David Kolander

Have You Seen the Nail Marks?

by David Kolander on April 7th, 2024
John 20:19-31

On that first Easter Sunday evening, at least ten people told the disciple Thomas they had seen Jesus, but Thomas said that unless he saw the nail marks in Jesus’ side, he would not believe that Jesus was alive. Last Sunday over six hundred people in this building sang their glorious Alleluias of Easter praise to the risen Lord Jesus, and many of you were among them, but I have to ask you a question: “Have You Seen the Nail Marks?” Have you seen what Thomas so much wanted to see? Have you seen the places in Jesus’ hands and side where Roman nails and spears pierced the Son of God? How you and I answer that question really means the difference between eternal life in heaven and eternal death in hell – the difference between a life that means everything every day of our life right now and a life right now that really doesn’t mean anything any day of our life… And the answer Thomas gave one week later back then also makes all the difference in the world for you and me for right now and for forever, so on this Sunday morning one week later, let’s see from these words in John’s Gospel why that is so.

What do you think would have happened if Jesus had decided not to come back to that locked room the next week when Thomas that time was there? In a certain sense, would it really have made any difference? Jesus would still have been alive, right? Jesus would still have made all the other appearances he made after he rose from the dead, like with that miraculous catch of a whole lot of fish on the Sea of Galilee as he prepared breakfast for them on the shore, and like his appearance to them on the hill in Judea from which he ascended into heaven and left his disciples but told them he would be with them always, right? If Jesus had decided for whatever reason not to come back to that locked room that next week, nothing at all would have changed for us to have any reason not to sing our Alleluias of praise to our risen and living Lord Jesus. He was – and he is – alive.

And, in addition to that, it really wouldn’t have necessarily made any difference in the life of Thomas, either, because the very words his fellow disciples spoke, “We have seen the Lord,” who twice said to us, “Peace be with you” – those words themselves would have had the power to give Thomas the faith to believe them, once he humbled himself to not feel he had the right to tell the Lord of heaven and earth what to do. He didn’t have to see Jesus personally in order to see Jesus by faith. But in love that Thomas didn’t deserve, just like none of us deserve, Jesus decided to give the proof Thomas said he needed, which in turn gave Thomas the ability to say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” which in turn is one more proof God has given you and me that there were multiple witnesses to the fact that Jesus was alive, so our faith is not based on some pious-wishful-maybe-it’s-so thinking, but on the sure testimony of the very apostles Jesus Christ himself chose to follow him and to preach of him and to write things down in the Gospel about his life, just as the apostle John wrote these things down in the words of our Lesson. 

In other words, that’s why you and I can be so thankful to hear Jesus say to Thomas and then about us, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You and I see the wounds and the nail marks of Jesus in the same way Thomas, God-willing, would have seen the wounds and the nail marks of Jesus, even if Jesus had not come back to that room the next week. We see them by faith – by faith in what Jesus let these people see with their eyes – just as by faith we see Jesus born in a manger, and just as by faith we see Jesus changing water into wine, and just as by faith we see Jesus mocked by people who rejected him, and just as by faith we see Jesus hanging on a cross, which just as by faith we see as accomplishing the forgiveness of our sins and the reason we can know for sure there is something great waiting for us after we die. We didn’t see those things, but we “see” them.

Doesn’t that have to humble you, just as it has to humble me, that the God who created us and put us on the earth let his Son accomplish the forgiveness of all our sins of so often acting like we don’t see Jesus, or maybe that we don’t care if we see Jesus or that Jesus sees us? … Of so often, not in doubt, but in defiance, saying things like, “You better do this for me, God, if you want me to know there is a God or that you are a God who loves me or that there really is something like someone rising from the dead?” God understands our doubts and our hesitations, and he comes with comfort and encouragement, just as he did for doubting Thomas, but he will not abide our rejecting him or marginalizing him by just considering him a maybe-necessary part of our existence. He is our Everything, and he is our All – and in his love for us, he did things like coming back that next week so that Thomas could let you and me know as one of his followers on earth that Jesus truly is able to get us from this earth to his heaven, because he is our Lord and our God, too – the very words which give us the faith and strengthen in us the faith to believe that Jesus truly is alive – the faith by which we too have truly seen the nail marks.

All that is part of what Jesus also meant, when he breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The risen Lord Jesus in heaven sends the Holy Spirit to us on earth, as we continue in the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit caused to be written, and gives us the honor and the responsibility of announcing the forgiveness of sins of our merciful God to those who confess their sins — or the eternal judgment of the holy God if someone doesn’t believe in – or accept the need for — the forgiveness of sins. 

If Jesus weren’t truly alive, what difference would it make if we warned each other about the eternal consequences of rejecting Jesus – of not having our sins forgiven? They would just be mean-sounding words of someone trying to make someone believe what the book called the Bible said. If Jesus weren’t truly alive, what difference would it make if we assured people in the name of our wonderful Lord Jesus that their sins were forgiven and that they were going to heaven? They would just be nice-sounding words that went up into the air and not into human hearts. If Jesus weren’t truly alive, what reason would there to have high schools and grade schools and Sunday schools to teach our children about him? What reason would there be to have built a sanctuary like this in which to worship him? What reason would there be to give offerings for his work, to make sacrifices for our families, to be kind to our enemies, to pray for the salvation of every single person in the world? They would just be wastes of time, wastes of energy and wastes of money. But Jesus is alive, and he says we can tell each other, just as your pastors say to you in church, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We can only say that by faith, because by faith we have seen the marks of the nails in the hands and the side of our Savior. By faith we know he is alive – and therefore he is over us, and he is in us.

The fact is that Jesus did all of his miracles for the very same reason he came back the next week to talk to Thomas. John says in the last words of our Lesson, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We don’t even know all the things that Jesus did while on earth to demonstrate that he was the promised Messiah sent from heaven, but everything that God did have the writers of the Bible write down was meant to give us the faith to believe in what Jesus had come to do to forgive our sins and to prepare a place for us in heaven when we die. 

So, again, we have seen – we have seen by faith our Lord Jesus Christ. And, so, blessed are we who have not seen physically, but yet have believed. Because by believing we have seen. And by believing we will see. In heaven we will see what this same apostle John, who wrote these words, years later wrote in the book of Revelation about what he saw in heaven: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne,” with the hosts of heaven singing Easter songs of praise: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and glory and honor and praise!” Maybe then, when we’re there in heaven ourselves, looking at the Lamb who had been slain, you will be able to catch a peek of those nail marks Thomas so much wanted to see on the first Easter Sunday evening, but, either way, it won’t make any difference, because the simple fact is that Jesus is alive. Any by faith in him, so are we – right now alive in Christ to serve him and each other – and right then forever with Christ. So, until that day, in the name of Jesus, hear the words of Jesus in that room back then, for however you are feeling in this room today or on any day, “Peace be with you.” Amen.

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