Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sermon: St. Thomas – 2016

21 December 2016

Text: John 20:24-29

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Thomas, who walked with our Lord for three years, hearing Him teach, witnessing His miracles, and having just heard the rest of the Eleven say: “We have seen the Lord” after His death on the cross, could not simply discount the evidence of his own senses. 

He saw Jesus arrested.  He saw Jesus crucified.  He saw the tomb in which the dead body of Jesus lay.  Thomas could not process the events of the past couple weeks, and simply refused to believe what was being said, that Jesus rose from the dead and was walking around in the flesh.

“Unless I see…” said Thomas, whose story gives us the nickname we might call someone who lacks belief: a “Doubting Thomas.”  Thomas wanted proof.  He wanted something other than the testimony of others.  He wanted something to see and touch and hear.  He wanted the kind of knowledge that isn’t subject to the interpretations of other people.  He wanted evidence.

“I will never believe,” said Thomas defiantly.

It’s hard to believe in something we have not seen. It requires trust in our sources – those who saw what they saw, those who heard the account from them, those who wrote down the account, and those who copied those writings and handed them down to us.

How do we know that what we have read is true?  How do we know that what St. John wrote was true?  How do we know the copies are true?  How do we know this really happened?

In light of our skepticism and cynicism about what we read on the Internet, St. Thomas’s doubt seems utterly reasonable.  

Well, dear friends, we know that our Bibles are faithful copies because we have so many ancient fragments and quotations from the Bible in books and sermons written by the church fathers that we know we can rely on it.  We know that St. John’s writing is true because He was one of the inner circle of Jesus, eyewitness to every major event in the Lord’s life, and we know that He refused to recant his testimony of Jesus even under threat of punishment.  We know that had what he said been untrue, it would have been challenged.  And we even have embarrassing accounts recorded in the Gospel of John – such as St. Thomas’s cringe-worthy doubt of the Lord’s resurrection.  

If you’re going to make up something, you don’t make up embarrassing stuff like that to put in the book.

Moreover, we have evidence of St. Thomas’s ministry after this encounter with Jesus, in which he went from Doubting Thomas to Believing, Teaching, and Confessing Thomas, Preaching Thomas, Church-planting Thomas, and even the Martyr Thomas – who was willing to die before denying that Jesus is truly His Lord and His God who appeared to him.

We should honor Thomas for his honesty.  He would not naively believe what was said by others.  And in His infinite mercy, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Thomas, not as a ghost or vision, but as a flesh and blood Man, still bearing the wounds of the crucifixion, and inviting Thomas to “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side.  Don’t disbelieve, but believe.”

St. Thomas replies by addressing the Man Jesus, the Crucified Jesus, the Risen Jesus as “My Lord and My God.”

This, dear friends, is what Christmas is all about: a baby born to a virgin, a baby who has no human father, but is the Son of God, and who is Himself: “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”  The birth of Jesus is truly a miracle, because this baby grew to manhood, died, rose again, and appeared to the eleven, and then to hundreds of others.  He defeated death, conquered Satan, and undid the damage to mankind at the Fall in Eden.  He is coming  again to raise the dead, give us new and glorious bodies, so that we live forever in a new heaven and earth that will never see death and corruption again.

“My Lord and My God!”

This is one of my own favorite verses in Scripture.  For there are those who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God.  There are those who belong to cults that misinform people by denying the Lord’s divinity.  But on this beautiful and touching moment in the upper room, when the doors were locked, the Lord Jesus appeared.  He did not come in anger or to scold Thomas – but to show grace and mercy to him.

“Peace be with you, He says to His disciples, and He says this again to us tonight, dear friends.

He offers St. Thomas peace because He is Thomas’s Lord and God, the one who came to remove Thomas’s sins and give Thomas His own righteousness. Thomas receives this glorious gift by faith, and even when his faith is weak, the Lord Jesus bolsters his weak faith into a faith that will do more than move mountains, it will be a faith that builds churches and brings people into fellowship with God.

Thomas’s doubt became Thomas’s faith by God’s grace and by the Word of Jesus.  Thomas’s confession of Christ as “my Lord and my God!” is the Church’s confession. Our Lord’s greeting blessing, “Peace be with you” is the church’s greeting and blessing.

And hear anew the blessing of our risen Lord: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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