UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS
2nd Sunday of Easter – B LSB # 469, TLH #207, LSB # 702
Text – John 20:24-25
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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 & put my finger where the nails were, & put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”
UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS
March Madness just ended six days ago, & as usual, some of the games went right down to the wire, to the last second shot. Victory & defeat hung in the balance, waiting for the man with enough character to take that final shot.
During the 1990’s, Michael Jordan was the undisputed champion of the last second play. He had the nerves of steel required to put it up with confidence, in your face. Michael Jordan had no doubts about his ability to make the play. And he would do it over & over again, as often as necessary.
While playing for a championship, there are an endless number of challenges to a player’s character. They must adapt their offensive & defensive game; they must balance their ability to play aggressively or with patience. The coaches & players of the other team are always looking for new ways to attack the enemy, to unbalance their game, to drive them into defeat.
In consequence, there’re many opportunities to doubt. And whether you doubt your own ability, or that of your teammates, once you go down that road you’ve already lost the battle.
Our own daily experiences are filled with opportunities to doubt. Graduation is rapidly approaching for the high school & college seniors. Invisible in all the excitement of the last few weeks of school, are the countless number of new opportunities ahead, to succeed or to fail.
Along with those opportunities come the struggles between confidence & doubt. At one moment, you’ll be confident you made the right decision. The next moment you’ll doubt
that very same decision. The analogy that life is like a roller coaster comes from just those sorts of experiences.
Parents also struggle with confidence & doubt. Did they spend enough time with their child? Did they teach the correct values & priorities? Did they give the proper advice? Confidence & doubt – life alternates between them, no matter how much you work at smoothing out the cycles.
Psychologists believe that one the reason professional sports are so attractive is that the challenges of the game mirror the challenges of life. Yet, sporting events bring those challenges into a much sharper focus. Whether your team wins or loses, the key play of the game often becomes very obvious.
It can be discussed, argued & debated right down to the finest detail. You can watch it over & over again on instant replay. You can examine & dissect every aspect of what went right, or what went wrong; where your team succeeded or where it failed.
Unfortunately, real life is not the artificial world of professional sporting events. Real life doesn’t have referees watching every move. You can’t turn on the instant replay & run it over again to examine in detail what happened. There are no timeouts, & often no coaches to guide your decisions.
In our lives, few things are as clearly in focus as the key play of a big game. Whether you succeeded or failed commonly takes years to discover, & in our culture, where families are increasingly being separated, there are often not even teammates to lean on or to commiserate with. Confidence or doubt! PAUSE
Today’s gospel text deals with a man often referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” He struggled with confidence or doubt, & what we can learn from his struggles is not irrelevant to our lives. The struggles of Thomas are not just some dusty old story, from a gothic old book. Thomas did not have cameras, athletic trainers or agents to help him struggle with confidence & doubt. Thomas simply belonged to a rag-tag team of disciples that even Scripture records as failing more often than not. And their coach, well, He’d just been crucified.
No player had ever come back from that type of injury. Sure, they’d seen Jesus raise other people from the dead, but now He Himself had died. Who could possibly make that last second shot now? The game seemed to be over & the crowds were leaving.
This talk from His teammates about Jesus being alive certainly seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking. Doubt had won the battle in Thomas’ mind. Unless he saw the nail marks, he was not going to be duped into some fantastic story about a resurrection.
He himself had studied under God for three years. He’d lived with Him. He’d learned from Him. He’d been so confident in following Jesus, & now Jesus was dead. Three years appeared to have been totally wasted. That’ll do a number on anyone’s ability to place confidence in someone’s promises.
Have there been times when you have struggled with doubt? Do you have confidence in God’s promises to protect & save you from Covid? Do those questions play a role in your thinking, or do they seem irrelevant? Maybe you believe that you’re capable of taking care of yourself. Maybe you’ve never been admitted to the intensive care unit.
Our lives have very different stories, yet they also have much in common. Success & failure, confidence & doubt have entered each of our lives. Generally speaking, our stories are very similar to each other, & also very similar to the lives of Jesus’ disciples. We even have much in common with Adam & Eve.
How often have you seen something that looked too good to refuse? Others maybe
warned you about it, but you had all the answers. If you’ve ever been there, listen to Genesis 3:6, “…when [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, & that it was a delight to the eye, & that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit & ate...”
