Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. That’s a rather bland translation. They rejoiced when they saw the Lord is what the Greek says. The same word Jesus uses when he promises them three nights earlier, “But you will see me again, and your joy will be full and no one will take that joy from you.” This is the Joy O joy beyond all gladness that we sing. It’s a joy that the gates of hell can’t overcome. It’s a joy that drowns fear of death, fear of judgment, fear of pain, because Jesus, our Lord and our God, is risen and comes to us and speaks peace to us and points us to the scars of his suffering that prove beyond all doubt His love for us, God’s love for us, that He has laid down His life for His friends and now has taken it up again to be with us forever. So joy is the word.
And it is this joy that marks the preaching of the Gospel. They preached it to Thomas. We have seen the Lord. This is what you do when you have happy news. You want to share it with everyone. When a baby comes, part of the joy of it all is to be able to tell others, to have them share in your happiness. And this is always what the preaching of the Gospel must remain. It’s true that I have do it. God called me to do it, and if I refuse to do it, I will be disobeying God. And as St. James says, Pastors will receive a stricter judgment. Or as St. Paul says, “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” And all the apostles could say the same thing. Jesus had just commissioned them. He had just given them the Holy Spirit, just commanded them to forgive sins in His name. They must tell Thomas. But the command and the necessity of the thing don’t take away the joy. Not at all. It’s my duty to give my wife affection. That duty doesn’t take away the joy of it. It’s my duty to bring up my children, and yet I can’t imagine anything in this world more joyous than bringing them up. And so it is the duty of the Church and her pastors to preach the Gospel, to preach Christ crucified and risen, to preach peace with God through our Lord Jesus, but we can never forget the joy of it all. My sins are forgiven. My God is at peace with me. He loves me. He is my Father. His Son is my Brother forever. He gives me His Spirit. He’s passed through death for me. He’s borne my punishment. He gives me a life to live before Him that will never end. What unbridled happiness this is. What stability and foundation and everlasting meaning.
And so while the necessity and duty lies on your pastors to preach and for you to confess and teach yourself and one another and your children at home, dwell every single day on the joy of it. This is actually what the writer of the Hebrews insists on, that the work of teaching the Gospel should be a joy and not a burden. No less than to the disciples, Jesus has come to you. No barrier of sin or hardness of heart kept him from coming. He passed through closed doors and came. He has preached His wounds to you, assured you that the marks on his hands and the gash in his side were for you, He has given you His Spirit, spoken peace to you, forgiven you your sins, fed you with His body and His blood. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. And it is this joy that spurs on their preaching to Thomas and to the world, and this joy is infectious, so it fills our preaching and our confession and our life as Christ’s Church.
Thomas was not glad. He didn’t rejoice. So sometimes the joy of Christ’s resurrection meets with people who won’t for one reason or another take it to heart, won’t share in it. Thomas is famous for his doubting. But doubting comes for different reasons. Thomas’ doubting was a refusal to give in to joy, to the confidence and relief of the resurrection fact, that this really happened, that it really happened for him, that it answered his death, his sin, his fear, his guilt. That joy was too much for him to believe. There are other kinds of doubt and unbelief – the intellectual refusal to deal with the facts of the resurrection, the cynical and irrational denial of the supernatural, of miracles, or the gross apathy that just doesn’t care, has no time for talk of God and sin and death and forgiveness and life. There’s plenty of that kind of doubt and it needs to be answered with the law, with the retention of sin, whosoever sins you retain they are retained, Jesus says, and this retaining is the preaching of sin and death and separation from God. Because before people understand their need, the Gospel won’t seem joyous at all. It’ll seem irrelevant and inconvenient. God save us from that.
