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

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).

It’s an important detail—it should be recalled every year—that the stone had been taken away—not because Jesus needed it rolled away—but we did.

As death no longer has dominion over Jesus, just so, neither do doors.

He no longer hides his divinity—as He did in His humiliation, all the times when He did not fully use His divine power.

So—He doesn’t need to use a door to be where He wants to be.

“On the evening of that [Easter] day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).

A stone across the tomb can’t hold Him in.

And a closed and locked door can’t keep Him out.

Just so—salvation doesn’t rely on the dead thing to choose Jesus.

It can’t. That door is dead and locked.

But here is the Lord of Life who stands among the disciples in spite of their fear—and to remove it.

And here is the Lord of Life who causes His Word to be preached among us—in spite of our sin and to remove it.

Neither the dead heart, the locked door, nor the rolled stone can bar His entry.

And so the stone that has been rolled away is not for Him but for us.

As proof. To us.

Proof of death’s destruction—for what else stood in His way?

Proof of the forgiveness of sins—for how else could He be raised than if there were no sin in Him?

Proof that when Jesus calls bread and wine His Body and Blood, He means it—for if He needs no doors, He certainly knows more than one way of being present at a time. He can be in Heaven and on Earth, and in bread and wine. He can descend into Hell and preach to the souls in prison. And He can be here, with us, now, for our good, according to His Word and divine power.

And the stone is rolled away as proof to us of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—for what else does it mean for those who are united to His death and resurrection than that they will be raised—and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?

This is most certainly true.

Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Death—our enemy—is our enemy defeated.

There is no more terrible, unnatural, and agonizing thing than death—but the stone is rolled away so that we’ll see—that death is only temporary.

“For in [Christ Jesus] the whole fulness of [God] dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

That’s how and why we have this moment with Jesus and Mary who “stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (John 20:11-13).

For she did not yet know that death had been defeated.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (John 20:14-16).

And she saw—and believed—and rejoiced not only that He was there—but what it meant that He was there.

This isn’t like when you’ve lost your keys and rejoice to find them.

Everyone of us has lost something and not really worried about it because we basically knew where it was, that it would turn up.

This isn’t that.

“As yet [Mary and the others] did not understand the Scripture, that [Jesus] must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).

Mary expected a dead body.

Mark says it this way: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1).

He means—they intended to anoint his dead body as they would’ve done before His burial, had it not been rushed and on a high feast day.

For Mary, the stone is rolled away to break her expectations regarding death. So that she would see and wonder and ask and hear that what she was not expecting is true—Jesus lives.

And for us, the stone is rolled away to show us another of God’s great reversals:

As the stone and Christ that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, so the stone the builders chose, to roll in front of death and tomb, God has rejected—so that we will see that death is our enemy destroyed.

And hell is emptied of its power.

That sins are forgiven—the sacrifice is applied to you, credited to your account.

That God is with us now—for our good—that we would taste and see that the Lord is good.

And that all those in Christ can hope with certainty and wait with faith that will not be put to shame for the resurrection of the body—reunion with Christ and all the faithful—and life everlasting.

Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

We did.

So God moved it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter Dawn Sermon, 2021
John 20:1-18
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“For fear of the Jews” (John 20:19), the Eleven were hiding behind closed doors.

Remember—He is not here, He is risen. He’s going before them, and they’ll go and see Him.

But now, they’re hiding. Afraid.

How quickly do we forget the Word and promise of God when we perceive a threat to our life.

“On the evening of the resurrection, the first day of the week…Jesus came and stood among them…Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (cf. John 20:19-20).

They were glad—but only after they had seen.

The eye is the organ of reason. They understand and believe only what they see—only what the first century equivalent of bad network news television shows them.

Only after they see Him are they glad, but Thomas, who wasn’t there, said to them, “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).

What Thomas says is both good and bad.

It’s good—in that Thomas requires the crucified, dead, buried, and risen body of Jesus as proof of the resurrection, because “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”  (1 Corinthian 15:14).

But what he says is also bad—in that he, too, must see. Not a single Christian today sees and believes. Every single Christian today hears and believes.

The eleven are afraid because they believe they’ve been defeated. The death of Jesus felt that way. The threat of death feels that way. If they forget that He is going before them and they are going to Him, all they have is the eventuality of death and the fear that comes with it.

Into this, our world of sadness, Jesus says:

“Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

Perhaps they thought they were glad when they saw, but make no mistake—they heard and were glad.

“Peace be with you” (John 20:21), Jesus says. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (cf. John 20:21-23).

He who created all things by a word, speaks peace into existence by a word and sends His disciples to spread that peace by the same word: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

The Church, the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered (AC VII.1), exists that you may have and know peace—the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says again, now to the eleven—including 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” (John 20:26-27).

We can’t say that Thomas didn’t, but John doesn’t record that he did put his hand in Jesus’ side.

He saw, yes. But he heard, as well: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And Thomas makes a great and perfect confession of who Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

The ear is the organ of faith. Thomas and the rest hear the Word of God and believe. “In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (cf. Hebrews 1:1).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). He doesn’t mean the eleven, the first century disciples. He means you and me and everyone who didn’t see the Body of Christ but nevertheless has it.

Blessed are you who have not seen.

Blessed are you who have heard.

But we must also ask this—Heard what?

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these things 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” (cf. John 20:30-31).

Blessed are you who hear the Gospel—the love of our Lord and God who lived and died and lives again, who speaks peace into our lives, that we who hear and believe in Him will never die.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2), 2020
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt