MARTIN CHEMNITZ DOCTRINAL BULLETIN
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
Bethany Lutheran Church
409 North German Street
New Ulm, Minnesota 56073-1619
KJV John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. 30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The minister of St. Thomas Lutheran Church was asked, “Which Thomas?” The person wanted to know if the congregation was named after Doubting Thomas or the apostle who traveled as far as India in proclaiming the Gospel, according to tradition. One province in India, Kerala, is mostly Christian. They trace their church, Mar-Thoma by name, to the apostle Thomas.
Many different lessons can be learned from this Gospel. First of all, we see that the disciples were frightened and locked in a room after the death and resurrection of Christ. Why? “For fear.” Fear is not a reason but an emotion. Fear is the opposite of faith.
The disciples were trained by Christ. They saw the miracles of Christ: water turned into wine, walking on water, raising the dead. They believed in Him, but fear caused faith to vanish at times, such as when Peter denied Jesus three times during His trial. Fear is easily transferred to others. Screaming “fire” in a crowded place is likely to cause a stampede, even if no one detects any evidence for fire.
The disciples were not looking for the risen Christ. Nor did they go out and announce the resurrection of Christ. On Easter Sunday evening they knew the tomb was empty. But the doors were locked. The Gospel of John has many ironic contrasts in it. One is that Peter denied Jesus three times in front of a charcoal fire (John 18:18), then received absolution from the risen Lord three times beside a charcoal fire (John 21:9). The sealed tomb could not hold the crucified Christ in, and a locked room could not keep the risen Christ out.
(Jesus could also move at will through any obstacle during His earthly ministry, as we see from Luke 4:30, when the crowd tried to throw Him from the cliff. This is called the non-reciprocity of the second genus by Lutheran theologians, meaning simply that the divine nature of Christ was not limited by the divine nature. However, Jesus often did not display His divine nature. He converted others through the Word, using miracles to confirm the Word.)
KJV Luke 4:30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way…
An ordinary man, pushed to the edge of a cliff by an angry mob, cannot pass through their midst.
It is important to remember Jesus entering the locked room, because our frail human reason is so inclined to doubt how God works. In fact, reason cannot come to any certainty about any act of God.
For instance, even the most hide-bound atheist will pray in times of crisis, if television is to be believed. Does he stop to ask how God hears that prayer, especially when his prayer is silent?
Therefore, entering the locked room is akin to Jesus converting us through the Word. Most of us have times in our lives when we are cold toward the Gospel. We are born as unbelievers. Yet God enters our hearts through the Word and converts us to faith.
The Word of God creates and nourishes faith, dispelling fear. We could not pray a single prayer if we did not have faith that God hears and answers prayer. In fact, the Bible is filled with assurances of God’s love, power, and willingness to answer our prayers.
KJV John 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus showed His wounds to the disciples. He was not a ghost or a vision, but a real person. His body was glorified, but it was the same crucifixion-scarred body in a transformed state. At the end of time, all believers will have a similar glorified body. Christ is the first-fruits of all who will rise from the dead.
Jesus also gave the disciples the office of the keys. They were to use the Law and Gospel to pronounce lack of forgiveness to the unrepentant and pardon for the contrite believers. Forgiveness without contrition only hardens hearts. We see the results of that all around us in our society, where people think they can do anything they want. The 10 Commandments were carved in stone, not placed on a chalkboard. They remain God’s perfect will and command, even if no one obeys or believes. Nothing in this world will last, but the Word of God remains forever.
This Gospel is read for the first Sunday after Easter because Thomas was absent on Easter evening. He was perhaps shopping for another lock. He refused to believe the preaching of the apostles. (They were now “sent” as Jesus was sent. Apostle means “sent.”)
Thomas demanded evidence, just as people demand today. Woe to all church leaders who rely upon human reason and evidence to prove that God’s Word is true. They are Doubting Thomases who try to prop up God’s Word with human arguments.
"It is most scandalous for us to attempt to defend God's Word with our reason, whereas we are to defend ourselves against all enemies with the Word of God, as St. Paul teaches (Eph. 6:7). Would he not be a great fool who in battle would seek to protect his helmet and sword with bare hand or head? But that is the situation when we try, with our reason, to defend God's Law, which is our weapon."
