What about Me?
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who died and rose again to secure for us forgiveness and peace with God, dear fellow redeemed:
For nearly three years, 12 select men accompanied Jesus as He traveled through Galilee, Judea, and the surrounding areas. They were not His bodyguards. They were not His support staff. They were His disciples. Every day they listened to His teaching and witnessed His frequent miracles. They developed a strong bond with Him. He was a leader like no other. They enjoyed the renown of being specially chosen by Him, but they also felt the hostility of those who rejected Him.
They resolved to stay with Him to the death. When Jesus decided to go to Judea not long before His crucifixion, Thomas declared to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16). Peter spoke with this same confidence just before Jesus was arrested. He said that even if the other disciples fell away from Jesus, he never would. “Even if I must die with you,” he boasted, “I will not deny you!” The other disciples agreed (Mt. 26:35).
But Peter did deny Jesus, and the rest of the disciples abandoned Him. Three years together, and they left Him to be bound and put on trial like a criminal. As far as we know, only John was present at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Judas Iscariot had hanged himself earlier that morning after betraying Jesus to the Jewish authorities. The other disciples were keeping a low profile “for fear of the Jews.” Would they be the next targets of the jealous rage of the religious leaders? Would the death penalty be urged in their case too? As Jesus rested in a dark tomb, they cowered in the darkness of their habitation with the doors locked tight.
But then reports began to come in on Sunday morning: Some women found the tomb open! Two angels told them Jesus had risen! Peter and John investigated the tomb and found no one there! Mary Magdalene reported actually talking with Jesus! Two men said they conversed with Him on the road to Emmaus! Could it be? Had Jesus actually come back from the dead?
Then suddenly Jesus appeared to the disciples in the middle of their tightly secured place. “Peace be with you,” He said, and “He showed them His hands and His side.” This is the first the disciples as a group had seen or heard from Jesus since leaving Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their relief must have been two-fold: Jesus has risen from the dead, and He is not angry with us! This was wonderful news!
The problem was that one of the remaining eleven disciples was not present at the time. Thomas had stepped out on some errand or another. When he got back, his friends told him everything that had happened, but to him it seemed too good to be true. His fellow disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he wanted the proof they had gotten. He wanted to see the marks in Jesus’ hands and side that they claimed to have seen.
Why do you suppose Thomas was so stubborn about this? How many eyewitnesses had reported seeing the Lord? Did they lack all credibility? Were they liars? Were they just imagining things? Remember that Thomas had followed Jesus those three years just like the other disciples had. So why would Jesus appear to everyone else but him? Why should he be singled out? He did not think he was less important than the others. If Jesus was angry with him, He should be just as angry with them. Thomas didn’t deserve this!
All of us have had “why me?” moments like this. Why does everyone else seem to have close friends, while I get picked on? Why do they seem to be blessed with so much, while I have to scrape by? Why do others have a happy home life, while mine is a constant struggle? Why do they have good health, while I have constant aches and pains? Why are they rewarded for poor work, while my good efforts are ignored? Why me? Why doesn’t God bless me? What about Me?
Like stubborn Thomas, we focus on blessings we do not have, rather than the ones we do. We play the idea over and over again in our minds that we deserve better, we deserve more. We think we have done nothing to earn God’s anger—at least not more than a thousand others we could name. So why should they prosper while we suffer? And this is how we start to think of God as our enemy instead of our compassionate Savior.
Do you think Jesus regretted visiting the disciples when He did that Easter evening, when Thomas was not there? Did He take stock of the people in the room and wish He had chosen a different time? Jesus did not make a mistake. He never does. He knew Thomas was not there. He knows everything. He knew what Thomas had been saying to his friends all week. When Jesus appeared to the group the second time, He looked Thomas in the eye and said, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Then Thomas saw how foolish he had been. Of course Jesus had risen. Of course his friends were telling the truth. He now realized that he had failed to honor his Lord in the best way possible, which was to believe His word.
Jesus was not punishing Thomas by first appearing when he was gone. He was giving Thomas an opportunity to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor. 5:7). Would Thomas believe what Jesus had promised, even if there were no external proof? Thomas showed what little regard he had for Jesus’ words. He expected proof on his terms! Jesus gently admonished him and called him to repentance for this, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Those words were not just for Thomas. They are for you and me: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Being a disciple of Jesus means trusting Him even when He seems to be ignoring you or punishing you or even playing favorites. He does not love and care for others more than He loves and cares for you. You are no afterthought to Him. “God shows no partiality” (Gal. 2:6).
So why do others receive blessings, when you, like Thomas, seem to be left out in the cold? It is not for us to know why one person is burdened by extra cares and troubles while another is generally happy and content. It is not that one necessarily has a stronger faith than the other. It is not that God is punishing one and not the other. Just as we do not know why the Lord tested Thomas as opposed to a different disciple, so we do not know why particular tests and trials come our way.
But we can be certain than none of these tests and trials are sent by God to push us away from Him. They are intended to bring us closer. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him, who put their trust in Him (Rom. 8:28). In other words, it should not concern us that others appear to be happier, more successful, or stronger. How things appear may not actually be how they are. They will have what God in His wisdom chooses to give them, and we will have the things that He determines are right for us.
His purpose is not to give us everything we want in this life, or even everything we pray for. We do not always want the right things. His purpose is to save us—to give us peace, His peace, “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). This is what the disciples needed, and this is what He gave them. They had rejected Him, run from Him, and sinned against Him, but He had not rejected them. “Peace be with you,” He said. “I am not angry. We are at peace. This is what I came to do. I came to bring peace by the shedding of My blood and to declare this peace for the world by My resurrection.”
Jesus is also at peace with you. He has not forgotten about you and the troubles you have. Just as He was fully aware of Thomas’ struggles, so He is fully aware of yours. And just as He came with the blessing of peace to Thomas, so He comes to you. Even though you feel shut off from all help with the doors and windows locked tight, Jesus comes into your very midst. He does not come visibly showing you His hands and side; He comes through the means in which He has promised to be present.
He comes through His word of absolution spoken by His representative, your pastor. The disciples were the first of His representatives to whom He said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In the same way, when I speak that forgiveness to you in church or in private confession, it is just as powerful and sure as if Jesus appeared before you and said it Himself. He does not need to be visibly present for His word to be true. He did not need to present Himself to Thomas for His resurrection to be true. He had risen whether Thomas believed it or not. In the same way, He has won forgiveness for all people whether they believe it or not.
Jesus also comes to you through His holy Sacraments. When the sinner is baptized at the font, He is there anointing the baptized with His righteousness and peace. When baptized believers later approach the Communion rail, He offers His own body and blood to give them—to put right in their mouths—the peace of sins forgiven. You cannot see His presence. But you can hear His voice, a voice which says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You are blessed to have this faith in the world’s Savior. He came for you. He gave up His life for you. And He rose from the dead for your victory. What further proof of His love could anyone ask for?
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(painting is portion of “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)