2 Easter Proper B2
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon
April 12, 2015

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 674 "Alleluia!  Jesus Is Risen!
TLH 208 "Ye Sons & Daughters Of The King"
WOV 671 "Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks To The Risen Lord"
TLH 193 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"  


TEXT (vs. 21-25) “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’  Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’  But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’”

            This morning, I have a confession to make.  I like the TV program, NCIS; and that includes all three of them.  But my reference is going to be to the original one, with Gibbs and DiNozzo and McGee and Abby and Jimmy and Ducky.

            One of the trademarks of that show is what has become known as the "Gibbs head slap."  And virtually all of the characters of that show have been on the receiving end of it.

            It's simple really.  Whenever somebody on Gibbs' team does or says something that's idiotic, Gibbs will take his open hand and give them a gentle but definite slap on the back of the head.  Of course it's nothing that would cause injury or harm, but it's just enough to get their attention and bring them back into a sense of reality.  It gives them pause to consider what they've said or done.  Even Gibbs has given himself a head slap.  It's not intended to be violent or abusive, but it punctuates whatever he's trying to get across.

            Now I'm not advocating that people get into the practice of giving head slaps when somebody does something idiotic; but in that TV program, it does have some comedic value.  And in a TV program that deals with some very serious content, a bit of comic relief is welcome.      

            So let's leave Gibbs and the NCIS team for a while, and see what is happening in our Gospel lesson for today.  All of the disciples, notwithstanding Thomas, were gathered together behind locked doors.  They had seen what the Jews had done to Jesus, and they feared for their own lives.  After what had happened, they weren’t going to take any chances.

            Suddenly, Jesus appears with them in a miraculous manner.  The door was locked, so basically he materialized in front of them.  They weren’t expecting him either.  Despite what Jesus had told them previously, and despite all of the prophecy concerning him, they still thought he was dead and in the tomb.  Even when the women came and told them what had happened, they thought it was nonsense.  So this was an unexpected event.

            Jesus begins with a greeting.  He says, “Peace be with you.”  Now this isn’t just some old hackneyed phrase spoken as a general greeting.  Rather, this had some very deep meaning to it.  This greeting carried the full weight of the Gospel with it.  It was filled with grace and comfort.

            Think about when we use these words here in church.  I end every sermon with what is called in Latin the "Pax Deus," which means "the peace of God."  We also use it just before you come forward to receive the Lord's Supper:  "The peace of the Lord be with you alway."   And the benediction that we use most of the time at the end of the service ends with the words "and give you peace."

            This is a tremendous greeting and a beautiful prayer.  The peace Jesus speaks about is nothing less than complete and perfect peace with God.  This peace means that our sins are forgiven.  This peace means that our relationship with God has been restored and renewed.  This peace means that all of our sins that we have ever done have been removed and separated from us, and are forever completely set aside.  This is a peace that we ourselves have not earned, nor do we deserve it; rather it is something that God gives through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.  This peace is a gift of God’s abundant and never ending grace.

            If we look at the disciples specifically, we don’t have to look too hard to see what effect sin had in their lives.   There was Peter, who denied ever having known Jesus; and when he is told about the resurrection, he regards it as a foolish rumor.  When the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, all of the disciples fled with an “every man for himself” attitude.

            But we can go back even further.  It wasn’t long before this time that the disciples were arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest.   The disciples tried to keep young children from coming to Jesus.  The disciples complained when others who were not of their group dared to preach the Gospel.  Oh yes, the disciples were certainly sinners, and we can see clear evidence of that.

            However, when Jesus comes into that room, his greeting of “Peace be with you” came with the message of forgiveness for them, as well as the whole world.  All of these sins are forgotten and gone when Jesus entered that room with his greeting.

            Jesus then showed them his wounds and scars.  He bore the nail prints in his hands and feet.  He showed them the hole left by the spear in his side.  These were the outward signs of what he had done in order for that peace to happen.  Here, written on his body, was the story of the suffering and death which earned salvation, both for the disciples and for us as well.

            This was the message that would be the heart and core of the Christian Church.  The message of peace is the message of the Gospel, and that is what the disciples were to proclaim to the world.

            Not only were the disciples forgiven sinners, but they also were empowered by the Holy Spirit to forgive the sins of others.  What this amounts to, is stating what the Bible states.  I've already talked about the use of those peace phrases after the sermon, before the Lord's Supper, and at the close of the benediction.  Let's look at one more example, one that I've often pointed out.  In the liturgy when I say that “I announce the grace of God to all of you,” and “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins,” I am declaring to you what God has already declared.  Your sins are forgiven, and you can believe it just as surely as if you heard it from Jesus himself.

            This isn’t just some “pie-in-the-sky” wish, or an attempt to dream the impossible dream.  This is a reality for you and for me.  The forgiveness which comes through the Gospel is there for us to claim.  It is ours through nothing more than faith alone.  And because it is ours, we can never allow Satan to rob us of it, or talk us out of it.  Regardless of our sins, the peace that Jesus gives is ours through faith in him.

            This describes the mind of God.  He is both loving and forgiving, and he does everything according to his grace.  That’s the only hope we have.

            However, we also have a great example of the mind of man.  This is what we see with Thomas.  Now Thomas was really no better than his peers.  The disciples had all doubted Jesus’ resurrection.  But Thomas is more vocal and demanding than the others.  Unless he could actually put his fingers in the nail prints and put his hand into Jesus’ side, he refused to believe.  History would forever give him the moniker of “doubting Thomas” because of this.