What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis:
Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1475.
When Jesus returned, the doors were still locked, reminding us that people resisted the profound message of the Gospel even then. Jesus appeared and offered to let Thomas acually touch the evidence he demanded.
Thomas did not actually touch the wounds of Christ, but he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus warned Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” That has remained the blessing of the Christian Church, for faith has grown across the world without people seeing the risen Christ. Once again, we see the power of the Word in creating faith. Doubting Thomas is an example to us, a warning not to demand or rely upon physical evidence.
When people puzzle about having an independent church, often the same questions trouble them. Something out there is needed to make them feel secure. A building? A bigger building? A full-time pastor? I see no evidence that St. Paul’s congregations owned a building. Perhaps some did and others did not. He was certainly not a full-time apostle. He made tents for a living, a tradition among the Pharisees (to have a real job, as they say). St. Paul helped to support his own ministry by making tents. That will be necessary for most independent Lutheran missions from now on. Seldom will a church large enough to support a full-time pastor break away from Holy Mother Synod. Few pastors will actually leave the warm nest of a pension fund and health benefits for the privilege of preaching the Word faithfully.
God does not permit us to predict the future or generate 5 year plans. Everything is in His Hands. He started with nothing but a few, fallible men on the Day of Pentecost and created the Christian Church through the preaching and teaching of believers. Some are known to us. Many are unknown. Countless Christians were killed for their faith. Many worshiped underneath the ground, in the catacombs, using a tomb as an altar. For that reason many altars look exactly like coffins, a reminder of how the Church began, not in comfort, but in persecution.
We have this comfort alone – that the Law and Gospel are God’s sole method for turning people from sin and offering them forgiveness. Wherever the Gospel is preached, sins are forgiven, Satan is defeated, and the gates of heaven open up. The fruits of the Gospel become manifest. All this is God’s doing and not our own.
When Lutheran pastors tell me how discouraged they are about the lack of progress and outward success they have, even saying, “I haven’t seen it work, even though I believe the Word is effective,” I challenge them with a series of questions. Have you never baptized a baby? Have you never distributed the body and blood of Christ in holy communion? Have you never preached the Word of God faithfully?
The answer is usually, “Well, I haven’t liked the results. They are not what I expected.” That is irrelevant. God’s Word is effective in creating faith, sustaining faith, and in damning unbelief. Some reject the Word. They do not want the righteousness of Christ in place of salvation by works. When St. Paul caused a riot with his sermon, he was preaching effectively. When religious leaders opposed him, he was obviously doing his work.
KJV Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
We are told that the end-times will be so bad that Christ wondered in advance if He would find faith.
KJV Luke 18:8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
KJV 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 2 Timothy 4:4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth
America enjoyed a great era of outstanding Lutheran leaders:
1. C. F. W. Walther.
2. Francis and August Pieper.
3. Matthias Loy.
4. Krauth and Schmauk.
5. Henry Eyster Jacobs.
6. A. Hoenecke.
7. Martin Franzmann.
8. Jack and Robert Preus.
All of these men had their faults, as we all do, but they contributed genuine leadership in Lutheran doctrinal matters. Now Lutherans are being led by Doubting Thomases who require statistics (Church Growth Movement), false doctrine (God commands us to love ourselves; if true, the only commandment we can keep!), and loyalty to an institution at the expense of the Word.
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
QUOTE: "Let us learn more and more to look upon the Lutheran Church with the
right kind of spiritual eyes: it is the most beautiful and glorious Church; for
it is adorned with God's pure Word. This adornment is so precious, that even
though an orthodox congregation were to consist of very poor people - let us say
nothing but woodchoppers - and met in a barn (as the Lord Christ also lay here
on earth in a barn, on hay and straw), every Christian should much, much rather
prefer to affiliate himself with this outwardly so insignificant congregation,
rather than with a heterodox congregation, even if its members were all bank
presidents and assembled in a church built of pure marble. Let us be sure that
our flesh, and the talk of others does not darken the glory of the orthodox
Church, or crowd it out of our sight."
Francis Pieper, The Difference between Orthodox and Heterodox Churches, and Supplement, Coos Bay, Oregon: St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1981 p. 47.