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Poor Miserable Sinners

April 28, 2019
By Rev. David French

John 20:19-31

Well this is it, the week we year after year consider poor old Doubting Thomas. Talk about bad timing, Thomas misses church one time and He’s tagged with a nick name that will follow him until the Lord returns. But is it fair?

I mean Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted, all the disciples doubted. In fact, in Luke’s account of the resurrection where we read about the reaction of the eleven when Jesus stood among we read: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

You see, when you consider the details Luke adds, if Thomas is Doubting Thomas, then Peter is Doubting Peter, James is Doubting James, and well you get the idea. The point is, all of Jesus’s disciples doubted, Thomas just happens to be the one who, as we might think of it, missed the meeting, and so was elected by man, not God, to bear the label.

Now I suppose I could make this all about the dangers of missing church, but that's not really fair either. Maybe Thomas or a member of his family was sick. Maybe he got tied up in the chaos with the earthquake just two days before and all. The Bible simply tells us Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared that first night.

In fact, when you look at it closer, we see today’s Gospel reading isn’t so much about Thomas as it is the incredible patience of Jesus. Jesus would have certainly been justified if He had rejected all of His so-called disciples. I mean, Matthew tells us that when Jesus was arrested … all the disciples deserted him and fled. Peter personally denies even knowing Jesus while He was on trial, and only John is found at the foot of the cross.

But Jesus shows patience and compassion with their confusion and weakness, and He shows them His hands and side. He allowed them to poke, prod, and examine His crucifixion wounds. Now, in His glorious state of exaltation, these wounds are the signs of His identity as the Savior of mankind.

I’m sure you remember that Jesus’s last words to us were: It is finished, and now the first words He speaks to us after the resurrection are: Peace be with you. Now, understand that these words are not just a simple greeting. These words come from the mouth of the One who said: Let there be light, and there was light. That’s because God’s Word is what’s known as a creative word; that is, it creates what it speaks. Since Jesus is not just a man, but is also true God, His word also actually creates or accomplishes what He speaks. When Jesus says: Peace be with you, He’s not talking about some undefinable subjective feeling, but an objective condition. Then He showed the wounds that proved sin has been removed and peace between God and man was now restored.

When Jesus said, Peace be with you, a second time, He was offering that peace through forgiveness to those who had deserted Him, and they were to share with others as we see Him say: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you and ends with If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. With these words Jesus is teaching them its function of and ordaining these doubting disciples into the office of the holy ministry. That is, He’s sending them out into the world in His place. 

Remember the word apostle literally means one who is sent. So, Jesus tells us that He was sent by or is the apostle from God the Father, and these doubting disciples are now being sent by or are the apostles of God the Son.

Think about it. What does it mean that these men who all doubted, who were all basically cowards, who in their own writings confess that they were weak, dull-witted men are His apostles? What that means is that all their authority, all their standing and reputation rests squarely on Jesus. The power they demonstrated then and the results of the words they wrote to this very day rests entirely on the work and promises of Jesus.

And that is good news for all Christians. Why? It means that the absolution that comes from the mouth of their pastor does not depend in any way on the personality or character of the pastor. The truth is, an honest pastor knows more than most how sinful he is. We know that we’re not worthy to utter those words of forgiveness. And yet, pastors can and do joyfully and confidently speak those words because it’s not we but Jesus who forgives. We understand that we are merely stewards of the gifts God offers to you, His children.

But, what about Thomas? He wasn’t there when all this happened. True, and so Jesus continued to do what Jesus came to do; that is, He shows His love and patience and returns the next week. And again, Jesus said, Peace be with you. 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. We don’t know if Thomas put out his hand or not, the next words of Scripture are Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his Lord and God. What we do know is that with His words of invitation, Jesus gently brought Thomas back into His “Little Flock.”

My friends, there is great comfort offered to us in this lesson as well … because we also deserve God’s condemnation. We all have and daily continue to sin. According to God’s Word, we have all murdered with our hatred. We have all stolen with our desires. None of us love as we are loved. None of us loves God above all things. The truth is, we have no redeeming qualities within ourselves. We really are what we claim to be … poor miserable sinners.

As we are reminded again today, Jesus is mercifully patient with sinners like Thomas, and like you and me. We know that because He who is peace still comes to us just as He came to the disciples then, offering Himself as the fulfillment of the words: Peace be with you.

From that day when Jesus’s church on earth was just a fearful little group of disciples locked away in a room, He who is our peace has continued to come to those who gather in His name. Today our room is bigger, but still we gather to receive the gifts Jesus offers.

These gifts are offered through the water and word of our baptism, in with and under the bread and wine of His Supper, continually worked and re-worked in us by the Holy Spirit as God’s Word, both law and gospel, are read and proclaimed in all their fullness so that you who bear His name today might always know and by grace believe that in Christ Jesus you need not fear the accusations of sin, for it is by grace through faith in Christ that you, a poor miserable sinner, are forgiven.

In His Name, Amen.