Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus Is the Answer to Doubt

Second Sunday of Easter
Quasimodo Geniti
April 7, 2013
Thomas was wrong. We all get that. He’s not known as “Doubting Thomas” for nothing. But it’s too easy to simply think that he was wrong because he doubted. He was wrong, but it’s more important to see how he was wrong. When you do, you might get a better understanding of how it is that you’re wrong. You might come to see not simply that you also doubt your Lord, but why.

The disciples were huddled together. It was the first day of the week. It was Easter Sunday. It was that actual day. Not like the day we celebrated last Sunday, where we rejoiced in what occurred on the first Easter Sunday. This was the actual day, the day Jesus rose from the grave. Where were the disciples? Huddled up, of course. Locked up, afraid the authorities that had come after Jesus would now come after them.

Although they had heard some things. Bits and pieces here and there that Jesus was no longer dead. Peter and John themselves had seen earlier in the day the tomb that had held the body of Jesus now empty. But they had not yet seen Him. Some of the women had. Some of the other followers of Jesus had. But not the Twelve. Not the disciples Jesus would call to be His apostles. They hadn’t seen Him and so they were afraid. Huddled up. Locked inside.

Before we see where Thomas went wrong, perhaps we might be able to see where he was right. While the other disciples were hovering together in fear, Thomas wasn’t. Was he hiding out at home? At a friend’s house? We can’t know where he was, but perhaps he wasn’t afraid as his compadres were. Regardless, when he heard the news, that’s when he refused sound reason. He refused to believe that His Lord made good on His word and rose from the dead.

Yes, he doubted. Don’t we all? Don’t we all have times where we doubt? Doubt can be a tricky thing. It’s easy to club someone over the head for doubt. It’s just as easy to dismiss it as something we all fall into at one time or another. Doubt is a serious thing. But why it is is what we really want to get at today. Thomas doubted, there’s no doubt about that. But why did he doubt? What was at the root of his doubt?

There they were, the Twelve minus Judas and Thomas, and “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [ESV] The first thing Jesus did was come to them and stand among them. That must have been quite a sight. The next thing He did, He who is the Word in the Flesh, was speak to them. “Peace be with you.” You could take this as a sort of blessing. And it certainly is that, “Peace be with you.” But you could also take it as a simple statement of fact. Peace was, in fact, among them, in the flesh. When Jesus was standing among them, Peace had come to them, Peace was in their midst; in the very person of Jesus.

The next thing He did was show them His hands and His side. Jesus of course has no sin in Him, so in a godly and sinless way, this was a sort of, “See, I told you so.” But seriously, all those times Jesus had made known to them that He would incur those scars, that He would suffer those things, and that, yes, He would rise from the dead, showing them His hands and side was a visual speaking to them of reminding them of His promises that were now fulfilled.

So here He was, having come among them, standing before them, speaking to them, granting them peace, and now showing them His hands and side. As if to say, “Go ahead and touch Me. See that I’m real. Feel the actual scars, see for yourself that I’m flesh and blood standing before you.” In other words, “I’ve risen from the dead, you don’t need to fear.” Their reaction wasn’t to touch Him. It was to be glad. They saw Him and heard Him and now they were glad. It was true. They believed.

So now poor Thomas is out in the cold. He hasn’t witnessed this event. At some point during the week they all tell him that they’ve seen Jesus. No, I won’t believe it. Where Jesus was all that week we don’t know. All we know is that a week later they’re all locked up again and thankfully this time Thomas is with them. When Jesus shows up again, Thomas doesn’t have any leg to stand on with his doubts. He sees with his eyes. He hears with his ears. He now believes as the rest of them do.

So where had Thomas gone wrong? We know he doubted, how exactly was it that he doubted? These are his words: “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.” [ESV] First, I have to see it as you say you saw it. You mean to tell me that you would believe me if I had told you that I had seen Him? Second, I have to place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side. I have to touch Him to make sure He’s real. You mean to tell me that you would believe without actually getting physical corroboration in touching Him so that you could actually feel Him? Third, I am placing these conditions on my belief. Unless they happen, I will never believe.

And this is where Thomas went wrong. It’s not just that he doubted. This is how he was wrong, he called the shots. Instead of going back to his Lord’s words, he placed the conditions on whether or not he would believe. That’s not how faith works. That’s a lot more serious than just having some doubts or struggling with certain things in your Christian life.

Then comes the great grace and mercy and love of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to doubt. You have doubts about Him, He is the answer. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he 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.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” [ESV] What did Jesus do first? He came and stood among them. Same as before. What about second? Same thing again, He said, “Peace be with you.”

Then third, He goes to the man of the hour, the man who had set up his conditions, and said, “Okay, Thomas, here you go: Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” He actually went with Thomas’ conditions he had set up. You want to see Me? Here I am. You want to feel Me, make sure I’m real? Here are My hands, here is My side, put your hands there. Do not disbelieve, but believe.

And there is no sign that Thomas did any of those things. The Gospel reading simply states that Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” He saw Jesus, He heard Him, He believed. His serious doubt was answered by the living Lord standing before him. Thomas was wrong not simply because he doubted. He was wrong because he went on his own reason rather than on the word of his Lord. His Lord offered to him nothing other than His Word. He, being the Word in the flesh, was the answer to Thomas’ doubt.

Jesus was his Lord, and his God. Thomas didn’t, after all, need to touch Jesus to see that He was real; that He was alive; that He was his Lord and his God. All he needed was his Lord. All he needed was the Word, the Word made flesh. That’s why Jesus came to the disciples and to Thomas after His resurrection. He had promised He would rise again, and so now here He was showing them that He had.

There aren’t many recorded instances of Jesus hanging out with the disciples, or other of His followers, after His resurrection. But there don’t need to be. Jesus’ words and the apostle John’s words in the Gospel reading tell us all we need to know about our doubts, about our questions, about our faith. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [ESV] John wrote: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [ESV] Blessed are you. You haven’t seen Him as the disciples did and as Thomas did. But you believe. This is faith that, as John says in the Epistle reading, overcomes the world. If it were simply by sight, even the disciples wouldn’t have much to go on, as Jesus only a short while later ascended into heaven, removed from their sight. No, they continued to believe, even though their risen Lord was now the ascended Lord.

They continued to believe because their Lord was the Word in the flesh. Though He ascended into heaven, He continues to come to us as the Word in the flesh. We don’t see Him, but we believe in Him. We have doubts, but He answers those doubts by giving to us Himself. All our doubt is answered in Him. We don’t see Him, but we hear Him. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. Seeing is not believing, but hearing is. Our Lord and our God comes to us in the proclamation of the Gospel. Our Lord and our God unites Himself to us in Baptism. Our Lord and our God gives us His very body and His very blood in and with bread and wine. It’s as if He says, in directing our eyes to the bread and wine of His Holy Supper, “See My body that was offered on the cross; see My blood which was poured out of My side when I was dead.” Touch and taste and drink.

When the Gospel is proclaimed into your ear, when the words of Christ were spoken at your Baptism, when you eat and drink the bread and wine of your Lord’s Holy Supper, you don’t see Him with your eyes. You don’t physically touch Him and feel Him. But you believe in Him. He is your Lord and your God. You have doubts, but Jesus is the answer to your doubts. You have questions, you don’t understand it all, but He is the answer to your questions and your limited understanding. He is your Lord and your God. Though you don’t see Him, blessed are you. Amen.


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