The Fifth Sunday in Lent (03/29/2020)


Ps. 130; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53

Twin, Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with [Jesus]” (v. 16).

It is difficult to make out Thomas’ meaning; is he expressing bravado or sarcasm? At Hanukkah, the feast of temple re-dedication, Jesus identified himself to the temple Jews, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30); and once again, they picked up stones (8:58, 59; 10:36-40). Jesus retreated, across the Jordan, into the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas.

Temple Jews were now in earnest on arresting and killing Jesus and his followers should they return to Judea. While in exile, Jesus received word that Lazarus, beloved friend and probable member of Jerusalem’s governing Sanhedrin, had died. For his sisters, Martha and Mary, a 30-day period of mourning commenced, rather like a state funeral attended by leading Jerusalem Jews at the family Bethany estate.

After recent close calls of stoning in the temple, it came as a shock to Jesus’ disciples, when he said, “Let us go to Judea again” (11:7). They chorused incredulously, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (v. 8)

So, whether Thomas expressed bravado or sarcasm on re-entering “the belly of the beast” and certain death is not entirely clear. Perhaps however we have clues; earlier Jesus restored a man born blind, and now he would revivify dead Lazarus. These, each in themselves, were showstopping signs! Certainly, Lazarus made alive at Jesus’ word after four days in the grave was off-putting of arrest plans; some conspirators even became disciples.

Raising Lazarus points to Jesus’ greater Resurrection for all men on the Last Day. Remember, after Easter, when informed that Jesus was risen in his absence; Thomas revealed his mindset, “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” (20:25b). As far as Thomas was concerned, his brother apostles had seen an apparition of Jesus, a heavenly doppelgänger.

Have you considered why Thomas is called “the Twin”? There is no record of Thomas having brother or sister, and if so, it would be without gospel relevance. Is John merely imparting color into the life of an apostle; or does Thomas’ nickname suggest something of his character connected to the two “resurrections” of Lazarus and Jesus?

It seems Thomas was possessed of a double/twin-minded nature; fairly or unfairly earning him the moniker, “doubting Thomas”. From a “twin” mentality, one might hear sarcasm toward Jesus’ intent to return to Judea for consoling the sisters; “Oh sure, twice we just escaped death by the skin of our teeth. OK guys, this is crazy, but by all means whatever Jesus says, ‘let us also go, that we may die with him.’”

Bravado or sarcasm: it seems Thomas was being double-minded; no less so than Caiaphas, who after Lazarus was raised, prophesied, “it is better…that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (11:50). Both Caiaphas and Thomas meant one thing, but ironically by the Spirit both men registered truth; Caiaphas, that Jesus must die a ransom for many; and Thomas, that in Baptism “we die with [Jesus]” and so participate in his Resurrection.

Man’s condition is unbelief, pitting our low “knowledge of good and evil” against God’s omniscience. We are especially twin-minded in matters of life and death. From Adam and Eve, we inherit death, we call “life”; and for a time, it passes as such. A “life” in this world is all we are able to “know by good and evil” inhering in our DNA.

Separated from God’s Spirit and Word and absent intervention, we are on trajectory to judgment’s destruction, that only admit of a physical resurrection in wrath. When the calculus of “good and evil” asserts itself, our trust in what we “know” distrusts what is from above.

Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt displayed this double-mindedness toward God; disputing their Passover from a living death in servitude to Pharaoh to Life in the presence of gracious God; while every firstborn Egyptian male was ransom for the life of Israel baptized through the Red Sea.

Despite God’s love of Israel; at first physical privation, their double/twin-minded character, saw servitude under Pharaoh as superior to trust in God for wilderness provision; “a bird in hand”. Of this mentality God declared, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘they are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Ps. 95:10).

Earlier Jesus spoke to the temple Jews, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment. Rather he has passed out from death into life… an hour is coming and is now when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn. 5:24, 25).

Lazarus was one dead hearer of Jesus’ voice, “Lazarus, come out” (11:43b). Still Lazarus, in time, would physically die again. But Life is more than physical existence sustained by worldly bread and drink; rather Life is God’s new residence with us in Spirit (living water) and Truth (Torah bread).

In today’s Gospel, Thomas, the Twin, is foil. Jesus had already defined eternal Life for the temple Jews as habitation in God’s word, hearing and believing the content of their own Scripture. Thus, Jesus accused, “You investigate the Scriptures, for you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (5:39, 40).

Jesus headed to the cross, leading his disciples to a final Passover out of death to Life. At the cross, Jesus died “Ransom for many” gathering into his death the elect for Resurrection.

Those who hear and believe Jesus’ word participate in his new Pascha in the Body of the church to eternal Life. From the cross Jesus delivered the HS, for grace to believe his voice for life, the promise of God and lover of souls.

Thomas’ bravado or his feckless sarcasm, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”, comes to pass in Baptism, for a Resurrection, not like Lazarus’, but like Jesus on the Last Day. Baptismal participation into Jesus’ death is our cross-over to eternal Life out of this world’s death that we call “life”.

Hearing the Voice of Jesus crucified, we recognize our Rabbi in his synagogue. One either hears like a Jew, giving no substance to Baptism; a mere legal ordinance that possesses the letter but not the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6); or we are begotten from above, hearing and believing the voice of the Spirit, and so depart our grave site destiny to new Life in the Torah of Jesus’ synagogue.

Jesus promised to reveal “God’s glory” by the sight of the man born blind and the raising Lazarus (Jn. 9:3; 11:4, 40). But in Jesus’ Resurrection we see that “glory” in the Life of body and soul, not just on the Last Day but now; we comprehend Thomas’ prophesy of “dying with Jesus”, to be pure gospel irony.

Apart from dipping his hands into the Jesus’ body, double/twin-minded Thomas boasted he would never worship God in Jesus’ resurrected flesh and blood. A week later Jesus appeared to Thomas inviting his dip, a Baptism for NT faith and true worship. Thus, confronted, Thomas humbly engaged the church’s new worship in the resurrected flesh and blood of Jesus with her baptismal confession, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).

“Doubting Thomas’” Baptism into Christ’s body and blood, extended today in the church’s Supper, commenced the church’s Eucharist, by which God makes us whole, a new creation. The “glory of God” is God’s word for the Life of man in body and spirit. Amen.

pem.

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