Thomas Wants a Real God
St. John 19:20-31
April 24, 2022 anno Domini
If you are named Thomas this is your least favorite Sunday of the Church year. On this Second Sunday of Easter we always hear about Thomas. Thomas wasn’t in church. Thomas missed Jesus. Thomas doubted.
As a pastor I have thoroughly enjoyed throwing Thomas under the bus. Where was Thomas? Was he out fishing one last time on the ice, nailing those big bluegills? Was he watching his daughter play travel basketball? Was it just too cold or too wet to go? As a pastor I have never ever faced the temptation to skip church so it’s really fun to use Thomas talk about other people’s sins.
But then this week I was reading some old Lutheran preacher who said, “The Lord arranged for Thomas not to be there.” Wait? What? The Lord was responsible for Thomas not being there. Does that mean when you’re not here, it’s the Lord’s doing? Absolutely not. If you can be in the Lord’s house and you are not – that’s on you, that’s third commandment sin, that’s not God’s doing. What that old preacher meant was Thomas was not there so that the Lord might do something through Thomas, with Thomas for us. The Lord worked it so Thomas wasn’t there on Easter 1 so he would be there on Easter 2 and we might learn from it.
Why would the Lord arrange for Thomas to miss Jesus appearing to the twelve? For us. Have you ever faced doubts about the faith you confess or the God in whom you believe? Have you ever begged God to do something real about your very real troubles? Have you ever been afraid of the enemies of God in the world, but also ashamed at your own cowardice to confess the truth of God’s Word?
Well, now you fit in perfectly with Thomas and the 12.
St. John calls that group in the upper room the 12, even though there are only 10 of them. Saint John’s use of twelve reminds us of that Old Testament family of Joseph – 12 brothers. They too thought one of them was dead – Joseph, whom they sold into slavery. When the brothers saw Joseph alive, they begged for mercy. Their consciences had troubled them for years. They had plotted to kill him. Reuben saved his life, but couldn’t save him from being sold into slavery which was Judah’s idea. They lied to their father year after year after year. The twelve sons of Jacob are like the twelve in the upper room. They had all fled. Peter had lied about knowing Jesus. They doubted the women’s words. They were afraid to face the Jews and Jesus. Joseph showed his brothers mercy because God had worked good through their evil. Jesus called the twelve His brothers and the first word He spoke to them was “peace.”
Peace is the forgiveness for their denying Him, doubting His Word, fearing the Jews. Peace is the declaration that the debt of their sin (and yours) is paid. Death has lost its grip, and the Devil has been beaten. Jesus’ Word, His presence, His orders to forgive and not forgive, brought them to life. They were newborn in their faith and just like any newborns they cried out. They cried out to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.”
Most people see Thomas’ response as unChristian. Unless I see His wounds and touch Him I will never believe. In Greek you can use double negatives so Thomas says, “I will not never believe.” The threat of not never believing is not Godly, but Thomas’ desire for a real, risen, flesh and blood Savior is. Thomas has real sins, and he needs real forgiveness. He has real doubts, and he needs real proof. At one time he had a faith that was ready to die with Jesus and now his faith is almost dead because he thinks Jesus is dead.
Some people think that to be a Christian you need to set aside common sense and reason. If you’re Christian, you’re just buying into another new life myth created because in the Springtime everything comes to life again. Thomas used his reason. If Jesus had really risen from the dead than a guy ought to be able to put his finger in the nail holes and put his hand in Jesus’ side. If the resurrection is a myth cooked up by the 12 to take over the world and make lots of money for themselves then you would see evidence of that. If Jesus really rose you would see evidence of that. Thomas says, “Show me what’s real.” And for his real doubts and our real doubts Thomas gets a real Jesus. A myth doesn’t have nail holes in his hands, doesn’t speak and stand in front of you, inviting you to touch and feel and probe.
The Gospel accounts are full of abundant reasonable evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. The Jews and the Soldiers had control of the body, but they never produced the dead body after the tomb was found empty. The cowardly disciples, including doubting Thomas, became bold confessors of the truth. They went from fearing death to facing death for their confession. A catalog of witnesses was ready and willing to be questioned about seeing Jesus alive.
Faith can be reasonable, to a point. Faith can be reasonable about facts and knowledge, but faith is beyond reason when it comes to trust. Jesus did this for those cowardly disciples and Thomas who did not believe and for you in your sin and doubt. Faith must silence reason when reason says your problems can be solved by living long enough or getting rich enough or being popular enough. Faith must silence reason when it says God wants you to be happy. God isn’t interested in your happiness. He wants to give you joy that you’re alive again. Peace that your sins are forgiven, and your conscience is clean and that the better days of your resurrection are coming.
Jesus wants to give you real hope when you really sin, or get real test results that you have cancer, or get the news that a loved one really died. That’s what happens day in and day out in the real world and there’s only one real answer. Jesus appeared to the 12 and then He appeared to Thomas. He breathed on the disciples. He invited Thomas to touch His nail scarred hands and spear scarred side. Jesus isn’t some hopeful myth that evaporated into history. Week after week He still comes into the little room of our fears and sins and He breathes on us His forgiveness and invites us to eat His very real body and blood for life and salvation. Thank God Thomas wasn’t there that first Easter service so Jesus could show him and us His hands and side and we could be confident that our Savior, our peace and our life is real. In the name of Jesus. Amen.