Lessons: Psalm 70, Revelation 22:13-21, Ephesians 4:7-16, John:24-29
Hymns: LSB 517, 333, 934, 348
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today—December 21—is the day the Church remembers St. Thomas, the Apostle. The color is red, because Thomas was martyred by means of a spear as he faithfully confessed the truth of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thomas is also called Didymus. Thomas is Hebrew or Aramaic and Didymus is Greek. Both mean “Twin.”
Just before our Lord enters Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick and dying. Despite hearing that Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus continued His work where He was at for another two days. Lazarus, by the way, is the brother of Mary and Martha, (the two women I brought up in Sunday’s sermon). Then, Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go to Judea again” so that He could perform a miracle on Lazarus in Bethany and then go to Jerusalem. But His disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews are seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” After some further discussion, Jesus told them, “Lazarus has died. Let us go to him.” That’s when St. Thomas boldly told his fellow disciples, “Let’s also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:1-16).
This shows Thomas understood in part what would happen to Jesus. The Lamb of God had to go to Jerusalem to die. Through His death in our place, He paid for our sins, reconciled us to our Father in Heaven, and fulfilled the Scriptures saying that the Father will send His Son to pay for our sins so that we may receive the gift of eternal salvation.
In the final stanza of our Advent hymn, we sang, “Come, then, O Lord Jesus, From our sins release us.” While the first three stanzas testified of the three ways in which Jesus comes to us, this final stanza is a prayer to Jesus. We are testifying and praying, “Maranatha,” which means, “Our Lord comes.”
We pray that Jesus will come to bring about complete restoration to His creation so that there will be no more sin or sorrows or thorns to infest the ground. You see, the world still suffers from the effects of sin. We are continually tempted to sin. In weakness, we give in to sin. And so we pray that Jesus will come and set all things aright—that He will come to set us free from the ravaging effects of our own sin.
Even though Jesus selected Thomas to be an apostle and even though Thomas boldly said, “Let’s also go to Jerusalem, that we may die with Jesus,” it is clear that Thomas remained a human—one who sins—one who could not purify himself from sin. He still had some questions or doubts, which is common to man.
And so we pray to Jesus in our hymn, “Keep our hearts believing, That we, grace receiving,” Thomas was there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Thomas was there when Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, flogged, and crucified. But Thomas, for whatever reason, what not there when the rest of the disciples saw the resurrected Christ on Easter Sunday. When Thomas heard the report of our Lord’s resurrection, Thomas would not believe it. He needed to see and feel Jesus’ hands and side. He could not unsee the brutal death Jesus endured. And so he found it difficult to think that our Lord’s mangled Body could possibly be raised.
If an apostle struggles with this, do not be surprised if you do or if some (or many) of our brothers and sisters in Christ do. The only way to overcome such doubts is by being in the Word and through prayer. So, we gather in God’s house to hear His Word. And the Holy Spirit works and sustains faith in us.
When Thomas finally saw the resurrected Christ, he rightly testified of Jesus, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29). While Thomas gave a good confession of the Faith after seeing Jesus, our Lord taught an even better way—without seeing. The Scriptures put it this way, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).
It is for this reason our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the ministry and raised up men like St. Thomas to fill it. That way, we can do as we sang in our hymn, “Ever may confess You Till in heav’n we bless You.”
Jesus spoke of Heaven when He was with His disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. In preparing them for His crucifixion, Jesus said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 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? 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. And you know the way to where I am going.”
At this Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6).
The way to salvation is through Jesus. He alone became human flesh (yet without sin). He alone fulfilled the Law in our place. He alone shed His innocent Blood as the ransom payment for our sin. He alone fulfilled our Father’s will.
And so we pray for Him to come, for Him release us of our sin, for Him to keep us in the faith, for Him to bring us to Himself in Heaven, and for Him to raise us up in perfection on the Last Day. There, our tears will be wiped away forever, and our joys will never end. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen