2 Easter Proper B2                         
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon                                                  
April 15, 2012

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Hymns (from "With One Voice" and "The Lutheran Hymnal"):
WOV 674 "Alleluia!  Jesus Is Risen!"
TLH 208 "Ye Sons And Daughters Of The King"
TLH 198 "He's Risen!  He's Risen!  Christ Jesus The Lord!"
TLH 188 "Halleujah!  Jesus Lives!"


TEXT (vs. 24-25): 24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

            There's one in every crowd.  I'm sure that you've heard that expression used before.  When somebody says this, it usually means that another person has demonstrated a rather negative trait, at perhaps an inopportune time.  And when this happens, we might roll our eyes upward, let out a big sigh, and say, "Yeah, I guess there's one in every crowd."  Or I have also heard people say, "Well, it takes all types of people to make a world."            

            Today, the "one in every crowd" person I'm talking about is the negative person.  Everybody can be in a good mood, having a good time, maybe even celebrating something.  And then this one person comes along; and they scarcely have to open their mouth, and it's like throwing a bucket of cold water on a cozy campfire.  We say that they have "rained on our parade," or that they are a "negative Nellie," or they are a "wet blanket," or a "party poop," or maybe a "buzz kill."  Whatever the situation might be, and whatever you want to call them, they're not the type of people we enjoy being around.  It seems like such people can take any given situation and make it completely go sour.

            Unfortunately, there are people who are the eternal skeptics and pessimists.  They're the ones who see the proverbial glass half empty.  They're the ones who keep walking around looking under rocks for snakes.  They're the ones who are always looking for the bad stuff; and when they're doing this, then they're usually blind to all the good stuff going on.  There's an old saying that goes, "Blessed are the pessimists, for they shall never be disappointed."  That's sad, but true.

            There have been many books written about how to be successful.  Virtually every author has to deal with the subject of negative people.  One way to do this, is to create a positive environment, where people have to be positive in order to "fit in."  Hopefully that will work.  But if you can't change the attitudes of those people, then you have to change the environment and start breaking off the relationships with these people so they don't drag the whole organization down into the mud.  That seems rather harsh I admit, but that's the way these "success gurus" have determined that it will work. 

            This morning, we meet up with one of the most prominent nay-saying, negative Nellie amongst all the apostles.  Today, we are focusing our attention on Thomas, the one that we so frequently call "Doubting Thomas."

            Following the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, who were locked away and in hiding.  Everybody was there, and everybody had seen the resurrected Jesus.  Everybody that is, except Thomas.  Who knows where he was that first night?  Perhaps he had his own special hiding place where he had gone?  Irrespective of where he was or why he wasn't there, Jesus uses him as a very good example in our Gospel lesson for today.

            On that first evening, the disciples actually saw Jesus.  He was right there with them in the flesh.  This was no ghost or figment of their imagination.  He was physically present in that room.  His wounds were still visible, and he even ate and drank with them.  No disembodied spirit could ever do what Jesus did that first night.

            The disciples were elated!  This was an event like nothing else they had ever experienced!  Jesus had risen from the dead, so these people were celebrating his resurrection in grand style. 

            Everybody that is, except Thomas.  He wasn't there.  He hadn't witnessed anything himself.  And so he refused to believe any of the account of the other disciples.  He had resigned himself to the fact that Jesus was dead; and even though that was difficult for him to deal with, still he had to accept that Jesus had succumbed to mortality, just like every other human being on the earth.

            Thomas had this negative attitude and this lack of trust that reared its ugly head.  Amidst the celebrating of the other disciples, Thomas throws cold water on the whole affair.   In verse 25 of our Gospel lesson, we read the dialogue he had with them:  "25 So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, '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.'”

            That was Thomas's "knee-jerk" reaction to what he had been told about Jesus.  But just think of the deep implications behind that statement!  First of all, he in effect called the other disciples "liars."  Even though he didn't just come right out and say it, that's ultimately the reasoning behind the unbelief he is demonstrating here. 

            Now here's something else to consider.  For a Jew to establish a matter as an irrefutable fact, there has to be two witnesses that agree.  In this case, there was a whole room full of people who had witnessed Jesus' physical presence amongst them, which was way more than two that agreed with this.  So for Thomas to call their account into question, this was against all Jewish protocol.  This would have been an especially hard "slap in the face," almost to the point of questioning their religious faith.  Like it is with any other case, you need some good, hard, solid proof before you go and call a person a liar.  Essentially, Thomas was calling the other disciples all liars, until their story could be proven otherwise.