Before Eve committed that sin she was holy. All of us can make mistakes, & some of them lead to severe consequences, either for us alone or for those with us. Once you’ve made a few of those, doubt can become a real problem. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a saying that comes from experience. It means that doubt has made its presence known.
And doubt easily leads to cynicism. Life in this sinful world can harden a person’s heart because this life is not fair. It’s not easy. There’re many things in this world that look good to us, but have the power to enslave or even kill. There are other things that, in spite of how delightful they look on the outside, will destroy our families.
Sin is not just some cute little problem we can wink at & laugh about off to the side. Sin has destroyed our world. It has destroyed God’s creation. The doubt we suffer with is merely a symptom of the rotting core within. Unless I see the nail marks, I will not believe!
Do you recognize that attitude? Have you experienced that cynicism in person? Faith is the opposite of doubt & cynicism, & faith is a gift from God. Eventually, Thomas does see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, & Jesus tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)
Is your doubt & cynicism causing you to wait until you see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands & feet? Each of us is waiting for the things that will satisfy our desires & needs. Yet, not all of those things will be good for us spiritually. Not all of those will be as harmless as we 1st think.
If things that are sinful were so obviously harmful, they would not be a temptation. They must “look good” on the outside in order to be tempting, but like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, on the inside our sinful desires will destroy us. Jesus tells us to let go of our sight, & to put our hopes in what we do not see. What we do not readily see is how God strengthens us through the miraculous power of His Word & Sacraments. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart easily rejects them.
What we do not readily see is how God looks at the entire picture of our lives & works out all things to the good of those who love Him. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart quickly becomes bitter & surrenders to despair.
Because God knows there will be times when things seem absolutely hopeless, He doesn’t require anything of us for our salvation. That’s why Jesus Christ did everything. He understands that no matter how good you are, no matter how often you attend church or study His Word, there will still be times when you are completely helpless.
If eternal life depended on us, in any way, we’d never get anything but eternal death.
Our promises to be faithful always fail, because we’re not capable of keeping them, not even with God’s help. The Son of God had to become man in order to keep our promises for us. He was faithful unto death, & out of His love for us, He then grants eternal life to all.
The only question remaining is, “Do you believe that?” Do you believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son? If you believe that it’s true, then you have eternal life, regardless of whether or not you keep any promises. PAUSE
The sort of love with no strings attached is difficult to believe. It’s a love so contrary to the kind we have for anyone; you can bet Satan will tempt you to doubt that it’s true. That’s why it’s important not to walk away from the relationship God has created with you. In that
Relationship God will shield you & protect you from doubt & unbelief.
Through the study of God’s Word, He will strengthen your faith & your will to resist
Satan’s temptations. He will remove your guilt, & the despair & cynicism that guilt brings. God will wash you to make you pure, & He will free you from the hopelessness of your sins. He’ll create in you a clean heart & renew a steadfast spirit within you, all by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, for it was in Christ that our sins were paid for.
It was in Christ that all of God’s law was perfectly kept. It is in Christ, that we are even now, perfect, holy & capable of pleasing God with our actions. Apart from Christ, we are nothing.
As Jesus came to Thomas & showed him the marks in His hands, He told Thomas to stop doubting & believe. That may sound too good to be true, but God is more powerful than all of our doubts. God is more faithful than all of our failures. Jesus was risen from the dead & Thomas declared it so with his strong confession, “My Lord & my God!”
Thomas did believe after all. Thomas did have faith in his Savior, & Scripture never mentions that Thomas put his finger in the nail marks. Merely the words of his Lord, “Stop doubting & believe,” were able to create & sustain belief even in the heart of a doubting Thomas. Amen.
Like the golden sun ascending, breaking through the gloom of night, on the earth His glory spending so that darkness takes to flight, thus my Jesus from the grave & Death’s dismal cave rose triumphant Easter morning at the early purple dawning. Though I be by sin o’ertaken, though I lie in helplessness, though I be by friends forsaken & must suffer sore distress, though I be despised, contemned & by all the world condemned, though the dark grave yawn before me, yet the light of hope shines o’er me. Amen. TLH 207:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet