2 Easter Proper C2                                                                                      
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon                                                                                                                 
April 7, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 674 "Alleluia!  Jesus Is Risen!"
TLH 208 "Ye Sons And Daughters Of The King"
TLH 209 "Who Is This That Comes From Edom"
TLH 188 "Hallelujah!  Jesus Lives!"


TEXT (vs. 24-27):  “24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood amongst them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 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.”

            I would imagine that most of you have at least a basic knowledge about how our legal system works.  We watch both real and mock court trials on television, we read about them in books, or we see trial accounts in newspapers and magazines. 

            When somebody commits a crime, we know the old adage “innocent until proven guilty.”  That’s the way things are supposed to operate; however I think that far too often it goes the opposite direction.  Somebody will make up their mind that a particular person is guilty of a crime, and then they will attempt to build the evidence to support their theory.  Mind you, this is not the way things are supposed to be; but that’s the way it often happens.

            Irrespective of this, we have what we call “rules of evidence,” and they are at various levels.  Allow me to share these with you this morning.

            Reasonable suspicion.  This is the lowest level, and is what a law enforcement officer needs to begin the whole process.  For example, a police officer needs to have a legitimate reason to stop you while driving.  That’s why the first question he asks is, “do you know why I stopped you?”  He has to supply you with a good answer.

            Reasonable to believe.  This is the next level, which is closely related to reasonable suspicion.  For example, if a police officer arrests you for having drug paraphernalia visible or detects the strong smell of marijuana in your car, it is reasonable to believe that you may be carrying drugs.  So he has the right to search your vehicle, and even bring in a drug sniffing dog to help with the search.

            Probable cause.  This next step is what a police officer needs to actually take you into custody, and is the limit of what an officer can use to administer justice on the street.  If a crime has been committed, and he has reason to believe that you did it, and letting you go free would not be a good idea, then he can lodge you, which basically means that he can put you in jail or a detention facility.  Anything beyond the probable cause has to be determined by a court of law.

            Some credible evidence.  This is the standard often used in small civil matters, or in instances where just a basic amount of evidence is needed to make a decision.  This is the lowest factor before a case can come before a judge or be taken to court.

            Preponderance of the evidence.  This next level, if we were to put it on a balance scale, would be at least 51%.  This is the standard used in most civil cases, child support matters, unemployment disputes, some estate matters, workman’s compensation claims, or disability claims, just to name a few.

            Clear and convincing evidence.  The next step up requires a greater burden of proof than preponderance, say 75%.  This is used in probate matters, mental health issues, juvenile delinquency, paternity suits, removal from life support, or child custody cases for example.

            Beyond reasonable doubt.  This is the standard used in virtually all criminal cases, and is the one we hear the most about.  There’s not really a percentage associated with this; but the evidence must be so clear that no reasonable person could doubt the findings.  This is the standard that juries are instructed to use.  In virtually all instances, the rules of evidence go no higher than this one.

            Beyond the shadow of a doubt.  This is the highest standard, which requires 100% certainty.  There can be absolutely no doubt at all, and is usually considered an impossible standard to meet.  There are no courts that require this level of certainty; however it exists because the top end of the scale has to be identified in some way.

            So why have I given you all of these varying degrees when it comes to the rules of evidence?  It’s because our entire society and our legal system operate with a “Thomas-like” faith.  That’s the way we have to operate in order to survive.  That’s one of the results of living in an imperfect and sinful world.  So we are conditioned to think this way.  In order for our justice system to work at all, the rules of evidence have to work to eliminate doubt.  For everything to be fair and equitable, statements have to be backed up with some sort of proof.

            The first Sunday following Easter is often “pick on Thomas” Sunday.  Yes, we’re talking about good old “doubting Thomas.”  What did he do?  He missed one meeting with the disciples for whatever reason, and now he has a moniker that has haunted him down through the ages.  We shake our heads and go “tsk, tsk” as we upbraid Thomas for his lack of faith, even according to the rules of evidence we continue to use today.  It’s not fair, is it?

              It's not fair because all the other disciples doubted just as much as he did.  In fact, last week's Gospel Lesson told us about the disciples' reaction when the women came and told them about the empty tomb and the angels.  It said, "The women … told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." 

            You see, if Thomas is doubting Thomas, then Peter is “doubting Peter,” James is “doubting James,” John is “doubting John,” and so on.  Every one of the disciples doubted; but we like to pick on poor Thomas.  It would be more accurate to call the whole group the “doubting disciples.”  In fact, it would be even more accurate to call them the unbelieving disciples.

            The “unbelieving disciples?”  Whoa!  That sounds rather harsh, doesn’t it?  Here were these faithful men who had followed Jesus during his ministry.  They knew their Lord.  Why would they be unbelieving disciples?

            This whole “resurrection idea” was something that none of them could really grasp.  The women who told them the news were disregarded and considered foolish.  Jesus resurrecting himself from the dead was something they just couldn’t comprehend.  They needed proof.

            When we look at our Gospel Lesson for this morning, the account begins with Jesus coming to the disciples when Thomas was absent.  Jesus showed them his hands and side, and they believed.  We don’t know if any of them believed before they saw this evidence Jesus provided, but we know they all believed after they saw him.  The nail prints and the slash made by the spear were fresh wounds, and very real.  For the disciples, Jesus had provided them with the highest rule of evidence there could be.  He proved that he was indeed true God beyond the shadow of a doubt.  The rule of evidence Jesus used was beyond what any court in the world has ever done.

