It was the evening of the third day, the day Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples were hold up in what was probably the upper room where they had had the last supper with Jesus. The doors were locked because they were afraid that the rulers of their own Jewish people were going to come and haul them away.
Suddenly, Jesus stands in the midst of them. They see Him. He didn’t come through any open door or window. His real body is just suddenly there, in front of them.
The disciples were startled at first. So Jesus showed them His hands and His side. This was to show them that they were really seeing the same Jesus who they knew and who died on the cross. He also invited them to touch Him. In Luke’s Gospel, this seeing and touching was emphasized by Jesus to show them that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as they saw that He had (Luke 24:39). Then Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them the power to forgive and retain sins (John 20:23).
Thomas, one of the original Twelve disciples, was not there. They told him about seeing Jesus alive. Thomas did not believe them. Then Thomas said his famous words, “If I do not see the imprint of the nails in His hands, and if I do not place my finger into the imprint of the nails and if I do not place my hand in His side, I will most certainly not believe.” He said this in a most emphatic way. We might say in contemporary English: “There is no way, no how, ever, that I will believe it.”
Eight days later, the disciples were gathered in the same place again, the doors being shut tight again. This time Thomas was there.
Jesus suddenly appeared again. He talked to Thomas. Thomas, “Look and see. Touch my hands and my side. See that I am risen from the dead, as I had told you before that I would be. Do not be unbelieving but believing.”
Thomas was dumbfounded. But then it sank in. He exclaimed: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
This is the church’s confession. Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia. And what do we then declare as true? “Jesus is My Lord and my God,” our Lord and God who saves us from sin, death, and the devil through His own atoning death and resurrection.
So how did Thomas come to declare this about Jesus? For whatever Thomas’s motivations, he did not believe it when the disciples told him that they had seen Jesus alive. “Unless I see it for myself” became his response. He refused to believe unless he saw for himself.
We can’t really blame him. The other disciples didn’t believe it either. When Mary Magdalene told them that she had seen Jesus alive again earlier in the morning on that third day it seemed to them to be an idle tale (Luke 24:11). They did not believe until they saw Jesus with their own eyes.
And we can’t really blame them either. The resurrection of Jesus is such a stupendous thing. The promise it makes that we too will rise through faith in Him is a stupendous thing. It makes claims directly related to the most powerful thing in our common human experience, a thing that threatens, impacts, and is most personal to each of us: death. It claims to reverse it and promises new creation. It seems that the only way faith in Jesus risen from the dead could take root was for the original believers to really see Him alive again. And so it was.
So is seeing believing? In an important sense we need to say yes, seeing is believing. This important sense relates to the founding of our faith, precisely because resurrection makes such tremendous claims and promises. The Apostles, the founders of our Christian faith, did not first believe it without seeing it, and it is a great blessing for us that they really did see it. They saw it—they saw Jesus alive—and believed. This is no fairy tale, no fantasy.
The problem we have is that we cannot come to believe by seeing. For us, seeing is not believing. None of us have seen Jesus alive, not in the way the Apostles saw Him.
But thanks be to God that Jesus also spoke about us in our text. He spoke about us when He said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe” (John 20:29). The “those” Jesus is talking about here are you and me, along with the other millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ down through the centuries and all over the world who believe with us that Jesus is risen, that He is “Lord and God” for them, as He was for Thomas, and the rest of the Apostles. For all of us Christians down through the centuries, for you and me right here, seeing is not believing.
But Jesus blesses us especially for believing though we have not seen. Yes, hear this today: Jesus blesses you for not seeing, but still believing that He is risen from the dead and, therefore, is your Lord and God; your Lord and God who saves you from sin, death, and the devil in His own death and resurrection. Let’s hear that again: Jesus blesses you for believing in Him though you have not seen Him. Believing in Him without seeing, you are in the right place with God. You are an heir of all the promises God has for you in Christ. You are a possessor of all spiritual blessings God could bestow. This includes the Holy Spirit who is the power of faith in Christ and brings God’s peace, hope, and joy into your hearts. Yes, you are blessed for believing in Jesus, though you have not seen Him.
But there is another question and it is this. How then have you and I and the millions with us through the centuries come to believe in Him? John tells us when he says that these things have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you have life in His Name” (John 20:31). These things are written so that you believe.
Jesus Himself affirms this in His so-called high priestly prayer in John 17, before His death and resurrection. There, He prayed for us. Jesus had you and I in mind when He prayed to the Father. How cool is that? He said, Father, “I do not ask about these only”—a reference to the Apostles, “but also about those who believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). Jesus prayed for those who would come to believe in Him through the word of the Apostles. He was praying there for you and me.
How do we come to believe in Jesus? We come to believe through the word of the Apostles, the word of the eyewitnesses of His resurrection. This is the word of those who were once hold up in that upper room, doors locked, afraid for their lives, among whom Jesus appeared and said Peace. This is the word of the one who once persecuted Christ’s people, whom the resurrected Jesus met in resplendent glory on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9).
We have come to believe in Jesus through the word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that Jesus through eye-witness testimony and in the power of the Holy Spirit caused to be planted and deposited into the church. It has been planted and deposited in the inspired sacred writing. Through this writing it is preached and taught and sung and prayed and confessed. It is spoken to us in testimony to each other, that Jesus died and is now risen, that He has done it, that we are forgiven and justified in His Name.
The testimony of the eyewitnesses has been deposited in the Church so that we could believe in Him these many hundreds of centuries later and have life in His Name. And the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel in narrative, in preaching, in forgiveness, in Sacrament, to bring you and me to faith in Jesus and sustain us in the faith. This is deposited here for us in Scripture, preaching, teaching, Sacrament, song, prayer, and confession, because you and I are church here.
We could also say it this way: We come to faith by nurture not nature; and the nurture is the teaching of the Gospel, the word of Christ. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, says Paul (Romans 10:17). We know the law by nature, as God has written it on the heart of human beings (Romans 2:15). But we do not know the Gospel by nature, the Gospel of Christ by which we are forgiven and justified by grace through faith in His Name.
There are huge implications of this. We don’t have time now to delve into all these implications now. Let it suffice to say that every important institution in the civil realm and with respect to the Gospel of Christ is a matter of nurture, not nature. Let it also suffice to say that the Faith rightly taught from Scripture, letting Scripture speak for itself, rightly dividing law and Gospel, is utterly critical. This is why there was a Reformation. This is why our recent ancestors fought the “battle for the Bible.” This is why teaching Christ according to what the Scriptures actually teach is so important in our own time.
So is seeing believing? For the Apostles and the initial apostolic community (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11) it was, but also with the Holy Spirit working through their seeing and through the Old Testament Scriptures.
For us, seeing is not believing, hearing is, or we could also say, reading; hearing and reading go together because our believing comes through the Spirit inspired testimony of the those who saw Jesus and were taught directly by Him. The Holy Spirit worked to give us the inspired written testimony, and the Holy Spirit works today in the preaching and teaching that is inspired by the written testimony to bring us to faith in Christ and to keep us in such faith.
So let us come back to what Jesus says to you today in the conversation He had with Thomas: Blessed are you who have not seen Him and yet believe in Him. Blessed are you for believing in Jesus through the word of the Apostles. Believing in Him, you are right with God and have eternal life in His Name. Amen.