But it’s quite the opposite with Thomas. His doubting is precisely because the resurrection of Jesus is too joyous and he won’t let himself feel it, won’t give in to it, until he’s seen it with his eyes and touched it with his hands. We have to keep in mind who Thomas is. He’s Jesus’ disciple, a sincere Christian. And He’s been a bold Christian. He’s the one who, when the news came of Lazarus’ death and everyone knew it was dangerous for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, because the leaders of the Jews were out to kill him, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” And it was Thomas, then, who just a few days later, with all the disciples, the night of Jesus’ suffering, refused to suffer with him, refused to die with him, and instead abandoned his Lord and ran away. So Thomas hears the news of the resurrection, and not just of the resurrection, but everything it means for him, that Jesus showed his hands and his side as proof that He had just borne the sins of the world, that Jesus came not to punish the disciples for their fear and cowardice and denial, but to forgive them and announce peace to them. Thomas hears this and wants to believe it, but it’s too good to be true. So he doubts.
And this is the kind of doubt that most often hits us. Maybe some of us have our intellectual doubts, but those should be pretty easy to put down. Jesus rose from the dead. It’s an historical fact, witnessed by hundreds and reported independently by multiple sources. And we’ll all struggle at times with the apathy of our flesh, this gross preference to obsess over worldly concerns and lose sight of the heavenly treasure we have in Jesus. But the doubt that most affects us is this refusal to give in to the joy of the resurrection, not simply that it happened, but that it’s really for you. No matter your sin. No matter what you’ve done or said or felt. No matter how you haven’t deserved it, no matter that you know you’ve deserved the exact opposite from God. No matter your fears, no matter even the pride of intellect or the apathy of the past. That none of that can change the fact, this glorious reality, that Jesus is risen and He comes speaking peace between you and God, peace won by His suffering for you, the peace of sins forgiven and communion with God by His Spirit.
Now Jesus met Thomas’ doubt by coming to him and showing him His hands and His side. This is what Thomas demanded to see and feel. And he did that because those wounds mean something. They mean Jesus won peace with God for Thomas by His blood. Thomas isn’t simply demanding to see a living Jesus, the fact of the resurrection. He’s demanding to see a Jesus who’s alive precisely to forgive him and rescue him from death and be His Lord. And this is why the sudden and remarkable change in Thomas is so beautiful. He sees those wounds, he hears his Lord speaking to him. And his doubting is gone. He experiences pure relief, unbridled joy, perfectly expressed in the words every Christian speaks from the heart at the sight of Jesus crucified and risen, “My Lord and my God!” Because Thomas knows Jesus has come to him specifically, him the sinner, him the coward, the one who fled away, the doubter, the weak and even the unbelieving Thomas, He comes to him with those wounds that broadcast a peace with God that surpasses all understanding.
Jesus says blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Thomas was an apostle. It was his job to see Jesus with his own eyes both before and after the resurrection. Jesus had promised exactly this to Thomas – “but you will see me again, and your joy will be full.” So the point of our Gospel lesson is not to contrast Thomas with you, who haven’t seen and yet do believe, not to make you think, “If only I could see like Thomas did,” not to give you the consolation prize that says you’re even more blessed because you didn’t see it. No, it’s to show you Jesus’ great grace and kindness to you, to your doubting, to your weakness, and to give you the very same unbridled joy that Thomas had when seeing his Lord face to face.
It was for our sake that Jesus was careful to show Himself to His disciples, to Thomas, to the twelve, to Mary and Mary and Mary and Salome and Joanna, to Paul, to James, to hundreds more. It was for our sake, that our Lord was careful to give his apostles the confidence by their sight and by His Spirit to preach a Gospel that doesn’t need our eyes to confirm it. He did it all for our sake, to establish the apostolic ministry, to build his church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. He tells them to go and forgive sins in His name and by His Spirit. He says as the Father has sent me, so also I send you. And they go out and they preach what they saw, turned from cowards to brave soldiers of God, and as Christ suffered, they suffered, and as Christ preached they preached, and the joy of the resurrection took over the world, even in the face of persecution and suffering and death.
These things are written, St. John says, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. There are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree. And they still testify. Is this for me? Those wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, his suffering, his resurrection and life. You just heard it. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins. And your Baptism doesn’t lie. As surely as water poured from your Lord’s side, so surely has the water of your Baptism washed away your sin. And Jesus’ promise never fails. This is my body, this is my blood; the same blood that was spilt for you, He puts into your mouth. So don’t deny yourself this joy. Your Lord has died and risen and established his church and his ministry to take all doubt away. Alleluia. Christ is risen.