            But where was Thomas?  We don’t know what had happened to him on that first night when the disciples were meeting together, perhaps even for a worship service.  Maybe Thomas was sick, or out-of-town, or tending to other business.  We don’t know, but we can suppose he was absent for a legitimate reason.  Jesus certainly didn’t make an issue out of it, or chastise him because of his absence.  Jesus wanted to prove himself to Thomas.

            So when the disciples gathered together again, this time with Thomas, Jesus comes back and appears amongst them.  Thomas had demanded proof beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Unless he pressed his finger into the nail prints, and put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side, he would not accept what the other disciples had told him.

            For Thomas to infer that the other disciples were lying to him must have been hard on them.  Nobody likes being called a liar, especially when all of them were witnesses to what happened.  The testimony of the disciples would have satisfied the “beyond reasonable doubt” rule of evidence, but Thomas wanted the highest level.  His demands would satisfy the claim beyond the shadow of a doubt.

            We’re not told how the other disciples reacted to this, but we know how Jesus reacted.  When he appeared, he spoke the same words he did the first time:  “Peace be with you.”  Just these words themselves shows just how patiently and lovingly Jesus was dealing with his disciples, including Thomas and his demand for proof.

            Jesus would have been well within his rights to criticize all of the disciples.  Of all the disciples, only John made it to the cross.  Peter denied Jesus while Jesus was on trial.  Even though Jesus had repeatedly told them about his resurrection on the third day, none of them believed the women when they came with the good news of the resurrection.

            Jesus would have been perfectly within His rights to say, "You know what?  I've had it with all of you.  You are thicker than two short planks.  You just don't seem to be able to get it.  I'm going to find some more intelligent disciples.  You're through!" Jesus had the right to say that, but he didn't.  Instead, Jesus was incredibly patient.

            Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you."  He gave them his peace so that they could in turn pass it along to others.  Then he said the most amazing thing, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."  Jesus is sending these doubting disciples in his place.  The word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent.”  Here Jesus tells us that he is the Apostle from God the Father, and these doubting disciples are now his Apostles; Apostles sent directly from God the Son.

            Then Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."  With these words, he gave them the authority to proclaim the very forgiveness that he earned for the entire world as he hung on the cross.

            When you think about it, these men all doubted just as much as Thomas did.  They were basically cowards.  The power of everything that they say and do rests entirely upon the works and promises of Jesus.

            This should be a marvelous comfort to all Christians.  When I speak the words of absolution following our confession, it doesn’t depend in any way upon my personality or character.  I know how sinful I am, and that I am not worthy to utter those words of forgiveness.  But I can joyfully declare this forgiveness to you because it is Jesus who makes the promise.  It is Jesus who forgives and not me personally.  I can do no more than bring to you this gift Jesus wants you to have. 

            I think that we all have to admit that we are doubting Thomases and doubting disciples all the time.  We find ourselves asking, “Did God really say that?  Did God really mean that? Is God speaking the truth to me, or is it something I’m going to have to discover on my own?”  This is the way people think, mainly because it is all so incredible.  It is a miracle.

            Last week was Easter Sunday, and we focused our attention on the empty tomb.  People all over have tried to rationalize this, and come up with all sorts of human theories and cockamamie stories.  For some reason, the idea of Jesus rising from the dead is just too hard to grasp, and so we read all of these “alternative” ideas.  People doubt the resurrection, so they want an explanation that includes the body of Jesus rotting away in a grave someplace.  So people theorize that either the disciples fabricated this whole story, or that they were having an hallucination.  Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead, that’s impossible!

            Isn’t that what the disciples thought?  Isn’t that how “doubting Thomas” got his moniker?  Isn’t this whole doubt concerning the resurrection as old as the resurrection itself?

            Last Sunday, we concluded that the empty tomb meant that Jesus had conquered death and hell and Satan, and that he actually physically rose from the dead.  Because he lives, we too shall live!  We accept this through faith.

            Now this week, this is punctuated all over again for us.  But now we add another important element:  the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus paid the price for each and every sin of ours on the cross.  Through faith alone, this gift is ours.  The disciples were sent forth with this message, to proclaim to the world this love of Jesus, this hope of Jesus, and the forgiveness of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of many through the preaching of God’s Word and the good news of the Gospel.

            At the beginning, I gave you the rundown of the rules of evidence used by our judicial system.  In court, this starts at some credible evidence; and it moves up through substantial evidence, preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, beyond reasonable doubt; and ultimately winds up with beyond the shadow of a doubt.  With each successive level comes a larger burden of proof.  That’s the way our legal system works.

            If we apply this to our text for today, Jesus doesn’t even bother with those preliminary steps.  He moves right up to the top of the list, and proves his resurrection beyond the shadow of a doubt.  He showed the disciples his hands and side without Thomas being present.  Then at his second appearing, he not only showed Thomas his wounds, but he allowed him to press his finger into the nail prints, and put his hand into the gash in his side.  This was proof beyond the shadow of a doubt.

            Dr. Martin Luther once wrote that the devil's greatest and deadliest arrow in his evil quiver is the arrow of doubt, which he fires with deadly sniper precision into the hearts of all believers in Christ.  You and I know that’s true.  We all experience doubt in our lives.

            But what Jesus gives us is sure and certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt.  In Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1 we read: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  In 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 3 we read:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

            May this hope live in us so that we always believe God’s promises, and never doubt that what he says will happen just the way he says it will, according to the truth of his holy Word.