            I think that the word "doubting" is a bit of a misnomer here.  When we doubt something according to the way we understand the term, we are actually holding onto at least a shred of hope that it might be true.  But that's not the case with Thomas.

            In our Gospel Lesson for today, verse 25 quotes Thomas as saying:  "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."  For Thomas, there was no shred of hope expressed here at all.  Thomas had gone way past doubting, and was right in the middle of the realm of unbelief.  He stated very clearly that he would be unbelieving unless he witnessed the nail prints and the wound in Jesus' side.

            In verse 27 Jesus tells 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."

            To go back to my NCIS illustration I used at the beginning, this would have been even more effective than one of the famous Gibbs head slaps.  Those wounds were horrible, more so than anything most of us would experience.  Jesus had Thomas stick his finger through the hole in his wrist, and thrust his hand up inside his body through that huge gash in his side.  That, in and of itself, would have been a hard dose of reality.    

            As Christians, we're often rather hard on Thomas.  We shake our heads and wonder how he could be so dense!  Why didn't he believe the other disciples?  He had spent a lot of time with them; would they have the audacity to lie to him about something like Jesus' resurrection?  But sad to say, Thomas reacted like so many of us would.  We have a sinful mind and a sinful will, and we live in a sinful world.  How can we help but be affected by these things!

            It’s sad really when you think about it.  When a person does things according to their will instead of God’s will, and insists on having the mind of sinful man, then they miss out on something beautiful.  They miss out on the peace that Christ came to bring.  When a heart harbors all sorts of doubts and negative feelings, the peace of Christ has no room.

            Jesus makes it a point to appear to the disciples a second time, this time with Thomas in attendance.  He doesn’t scold Thomas for having doubts, rather he simply removes them.  He gives Thomas the proof he wants, so he would believe and be an effective minister of the Gospel.

            It's interesting to read secular history when it comes to the early Christian church and the Apostles.   Paul, who was the master theologian amongst the disciples, headed to the west to bring the Gospel to people like the Romans, the Thessalonians, the Galatians, etc.  We know that for a fact.  In addition to this, it has been reported that Thomas was the Apostle headed to the east, to be the missionary of the Gospel intoAsia Minorand other surrounding regions.  Various sources report that Thomas died in the region ofMylapore,Indiafrom spear wounds when four soldiers pinned him to the ground with four spears.   

            So what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t come that second time and appeared to Thomas?  Chances are, he wouldn’t have believed, and he would have been forever lost in perdition.  But Jesus didn’t want that.  He needed Thomas.  There was a lot of mission work to do in a lot of places that needed to hear the Gospel.  And so he gives him the proof he needs.

            I often marvel at the people whom the Lord chooses to use to do his work.  The Apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians and an enemy of Jesus; but the experience he had on the road toDamascusturned him into the greatest Christian missionary and theologian that the world has ever known.  Peter, as impetuous as he was, who denied under pressure that he even knew Jesus, became the chief of the Disciples.  Thomas, the doubting unbeliever, became this incredible missionary too.  And we can continue right down the list of those who followed Jesus:  tax collectors, fishermen, shepherds, and so forth.  These were all common people; all sinners who needed a Saviour.

            And I can't look at these people without having a look in the mirror myself.  I still cannot understand why God called someone the likes of me to do the work of the public ministry.  I can't even begin to count the times I have stumbled and fallen, the times that I have doubted, and the times I have gone the way of the sinful world.  From my perspective, I cannot figure out what God saw in me that he would so richly bless me, and use me in the way he has.  But I know that he has indeed done this and that he's in charge; and that is all I need to know.  And I can't count how many times that the Lord has given me the equivalent of the old "Gibbs head slap" one way or another.  I just know that he's done that when I've needed it.

            As you observe what I am doing, just remember that the power is all God's, and none of it is mine.  When I tell you that your sins are forgiven, those are God's words and not mine.  I can just assure you that your sins are forgiven.  I can proclaim God's peace to you because that is what he has promised. 

            When we look at word and sacrament, we know that it is God doing all the work as he has promised.  If I claimed that any of this is my doing, it would be me taking credit for what God does, and has promised to do.     

            Jesus speaks to us today through the Word just as he did to those disciples in that room so long ago.  “Peace be with you,” he says.  And then he shows the marks on his body which paint the picture of what he had to do to get us that peace.

            At the conclusion of our text for today, verses 30 and 31 tell us:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

            Jesus wanted to make sure there was no room at all for doubt when it came to who he truly was.  Maybe Jesus didn't use the head slap technique to get people's attention and to punctuate what he said and did like Gibbs does in NCIS, but what he did do was every bit as effective.  Every miraculous thing he did continued to cement this faith firmly in the hearts of his disciples.  Every word out of his mouth was truth in its most pristine form.  Jesus left no reason for doubt. 

            The peace we have through the Gospel is the peace we put into practice with each other.  When we consider the battle scars Jesus showed to his disciples, we can only be reminded of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53 verse 5:   “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

            There's no need for Jesus to give us a head slap to get our attention, because what he did is so much better.  He proved his physical resurrection to Thomas and the others.  There is no doubt.  And we are assured that because he lives, we too shall live.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!