The Incredulity of St. Thomas

Based on: John 20:19-31

On the wall of the gymnasium at MVL there is a large reproduction of a famous painting. The painting is called “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” and the original was painted in 1601 by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The painting shows Jesus on that Sunday evening when he returns to see Thomas. He has pulled back the top part of his cloak so Thomas can see the place where the spear pierced him. Jesus has grabbed Thomas’ wrist and gently pulled his hand closer so that Thomas’ finger is in the wound. Thomas and two other disciples are focused intently on the hole in Jesus’ side, but Jesus, with a slight smile, is focused on Thomas.

Here in the story of Thomas, God assures us that this resurrection is not just a fairy tale or a story created to deceive us, but it is the truth. God also assures us through doubting Thomas that all of our sinful doubts are forgiven.

Wasn’t last Sunday glorious? As we read the scriptures and sang our hymns, God told us that Jesus Christ is alive, and because Christ is alive we know our sins are forgiven and that heaven is waiting for us.

We heard about those first witnesses to the resurrection. Do you remember what happened to the women after they went to the tomb and heard the angel tell them that Jesus was alive? On their way back to tell the disciples, they saw Jesus himself. They actually got to touch him and know that he was real.

Then there was Mary Magdalene who had a discussion with Jesus, thinking he was the gardener, until she recognized her Savior. Later that same day, two disciples were walking to Emmaus, and Jesus began to walk with them. Jesus taught them and helped them to understand things that they did not know before. At supper they realized that Jesus was the one talking to them and they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.

In that locked room as the disciples were talking about Jesus with the two who just came back from Emmaus, Jesus appeared to them. By the way, isn’t that exactly what Jesus promised? “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Even now, as we come together to talk about Jesus, he is here with us. His presence here is just as real as his presence was in that locked room with the disciples.

Even though Jesus appeared to many people that first day, there was one disciple who didn’t see Jesus – Thomas. Thomas was not in that locked room that first Easter evening. Wherever he was, he must have gotten an earful when he returned. You know how it is. When there is good news to tell, everyone wants to be the one to share it!

But Thomas was a skeptic. Even though Mary Magdalene, the other women, the two from Emmaus, and the ten other disciples all had seen Jesus alive, and I’m sure Thomas heard their stories, Thomas was not going to believe until he saw it with his own eyes. Incredulous!

There are still plenty of Thomases around today. They will claim that this was an hallucination or that the disciples actually made this story up. It is even becoming more and more popular among Christians to say that this was a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily resurrection – that Jesus rose again as he was remembered by his disciples and his memory was passed on to others. Perhaps that is why some churches have stopped saying in the Apostle’s creed, “The third day he rose again from the dead,” and instead simply say, “The third day he rose again.”

Remember again what happened that first Easter Sunday. Does an hallucination appear to so many people in so many different ways? Can several people all have the same fictitious story play through their minds at the same time? Would a group of people make up this story and then be willing to suffer persecution for the rest of their lives for a lie? No, Jesus Christ is alive. Even Thomas, the premier skeptic of the group was convinced that Jesus Christ came back to life.

Now, take a close look at what Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We know that Jesus Christ is alive because we believe what God says in the pages of Scripture, not because we have seen with our own eyes the logical proof of the resurrection. It is by grace through faith that we are saved.

We are blessed. We have not seen Christ physically stand before us and yet we know through faith that he has won the victory over death and is risen from the dead. God has blessed us with a faith like that, and he continues to bless us through that faith. But we must also exclaim with the man whose son was possessed by a demon, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Even as Christians, there is a little of Thomas in each of us.

Maybe the doubt comes when we feel overwhelmed by guilt over something we have done. Christ’s resurrection means that the payment for sin was made, but our hearts are not quite convinced and our conscience continues to oppress us. Jesus bids us, “Look at the nail marks in my hands. Put your hand in my side.”

Maybe the doubt comes when bad things happen and the temptation plagues our mind, “Where is Jesus? I thought he loved me! Maybe he is still dead after all.” Again Jesus bids us, “Look at the nail marks in my hands. Put your hand in my side.”

Perhaps our doubt of the resurrection shows up most when the news of the resurrection has no impact on our lives. It happens when we let Easter come and go and not give it a second thought. It happens when don’t want others to know we believe in this risen Lord because we are afraid of what they will think of us. We act as if he did not rise and therefore has no power in my life.

After all, what does it mean to stand before Jesus and say, just as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God”? It means that I belong to him. He created me, and he saved me. It means he is everything to me. He is all I need because he is my salvation. It means he takes care of me and protects me. It means I now live for him. As Paul said, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

I say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” and yet I fall far short of all that it means to say those words. I often act and speak as if he is still dead and in the grave. I do not live for him but for myself.

That is when the Savior comes and says, “Peace be with you!” He said that to Thomas, you know. He said that to Thomas even though Thomas doubted that Jesus would keep his promise to rise from the dead. He says that to me and to you. What comforting words those are coming from the risen Lord! “Peace be with you!” It isn’t just a greeting or a pious wish. He isn’t just saying, “Good luck!” These words are said by the one who single-handedly made peace between us and God. These words are said by the one who opened the gates of heaven for us to enter into eternal peace. With these words our Lord doesn’t just desire for us to have peace – he gives us peace.

“Stop doubting and believe.” Our Savior is alive. He continues to be our Lord and our God. By his resurrection he has proven that all our sins, even our doubts, are forgiven.

Amen.

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