can understand by seeing it on a billboard, on a bumper sticker, or in the newspaper. Just like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, who needed Philip to explain the scriptures to him, we need to hear what ‘He is risen’ means. We need to hear it for our hearts to believe. When it comes to faith we have hearing hearts, hearts that don’t have eyes, but ears.
Take, for example, Thomas, called Didymus, or the Twin, in this morning’s Gospel lesson. He more than doubted that Jesus had risen on that first Easter Sunday. He didn’t believe the eyewitnesses of his brothers. He needed to hear the Lord speak to have faith, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. So, allow me to back up by about a week, to the beginning of this morning’s Gospel.
Here we are on the evening of the first Easter. Jesus’ disciples are present and accounted for, well at least ten of the twelve are. Judas the betrayer is not there, nor would he be because he already hanged himself. That leaves one disciple living but not present, Thomas. Now, those present are behind locked doors for fear of the Jews and what would happen to them.
Then out of nowhere Jesus appears before the ten in the middle of this room that had those locked doors. Luke says that the men there were frightened because they thought they saw a spirit. The men were just like Mary Magdalene who, while at the grave was talking to Jesus but thought He was the gardener, or the disciples on the road to Emmaus who spoke with Jesus but didn’t realize it was Him until He broke bread with them. These disciples needed to hear Jesus speaking even though they saw Him physically standing there, right before their very eyes.
These men were so distraught they couldn’t recognize their dear friend. It wasn’t until the voice of the risen Lord said “Peace be with you” that these men stopped being afraid and believed that it was Jesus, their crucified and risen Savior, speaking with them and standing in front of them. Then the ten knew for certain that John and Peter’s eyes or minds weighed down with grief weren’t playing tricks on them at the grave earlier that morning, or that Mary had not lost her marbles and thought that a gardener was Jesus, and not the other way around. No, it was the voice of Jesus, standing in the middle of a locked room.
What makes these ten men different than Thomas, also called Didymus, the Twin? Saint Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of St. John said; “Yet,” saith some one, “the disciples saw and believed.” Yes, but they sought nothing of the kind, but from the proof of the napkins, they straightway received the word concerning the Resurrection, and before they saw the body, exhibited all faith.”
That is to say, the disciple’s knew that Jesus had risen, but they needed to hear Him speak so they didn’t think that He was some apparition, or some trick played on them by the devil.
Was this a physical standing? I mean did Jesus actually appear before them in flesh and blood? How could a man of flesh and blood just appear in the middle of a locked room? Skeptics would say that ‘If Jesus was resurrected in flesh and blood, He must of been hiding in the room behind the coat rack, behind a curtain or under the table while the disciples gathered waiting for the time to jump out or to make His presence known. Or maybe there was a back entrance that was unlocked that the disciples didn’t know about. Maybe Jesus even switched places with a man who looked like him and let that man die on the cross while Jesus was waiting around for the right time to reappear to show that He had resurrected.’
No, that’s not what the text says. John is pretty specific, “Jesus came and stood among them.” John also says that Jesus spoke with them, showed them his hands and his pierced side from where water and blood flowed. He even breathed on them. Now do any of those actions sound like a spirit or someone that wasn’t flesh and blood.
Make no mistake about it, it was the speaking that calmed these men down, that eased their troubled hearts and took their souls’ burdens away. It was the clear and resounding voice of Jesus saying ‘Peace be with you’ that gave these men peace, when nothing else would do. It was at hearing their Savior’s voice that these men knew that Jesus had arisen, just like he said he would and that He was standing before them at that very moment instead of some spirit.
Then eight long days pass by. The ten disciples tell Thomas what has happened in that locked room. They tell him about what Jesus had told them about the Office of the Holy Ministry, how he appeared in the middle of the room from nowhere, and how he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, Thomas, the disciple who just a few weeks before, said in John chapter 11, “Let us also go that we may die with Him,” did not believe his brothers’ eye-witness accounts. What happened? This disciple of Jesus had gone from wanting to die with Jesus, to being openly defiant, antagonistic and a pagan in eight days after the resurrection when he said, “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.
