Doubting Doubting Thomas
April 22, 2017
Verse: John 20:25
Christ Lutheran Church
April 23, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Doubting, Doubting Thomas
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will never believe. John 20:25
Sometimes the church lives in an echo chamber. What someone else has said before others repeat without giving any real thought to the matter. Today’s gospel is just such a case. But if we will look at it with fresh eyes we may find that “doubting Thomas” is not the brute that many suppose him to be. But a shining example of Christian faith to be honored and emulated by all.
As the story goes Thomas was not with the disciples on Easter evening when the Lord made his blessed appearance. When he came to them through locked doors to bring them heavenly peace. But later when Thomas did show up the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, to which he makes his famous reply, “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."
We also learn that a week later the disciples were again huddled together, only this time Thomas was with them. Once again Jesus passes through locked doors. Once again he imparts heavenly peace to calm their troubled hearts!
And it is here that Jesus invites Thomas to do exactly what he insisted on doing: to put his fingers into the holes made by the nails, and to thrust his hand into the Lord’s side torn open by the Roman spear. And it is upon Thomas’ “baptism” into the Lord’s death, and this “holy communion” with the Lord’s flesh, that Jesus says to Thomas, “don’t be faithless, but be faithful.” To which Thomas exclaims: My Lord and my God!
But what do we make of all this? Is Thomas faithless Philistine that preachers make him out to be? Or is he in fact a shining example of Christian faith to be honored and imitated by all? And … are the Lord’s words here a rebuke? Or are they, in fact, a benediction. The same one spoken to us still today as we emerge from the water, and rise to leave the rail with the very body and blood of our Lord, warm upon our tongues?
Let us consider the facts.
First we note that Thomas was not going to believe a verbal report, even if it came from his fellow disciples, if that is all there was to it. This is not to suggest that the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is to be ignored. Not at all. In our catechism we confess that it is our duty to: “gladly hear and learn it”. But we need to remember what Thomas already knew: that there is more to Christian revelation than words alone.
In the Lord’s day there were miracles which were manifestations of divine power and divine love for those who were oppressed by sin, death and Satan. If miracles are less common today it is only because the word of St. James is still true, that “you have not because you ask not!” (James 4:2) And so, “ask and it will be given you.” (Matthew 6:6)
But what is even more misconstrued than the Lord's miracles, are the sacraments he established, holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Given so that we, like Thomas, might “have communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3) Communion through all of our senses, and not just with our ears.
If you think about it the greatest challenge that Lutherans face today does not come from Rome, as it did in the 16th century. But from those sects and denominations that champion a Jesus that exists only within the mind and emotions of their people. His wounds are a matter of history and inaccessible to them. But that is NOT the Jesus we learn from not-so-doubting Thomas.
What’s the point? Simply this. That if you want to know the Jesus who was crucified for your sins, and raised for your justification. The Jesus who sits at the Right Hand of the Father interceding for you. The Jesus for whom holy martyrs shed their blood, and still do today. Then you must believe in him not on the basis of words alone (not “sola scriptura), but you must come to him, and have true fellowship with him by the Sacraments he established. By baptism and the Lord’s Supper, just like Thomas did.
How is such an interpretation possible? Let’s do the math.
First we need to realize that Jesus as we encounter him before the resurrection, and after the resurrection, is very different! Not a different person, but different in form. Before the resurrection the Lord operates within the limits of time and space as we know it; but after the resurrection, he does not!
Now he comes through locked doors, and then disappears from sight. Now he suddenly appears on the “road” to Emmaus, but remains unknown by his followers until the “Emmaus Eucharist,” wherein they recognize their Lord “in the breaking of the bread.”
Thomas experiences the same reality as the Emmaus disciples when he places his fingers into the Lord’s hands, and plunges his hand into his wounded side.
But then what is meant by the Lord’s words, “Be not faithless, but faithful? We should not hear these words as a rebuke, but as a benediction. Now that Thomas has experienced baptism “into” the body of Christ, literally; and holy communion with the flesh of Jesus; he is no longer an outsider. No longer “faithless,” but now “full of faith.” A full-fledged partaker of “the New Testament in my blood.” It is the same benediction Jesus speaks over you as you commune with his flesh at the altar today.
And what of the Lord’s word, “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Since we are limited by time let us simply say that in the 40 days between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension Jesus was, by these appearances, transferring his bodily presence to the Sacraments. We don’t see Jesus as Thomas did, in human form, but under the forms of bread and wine just like St. John states in today’s epistle (1 John 5:8), and we are blessed because of it, just like St. Thomas.
These are our communion, our "interface" with the crucified and resurrected Lord for now, Dear Christians; and any attempt to practice Christian religion by preaching and bible study alone is a distinctly sectarian notion; and sectarianism is a sin.
But isn’t the Word alone sufficient, you might ask? It depends on what you mean by “sufficient.” As the Sacraments are powerless without the revealed Word of God in Sacred Scripture, even so the Word mean little without the Sacraments. This is why we cannot practice our religion over the internet, radio, television or solely within our minds. There is no such thing as “virtual reality” when it comes to salvation. The church never has, nor ever will be able to operate except in person. Except where the baptized are assembled with their called and ordained “Angel” (Revelation 2:1 et. al.); who is charged by God, and responsible to God, to administer the Word and the Sacraments; and to stand guard over them.
And so may we learn from Thomas today to accept no other Lord than the glorified Lord who speaks to us in his Word; who baptizes us into his wounds; and whose flesh we eat, and whose blood we drink at the altar every Sunday of our blessed lives. Amen.