St. Thomas/ Advent 4
Dear friends in Christ. Not only is today the Fourth Sunday in Advent but today is also the day the church has set aside to remember our Lord’s Apostle, St. Thomas. Thomas is known best for the account in our text and thus some call him, “Doubting Thomas.” But we read the first verse of our text: But Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So how did the other disciples react when Jesus first appeared to them without Thomas? St. Luke records that they were terrified and thought they had seen a ghost. Jesus then asked them Why do doubts arise in your hearts? Jesus then showed them His hands and feet, but they still did not believe for joy. Then there were other of Jesus’ disciples who also had witnessed the events and heard that Jesus rose, and to them Jesus says: O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? Then Jesus explained the OT prophecies to them.
Thomas’ reaction was not all that different than the other disciples’. In a sense it was a good thing that Thomas doubted. Thomas loved His Lord. Earlier Thomas, like Peter, also showed a bold faith as he said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go [with Jesus] that we may die with Him. Thomas took his Lord and his faith seriously. His was not a willful rejection of Jesus and His resurrection. He didn’t want to believe blindly. He did not want to be fooled.
Isn’t that a good thing and a good example for us to follow? In our day and age there are so many religious hucksters, so many scams and frauds, so many supposed sightings of Mary and Christ. Should we really believe everything we hear people telling us? Should we be gullible? Certainly not!
Jesus warned us, Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He.’ And, ‘The time has drawn near. Therefore do not go after them. And, many false prophets will rise up and deceive many…. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
We do well to heed the words of the apostles: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, and that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men.
Yes, when it comes to matters of faith and doctrine, it is good that we be skeptical and not believe as true everything people tell us. We don’t want to be fooled; after all, our eternal life in heaven is at stake.
But the problem for Thomas was not so much his doubting, his skepticism, but what he used as to judge. Our text: The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But 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.” Thomas’ standard of judging was his reason. Reason requires physical proof. Just like unbelievers today demand physical evidence, Where is your God?, Thomas demanded evidence provided by reason. The sin of arrogance also shows itself in Thomas. He is as much as saying that the other disciples were easily tricked or hallucinated. He, though, is superior to them because he requires physical proof.
It is good, even necessary, to judge all things, but the standard that we judge them by must be right. All Biblical truth lies beyond the perception of our senses. What do we use to judge if we can’t use reason? The very thing that Thomas rejected—the word of the apostles and prophets. The other disciples kept telling Thomas: We have seen the Lord. But Thomas rejected that word. He, like the others originally did, did not believe what the prophets said, namely, that the Messiah had to first suffer before entering His glory. May we, then, be like Thomas—skeptical of what we hear, not quick to believe everything—but may we also be unlike Thomas. May we not judge according to reason, but according to the Word of God that He spoke through and wrote through His prophets and apostles. May we take our cue from the Christians in the city of Berea who both received the word [of St. Paul] with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Not only is Thomas and his doubting both a good and a bad example for us, but because he doubted and Jesus answered his doubts, we don’t have to doubt. Because Thomas doubted, we know both who Jesus is and that He comes to us.
2. When Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked the doors because they feared the Jews, they at first thought He was a spirit. Jesus told them to touch Him and see that He is not a ghost but a physical body; He then even ate some broiled fish and a honeycomb to prove it. Of course, Thomas required the same proof: 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. Then, when Jesus came a week later, He specifically told Thomas directly: Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and thrust it into My side. Whether Thomas actually did or not, our text does not tell us, but it was enough for Thomas to recognize that Jesus was physically, bodily, there.
Because Thomas doubted and wanted to see and touch the nail and spear holes in the actual physical body that hung on the cross, and Jesus showed Him, there is no doubt that Jesus is true, 100% man. After His resurrection Jesus had the same physical body that He had before the crucifixion, the very same physical body He had from the Virgin Mary. This is the great mystery that we will celebrate in a few day—Jesus’ birth from the Virgin Mary. There is no doubt that Jesus is true man. As He came into this world, He took on human flesh and blood from the virgin Mary and He rose from the dead a true man, and on the Last Day, when Jesus returns in glory, all will see Him in His resurrected, glorified, human body—for from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary, the Son of God, is also true man, one of us, our Brother. At His trial Jesus told the Jews: Hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Jesus is now and eternally true man.
