Text: John 20:24-29
Who was St. Thomas and why is he remembered?
Thomas was one of the apostles. In the lists of the Apostles in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Thomas is paired with Matthew, so perhaps when they were sent out in twos (Matthew 10:5-6), they travelled together.
John gives us more of a personal story of Thomas. The first time, he is introduced as, “Thomas, called the Twin” or Didymus (john 11:16). There are a total of three accounts that involve Thomas in John’s Gospel, and it’s the last one which gets the most attention. Thomas has gained such a reputation that his name as become associated with doubt. This label goes back even to the time of the Reformation, as Albrecht Durer, who carved this woodcut for his Small Passion series (c. 1510), named it “Doubting Thomas.”
Let’s look at all of them together, so that we can better appreciate Thomas, one Jesus’ Twelve.
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:11-16)
Lazarus’ death is a teaching moment for the disciples of Jesus, including the Apostles. Our Lord calls the end of Lazarus’ grave illness “sleep” because this is an enemy which He is about to conquer. Most Israelites saw death as a prison, calling it Sheol, but Jesus had come to release such prisoners. Once He explains clearly that Lazarus has died, notice Thomas’ bold confession! If Jesus can undo even death, then let us go and treat it playfully as a temporary condition—to fear the grave as little as we fear going to sleep!
Later, in the Upper Room, as Jesus is giving His farewell sermon, our Lord says,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)
Thomas is not afraid to ask the question which nags at all of us as we hear these words. He’s just said such an incredible thing, that He goes to prepare a place in His Father’s house. Then, Jesus says we know the way. But do we really? How can we be sure? Let me have detailed instruction, lest I get lost and lose such a precious reward! Thomas’ question prompts the Lord Jesus to clarify saying that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Just as much as He is the Resurrection, displayed in Lazarus (John 11:25-26).
Thomas, through honest questioning, has learned that Jesus is the Master over the grave, the sure and certain way to eternal life with God. Yet, he has also seen his Lord betrayed, cruelly tried, and brutally crucified, dead, and buried. Come the evening of that first day of the week, Thomas as a lot to put together. Has the grave in fact swallowed the Lord up? Did we set our hopes too high?
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
If we only focus on one apparent failure of Thomas, we end up doing what the world does with its forefathers right now. All of their contributions are reduced to the one fact that they owned slaves, for instance. Same with Thomas, that he is caricatured as “Doubting Thomas.” Better not be a “doubting Thomas” and with that label, envelop the whole person, and dismiss his desire for certainty.
Each account of Thomas is about faith and the certainty of what one believes. He can boldly go to death with Lazarus, knowing that Jesus is its victor. He can be sure that he Jesus will bring him and all who believe to the Father to dwell in the House of the Lord forever [Ps. 23:6].
Maybe St. Thomas was the first Lutheran, because he was concerned about certainty in his faith and the message he was being sent out to preach. That’s a distinguishing mark of the Evangelical Reformation: Rather than speculating about what God may or may not think, the ways the Lord may be moving members of His Church, the process for the soul after death, or whether departed saints can pray with us or for us—Lutherans are bound to the clear Word of God, to receive it by faith. Does it say, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” and “this promise is for you and for your children” and that Baptism is “a circumcision made without hands…having been buried…[and] also raised with him through the powerful working of God”? Then we will baptize even our infants because we trust the Lord’s saving work in Christ for them. Does the Lord say to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise”? Then we will not entertain any talk of purgatory for extra purification over and above the blood of Christ which was shed for us. Does the Scripture says, “Truly no man can ransom another” and “There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”? Then we will only pray to the Triune God and not put our hope in Mary or any other servant of God.
What does St. Thomas teach us at Advent?
Advent is a time for Christians to meditate on the first coming of our Lord, and to ask the question, “O Lord, how shall I meet you?” (LSB 334) when He comes again in glory. The End Times are again a place for certainty and confidence. As St. John would later write, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:16-17) Let us not get swept away in the fantastical speculations of so many teachers who trouble believers with talk of invisible comings of Christ, rapture, rebuilding an earthly temple, and Armageddon. Let us follow the example of Thomas, who firmly believed the Lord’s Word and wanted to have confidence in it for himself and his hearers. As your pastor, that is my aim and what I delight in too. Stick with the clear words of Jesus, for “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed…[for] these are written 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 20:29, 31)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
 Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-39; Colossians 2:9-12
 Luke 23:43
 Psalm 49:7; 1 Timothy 2:5