Jesus Holds Us to His Word and Sacraments

10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. All who do his precepts have good understanding. (Ps 111:10, EHV)

John 20:19-31 19On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.”

28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. 31But 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.

I showed the painting of the Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio to my 7th grade Catechism class. After reading John 20:19-31 about Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room, I asked them what they noticed about the painting. They remembered that the room was full of disciples, yet the artist only focused on Jesus, Thomas, and two other disciples.

I commented that Caravaggio intensified the drama of the encounter by creating a dark background and providing a light from Jesus’ over Jesus’ right shoulder. The light focuses the attention on the wounds of Christ and the expressions of the disciples. The three disciples do not question Christ’s identity, but are fascinated by His wounds.

Caravaggio paints Christ without a halo or any other sign of His divinity. The wounds are all that are needed to identify the crucified and now resurrected Savior.

The students said they were disgusted and disturbed by the image. They especially focused upon Thomas poking His finger into Jesus’ wound created by the soldier’s spear. One student commented that he doesn’t like anyone touching his hands if he gets a paper cut. He couldn’t imagine Jesus enjoying a disciple poking and prodding deep within His wound.

I knew they would be focused on Thomas’ hand. I think that’s where most people focus upon. I instructed them to focus instead on Jesus’ hands. With His right hand, Jesus is pulling aside His cloak to display His wounded side. With His left hand, Jesus is pulling Thomas’ hand into His wound.

On Easter evening, when Jesus appeared in the locked room, Thomas was absent. When the disciples told him they had seen the Lord alive, Thomas sternly replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

A week later, Jesus once again appears in the room. This time Thomas is present. Jesus holds Thomas’ hand to His side and says to him, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe” (John 20:27).

Thomas had earlier doubted the disciples’ pronouncement because he had allowed His feelings to overtake His faith and the facts of the resurrection. After Jesus cleared out the temple courts, the Jews asked Him by whose authority He was doing this. Thomas heard Jesus talk about His death and resurrection by referring to His body as a temple: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19).

When the religions leaders demanded a sign from Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah, Thomas heard Jesus answer them: “An evil and adulterous generation wishes for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).

And, on their way to Jerusalem for the last time, Thomas was there when Jesus told all the disciples: “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, spit on him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).

Thomas heard all of this. He witnessed all of this. He had all the facts. But, his sorrow over His Master’s death; his fear of being arrested and crucified; and his guilt over running away from Jesus – all of that was too much for Thomas. He questioned. He faltered. He doubted. His feelings overtook his faith in the Christ and the facts Jesus was the Messiah.

We are very much like Thomas. We question, falter, and doubt when we allow our feelings to hold sway over our faith.

Have you noticed how our language has changed over the years as we talk about feelings? Someone used to ask you, “What do you think about this or that?” Now, someone will ask you, “How do you feel about this or that?” It sounds the same, but it’s not. It appears to be a subtle difference, but it’s not.

Your thinking is based on reliable facts, on empirical evidence. Feelings are temporary and volatile.

People don’t think anymore; they feel. One of the great problems of our present age is that we make decisions based on our feelings instead of facts.

Our culture has bought into feelings over facts. If a man feels like he is a woman trapped in a man’s body, then he should be treated like a woman. Politics, gun laws, immigration, and pretty much anything else in the news these days are debated based on feelings, rather than on facts.

We Christians have bought into this feelings over facts rationale, as well.

We know what God says about sex before marriage in His 6th Commandment (Exodus 20:14), yet we Christians still move in together before marriage. We know that God demands us to keep His Sabbath day holy (Exodus 20:8), but we ignore Him, so we can keep our Sundays free. We know that God prohibits gossip, but if we didn’t gossip, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. We know that God teaches contentment is a blessing and coveting a curse, but how do we plan to get ahead in life if we are content with our job and not coveting more wages?

I have heard numerous Christians repeat the mantra: “Perception is reality.” No, perception is how you perceive things to be – how you feel about them. Reality is the way things really are. Perception is perception. Reality is reality.

