O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
A Skeptical Disciple A Certain Word
A Skeptical Disciple A Certain Word
Based on John 20:19-31
Preached on April 23, 2017
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
Fellow baptized saints, it’s Easter evening. Still the first day of the week. Sunday, we call it -the first day of the new creation. Jesus had risen. The women had seen him. The word was circulating. (brief pause) And the disciples were holed up behind locked doors – in fear. The word was out. Empty tomb. There would be investigations and interrogations. The same people who crucified Jesus would surely come after them. You can understand their fears. We live behind locked doors for a lot less.
Jesus appears among them. He doesn’t climb through the window or knock at the door. Who would answer anyway? He simply appears. He’s the Lord. He can do that. And He can do that and be fully human at the same time. I say that because of those who say that you can’t just appear out of nowhere and be fully human because that’s not being human. But then, when God and Man are united in one Person, and He no longer has His divine hand tied behind His back, all bets are officially off. Jesus can do with His humanity whatever He pleases. And what pleases Him is to appear to His band of fearful disciples.
“Peace be with you.” The first words out of His mouth are words of peace. And unlike our words, His words carry divine weight. They do what they say, just as they did in the beginning of Genesis where God spoke and it was so. “Let there be light,” and Light there is. Peace be with you, and peace there is. This is the peace the world cannot give, the peace Jesus promised to His disciples before His death, the peace that comes because of His death. This is no idle wish. He shows them His hands and His side. These are the source of His peace – His wounds, the marks of His death. By His death He conquered Sin and Death. By His death He reconciled the world to His Father. By His death comes a peace that surpasses our understanding.
They were glad. Who wouldn’t be? It was the Lord. You couldn’t mistake Him. He’s the one with the wounds. He died and rose, just as He said He would. He has the wounds to prove it. Whatever sorrow and fear they had - melted away instantly. His words and wounds bring peace and joy.
“Peace be with you.” He says it again. Didn’t the first time work? Of course it did! But now something more. He sends them. “As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus is the Apostle of the Father, and now He sends His disciples as His apostles. Sent ones sent with His authority.
And then He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” A little preview of Pentecost. At Pentecost, 50 days from that night, the Spirit would come on the whole church. Here, the apostles. This is their ordination. With His words and His breath, Jesus ordains them to be His authorized representatives, to speak in His stead and by His command. And what does Jesus speak through them? What does He want heard from His apostles’ mouths? Forgiveness. The justification of the sinner. He wants forgiveness to be spoken. “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Their forgiveness is Jesus’ forgiveness.
“Do you believe the forgiveness I speak to you is God’s forgiveness?” The pastor asks this key question in the liturgy of private confession. You occasionally also hear it in the corporate confession, as you did if you were here on Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday. It’s a question of office and authority. Do you believe that the absolution you hear is from God Himself? Well, you should. It is authorized by the Lord Himself. His office, His words, His breath, His Spirit.
That’s what the office of the holy ministry is all about, and pretty much all that it’s good for. Forgiveness. Or, if you will not be forgiven, then withholding forgiveness. Sins forgiven and sins retained. We call it the “office of the keys” - the keys that lock and unlock heaven itself – for you here on earth - by applying the forgiveness that Jesus won for you by speaking His very own words.
The keys (forgiveness) is all about the words - and the authority they carry. When the words come from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, they pack divine authority. They are the same words that absolved the paralytic and raised him up from his mat - that “you may know that God has given authority on earth to forgive sin.”
The words “I forgive you all of your sins” spoken in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ are the surest words there are on earth. They come by way of the cross and the tomb. They come with Jesus’ breath – and in view of His wounds. They justify the sinner. They are Spirit and they are life, the words of eternal life. Learn to cherish them, believe them, cling to them. If you have nothing else but those words, then you have all that Jesus died to win for you.
Thomas wasn’t there that Sunday. See what happens when you miss church? You miss Jesus’ words, wounds, breath and Spirit. The other disciples told him what happened, but Thomas refused to believe. In fact, he even said, “Unless I touch his hands and side, there’s no way I’ll ever believe it.”
Fortunately for Thomas, he was there the next Sunday. And again Jesus pops in without so much as a knock on the door. “Peace be with you.” And again He shows them those wounds – the nail marks, the spear mark. And then He turns to Thomas. “Go ahead, Thomas. Put your finger here, see my hands. Stick your hand in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.” And Thomas believes - and confesses what he believes: “My Lord and my God.” Notice that Thomas never got around to touching the wounds as he said he wanted to do. Notice also that Jesus knew exactly what Thomas had said, and He granted him his wish.
But faith doesn’t come by touch. Or by sight. Faith comes by hearing. In Thomas’ case, the words of Jesus, “No longer be unbelieving but believe.” We don’t cause our faith; Jesus does with His Word. “Believe.” And Thomas the unbelieving skeptic becomes Thomas the believer, disciple and apostle.
“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asks. The answer is no. Seeing does not make for believing. If Jesus appeared right here in our midst in the same way, but didn’t say anything, it wouldn’t help your faith one bit. In fact, it might cause you to doubt. Was that real? Were you losing your mind? Was it a hallucination? The Word of Jesus is what makes faith happen. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Blessed are those who put their eyes into their ears - and look by listening. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and cling to it.
Blessed are you, right now this morning. You have the words of Jesus. And you have His wounds – His Body and His Blood. They are here on His table – wounds prepared to heal you. And from His wounds, you have His peace, just as I declare it to you in the real presence of His Body and Blood. I even hold it up for you - listen for it. “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Jesus can do with His humanity whatever He pleases. And what pleases Him is to be present among His band of fearful disciples.
There is a Thomas in all of us, I’m afraid. The skeptic, the cynic. Demanding proof, not taking God at His Word. It’s the old Adam who will not believe, who will not trust, who demands that God prove Himself to be true before we will trust Him. Perhaps you have said it yourself. “Unless I see the nail marks, and touch that spear mark, I won’t believe it.” Or perhaps you are like those other disciples. Their sin wasn’t skepticism but fear. They were hiding for fear of men even after they had clearly heard that Death had been swallowed up by Life.
None of Jesus’ disciples believed, or they wouldn’t have been locked up in some room. They didn’t believe what Jesus had told them – even though He told them three times He would die and rise. No. They knew rationally and reasonably that dead men don’t rise from the dead.
They didn’t need convincing. Proof for their reason. No. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” They really didn’t need to see Jesus. They needed to see Him to be eyewitnesses of His resurrection, but they didn’t need to see Him to believe. In fact, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Blessed are those who hear. What they needed were those words: “Peace be with you.” “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “Believe.” “Your sins are forgiven you.”
And that’s what you and I need more than anything. That’s why we gather together here. There isn’t much to see. But there is so much to hear. What you hear now is what they heard then, with all the authority of Jesus’ wounds and breath behind those words. These are the words of Him who died for you:
Peace be with you.
I forgive you all of your sins.
Don’t be unbelieving but believe. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr