O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
I will never believe
"I will never believe"
Based on John 20:19-31
Preached on May 1, 2011
Fellow baptized saints, have you ever had someone tell you a story after which you thought, 'yeah, right'? And Manitoba is mountainous. Perhaps it was the men coming back from a fishing trip with a tale about an enormous fish, though some say it was a shark. Legend has it the monster may even have been over 1000 years old. Haunting the lake for eons. It swam right past Fred, stared him right in the eyes too. It is all too easy to discard some of these stories. They must be exaggerating. And perhaps some are. Though these stories do not have any significance for our lives or our future. But today, we focus on the infamous account of the disciple Thomas. Here is a man who followed Jesus for three years, repeatedly hearing Him speak of His death and resurrection. Yet when told by his friends "We have seen the Lord." He notoriously responds, "I will never believe." But this is not a funny fish story. It has great impact on his life and his future. And yet, in our world today, his response seems so common. So this morning, let us explore this account to see where this attitude comes from, and how our Lord works to overcome it.
Our text begins by setting the stage. It is now the evening of the resurrection. The disciples, having heard the news, are gathered in a safe place. The crucifixion of our Lord had scattered them, but now His glorious resurrection has reunited them. Except for one. Thomas. Where is Thomas? Why is Thomas absent? Here we see the first symptom of his attitude. Thomas is not missing because he had something more important to do. Thomas is missing because of his obstinate refusal to believe. His unbelief has already shaped all of his thoughts and actions. He stays away from the followers of Christ because of his unbelief. He had heard the accounts of Mary, Peter and John but would not gather with the disciples. He wouldn't even investigate. So, in his stubborn unbelief he missed 'church' that Sunday and became the only follower who had not seen the risen Christ.
After that evening, Thomas had the entire Church telling him they have seen the Lord. In his unbelief, he resolutely set himself up against the Church. Against the unanimous testimony of his truthful friends. "I will never believe" - Not Jesus' promise to rise again. And not any of you. We should not call him 'doubting Thomas', because he is a full-fledged unbelieving Thomas.
Watch as his unbelief establishes its own demands. Unbelief must have what it demands. It sets up radical parameters to be met. It uses extreme language and does not care how vile and acidic it sounds. "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" This is the way Thomas would treat 'his Lord.' He would run his hand through His flesh wound.
Yet, isn't this the typical talk of an unbeliever, aggressively attempting to shock believers? The unbeliever makes himself a superior person, looking down on believers as fools who cannot be trusted. The wisdom of the unbeliever exceeds that of all other men.
But what all this shocking, skeptical behaviour truly shows, is that, while the unbeliever pretends to obey reason alone, they do nothing of the kind. Instead they are driven by an unreasoning and unreasonable will. They have a secret, stubborn determination not to believe. And this they will not acknowledge. And so, we have statements like, "I will never believe!"
Thomas is not enjoying life at this time. Limited by his unbelief he is afraid. He is filled with anger and resentment. He is unreasonably stubborn. He is anxious and stressed. In short he has no peace. He is a wreck. And without faith there can be no peace. We need both faith and peace.
Yet, who among us hasn't doubted? Who among us hasn't made demands of our Lord? Who among us hasn't wanted to see before we believe? This unbelief is in our sinful nature. We will not be rid of it on this side of heaven. Consider the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai. They had witnessed the greatest display of God's power in the exodus, even the parting of a massive body of water, and only 45 days later they were creating themselves a god in the likeness of a golden calf. It is not what we see that forms our beliefs, but our beliefs that form our sight. Sometimes what we can or cannot see, shows us what is really in our hearts. And other times even when we see something, we still have unbelief. What a wreck each of us are in our sinful nature.
But, it is to this poor unbeliever that Jesus comes. Whether it is Thomas in his day, or you and I in the remembrance of our baptism every day, Jesus comes to us. Despite our unbelief, despite our demanding hearts, Jesus comes to us. He, the Word in the flesh, comes to create faith in our hearts.
And when He comes to Thomas, He does not bring judgment, but "Peace". He proclaims, "Peace be with you." Not just a nice word, but the gift of a heavenly reality far more beautiful than the package in which it is wrapped. Seen or not seen, what matters is peace, and Jesus knows that you need it. After all physical sight matters not, for newborn babies cannot see during their first few days and yet they are baptized. They know both their earthly parents by smell, and in baptism, they know their heavenly Father by faith. God is the One who brings faith and peace to you.
Not only does He bring peace, Jesus proves this 'peace' by showing His wounds to Thomas. His wounds attest that God is at peace with you. God has accepted the sacrifice of His Son. His body has risen, and now yours will too.
You can imagine by this point, Thomas may not want to touch these flesh wounds, but he is ordered to. Jesus has heard every word from Thomas and speaks directly to these statements of unbelief. "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 meets the outrageous demands of Thomas with a special purpose in mind. When Jesus deals with Thomas, meeting him on his own ground, he is dealing with all doubt and unbelief in his resurrection for all time to come. Closing the mouth of every unbeliever in all future time. Jesus forces him to touch His wounds in order to create a witness of His resurrection. We have reason to thank the Lord for what He did with the unbelief of Thomas, converting it into the most complete faith. Where he once said, "I will never believe", he now says, "My Lord and My God!" (pause)
The story of St. Thomas does not end here. Church history records that Thomas ventured East with the Gospel, potentially as far as China. In the end, tradition holds that he was martyred in Southern India, where there is a mountain still dedicated to him today. In fact, in 1953 almost 3 million Christian natives celebrated the 1900th year anniversary of his arrival in India. Thomas died there in both faith and peace.
As surely as Jesus put Himself before the disciples, our resurrected Lord puts Himself among us behind closed doors in His Holy Supper. We get to share a meal with Him. Through faith, He gives us that same peace He proved to His disciples in the meal of His body and blood. It is a special meal for us, especially when we feel weak, or when we have doubts. It is how God continues to give us the peace of His resurrection. Whenever we eat and drink at the Lord's table, we too can proclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and My God!" For there is no doubt about it, Christ is risen. (pause) In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr