The Antidote for Fear and Doubt

“The Disbelief of St. Thomas” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He 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.”

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. (John 20:19-31).

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Reports of Jesus’ resurrection, in and of themselves, did not change much for the disciples. They had heard about Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the garden (John 20:18). They had even (presumably) heard from Peter and John about their race to the empty tomb (John 20:3-10). But there they were, on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, ten of them hiding behind locked doors. Why? They were afraid. John tells us the doors were locked “for fear of the Jews.” The disciples were afraid that they would be arrested for supporting Jesus’ alleged conspiracy against the authority of imperial Rome.

Fear is a powerful force. In their case it was understandable, too. Jesus had been subjected to a disgraceful death at the hands of an angry mob, after being passed back and forth between antagonistic religious leaders and pragmatic secular authorities. He had warned them the night before His death to expect the same. “A servant is not greater than his master,” Jesus told them. “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Lest they thought they could slip by unnoticed, Peter learned laying low would not be easy (John 18:15-18, 25-27). After three years of traveling with Jesus, it is likely that someone would recognize them as Jesus’ disciples. Or their Galilean accents would arouse suspicion.  

They could not hide from Jesus, of course. And locked doors prove to be an ineffective barrier to the risen Son of God. Reports became reality as the crucified Lord came and stood among them with words of peace. Then He showed them His hands and side so they could see it was truly Him who had been born of Mary and nailed to the cross, the One who had died, been buried, and risen from the dead.

Jesus’ first words to them, “Peace be with you,” was the antidote to their fear. It gave them joy, which fulfilled another promise from Jesus: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Then, having turned their sorrow and fear into joy and peace, Jesus sent them with His Spirit to continue His mission. “As the Father sent Me, even so, I am sending you” (John 20:21). “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23).

But there was one of their number who was absent that evening. For some undisclosed reason, Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. When the other disciples happily reported, “We have seen the Lord!” he did not believe their testimony. Thomas remained deeply skeptical and demanded tactile proof of Jesus’ physical resurrection. “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 not believe” (John 20:25).

The following Sunday, the disciples were again gathered inside the room. Once more the doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He 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!” He needed no further proof. All the doubt and unbelief vanished, having been turned to faith and joy by the hearing of the risen Jesus’ Word of peace and His call to faith. The antidote for doubt and unbelief is Jesus’ Word of peace.

As we meet here today, obviously we are not hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. None of have faced threatening questions like Peter did on the night of Jesus’ trial. As far as I know, none of you have said you will not believe unless you are given some solid proof that you can see and touch. None of you are mourning the loss of your Lord and Teacher, trying to figure out what’s happening given the recent tragic events. You know that He is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia! But you still come here today with your own fears and doubts, your own sorrows and unbelief.

What is your fear? What causes you doubt? What keeps you up at night? I’m quite certain that your fear will be different than the fears of the disciples on Easter evening. Though attitudes toward Christians are changing in our country, and our opponents are more vocal now than they were even five years ago, we still have little reason to fear physical harm or imprisonment. Nobody is doing mass roundups of Christian believers in our country yet. Which is to say your fears are probably less related to your association with Jesus and more a result of your individual circumstances or consequences of sin.

What are those circumstances? You may be afraid for a variety of reasons. There are those common fears like fear of death or sickness or the fear of losing a loved one or being left alone. Uncertainty regarding the future is a frequent culprit. So is the potential for being shamed or letting others down. Others fear repercussions from past mistakes and habitual sin.

At the heart of such fear and doubt are the sins of idolatry and unbelief. The consequences of our sin or the effects of the sins of others. The fallout of living in a fallen world or the temptations of the devil.                       

The only antidote for such fear and doubt is the peace spoken by Christ.

I obviously am not Jesus, so simply standing here among you will not do the job. That work belongs to the message I proclaim, which is nothing less than the promise of the risen Christ. In his homiletical lectures, Bonhoeffer emphasizes the connection between the promise of Christ and His presence: “The proclaimed Word is the incarnate Christ Himself… The preached Christ is both the Historical One and the Present One… He is the access to the historical Jesus. Therefore the proclaimed Word is not a medium of expression for something else, something which lies behind it, but rather it is Christ Himself walking through His congregation as the Word” (Worldly Preaching, 123).

This promise that brings about the presence of Christ and creates rejoicing, is the peace that Jesus brought to the disciples that night behind locked doors. This peace is the way things should be—peace with God and peace with our fellowman. Grounded in the resurrection of the Son of God, it bursts forth. Resurrection peace arises from the delight of genuine forgiveness, the adventure of an abundant life, and the thrill of eternal salvation. It celebrates the promise of Jesus’ return to reconcile, restore, and revive. It is the kind of joy which led the psalmist to sing: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all by fears” (Psalm 34:4). He delivered the disciples from their fears, and through the proclamation of His promises, He delivers you, too!

It’s by that Word of peace that we declare Christ’s victory over sin and death. It’s by His Word that we show people Jesus’ hands and side and say, “He died for you.” This is for you!” It’s with this Gospel that we say, “Peace be with you.” It is by that Good News that Easter continues—all the time, not just once a year—until the Lord returns in glory.

In our present day, we look at Easter and think of it as a once-a-year celebration, as a big Sunday. For the early Christians, it was different: every Sunday was a little Easter. This remains true today. Whenever the people of God are gathered together around His Word and Sacraments, Jesus is in the midst of them. He is present to give them the victory He has won by His death and resurrection. He is present to say, “Peace be with you.” He is present to give you His Word, that you might have the privilege of taking it to others. And He is present to say, “I forgive you all of your sins.”

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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