“My Lord and my God!” That is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ does to a person. Thomas could not help but proclaim it, and neither can any other Christian. Make no mistake, the implications of this confession are fundamental and profound.
The second Sunday of Easter (and the entire season of Easter, really) offers the preacher an opportunity to help hearers reflect on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead for their own lives. Thomas reminds us there are only two responses to Easter. Either you believe it, confess it, and conform your entire life to it. Or you do not. While it really is that simple, we are remarkably adept at hedging our bets.
Not surprisingly (for Lutherans, at least), Thomas’ confession intersects with Luther’s Small Catechism in several basic ways. To say that Jesus is God has to do with the First Commandment. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is, we should fear, love, and trust in Jesus above all things. This may seem obvious to Christ-followers. But in a culture which speaks quickly and easily about God in generic terms, the connection needs to be made explicit. As Paul writes to the Colossians, “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19).
To say that Jesus is Lord says something specific about how we relate to Him. Luther’s explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed comes to mind here. “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” The rest unpacks how this happened and what results. With His precious blood and His suffering and death, Jesus has redeemed and purchased me (notice the commerce metaphors). This is how it happened. Now I belong to Him, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him—not only for all eternity, but also here and now. That is the result. To say, “Jesus is Lord,” has far-reaching effects on every aspect of our lives (For a substantive consideration of confessing Jesus as Lord, take a look at Joel Okamoto’s thoughtful article about confessionalism).
With Thomas’ (and Luther’s) confession in the hearts and mouths of Christians today, it is worth going back to the text and considering what this looks like in tangible terms. This is where I would draw three things from Jesus’ words to the disciples.
First, the sending. Just as (καθὼς) the Father sent Jesus, so also Jesus was sending them. Through this co-mission, Jesus was now going to work through His disciples the way the Father was working through Him. It is worth noting how Jesus sends them shortly after showing them His hands and His side. Perhaps Jesus was not only doing this to prove it was Him. I wonder if He was reminding them that He suffered as He was sent. So would they.
Second, the receiving. Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them His Spirit. This calls to mind Genesis 2:7, where God breathed into the first man to make him alive (The Septuagint uses the same verb here: ἐνεφύσησεν). To receive the Holy Spirit is to be made alive as a redeemed and purchased possession of God. That is, to be made fully human.
Third, the forgiving. To belong to God, and to have received the Spirit of Jesus, is to be sent to do something specific, namely, to forgive sins. While this verse rightly stands behind the absolution of the pastor during the worship service, it also applies to all Christians in their daily Christian living. All believers in Jesus are sent to forgive the sins of others in the name of Jesus (Matthew 6:12-15; Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
As present-day disciples confess Jesus as their Lord and their God, they follow in the footsteps of those first disciples. They, too, are sent, receive the Spirit, and forgive others in the name of Jesus. A sermon which proclaims the gracious Lordship of the risen Christ will comfort them with God’s promises of life and forgiveness to them, and it will lead the hearers toward the new life of active forgiving that follows for all who follow Jesus.
One more thing. John 20:31 reminds us of the purpose of the Scriptures. John did not write these things simply so we would have information about Jesus. He wrote them to create faith and new life in Jesus. A sermon on any text of Scripture, therefore, would do well to have the same purpose. May it be said of every sermon you preach, “These things were proclaimed so these hearers might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life in His name.”
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 20:19-31.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 20:19-31.