Again, Jesus is not just a man, He is also the true eternal God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; He is both true God and true man. That is the Christmas miracle—God becoming man to be our Savior. St. Paul writes that the Israelites are the fathers and from [them], according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. Jesus is according to the flesh, that is, descended from Abraham, an Israelite; and He is also the eternally blessed God. When Thomas doubts and demands to see Jesus’ body, His physical wounds, and Jesus condescends to his weakness, Jesus is also showing that He is the true God because Jesus’ resurrection shows Him to be the very God Himself. Later, Paul writes: His Son Jesus Christ our Lord [was] declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead.
Not only does the very fact of Jesus’ resurrection show Him to be the very God Himself—a fact proven to us by Thomas’ demand to see and touch Him—but also the fact that Jesus could appear to the disciples when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews. Only God could be everywhere. He cannot be held back by locked doors. Jesus then could appear to the disciples because He is the true God, proven by His resurrection; not only is He true God, but in the same person, He is also true man, proven by His actual physical body being there. Because there is one Person of Jesus, where He is as God, there He is as man; where He is as man, there He is as God.
Because Thomas doubted, we see Jesus as who He really is—true God and true man in one Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God and the Son of Mary the Virgin. Again, that is the Christmas miracle that we will especially be celebrating in a few days. Only because Jesus is both true God and true man, can He be our Savior. As true man He placed Himself under God’s holy Law to keep it for us in our place; as true God He could actually do it, being holy and sinless. As true man, He took all our sins upon Himself, became our Substitute, suffering for us God’s wrath over our sins, and could suffer and die; as true God, His sacrifice had infinite worth and value to pay the price for the sins of all people. Since Thomas doubted, we don’t have to: Jesus is true God and true Man, the Savior of the world. With Thomas we daily confess of Jesus: My Lord and my God!
3. On top of that, because Thomas said that he would not believe unless he sees and touches Jesus’ nail and spear marks, we see Jesus’ love and mercy in that He comes to us to bring us to faith and to keep us in the faith.
A week later, Thomas was with the disciples this time. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach you’re your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. The Lord condescends to our weaknesses. He does not come scolding Thomas for his unbelief. Instead He comes so that Thomas does not drown in doubt and unbelief. He comes wanting to banish Thomas’ doubts; He comes to bring him the joyous certainty of faith. What a glorious comfort for us. Just as Jesus sought Thomas to deliver him from his doubts, so too Jesus comes to us today to still our doubts and give us the glorious certainty of faith. Notice the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He comes: Peace to you. Jesus always comes with forgiveness, even for the sin of unbelief. He especially speaks this forgiveness to Thomas. Jesus came to Thomas that day as his forgiving Lord, assuring him that that peace, that forgiveness, He won on the cross was especially meant for him. With that announcement of forgiveness Jesus comforts Thomas who must have been crushed because of his unbelief and doubt of what the other disciples had told him.
In the same way, in our times of sin and of doubting, Jesus seeks us out to forgive us our sin and to strengthen and make us firm in our faith. Jesus said: Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Here Jesus tells Thomas that he should have listened to the witness of the other disciples. As Jesus speaks these words to us today, He is saying the same thing; namely, listen to what the prophets have prophesied about Me already in the OT; listen to what My apostles have said about Me in the NT. In other words, Jesus directs us to His Word, the Bible. We don’t blindly believe, but we base our faith on the reliable testimony of the Spirit inspired Scripture of Old and New Testament. Jesus directs us to His Word, the Bible. The blessed take God at His Word and put their trust in what He reveals there. He conquers our unbelief with His word.
Through the Word, Jesus now stands in our midst. Through the Word we have communion with Jesus. In the Word He comes to us and lives in us. In a special way He comes to us in Holy Communion giving us His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins—just like He did for Thomas, He now comes to us to forgive us our sin and to strengthen our faith in Him.
Because Thomas doubted, we need never doubt. As Jesus proved it to Thomas, so He has shown it to us: He is true man and true God and thus our Savior, who now comes to us giving us forgiveness of sin and every heavenly blessing. He directs us to His Word where He has promised to and does come to us. INJ Amen.