We allow our feelings to overtake the facts God lays out for us in His Word.

A young family is at Children’s Hospital with their deathly ill little girl. They don’t know what’s making her so sick. Their fear threatens to overcome their Christian faith.

A family is blessed that their Mom is able to stay at home with the little children. But now, Dad is home, too, after being laid off from work. They don’t know where the next paycheck or next meal is coming from. Their worry threatens to overcome their faith.

A wife has admitted to her husband that she has had an affair. Her guilt threatens to overcome her faith.

A family calls the pastor at 2 a.m. to ask him to come to the emergency room. Their dad has just had a massive heart attack and isn’t expected to survive. Their shock and sorrow threaten to overcome their faith.

Jesus does for us the same thing He did for Thomas. Jesus held Thomas’ finger in His side and said, “Don’t continue to doubt, but believe.” Thomas believed and said, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed” (John 20:29). Then, Jesus talks about us when He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

What haven’t we seen and yet believed? We haven’t seen the empty tomb or the angel sitting on the stone or the burial cloth neatly folded in place. We haven’t directly heard the testimony of the angels or the women walking away from the tomb or the Emmaus disciples. We haven’t put our fingers into the wounds of Christ. Yet, by the grace of God, we have heard and seen and touched, and so we believe.

What does this faith do for us? It overcomes our feelings!

The young family hears Jesus’ words of “Peace be with you” that He spoke to His disciples in the upper room (John 20:21). They know their resurrected Christ is sitting at God’s right hand working everything out for the good of their little girl (Romans 8:28). This peace overcomes their fears.

The parents pray the Lord’s Prayer every night with their young children. With their stomachs rumbling with hunger, they especially focus on the address and two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven … thy will be done … give us this day our daily bread.” They trust that their heavenly Father will give them daily bread according to His will. This trust overcomes their worry.

The wife who has cheated on her husband, hears the words of Jesus that He breathed on His disciples: “Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). She believes her husband when he forgives her in Jesus’ name. This forgiveness overcomes her guilt.

The family that has just lost their dad to death, believe in Jesus when He said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). They believe that their dad is now walking in the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise with their risen Good Shepherd. This resurrection faith overcomes their shock and sorrow.

Feelings are among the least reliable sources to answer any questions – whether those questions are posed by children, teenagers or adults. Whether those questions are about homework, politics, morals, or the Bible. Feelings are actually the worst place to go to answer the weighty questions of life.  

Feelings are a gift from God. But, because of sin, we cannot trust them. We cannot control them. They lead us where we should not go and leave us where we should not be. They prey upon our weaknesses and cast off the restraints the conscience puts upon us. Feelings are temporary and volatile. We are consumed with the need to express our feelings and have those feelings accepted and validated.

As Christians, we must set aside our unreliable feelings that have been forever marred by sin and trust, instead, in the ever-reliable voice of the Holy Spirit in God’s Word and Sacraments.

Jesus held Thomas’ finger in His side so that Thomas could feel Christ’s wounds. Jesus holds your head at the baptismal font so that you can feel those regenerative waters washing over you, making you a sanctified child of God.

He holds your eyes to the pages of Scriptures so that you can read for yourself God’s love letter to you in those beautiful words.

He holds your ear close to the mouth of the pastor so that you can hear the precious words that absolve you from every deliberate and accidental and inborn sin.

He holds His body and blood up to your lips so that you can taste His forgiveness and drink His strengthening of your faith.

Our old enemies of sin and death cannot be killed by feelings. Instead, they must be confronted and crucified with the facts of God’s Law and Gospel. We do not meet God in the emotional roller coaster of the heart, but in the concrete means of water, Word, bread and wine of God’s Word and Sacraments.  

Jesus holds us to His Word and Sacraments. It is here where reality overtakes perception; where facts overthrow emotions; and where faith overcomes feelings. Amen.

How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, everyone who is walking in his ways. (Ps 128:1, EHV)