Where was Thomas? That’s what I want to know. What was he doing on the evening of the first Easter Sunday? He appears in our text almost as an afterthought. Our text begins by saying, “On the evening of that 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.’” You notice, there is no mention of Thomas.
We are told that the risen Lord showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw this, instead of being startled and frightened they rejoiced because they had seen the Lord.
And then, as if they might have missed what his presence meant for them Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” Before Jesus appeared in their midst, the disciples were in fear. They were cowered together in a locked room. John’s Gospel tells us that earlier that day Peter and presumably John – called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” – had gone to the tomb and seen that it was empty. Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus and talked with him. In the verse just before our text we hear, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord”—and told them what he had said to her.
But this had not changed the fact that the disciples were fearful. They still feared what the Jews might do them. In particular the eleven apostles were well known associates of Jesus. It was not hard to imagine that the religious leaders might come after them as well into order to wipe out whole “Jesus movement.”
Jesus entered into their midst and revealed himself. He showed them his hands and his side. He showed them the wounds that had been inflicted on Friday when he was crucified. And in doing so he demonstrated that he was the same Jesus. Yes he had died on the cross. Yes he had been buried in a tomb. But now he had been raised from the dead and was alive. Because this had happened, Jesus could stand in their midst and say twice, “Peace be with you.” And because the risen Lord spoke these words, they did what they said. They gave peace.
And then having given them peace and joy, Jesus gave them something else. He gave them the Holy Spirit by whom they would speak Holy Absolution. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Having given them peace, he then gave them the gift that would deliver peace to others. He gave them the word of absolution that applied the forgiveness he had won on the cross - the forgiveness that gave peace with God.
But what about Thomas? You notice that, like our text, we haven’t mentioned him yet. He wasn’t there. We aren’t told why, so I guess the fact we don’t know doesn’t matter. What we do hear is his reaction when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” He responded, “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.”
Because it is narrated as the very next thing, it is easy to miss an important point. Our text continues by saying, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.” It’s easy to skip from one Sunday to the next. But there is a week in between.
That must have been an interesting week for Thomas, and for the other disciples. On the one hand, they had seen the risen Lord! He has given them peace. He had put the words of forgiveness in their mouths through his Spirit. And on the other hand there was Thomas. He was determined to remain in uncertainty and fear and he wasn’t going to change except on his terms.
And doesn’t that describe us sometimes? When life doesn’t go the way we want, we can find ourselves in the midst of uncertainty and fear. Yet rather than listen to word of the Gospel that brings us peace and assures us of God’s continuing love and care, we set our own ground rules about what is going to have to happen for us to be alright – for us to feel alright. We decide what God is going to have to do so that we feel ok about life and the way God is treating us.
And so Jesus confronted Thomas. We are told that eight days later, “Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Jesus entered into their midst and said the exact same thing as the previous Sunday. Once again the risen Lord appeared in their midst and gave them peace.
Then he 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.” Jesus challenged Thomas’ unbelief. And in response Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” He became the very first person in the Gospel to say it exactly right. In the first chapter of John we are told about the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then John goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The One who became flesh now stands before them in resurrected flesh. And this prompts Thomas to become the first person in the Gospel to call Jesus “God.”
Thomas left behind his demands. When given the opportunity to do the very thing he had demanded, he didn’t follow through. Instead he confessed that Jesus was his Lord – the One to whom he belonged and who was over him. He confessed that Jesus was his God.
Jesus then said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And then immediately after this the Gospel tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There are times when we face challenges and difficulties in life and we want to be like Thomas. We want God to reveal himself directly and in ways that meet with our approval. But Jesus and the Gospel of John say that this is not the way of blessing. In fact it ignores the way our risen Lord has said that things work.
Before Jesus arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of Maundy Thursday he told the disciples that he would be departing. But he would not leave them alone. He would send them the Helper, the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus said that it was necessary and to their advantage for him to go away or else the Spirit would not come to them.
Jesus promised, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples about Jesus and bring to their remembrance what he had said.
Jesus went on to say, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” The Spirit’s job would be to bear witness about Jesus. And he would enable the disciples to be witnesses for Jesus as well.
Through the work of the Spirit they would bear witness. In words alive with the Spirit they would tell about the saving signs that Jesus had done. And all of those signs found their fulfillment in the final great sign – Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
The Holy Spirit bears witness through the signs narrated in the Gospel. And so John is able to say, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The signs – the works of Jesus such as his appearance today, the second Sunday of Easter – give and support faith in Jesus Christ. They allow those who have not seen with their eyes to see the Spirit revealed deeds of Jesus. It is through them that Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, continues to come to us
Jesus comes to us through Spirit worked word of these signs. But that doesn’t mean that our Lord who rose bodily on Easter has left us without his bodily presence. In fact he comes to us in a way that points forward to our own resurrection. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And in the Sacrament of the Altar he continues to come to us in his flesh – his body. For Jesus has promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”