It’s as if Thomas is saying, “Look guys, I get what you’re trying to tell me. I believe that you are fully convinced that what you are saying is true. But you are crazy. There is no way that Jesus, who is dead, appeared before you in flesh and blood. You must have seen a ghost, or Jesus hired some guy who looked like Him to appear to come and talk with you. Even if what you say is true, which it isn’t, I still won’t believe even if Jesus shows me his hands and side, even if I touch them. There’s nothing you can say that will change my hardened heart. There is no way that I’m ever going to believe anything that you have to say, so just drop it.”
For all of you who think that Thomas was only doubting and that he needed his faith confirmed, get that notion and thought out of your heads right now. Thomas wasn’t doubting. He went beyond doubting, past denial and straight on into unbelief, as in being damned for his unbelief. In short, at that moment, Thomas had no salvation, much like those skeptics who believe that Jesus couldn’t have been raised, or if He was raised, could appear inside of a locked room if He wanted to.
Thomas, at that moment, had no faith to speak of. This man who spent three years with Jesus, talking with him, listening to him, doing miraculous healings and casting out demons in His name, stopped believing in only eight days. … But only through the grace of God, was not all hope for Thomas lost.
Fast-forward to the start of this sermon and Thomas is with the ten disciples, most likely in the same room as before. The doors were once again locked. Jesus again appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the room. Just like before in that room Jesus said ‘Peace be with you.’
Jesus then 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.”
It was this hearing of the voice of the risen Savior, Jesus Christ that put Thomas’ unbelief to death. Hearing those words of his savior, Thomas believed. His faith was made secure. It was so secure that he said “My Lord, my God!” If anything the touching of Jesus, if he actually did touch Jesus, was icing on the cake – the final bit of confirmation to Thomas who was saved because Jesus Christ came to him.
That’s right. Thomas, this disciple who went from faith, to pagan unbelief, was saved because Jesus came to him, and gave Him faith, not the other way around. Thomas didn’t search Jesus out. He didn’t spiritually accept Jesus into his heart, or pray the sinner’s prayer. Thomas heard the voice of Jesus Christ, physically standing before him in flesh and blood say ‘Peace be with you,’ and Thomas finally knew that his fellow disciples were right all along, and that he was idiot for turning his back on his faith.
We all know people like Thomas. We might even be one of those people right now. Constantly waiting for a sign. Saying that we will only believe enough to be a good person as far as the world is concerned, but as far as being saved goes, you want physical, tangible proof. And the Word of God in the Scriptures just isn’t enough proof for you.
You say this while ignoring the proof that God has already given to you. God gives you your reason and your senses and still takes care of them. He provides everything that you need for your body and your soul.
Jesus tells Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have not seen Jesus standing in front of you, with nail pierced hands and split side. But you have heard His Words. His Word of ‘Peace be with you.’ His Word of ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ You have His Word tell you that are forgiven, and that you are a child of God. Your heart has heard these things, and it believes because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
When I, your minister, or any minister, stand before you at the beginning of the service, after you have confessed your sins of thought, word and deed, absolve you. I am fulfilling what Christ says in verse 23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
I, and my fellow ministers in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are called and ordained servants of Christ, who by the stead and the command of Jesus forgive you all of your sins. I am a steward of Christ and give His forgiveness to you, without any merit or worthiness found within you. Just like Joseph the son of Jacob spoke in Egypt for the Pharaoh, I speak the forgiveness that Christ alone gives, the forgiveness that He won on the cross for you. When He alone paid the price and the penalty for your sins.
This is why we ask at the end of Private Confession, do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness? It is because Christ is there working through me and my voice, forgiving you, in a way that your hearing heart can know that Christ died and rose for you. That Christ alone forgives you, and that through Him you have eternal life.
Rejoice, because He is risen! Let your heart hear the word of Christ that says “Peace be with you,” today and always. Amen.