            Up to this point, I've been focusing upon Thomas and his nay-saying negativity.  The reason I'm doing this right now, is because Jesus uses this situation with Thomas as an example.  This is one of those profound teaching moments that Jesus frequently used during his ministry. 

            To fully understand this, we need to back up the clock a bit.  Let's look at the first 10 verses of Luke chapter 24:  "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.' And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." 

            Aha!  Now the lights come on.  The women had been at Jesus' tomb and found it empty.  They were reminded of the words Jesus spoke with regard to his death and resurrection.  Suddenly things made sense to them!  So they go and tell the disciples, along with some of his other followers exactly what had happened.  And how did they respond?  They thought that what the women were telling them was nothing but utter nonsense!  Just another idle tale!

            And take special note too, that Luke records the women told this to the eleven, which means that Thomas was amongst them at that time.  All of the disciples were skeptics!  They were all nay-sayers and negative Nellies!  There wasn't a one of them that actually believed what the women told them!

            Now I'm guessing that the rest of the disciples were rather put out with Thomas's skepticism.  How could they doubt what they were telling him?  How soon they would have forgotten that they were in almost exactly the same situation when Jesus visited them that first night.  So if we're tempted to say, "Well yeah, there's one in every crowd," we can see that there were at least eleven of them in that crowd; that is, before Jesus proved to them that he had risen from the dead.  

            Like I mentioned before, Jesus used this as a great teaching moment.  In verse 29 of our text, Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  These words weren't meant just for Thomas.  They were directed to the whole group assembled there, and those words were subsequently recorded for us today.  This is a lesson we all need to take to heart.

            I'm going to turn briefly to our Epistle lesson for today, which is the entire first chapter and a couple verses of the second chapter of John's first general Epistle.  John most likely wrote this later on in life, probably during his declining years.  John was the only apostle to die a natural death when he was old; all the others were martyrs of faith.

            We don't need to look very hard to see that John never faltered or wavered when it came to declaring his faith and the truth of the Gospel.  If we think back to the resurrection scene, John writes this in the opening two verses of his first Epistle:  "1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us..."

            He actually saw Jesus, and talked to him, and ate with him, and even examined his wounds.  Whatever negative and skeptical ideas he had were immediately put to rest.  This was the hope that John carried with him his entire life.  And now, as he writes his Epistles, he wants all of his readers, whomever they might be, to share that same hope with him.  With the witnesses and the testimony, there could be no doubt.

            And so here we sit.  I think that we all have had our moments where we've been the naysayers and negative Nellies in the crowd.  For some reason, the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus almost seems too incredible sometimes for us to grasp.  All we need to do is look at the unbelieving world around us to understand how often people can be this way.  Our doubts and negativity are certainly signs of our own hypocrisy, and evidence of our tendency toward unbelief. 

            Do you believe that there are hypocrites in the church?  The best way to find who the hypocrites are in the church, is to begin by looking in the mirror.  None of us have ever lived up to God's expectations, not even one of us.  We've been guilty of spreading doubt instead of witnessing our faith.  We've taken that beautiful hope that is to live amongst us, and rained on that parade by our negativity.  None of us can escape that condemnation.

            If we go back to John's first Epistle, we read some familiar words in verses 8-10:  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

            Who's the liar now?  It's the person that has the "holier than thou" attitude.  It's the person that does not recognize and accept their own sinfulness.  It's the person that brings the gloom of doubt and despair to the table, and otherwise  threatens to tarnish the beauty of the Gospel.

            John gives us a very straight-forward presentation.  He wants us to confess our sins and be honest with ourselves.  But most importantly, he wants us to see how our faith in Christ Jesus will bring us forgiveness for our sins.  We will be cleansed from the pollution of unrighteousness.  He doesn't want us to just give lip service to the positive message of the Gospel, while harboring doubt and unbelief in our hearts.  He wants us to share the faith that lives within us so that all people will know Jesus their Saviour through our positive witness.

            Nobody likes being around someone who is always spouting negativity and doubt.  It's like raining on our parade, or throwing cold water on our warm campfire.  Those are the people we just like to avoid at all costs, because they drag us down right along with them.  Misery indeed loves company.  But being miserable and negative will never bring about the positive influence of the forgiving love that our Saviour has given to us.

            In the concluding verses of John's Gospel, we read:     "30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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."

            Whatever doubts Thomas had at the beginning were dashed to pieces when Jesus appeared to him.  His negative feelings had no foundation any more.  Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!"  Those are words of faith.

            And so as we gather in our Lord's house each week, may we also exclaim with faith, "My Lord and my God!"  And whatever negative feelings and doubts we may have, can be left in the past as we gather in the light of Christ, who has risen indeed.  Hallelujah!