Hearing Is Believing

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“Then [Jesus] 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.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:27–29, ESV).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
So… how hard should we be on Thomas? Apparently, pretty hard judging from nearly two thousand years of church history. Hardly anyone remembers his original nickname—Didymus, the Twin. He’s been called “doubting Thomas” for a long time now. But is that fair? Was he really asking for more than what the other disciples received? Does it really matter? Let’s take another look.
Thomas was with the other ten disciples that Sunday when they first heard the angel’s news from the women that Jesus is risen from the dead. Luke tells us that none of the disciples believed at first. The women’s words seemed like nonsense. That night, the disciples were in a locked room, hiding for fear of the Jews. Suddenly, Jesus was there in their midst. He declared peace to them and showed them His hands and His side. He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, and declared that they would preach His Word to forgive and retain sins.
The disciples knew that Jesus is risen—body and all. They’d seen Him and heard Him. Unfortunately for Thomas, he wasn’t there at the time. Why, we aren’t told. Whatever the reason, Thomas was not there to see and to hear. So when the others told Thomas they had seen the risen Lord, he was skeptical. “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.” Thomas is a pragmatist. For him, seeing is believing.
Eight days later, Jesus returns to the disciples, and this time Thomas is with them. As He did a week earlier, Jesus declares He comes in peace. Then He speaks directly to Thomas as though He had heard every word the skeptical disciple had made when making his demands: “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Think what the Lord does here: He meets the outrageous demands of this wavering disciple, meets them to the letter. We may well marvel at such astounding condescension. Yet the reason for this action of Jesus is fully warranted. He is offering to all these disciples many proofs of His resurrection, by no means for their personal faith only, but as the foundation for the faith of the Church of all future ages. They were made witnesses of His resurrection, eyewitnesses whose testimony was to stand as being unassailable in all future ages.
We may blame Thomas as much as we will. Jesus knew that Thomas would have many successors in all future ages. Hence, if Thomas, “one of the Twelve,” had been left with any justification, however flimsy, even for any degree of doubt as regards the resurrection of Jesus, the effect would have been bad for all time to come. By dealing as He does with Thomas, the Lord is dealing with all doubt and disbelief in His resurrection in all time to come. We thus have reason to thank this doubting disciple for what the Lord did with his disbelief, converting it into the completest faith, and clear confession: “My Lord and My God!”
John’s Gospel closes just as it begins by proclaiming the deity of Christ. “And the Word was God,” (1:1) has its counterpart in Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and My God” (20:28). This is indeed the goal and substance of all of John’s account, as especially emphasized in the concluding words of our Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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” (20:30-31).
St. John records how others are privileged to confess Christ as the Son of God. Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). Martha declared, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (11:22). But it was granted to Thomas to make the final grand confession that Jesus is the almighty Lord God Himself.
Still, Jesus is not quite done with Thomas yet (nor, for that matter, you and me), and so a gentle rebuke follows. “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It’s easy for us to pile on Thomas. He wouldn’t believe until he saw, and the Lord gave Him the luxury of seeing. We don’t get that same luxury, but that’s okay. God’s Word is what gives faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” says St. Paul. We walk by faith, not by sight. Thomas had the Word, too. Before the crucifixion, Jesus declared that He would die and rise. After the resurrection, the women and the disciples declared to him God’s Word that Jesus is risen. Thomas had as much to go on as you and I have, even before Jesus appeared to him. So we frown at Thomas and his motto, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But is that motto really so bad? You don’t buy property without seeing it first, do you? When the Nigerian prince emails you and asks for your bank account numbers, I’ll wager you don’t hand them over. We live our whole lives saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
And, in fact, in this world, this is an important principle to live by. People are sinful. Many of them are intentionally deceptive and dishonest. Even those with good intentions will still fail to live up to their promises. This is not a world where you take people at their word, because people generally don’t live up to their word. Simply put, if people were honest and always kept their commitments, we wouldn’t have to demand proof first. But people are sinful, so we doubt their word. So maybe we’ve been a bit hard on Thomas for acting so naturally.
On the other hand, maybe we aren’t being hard enough on ourselves. “I’ll believe it when I see it” makes sense when it comes to people. But when Thomas doubts, he’s not questioning the honesty of another sinful human being like himself or you or me. He’s questioning the honesty of God. He’s questioning the veracity of the God-appointed apostolic witnesses and the Word of God.
This is the real sin at work here. To demand proof of God’s promises up front is to doubt God’s honesty. To doubt God’s Word is to question His integrity. But the integrity of God is not at issue, because He always speaks the truth and always keeps His promises. No, the problem lies with us who say, “I believe” and then demand signs, demonstrating that we don’t believe. If we demand proof from God, we’re treating Jesus like any other man. Dear saints of God, rejoice in this. God’s Word is sure. He keeps His promises. You don’t need any further proof, because there is nothing untrustworthy about the Lord who has redeemed you.  
But be warned. Sinners—you and me included—always want to see before we believe. There is demand today that God would prove His existence and love by signs and miracles and wonders. “If He makes the blind see or the deaf hear or the lame leap today, then I’ll believe,” say some. Or, more common is a panicked prayer, “Lord, if You show Your power by getting me out of this mess, then I’ll believe in You. When I see that, then I’ll believe. I’ll straighten up and fly right.”
But you and I don’t need such signs and wonders—why? Because we have something better—the Word. And in the Word, we hear the miracles that Jesus has performed—that He has made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. We have His testimony that He has done, and is able to do, such things. We have His promise that He will deliver us in His time. More importantly, we have His Word that He has already delivered us from sin and condemnation. What need have you of further proof that the Lord delivers you? After paying the price of His holy, innocent blood for your redemption, do you think that He will be faithless now?
This is, by the way, why we don’t give time to personal testimonies of Christians during worship. You’ll find that, in such testimonies, the Christian will recall how the Lord delivered them from this trial or that struggle, and then conclude, “Because the Lord has done such a great thing for me, I believe in Him.”
This seems right at first, but I ask you to consider: What about the one who has the same trial, but is not delivered? Should he conclude, “Since God’s not done such a great thing for me, I shouldn’t believe in Him?” Of course not. We give thanks to the Lord for all good things; but we do not believe in Him because of some deliverance we see. We believe in Him because of the great thing He’s already done for us—our redemption. We need no further proof. We need no further great thing to convince us, because He declares in His Word that He has already delivered us from sin, death and the devil—the greatest miracle of all!
No, instead of demanding to see more miracles, we rejoice that we have God’s Word on it. His Word brings us to faith—whether it’s proclaimed in the Absolution, added to water in Holy Baptism, or spoken over bread and wine in Holy Communion. In these means of grace the Lord brings us to faith and sustains us in the faith. To be sure, in this world, “seeing is believing” is an excellent axiom because people often don’t live up to what they say. However, the Lord always lives up to what He says. He has died to live up to His Word. His Word grants faith and forgiveness. Therefore, for Christians, hearing is believing.
So hear this Word of the Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ has died for you and every other untrustworthy, wavering, deceptive, failure-prone soul. On the cross, the One called “Faithful and True” suffered for all the sins, the faithlessness and lies, of mankind—yours and mine included. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus is risen from the dead so that He might share His eternal life with you. Risen from the dead, the living Word-become-flesh speaks to you in His Word and tells you exactly where and how He comes to you.
This Gospel lesson is an excellent start, because here Jesus breathes on the disciples, sends them as His apostles, and tells them to forgive sins by speaking His Word. So, when you hear the pastor declare the Absolution, you can be certain that you are forgiven—as certain as if the Lord Himself were speaking the words to you. This is most certainly true because it is the Word of the Lord.
Likewise, the Lord promises that He’s present with forgiveness in the waters of Holy Baptism. You only see water in the font. But the Lord declares that He shares His death and resurrection with you there, so that you have forgiveness and eternal life. Likewise, the Lord declares that He is present in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This brings you “the forgiveness of sins” and “strengthens and preserves you in the one true faith until life everlasting.”
In these otherwise ordinary means, the Lord is truly present to forgive. As present as He was with the disciples in the locked room. This is most certainly true because this is the Word of the Lord and hearing is believing.
For now, you only hear of these things; and you walk by faith, not by sight. But just wait. You’ll see one day. God will keep all of His glorious promises. In the meantime, blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe; for by the Word of God, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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