Every year on the Sunday after Easter, we read from John chapter 20 and hear again the appearance of our resurrected Lord to His disciples. Every year, whether it is in the midst of a pandemic and you are watching church from your living room or you are sitting in church with your family, we get caught up in the story of doubting Thomas and his desire to poke around in the holes of Jesus’ hands. It is a powerful text, from which we get perhaps the greatest confession of faith ever spoken. As Thomas looks the crucified One in the face, standing right there before him having risen from the dead, he says, “My Lord and my God.” He confesses Jesus of Nazareth is God Himself. His confession is our confession. This text is about the existence of the Church, about our purpose and life together. It is about our doubts and fears and the triumph of faith. And I cannot think of a better time to focus on them again.
Thomas and his struggle to believe in the resurrection of Jesus is a story we can all get behind. For all of us, in one way or another, have had our doubts. Perhaps some to a greater degree than others but there have been those times when we have wondered about our God, about His promises, perhaps even about His existence. In the midst of great trial and struggle we have had doubts about His love for us; when everything seems to go wrong, when one tragedy piles up on top of another, when we have struggled to see how any of this makes sense. So, as we hear the disciples excitingly tell Thomas how they have seen the Lord, his response is sensible to us. “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). He had witnessed Jesus’ arrest, betrayal, and His brutal execution at the Place of the Skull. He has suffered and was afraid, unsure about the future. He needs some proof if he is going to believe.
See, everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. This is not some minor side note, or some quaint idea you can take or leave. Without the Resurrection, without Easter, none of this really matters all that much. If you do not have the Resurrection, then Christianity is just another self-help organization. It is a place to learn how to be more charitable, more loving toward your neighbor and nothing more. Without the Resurrection our faith is only about good works, and all the while death and fear remain intact and unbeatable. So, imagine the joy and world changing thing happening when Jesus shows up amid His disciples and says to them, “Peace be with you!” Imagine the celebration when He shows them His hands and side, when He lets them see He is no ghost or some figment of their imagination. But the same body that was broken and buried for the sins of the world now lives. Peace itself arrives in that room and because of Him, their faith is not in vain. Your faith, then, is not meaningless. Faith is rooted in the events of history, in an empty tomb.
But the doubts that plague our hearts and minds do not go running away because we have celebrated Easter. Just because we know the tomb is empty does not mean it is all smooth sailing from here on out. You can believe Jesus came and suffered and died for your sins, that He rose on the third day just as He said He would and yet the doubts still linger. We still have a sort of kinship with good old Thomas. Think of this, when Jesus first shows up in the locked room, He proclaims the message of peace and says, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Then He gives them the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He who is the living presence of peace in the face of the chaos of death and fear now hands the reigns of forgiveness over to His disciples. As He was sent, so now, they are to go out.
Think about what this means. If the disciples are the ones who are now to go and be bearers of peace, the ones charged to forgive sins and you are disciples of our Lord, it means that you are the messengers of peace. You are the ones who forgive others. As the Father sent His Son, so the Son sent out the disciples and, now, He sends you. This, you see, is the plan for the salvation of mankind. This is how He has done it. He has done all the work. He was stricken by God and afflicted so you might have eternal life. He died in your place and rose for your assurance. He is the sole bringer of peace amid the chaos of this age. Now He says to you, “Go ahead. Go and speak My peace to others. If you forgive their sins they are forgiven, if you withhold it, it is withheld.” This is how it works. The message of peace flows from the lips of one person to the ears of another.
And our inner doubting Thomas jumps right up and says, “Hold on! I think you might have me confused with someone else.” It just does not make any sense for God to have us be bearers of peace. Why would He put His Word of forgiveness into our mouths? But this is exactly what Jesus does. He gives you His Spirit and sends you out to do just this thing. You may be looking at me and thinking, “Well sure, it makes sense for you to do it, you are a pastor. You are our pastor. That is kind-of your job.” And this is true. I have been called to do this for you, to make sure there is a ready ministry of the Gospel. To confirm how in your repentance and confession you are met with the holy absolution of God; His unearned, completely free, life changing gift of forgiveness. But I do not do this because I am a better person or have some sort of magical character allowing it. I do it because I am a disciple… just like you.
We all see our own sin. We see the failures that make up our lives. We know that if anyone really knew us, they would never trust us with a message of peace. We all want to wait for the expert to do it. We wait for the one who has a better track record, a better plan of attack or better appearance and reputation. In fact, what we really want is for Jesus Himself to do it. We want the one who defeated death and spit in the face of the Devil to proclaim our forgiveness. We want exactly what Thomas wanted, but where is He? Where is our Lord? Where can we find Him? He died and rose. The tomb is empty, but where is He now?
Around 700 years before our Lord did His great work, the prophet Isaiah famously said, “Truly, you are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isaiah 45:15). A God who hides Himself. He hides in lowly things. He hides in the waters of baptism to claim people as His own dear children. He hides in bread and wine to deliver the very body and blood which forgives us all our sins. He hides in the mouths of sinners who have doubt and fears and hesitations yet speak the promises of Christ non-the-less. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven because Jesus is hiding in them bringing peace over and again.
This is why you cannot stop the Church. This is why a quarantine in the midst of a pandemic will never lock down the Gospel. Jesus shows up in the middle of a locked room all those years ago and He continues to show up even now. He is present in His Word. He is present as we hear Him say, “Peace be with you, for you are forgiven all of your sins. Stop doubting and believe.” And then He turns you toward your neighbor, toward your spouse or your children or your parents, toward your friends and distant family. He sends you into their life with this same message, this same promise of peace. Peace that is born from the empty tomb and hides in you. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.