Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
Last Sunday we saw the triumphant resurrection of Christ. With it brought new life for all people, believer and non-believer alike. But with it also came fear. The disciples were gathered behind locked doors. They had just experienced a very exciting and soul-riveting few days. Mary Magdalene had discovered an empty tomb and told this to Simon Peter and John. The two disciples had gone with Mary to the tomb to see for themselves what she had told them. They also found an empty tomb but did not understand. Mary later saw Jesus and then told the disciples, which brought them together in the locked room. Someone had taken Jesus. The disciples were afraid. Look what happened to Jesus, the same could happen to them. They could be crucified for their part in Jesus’ heretical teaching. The best thing for them to do is hide out until this blew over.
So here you have the disciples, locked away in some room where no one can get to them. No one, that is, except Jesus. The disciples obviously had a lack of faith. They had been with Jesus for three years. They had seen His actions, heard His teachings and received His body and blood less than a week before. Now their faith was gone. Their Teacher was dead and the authorities could be coming after them next. All was lost according to them.
While they were eating and fearing for their lives while trying to make sense of everything that had taken place, Jesus appears in the room. The doors are locked, the windows are closed. There was no way for Jesus to get into the room. He says four simple words to them: “Peace be with you.” Here is the risen Lord, after everything that has happened, coming to His disciples and giving them a greeting of pure Gospel. He forgives their sins and declares that all is well. With this greeting, they now know that there is no reason why they should be fearful of their lives.
Now if walking into a room that was locked up tighter than Fort Knox didn’t convince them that it was truly Jesus, He shows them His hands and sides. If you didn’t believe it was Christ before, you have to believe it now. And when they saw His wounds, they were overjoyed. They had never before experienced this much joy. Here is the risen Christ standing right before them. Jesus appeared again and again, intensifying faith and joy, until nothing could even disturb the solid certainty.
Jesus speaks again. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Here it is, the Gospel charge. We’ve seen what Christ was all about for three years, we’ve seen His miracles, heard His teachings, and seen His death and now His resurrection. So what are we supposed to do? As Christians, it is our charge to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ, of His life, death and resurrection and what that entails: the forgiveness of sins.
When Christ breathes on them the Holy Spirit, He gives them the Office of the Keys, a permanent bestowal on all Christians. He gives all Christians the ability to forgive sins. On Calvary, Christ attained redemption, justification, reconciliation, and forgiveness of sins for all men. It is our duty as forgiven Christians to proclaim that message to other Christians and to non-believers: Christ has forgiven your sins, go and sin no more.
Thomas wasn’t with the disciples the first time they saw Jesus. We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but when they told him, he wouldn’t believe what they had told him. How often do we not believe? If I told you the sky was falling, would you believe me? If I was just outside and I saw the sky falling, would you believe me? Why would you doubt? You mean to tell me the only way that you’ll believe is if you go outside yourself and see the sky falling? Of course, the sky isn’t falling, but you doubted what I said. Was there any truth to what I said? Of course not, but you still had that little bit of doubt. The same was true for Thomas. He wanted to see the nail marks, put his fingers there and put his hand into the side of Christ. Unless he could do that, he doubted; there was no way that that could be true.
The following week when Thomas was with the disciples, Christ appeared to them again. The conditions were the same. The house was locked; there was no way of entry. Jesus enters and again speaks to the disciples: “Peace be with you!” Then Jesus addressed Thomas personally. He told him to do exactly what he needed to do to believe. But Jesus tells Thomas something else: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” He told that to Thomas because he had seen the wounds of Christ, he saw Christ standing in front of him. There was no longer any reason for him to doubt. But Jesus also tells us that today. The only reason for us to doubt is stubbornness. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” You don’t have to see everything to believe it, especially when it comes to Scripture. If it’s in the Bible, it’s true, because God has declared it to be so. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You see, one does not have “to see it to believe it”, like the saying goes. Everything you need to believe in is already written here. If you believe, you have life in Jesus’ Name.
Today’s Gospel gives us an account of the great gifts that Jesus desires for us. He patiently ignored the doubting hearts of all the disciples in order to show them His risen body. Then He sent those disciples to be apostles so that the church down through the ages would have the very word of God through the mouths and pens of those apostles. He puts His own forgiveness – the very forgiveness that He earned with His life’s blood on the tree of the cross – He puts that forgiveness into the mouths of the faithful pastors of His church. In all these ways, He sends the Holy Spirit to establish and strengthen our faith – the very faith that believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and receives all the gifts that Christ gives to us.
Today’s account from the Gospel shows us how gracious Jesus is – not only with Thomas, but with all of the disciples. Even though the disciples denied and abandoned Jesus – even though they believed He was dead and gone – even though they continued to sin daily, Jesus did not reject them. Instead, He made them part of His plan to proclaim the Gospel to the world.
From this Gospel account we learn that Jesus does not deal with us as we deserve, but He is gracious. He seeks us out as sheep who have gone astray. In spite of our many failings and sins, He continues to supply us with His loving and gracious forgiveness. In spite of our many failings, He has chosen to make us His forever. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.