Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 30:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everything is in the hands and side of Jesus. Otherwise, why would John mention it three times in these few verses? Jesus comes and stands in the midst of those disciples on the evening of His resurrection day, and while He is speaking, He shows them His hands and side. Then Thomas, who is not with the disciples when Jesus comes, says to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and stick my fingers into the print of the nails and stick my hand into His side, I will never believe.” And then, after eight days, Jesus’ disciples are in the room again, and Thomas is with them. Notice how carefully John points out that Jesus’ disciples are those who believe His resurrection. He very clearly says, “His disciples were there, and Thomas was with them.” Thomas is, at this moment, not one of the disciples, because he does not believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. Even so, Jesus comes and stands among them again, and says to Thomas, “Put your fingers here and see My hands and put your hand also into My side, and stop being an unbeliever and become believing.” Three times, reference to Jesus’ hands and side, corresponding to the three times that Jesus says, “Peace to you.” Peace to you. Peace to you. The peace of Jesus, the peace that He gives, is bound firmly to these hands and this side, to this body, to this Man resurrected.
Jesus Himself says it: the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand (3:35). The Father has given the salvation of the world into the Son’s hands, and He spreads them wide to gather you to Himself, as He is nailed to the cross. So it is that all those whom the Son gathers are His flock, and they hear His voice and follow Him, and the Son says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given all of them to Me is great, and no one is able to snatch them from the hand of My Father. I and the Father are one” (10:27-30).
If the Father and the Son hold you in their hands, who is able to seize you from them?
And it is from Jesus’ pierced side that blood and water flow, the new birth of water and the Spirit. The one who wrote it down says that He saw it, that His testimony is true, and that it is all so that you also will believe (19:35). No coincidence, then, that the same apostle, after mentioning Jesus’ hands and side three times, says, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe and, believing, that you may have life in His Name” (20:31). And then he says nearly the same thing in the first chapter of his first letter: we heard and saw and touched this Word of Life, resurrected, and we proclaim Him to you so that you may have fellowship with us, who have fellowship with Him. And he connects that directly to confessing sins and Jesus forgiving them. It is all in Jesus’ hands and side, in His flesh, in Him, raised from the dead.
If Jesus isn’t risen from the dead, we have nothing to preach, nothing to believe, nothing to confess, nothing to pray, nothing forgiven. The apostles have no other forgiveness; they preach, believe, confess, pray nothing else. They have no other peace, and no other life, and neither do we. It is only when Thomas hears Jesus speak peace to him and show him His hands and side, that Thomas speaks from faith: “My Lord and my God!” Which is, I’m pretty sure, the only time in the Gospels where one of the Apostles actually calls Jesus God. How does Thomas know? Because only God raises the dead. Only God in the flesh could be raised and give them peace.
But we have never seen the hands and side of Jesus. We have never seen—like Thomas and the other apostles and all the witnesses—the resurrected Jesus standing in our midst. Which is why Jesus says, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” He is not telling Thomas that his faith is somehow lessened because he saw and we do not. He is not somehow praising the Christians in East Wenatchee, Washington because we have never seen, yet we believe. He is saying that if we were not blessed by His Father, if the Holy Spirit did not create faith in us where there was none before, then we, like Thomas, would never have believed.
If Thomas, who had spent three years with those other ten men, could not believe, could not be convinced by them that they had indeed seen the risen Jesus, then how would we ever be convinced, who have never known the ones who were in that upper room? “No one can come to Me,” Jesus says, “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Which is why Jesus sends His Apostles like His Father sent Him. Not to be the same thing; the Apostles are not the Son of God; they are not sent to be saviors of the world. But they are sent with the authority of God Himself to deliver forgiveness to the world. And they only have that authority because the one who gives it to them is risen from the dead. Because He shows them His hands and side. Because He gives them His peace. Because He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Because, by His Word, He makes believers out of unbelievers.
This is the new creation, just as John had promised with the first words of His Gospel. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This Word took flesh and actually lived among us, as God did in the wilderness tabernacle. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and all of it was created through this Word who took flesh. In the beginning, God formed a man out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living creature. And He begins again, breathing on these men and making them living creatures again, by His Spirit. In the beginning, God took flesh from the side of the man and made a woman, of whom the man said, “This, finally! Is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” And He begins again; from the flesh of the new man, from His side, blood and water flows and a bride is made. And the risen Jesus says, “This, at last, is flesh of My flesh and bone of My bone.” A body for Him to cherish and nourish and cleanse; a bride for the bridegroom. And He will have a sinless body, a sinless bride.
So He sends out those Eleven and then Twelve, so that they who have seen the resurrection would give resurrection by His Word. Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whatever sins you hold in place against a person, they are held in place. He delivers forgiveness to sinners to purify and cleanse His Bride for Himself. If He had not given them the words, they could never have said them. If He had not given them the authority, they could never have authorized themselves. They have no authority but this, and neither do we. His pastors have only that authority which He has been pleased to give to men, that they forgive sins in His Name. And you, in your vocations, as the holy baptized priesthood of the one High Priest, have that same authority, and it is as good as done. Because Jesus says so.
If we had absolute certainty that we could go to some place or another to hear God speak directly to us, wouldn’t we run miles and miles to hear Him? Wouldn’t we refuse to let anything keep us from hearing His Word, drinking it in as living water? And yet this is exactly what He has given, a direct word, and we shrug our shoulders. We go here and there, listening to the winds or our hearts or something that we think we might have heard, suspecting we might have heard the Spirit or wondering what God might want to say to us; we run around trying to relieve our guilt, or find peace, or build our self-esteem, but we neglect the very voice by which He speaks to us.
Are we afraid it might not work? Are we afraid that Jesus’ word could fail us? Never the less—God’s Word is never less than everything—He speaks a very clear and unmistakable word: I forgive you all your sins. Here is My Body and My Blood; take it and eat it; take it and drink it. It is the very voice of your Lord and God, even if it comes from my sinful lips. Here you see His hands, pierced for you. Here you put your hand into His side. Here He says, again, Peace. Here He breathes His Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins. Here He makes unbelievers into believers. Here we rejoice because in these words, by these wounds, in this flesh and blood risen from the dead, we see the Lord. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, from the hands and side of Jesus Himself. O sons and daughters of the King, Whom heav’nly hosts in glory sing, today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/10/21