Text: John 20:24-31
Today in Italy the mysterious shroud of Turin goes on display for the fourth time this century. Believers say the shroud is the cloth which was used to wrap Jesus when he was buried. No one knows. The cloth is very old, and it does seem to have the impression of a man's features, with wounds exactly where the Bible suggests they should be. Some believe that when Jesus rose from the dead, his power burned his image into the cloth. Others believe that the cloth is just a 700 year-old fake, although no one can explain how the trick could have been done. Is it true? Is it really the cloth Jesus was buried in, or is it just a fake?
We may never know the answer. Some people want it to be real, so they'll push that view no matter what. Others want it to be fake, so they'll do anything to discredit the shroud. The only way to know for certain is for Jesus to tell us.
That's how Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, felt when he heard that Jesus was risen from the dead. Maybe he hoped it was really true, but he wasn't about to believe it until he saw Jesus and touched him himself. He doubted, and in his mercy Jesus took away his doubt. We see in God's Word today that Jesus does the same for you: Jesus Takes Away Your Doubt. See him and trust him.
Do you ever feel like doubting Thomas? Have you ever been called a "doubting Thomas"? It seems like these days, doubting is a virtue. Sometimes it can be wise to be doubtful, too. TV ads are always promising what sounds too good to be true. Telemarketers always want you to take advantage of great offers. Cults and phony religions make promises they can't keep. When Jesus' disciples told Thomas something which sounded too good to be true, he did what comes naturally: he doubted. John tells us today that on the first Easter, after Jesus rose from the dead, he showed himself to his disciples. But "Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it'." Thomas' response sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? Seeing is believing. If the disciples wanted Thomas to believe something so incredible, Thomas would have to see for himself.
You probably get annoyed with people who doubt your word. I'd guess that the disciples got annoyed with Thomas for doubting them when they told him about Jesus. But Jesus is merciful! He knew Thomas doubted, and he didn't want Thomas to doubt. John tells us, "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Jesus wanted Thomas to believe, not doubt, and did what it took--he showed Thomas that he really was risen. He didn't just show Thomas, but he even invited Thomas to touch him and see that it really was Jesus, that he really was alive. Jesus didn't scold Thomas or condemn him for his doubt, although the words "Stop doubting and believe" aren't exactly praise. Jesus wanted to take away Thomas' doubt, and so Thomas saw Jesus risen and alive.
Some people wonder if Thomas was sinning when he doubted. I don't think that doubting was his sin. I think his sin was not hearing and believing Jesus' promises. Time after time before he died, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be put to death and that he would rise again. Time after time the disciples didn't listen, didn't believe Jesus' words. Why do you think they were so upset when Jesus died on the cross? Jesus told his disciples what would happen, but they didn't believe him.
You have the same problem, don't you? You don't listen to Jesus sometimes, don't believe what he says. Jesus tells you that God will provide for you, that he'll care for your earthly needs, yet how often don't you figure that you have to take care of yourself? Jesus tells you that God wants you to serve him first, but you put yourself first instead. Jesus tells you that this world won't last forever, that he's getting heaven ready for you, but you doubt him. You fear death. You prefer to live for today rather than look forward to heaven. What if the Bible is wrong? What if Jesus isn't risen? What if this world and this life are all you have? You doubt too--even worse, you don't believe, you don't listen. Thomas deserved Jesus' anger for his unbelief, just like you do. For your doubt, for your sin, you deserve God's punishment, hell for all eternity.
Yet instead of punishing Thomas, Jesus told him, "Stop doubting and believe." He didn't want Thomas to doubt. He didn't bring bad news to Thomas. Instead, Jesus took away his doubt, and he does the same for you. Jesus Takes Away Your Doubt. Trust him!
Trust is tough. Trust is depending on someone else. You know that you're imperfect, and that means others are imperfect too. Now you're going to trust someone who isn't perfect? That takes a real leap of faith, doesn't it? Now what about Jesus? He told his disciples once, "Trust in God; trust also in me." Trusting God is easy--God is perfect! But what about Jesus?
Thomas learned to trust Jesus. When Jesus showed himself to Thomas and invited Thomas to touch him, Thomas could only respond in one way: he proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" Suddenly he knew--didn't doubt, but knew--that he could trust Jesus. Thomas knew that Jesus was dead, but now he saw Jesus alive. Not only was Jesus alive again, but he even knew Thomas' doubt, and told Thomas to touch his hands and his side, just as Thomas had wanted to do. Yet Thomas hadn't expressed this doubt to Jesus! Jesus just knew! Thomas knew that he was in the presence of "My Lord and my God." Jesus wasn't just some teacher who had died. He was God's Son, risen from the dead, just as he promised, who knew Thomas' heart! Jesus took away his doubt. He knew that Jesus was real, that his promises were real too--promises of life, forgiveness, heaven.
Jesus Takes Away Your Doubt too. It isn't so easy, though. It was easy for Thomas to believe Jesus--he saw Jesus with his own eyes. He heard Jesus' voice with his own ears. Jesus told Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed." Now what about you? You haven't seen Jesus with your own eyes. You haven't heard his voice with your own ears. And yet Jesus makes you a promise: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus wants you to trust him too, and even calls you "blessed" for believing him, believing that he is risen!
That word "blessed" isn't just an idle promise either. Jesus makes you some big promises. He once told his disciples, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." He promised great blessing to those who follow and trust him: "Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. . . I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will also come back to take you with me, that you also may be where I am." Jesus promises heaven!
He's the one who has the right to make big promises like that. Jesus can promise you heaven because he earned you heaven. Jesus lived a perfect life in your place and gave up that life on the cross for you, so you could have forgiveness, so you could have heaven. You deserve God's anger for your sins. Jesus promised to take God's anger away, and then he did it. You deserve hell for your sins. Jesus suffered hell instead, so you could have heaven. Jesus promises you life forever. That's a promise you want to trust. But how can you do it, when you haven't seen Jesus for yourself, when you haven't heard him like Thomas did, when you haven't touched his risen body as Thomas wanted to do? How can you trust and not doubt? How can you know Jesus is risen, that his promises are true?
John tells you how in the last verses of today's gospel lesson. John writes that "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John and the other gospel writers didn't write about Jesus just to amuse others, just to pass the time. They didn't want you to have nice traditions to pass on to your children, a heritage of Bible stories which you share. John wrote for a specific reason: not just for you to be entertained, but 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." John and the other Bible writers told about Jesus so that you may believe and trust him!
That's important, because you don't see or hear or touch Jesus today. Jesus went back to heaven 40 days after he rose to life. He isn't here for us to see today. But he had a plan: before he ascended into heaven he told his disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." Jesus was going to show himself risen through the words and the reports of his followers. You don't see Jesus with your own eyes today. Instead, you see him through the words of his first disciples, those who saw him and wrote about it. You don't see Jesus working miracles today, but you see his power through God's Word. Jesus wants you to trust him, to believe him, to see him, all through God's Word. Those who saw Jesus alive wrote about it. Those who saw his power tell about it in the Bible. Those who saw his forgiveness share it with you in God's Word. And God promises to forgive you through that Word too. He promises to make you a disciple through the reports of the other disciples, the ones who actually saw and heard Jesus. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." That's a promise for you too.
So what do you do with that Word, with that gospel message? Do you throw it away? Do you ignore it? Do you put it away after church or confirmation class and just take it out when you need it? That isn't trust. Actually, that leads you to doubt. Don't throw away God's power! Instead, use God's Word. Listen to God's Word. Read it for yourself--not as ancient history (that's boring), but as the story of what God did to save you, to make you his own. The Bible isn't just some book. The Bible is God's message to you. God promises to send his Spirit to work in you through the Bible so you can know what the disciples knew: Jesus is alive, and he's coming to bring you to heaven! That's a promise you want to trust, not to doubt. Spend time with God's Word then, because through the Bible Jesus takes away your doubt and gives you heaven.