Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti) Sermon, 2021

Maybe he did—and maybe he didn’t—but it’s not necessary for us to say that Thomas actually placed his hand in Jesus’ side.

Thomas said to the disciples, “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” (John 20:25). That’s what he said.

So—Jesus 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.’

[And] Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28).

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“His reasoned certainties denied / That one could live when one had died, / Until his fingers read like Braille / The marking of the spear and nail” (LSB 472:3).

Well before that, though, we have the Baroque painting by Caravaggio, dated 1601 or 1602, entitled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”

That’s the one where Thomas is looking at him whom they had pierced, and his finger is just touching the wound from the spear.

But even before that, Incredulous Thomas—or, Doubting Thomas, as we know it today—had been a theme common in Christian artwork since at least the 5th century.

Scripture doesn’t plainly say that Thomas put his hand into Jesus’ side—but—basically—everyone has always thought so.

This is one of those things that’s fun to talk about but doesn’t actually matter—no one’s gonna get punched in the face for believing that Thomas did or didn’t put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But—there are plenty of things going on around this, in today’s Gospel lesson, that do actually matter.

For conversation’s sake, let’s imagine both that Thomas did and did not put his hand into Jesus’ side.

First the DID NOT.

The exhortation to believe the Gospel is not giving you a work to do.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe” does not give Thomas a To-Do List. Just like you—Thomas cannot by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ His Lord.

Or, think of it this way, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your starving, famished children, setting it before them, and calmly saying “Eat!” is not giving them a task to accomplish if he likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The imperative is an invitation aimed at everyone, and it’s true and good whether anyone believes it or not.

Thomas didn’t have to put his hand into Jesus’ side because Jesus, the Word of God, spoke faith into existence.

First, Jesus said, “Put out your hand and place it in my side.” But had He first said “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” Thomas would’ve interrupted Him, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus had taught Thomas and the other disciples what to believe. So when Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” it’s as if He’s speaking to us today:

“Remember the Word taught to you in your youth. Remember all that our Father in heaven has promised and accomplished. But don’t just remember it as facts to be regurgitated.

“Believe His Word. Trust it. Inwardly digest it.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 

That’s how we preach the Gospel today.

We don’t lay the Gospel promises before you and ask you to do something to get them. I’ve used this example before—that’s like taking a Bible, throwing it on the table, and saying, “Go for it.”

We don’t do that.

When we preach the Word of God, we preach Jesus into the very heart of a person. Using a similar image, that’s like taking a Bible and pressing it straight into the heart of a person, saying, “Believe the Word.”

When we preach Law and Gospel, we preach the Law in its full sternness:

“God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36).

The spit from your gossip lashed the Lord of Glory.

God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you betray with your discontented hearts.

That’s the Law in its full sternness.

And as sternly as the Law is preached—as sweetly is the Gospel:

“All are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[which is] to be received by faith” (cf. Romans 3:23ff).

Of course—Thomas knows about sin.

He knows about grace.

He knows that salvation is not by works lest any man boast (cf. Ephesians 2).

He’s heard the most stern Law in Jesus’ own preaching. Thomas heard the sermon on the mount: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, be merciful (cf. Luke 6).

All those things that are impossible for us—that shame us because we should do but don’t—Thomas heard them first.

And Jesus says, “Do not disbelieve…” 

He names Thomas’s sin, to his face.

“Be not faithless.”

That’s what Jesus says.

The Law has done its work, so Thomas hears the exhortation to remember and believe the Gospel like a hungry, peanut butter and jelly loving kid who hears the invitation to eat.

Which is to say, of course, that he heard it with absolute joy!

Thomas goes to the feast—forgetting to put His hand in Jesus’ side.

Because he doesn’t need to.

He heard and remembered—and believed—the Law.

And he heard and remembered—and believed—the Gospel.

Thomas rejoiced, saying, “My Lord and my God!”

That’s if he DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But what if he DID?

It is the case that the disciples are often wrong.

But we don’t call St. Peter “Denying Peter.”

Everyone calls St. Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”

As though Thomas were the only Christian to harbor doubts.

He did doubt.

We know that.

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” sings it this way:

“The vision of his skeptic mind / Was keen enough to make him blind / To any unexpected act / Too large for his small world of fact” (LSB 472:2).

If we’re honest, we have to say that it takes a faithful amount of ridiculousness to believe what the Bible teaches.

Miracles contradict nature, evidence, and experience.

You don’t believe because you’ve seen—you believe because you’ve heard, and blessed are you, Jesus says.

That one could live when one had died seemed like an impossibility because it is an impossibility.

Dead is dead. No one gets up from that.

Or do they, right?

We struggle with that every now and then, I think.

I remember sitting with my mom and dad the evening that my brother had died.

My mom got the phone call informing her that her son had been embalmed.

There are several different times when the realization of death hits you, and that’s one of them.

She hung up the phone and confessed to me and my dad that she now knew that Andy wasn’t going to just wake up. That he wasn’t coming back.

Until that moment, it all could’ve been a terrible misunderstanding.

They were waiting for him to walk through the door.

But then—that moment.

The only answer to death, the only true comfort in the midst of death—the Christian’s sure and certain hope—is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My mom didn’t ask this question with these words, but we’ve all been there.

We’ve doubted.

We’ve wondered.

Can the impossible things in the Bible be true?

And even if they are true, what about my sins and failures and doubts, everything I’ve committed since?

Once again, the question of DID Thomas or DID he NOT can help us.

What if he DID?

Well, that would mean, after the spear, three things came out of Jesus’ side:

Water. Blood. And Thomas’s hand.

That shows us all—what God gives—and to whom.

To those who doubt—for the Doubting and Denying amongst us—the water from our Lord’s side has sanctified all the waters of earth—so that when included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word we are washed clean—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an everlasting appeal to God for a good conscience (cf. 1 Peter 3).

To those who doubt—for all of us—the blood from Jesus’ side, with His flesh, is the medicine of our immortality.

We eat not because our bellies ache but because our souls do.

We’ve heard the Law in its sternness, and we’ve all drawn the same conclusion: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?…”

But we’ve also heard the Gospel.

And so we have the answer.

“…Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

He’s given us these means to receive His grace so that whether Thomas DID or DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side—it doesn’t matter—we have what we need:

The Word of God proclaimed.

Law and Gospel.

The Means of Grace.

The exhortation to hear and remember and believe and trust the Gospel.

In a manner of speaking, we have our peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and—with joy—we get to eat it, too!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2021
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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