Defined by one word
John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 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." 26 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!" 27 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." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.
Peace be with you. Amen.
When Jesus hears that His good friend, Lazarus, is sick, He informs His disciples that they are heading back to Judea to see him (John 11:7). The disciples protest, “That’s a very bad idea, Rabbi. Just a short while ago the Jews were trying to stone you and now you want to go back there” (John 11:8)?
Jesus knows that this could be dangerous for Him and His disciples. No … it would be dangerous. For after He raises Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish Sanhedrin plotted to kill Jesus. Two weeks later, Jesus is dead and His disciples are hiding behind locked doors.
There is one disciple, however, who is full of faith and devoid of fear. He is confident in His Lord. Without an inkling of doubt, one disciple speaks. He boldly confronts His fearful counterparts, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” he says (John 11:16).
And, which disciple said this? Which disciple had a backbone? Which disciple displayed conviction, courage, and confidence? Which disciple had more faith in Jesus – at that time - than all the other disciples combined?
It was Thomas.
And yet, no one has dubbed him Courageous Thomas, or Bold Thomas, or even Believing Thomas. Throughout history he has been given the unflattering moniker of Doubting Thomas.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, I don’t find any other people defined by their sin. We don’t call him Murdering Cain or Womanizing David or Depressing Elijah. Peter denied Jesus three times, but no one calls him Denying Peter. Judas betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss, but we don’t refer to him as Betraying Judas. All the other disciples were hidden behind locked doors on Easter evening, but we don’t describe them as Scaredy Cat Disciples.
Yet, for some reason, Thomas is forever defined by one action. He is historically known as Doubting Thomas. He is the only one with an unfavorable adjective in front of his name. It is like a big zit on a teenager’s nose – a beacon for all to see.
There is no denying that Thomas doubted. Ten of the disciples are holed up in a house for fear of the Jews. They are afraid that the same crowd that turned on Jesus so quickly three days earlier shouting “Crucify! Crucify!” will hunt them down and turn them over to Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest.
But there was One whom the locked doors could not keep out – the resurrected Jesus.
Suddenly, Jesus is standing among them offering them peace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. But Thomas is missing. When he later shows up in the room, he steadfastly refuses to believe that the women and the disciples have seen the risen Jesus. He thinks everyone is playing a cruel joke on him. This isn’t just doubt. This is unbelief. He makes excessive demands to not only see the risen Jesus, but also touch His crucifixion wounds. “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.”
For that one action – as egregious as it is – Thomas is forever branded as Doubting Thomas.
How would you like to be defined by one action, one past transgression, or one recurring vice?
What adjective can we stick in front of your name like a fat pimple for all to see? What sin can define you to everyone around you? Lying Lori, Cheating Charlie, Gossiping Gus? Sleep-around Susie, Boozing Bob, Porno Pamela?
Or are you good at keeping your skeletons hidden deep within your closet? That way no one can know what sinful action defines you. Do you commit your most egregious and embarrassing sins behind closed doors and under the cover of darkness so no one knows your real shame?
Or maybe you commit your sins around your un-Christian friends. They aren’t going to point out your sins or blab about them to others. They think you’re cool and see nothing wrong with your lifestyle.
Or maybe you commit your sins around your Christian friends. They aren’t very likely to confront you or tattle on you because they are afraid you’ll do the same to them. Everything is good if you all just keep everything hidden together.
But is it all good? For a full week, Thomas lived with his sin, carrying his doubt with him wherever he went. His unbelief fostered resentment toward the other disciples and anger toward their constant lecturing about the risen Christ.
Our sin, whether it is tucked away deep within the closet, or committed in the darkness, or defended by friends, or overlooked by other friends still harms us. It plagues us. We carry it around like a dead weight. It drives a wedge between us and our friends. It creates conflict between us and our family. The anger and resentment over our guilt keeps us away from our forgiving God.
It is a week after Easter Sunday. The disciples are all gathered together again behind locked doors. This time, Thomas is with them. Though Thomas committed his sins of doubt and unbelief in darkness and behind closed doors, Jesus knows what was said the week before. Yet Jesus doesn’t criticize him for his doubt or berate him for his unbelief. Instead, Jesus holds out His scarred hand for Thomas to see. “Put your finger here; see my hands.” He invites Thomas to not only see, but also touch. “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
“No longer Thomas then denied; He saw the feet, the hands, the side; ‘You are my Lord and God,’ he cried” (CW: 165 v7).
That is the way of our Lord, the way of grace. He doesn’t abandon Thomas to drown in a sea of doubt. He stretches out His nail-scarred hands and pulls him in.
Jesus will not let one sinful action or past or moment to define you. That’s because what Jesus did for Thomas, He also does for you.
He takes your lying, cheating and gossiping and put them on Himself on the cross. He takes your sleeping around, your boozing with friends, and your addiction to pornography and buries them in His open tomb. He will not allow sin to define you. That’s because He has removed that sin from you, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He won’t allow your sins of doubt and unbelief to drown you. That’s because He drowns those sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). He doesn’t want you carrying around your guilt like a weight, creating anger and resentment all around you. That’s because He has forgiven the guilt of your sin and removed its burden from you (Psalm 32:5; Matthew 11:28).
Jesus does not allow sin to define you. That’s because He has already defined you with the gifts He has given you. They are the same gifts Jesus gave His first disciples.
Jesus defines you with peace. “Peace be with you!” This is the peace you receive in the benediction at the end of every worship service: “The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.” It is a peace that the world cannot give you (John 14:27). It is a peace that will sustain you through all your earthly troubles, doubts, and fears (John 16:33).
Jesus defines you with the reception of the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” You were given the Holy Spirit at the baptismal font. It is the gift of faith in your crucified and resurrected Christ. A faith that doesn’t need to see to believe. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Jesus defines you with the power of His forgiveness. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” You receive this power of forgiveness in the absolution at the beginning of each worship service. “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is a power that Jesus gives you to also forgive your spouse, children, parents, or friends.
Jesus defines you with belief in His Holy Bible. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” These are the words of Scripture we hear in worship, that our children learn at WLS and Shoreland, that we share with our families in our home devotions. These words strengthen our faith and secure our lives forever in Jesus.
Thomas was a man who doubted once. But he was also a man who at another time had tremendous courage and faith. All of us are more complicated than allowing a single moment or action to define us. We have done some very bad things. We have also done some very sanctified things. Most of us are a Lutheran casserole of all of those things combined into one.
Most people will only remember the bad. That’s fine. Let them. We have a God who remembers only the good. And the only good He remembers is the good that Christ has done for us, in us, and through us.
Let me tell you who Thomas really is. He is neither Doubting Thomas nor Believing Thomas. He is Thomas. And more than that – he is Thomas, the son of our Father in heaven, the brother of Christ. Jesus does not identify Thomas by his doubt or his faith, his bad works or his good works, his virtues or his vices. Jesus identifies Thomas by that man’s faith in the resurrected Christ.
Let me tell you who you really you. You are Lori or Charlie, Gus or Susie, Bob or Pamela. That’s enough. But if you want more, if you want to put a descriptive title to put in front of your name, then choose any of these: Baptized Child of the Heavenly Father; Brother or Sister of the Resurrected Christ; Believing Citizen of the Kingdom of God; Redeemed, Reclaimed, and Reborn Saint.
Jesus does not allow sin to define you. That’s because He has already defined you with one word – “faith” - faith in Him. Amen.
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. Amen.