Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Doubting Thomas we call the blessed apostle, sort of arrogantly, and certainly hypocritically, we judge him with that title. But is it doubt Thomas struggles with? Does Thomas struggle with what the words for “doubt” in the New Testament all insinuate – that a he is of two minds, he is stuck between two possibilities, or that he has second thoughts about a matter and thus hesitates in uncertainty?
Our hymn even says, “When Thomas first the tidings heard that they had seen the risen Lord, He doubted the disciples’ word…” and later in the hymn, when Jesus has shown Thomas the feet, the hands, the side: “No longer Thomas then denied…” a term we associate with Peter. Denial. Doubt. Great fear leads to uncertainty, for sure. Thomas and the disciples were certainly stuck between a rocky grave and a very hard cross, with seemingly no way out. The doors were locked, and not just the ones to the room – the doors to their heart and soul and mind too.
It was not the first time for Peter and Thomas and the other disciples to doubt the Lord’s Word. Notably we look to the scene depicted so beautifully for us by the Dresden artist Schönblom in this 1887 painting on the reredos, lovingly given to us by God’s grace through the forefathers of this congregation. Jesus says to Peter as he points to heaven and pulls Peter to safety:
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31; ESV)
Peter had sunk quite a bit, in more ways than one. “Even though they all fall away, I will not,” he says to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mk. 14:29; ESV) But did he not remember sinking in the sea and being pulled safe? Of course he didn’t. He ran away, and denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed on the night of our Lord’s arrest.
Thomas had his own brave words. When Lazarus lay sick and Christ said to His disciples, “Let us return to Judea,” and the disciples answered, “Master, the Jews already tried to stone You, and will You return?” Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn. 11:16; ESV) But not long after he sank too under trial:
“Unless I see in His hands the nail prints, and put my finger into the nail prints, and put my hand into His side, I shall surely not ever, no never, believe.”
Now Thomas’ faith was so utterly defeated that he absolutely refused to believe the resurrection. And this is the true diagnosis, more than doubt. Doubt is the symptom. The cause is unbelief. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus said it to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and he could have said it yet again, “O unthinking ones, slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Lk. 24:25) Finally He says to Thomas, “Be not unbelieving, but believing.”
The corruption of sin and the temptation of the devil is very great, among all those disciples of Christ, even in the light of His resurrection, struggling with unbelief and doubt, unable to move for fear – stuck between cross and grave, the wind and waves ever increasing, in heart and soul and mind.
But for Thomas and Peter and the other nine, Jesus does come. Jesus does not come, we should note, as a harsh judge, with a stern rebuke that could have been expected, and certainly not with punishment and a final condemnation for their doubt, denial, and unbelief.
No! Jesus pulled Peter up out of the water and brought him into the boat, did not let him perish. Jesus pulls Thomas’ hands to His blessed wounds, does not let him drown in unbelief. Jesus breathes on them all His life giving Holy Spirit, and says, “Peace be with you”, forgives them, and sends them to proclaim that forgiveness to the world.
This is how God deals with doubt and unbelief and unthinking slowness of heart to hear His Word and keep it. It is not enough for the Father to send His only Son into the world and let Him become man for us. It is not enough to give His own Son into death for us. No, when His Son had finished everything that He had to do and suffered hell and death in order to earn grace, life, and blessedness for us, God does not wait for us to swim to the surface, does not wait for us to come out of the locked room of our sinful hearts, does not wait for us to humbly bow the knee and beg for His grace in Christ. No, He hurries to give all men the grace merited through the resurrection of His Son, to acquit all sin, and before heaven and earth publicly, really, and solemnly to declare men redeemed, reconciled, clean, guiltless, and righteous in Christ. (Walther, Gospel Sermons, v. 1, p.232-233)
The Apollo astronauts in 1969 left a plaque on the moon with the words: “We came in peace for all mankind.” As if a moon landing would inspire men to set aside their swords, guns, bombs, terrorism, and murder of their neighbor. And no one is there to read those words now, and likely no one ever will again in person. Those words are as dead and meaningless as the moon is sterile and lifeless.
But you poor sinners are here today, and you hear much more than words on a meaningless plaque and you hear those words in a place vibrant with Spirit and with life! Jesus, the living, resurrected, glorified Son of God and Son of Man, He not only came in peace, He comes in peace, from God’s right hand to this font, altar, pulpit, with real peace that brings true and lasting and never-ending joy. The doors are broken down, fear is cast out, peace is bestowed, Thomas is converted, Peter and the disciples finds rest in the ark of the Church, the Holy Spirit is given, and all the disciples young and old rejoice – right here.
For when Jesus says to you even today that peace is with you, He bestows what He says and promises. You stand forgiven, doubt it not, but firmly believe that by His peace and absolution your sins stand forgiven before God in heaven. For every time you doubted, every time you set aside God’s Word for your own, every time you put yourself in God’s place, for every sin, past, present, future stands forgiven by the crucified and resurrected Christ – that peace which surpasses all understanding – it’s yours, dealt to you from Christ Himself.
Now we are sent out to live in the very same world that our dear Lord was sent to redeem and reclaim and reconcile to His Father, the same world that the apostles were sent to preach repentance and announce Jesus’ peace and reconciliation. There is sorrow out there, and cross-bearing and great suffering, a hostile world with a hostile devil who seeks and threatens to kill, to maim, to destroy, to bring back the doubt and unbelief in any way possible that Jesus does away with. And that fact has certainly hit us square and true here this week, and with pain and sadness in full measure.
Yet, the victory has been won in Christ. Doubt and unbelief do not rule, the vain efforts of Satan have been indeed cast under the foot of Christ, and death itself is not the last word for believers. One little word fells Satan and his wicked works and ways: today, peace is with you. Jesus bestows peace, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, life everlasting, and the knowledge that God is good, and is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +