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THOMAS DELIVERED FROM HIS UNBELIEF -
ADAPTED FROM A SERMON BY MARTIN LUTHER

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, August 11, 2002



Martin Luther was the first of the Protestant Reformers. He was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He was the oldest of seven children born to peasant parents. At eighteen he went to the University of Erfurt. After narrowly escaping death from a lightning bolt he entered an Augustinian monastery at the age of twenty-two. At the monastery he obtained his own Bible for the first time in his life. He soon became known as one of the most educated Augustinians in the Catholic Church. He focused his study on the New Testament books of Romans and Galatians and the writings of Augustine.

Luther became more and more dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and its false teachings regarding salvation. In 1506 he became a priest, and in 1508 he became a teacher at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. He then taught for three years at the University of Erfurt. In 1510 he made a pilgrimage to Rome. He was greatly surprised and upset by the corruption and sin that he saw among the Catholics at Rome. He returned to Germany and became a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in 1512. Luther held this position at the university for the rest of his life, until his death in 1546.

Luther found no peace in the rigorous Catholic ritual. He prayed, and fasted, and was very religious, but none of this helped him. Then he saw the truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

During the winter of 1512-1513 he was suddenly converted, while reading Romans 1:16-17:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16-17).

His mind was illuminated with the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, as he read these verses in the Black Monastery in Wittenberg. Luther saw that justification is due only to the mercy and grace of God and the merits of Christ, and is obtained by faith in Christ, not by human works or merits.

Luther rejected the Catholic Church's dogma of salvation by works. By 1517 he was teaching the three principles of the Reformation: (1) Man is justified by faith in Christ alone; (2) Every Christian has direct access to God through Christ; (3) The Bible is the only authority for faith and life.

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg. It was ninety-five points against the sale of indulgences and other Catholic teachings. This event sent a shock throughout the Catholic Church, even reaching Rome.

The Pope took action to stop Luther's growing influence. In 1518 Luther was called to appear in Rome. In 1519 he met the Catholic theologian John Eck in a debate. In 1520 he burned the statement that Pope Leo X issued against him. In 1521 he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

He married and became a Protestant pastor in 1525. Luther preached and wrote several books of Protestant theology. He then translated the Bible into German and wrote several hymns, including "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." His Bible commentaries, especially on Romans and Galatians, are widely read to this day. Luther died in 1546.

Martin Luther was not a perfect man. No Christian is. But he should be judged as a man who came out of the great blindness of the Dark Ages, who clearly saw the Bible truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone. I present here his great sermon, "Thomas Delivered From His Unbelief." I am giving you the main ideas of Luther's sermon in modern English, simplified and edited for the less literate mind of modern man. I hope it is a blessing to you:

"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 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" (John 20:24-25).

John tells us that Thomas was not with the Disciples when Christ came to them after He rose from the dead. Now there must have been a reason for Christ coming when Thomas was absent. Christ could have chosen to come when Thomas was with the other Apostles. But the reason Christ chose to come while Thomas was absent was to teach us a lesson. On Easter evening Christ appeared to the Disciples, but Thomas was not there. One week later Christ came to them again, and Thomas was there. From this we learn two things:

1. The unbelief of Thomas.

2. The deliverance of Thomas from his unbelief.

I. First, the unbelief of Thomas.

We see here how weak and poor the human heart is. Thomas had heard Christ preach and had seen Him perform great miracles on the blind, the crippled, the lepers, and many others. He had been an eye-witness when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. Thomas had seen all of this. He had also been a fearless Disciple of Christ. Yet now he could not believe that the Lord had risen from the dead and was alive. You are like Thomas. Your heart is unbelieving. You have heard that Christ has risen from the dead, just as Thomas heard about it, but your heart refuses to believe that it is true.

You can also see, from the example of Thomas, that when Christ withdraws Himself, you have nothing. You are left to yourself, in unbelief. Mary Magdalene and the other Disciples told him that they had seen the risen Lord. Yet Thomas was stubborn and would not believe them. Thomas says that he will not believe that Christ has risen from the dead unless he sees the holes in His hands and puts his fingers into them, and unless he puts his hand into the hole in Christ's side.

Thus, Thomas himself will be lost and condemned to Hell because he will not believe. There can be no forgiveness of sins nor salvation if a person does not believe. Paul tells us, "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (I Corinthians 15:14,17). Thomas will go to Hell, he will not be saved. He has decided to be lost, because he will not believe that Christ has risen. And he would have perished if Christ had not rescued him from it by this revelation.

So the Holy Spirit gives you this illustration to show you by the example of Thomas that without faith you are blind and completely hardened. The Scriptures tell us over and over that the human heart is the hardest thing in the world, harder than steel.

You can see many examples of the hardness of human hearts in the Bible. Pharaoh saw Moses perform many terrible signs and wonders. He could not deny them. He had to admit that it was the work of God. Therefore he confessed that he had sinned against God and God's people. Yet his heart became harder and harder until God drowned him with all his army in the sea. Also, the people in Christ's time rejected Him as their Saviour. Even though Christ proved by His actions and words that He was the Saviour promised by the Old Testament, they would not believe in him. Instead, they raged against Christ with hatred, blasphemy and persecution. Finally they cried, "Crucify Him!" Although Pilate the governor declared that Christ was innocent, they still refused to believe in Him. Although the heathen centurion cried, "Truly this was the Son of God," they still rejected Him. None of these things brought about the conversion of most of them.

That is the way the godless, condemned world acts: the more grace and kindness God shows them, the more unthankful and sinful people in the world become. It is correct to thank God that he has told us in the Bible that we can be saved by believing in Christ. But what do most people in the world do when they hear this? Why, most people reject Christ! And wherever they can, most lost people seek to persecute and destroy those who truly believe in Christ. Although the lost world hears from the Bible that God will punish such sin with eternal Hell-fire, they will not think about it very much. They go on securely, with hardened hearts, as if salvation through Christ was unimportant. We see this happening right now to the Catholics. Yet Hell is such a horrible place that everyone should be terrified by it, although most people are not. This shows that stone and steel are not as hard as the unbelieving hearts of lost human beings.

The Apostles were scared and terrorized when they saw Jesus mocked, spit upon, scourged, crucified, and pierced. They were frightened. The courage that they had before Christ's crucifixion was gone. Thomas had said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). And Peter had taken his sword out when the crowd came to arrest Christ. But now the Disciples were full of fear and terror, locked up in a room so that no one could come to them. They were even terrified when Christ Himself came to meet them, after He rose from the dead. They were so completely overcome by fear that they thought He was a spirit or a ghost. It took the risen Christ forty days to fully assure them that He had risen. It was very hard for this truth to enter their hearts.

This shows that the human heart is so hard that it cannot be described. The Disciples were so hardened that Christ could not give them strength until they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). When they received the Holy Spirit they were finally comforted and were no longer frightened and hardened in sin. Only when you experience true conversion will your hardened heart be opened, and only then will you find comfort and joy in Christ.

II. Second, the deliverance of Thomas from his unbelief.

We see in Thomas an illustration of the power of Christ's resurrection. We just heard how hard his heart was in unbelief. Even though all the other Disciples told him they had seen the risen Christ, yet he simply would not believe it. He said:

"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" (John 20:25).

He gives an exaggerated statement, that he will not believe what he sees with his eyes alone. He says that he must feel and grope about Christ's body with his hands. He tells the others that he will not believe what they say. "I will not believe even if I see Him, as you say you saw Him. But for me to believe it, He must come so near me, that I may touch His body and put my hands into His wounds." This shows what it means to be hardened in unbelief.

This event happened to Thomas to show us the power and benefit of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ brought Thomas from unbelief to faith, after he had continued for eight days in unbelief and his heart was nearly stiff, like a dead corpse.

Turn to John, chapter twenty, verse twenty-six:

"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. 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. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God" (John 20:26-28).

None of the Disciples had any hope that Christ would appear again, in a special manner, to Thomas. But then Christ came, and showed Thomas the nail holes and His open, wounded side. Christ so opened Himself to Thomas that he was no longer "faithless, but believing."

Then we read that Thomas said, "My Lord and my God." He was a different person at once when he met Christ. He was no longer Thomas Didymus (which in English means "a twin"). He was a new man, no longer a doubter, cold and stiff and dead in unbelief. Now Thomas begins to give a wonderful testimony about Christ. What he now said was better than anything the other Disciples had said until this point. He said that Christ is both God and man. He called Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" He is not corrected by Christ for calling him this. Therefore it must be the truth. Christ is "my Lord and my God."

The power of the resurrected Christ changed Thomas from a person with a hard heart of unbelief. Suddenly Thomas became an entirely different person. [Dr. Hymers' note: Thomas is converted - and his conversion changes his heart and mind]. Now Thomas not only believes that Christ has risen, he also believes in Christ, his Lord and his God. Christ is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Thomas was now resurrected from unbelief, the fountain of all sin. Now Thomas will rise from the dead and live forever with Christ in Heaven. This will also happen to anyone who fully believes on Jesus. Christ said, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). Christ's resurrection works in the human heart to resurrect it from sin and death. Paul often speaks of this [cf. Romans 6:1-10]. And John ends this account by saying:

"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" (John 20:31).

This is a very powerful and clear passage of Scripture. It shows us that we receive eternal life by faith in the resurrected Christ. These verses show us that true faith is not just an empty, dead belief about the history of Christ. The passage shows that you must encounter Christ spiritually. You must come to Christ in Heaven, at the right hand of God, as Thomas then came to Him on earth, "that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31). As Peter said, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).


Dr. Hymers' remarks: You have just read a sermon on doubting Thomas by Dr. Martin Luther, the first of the Reformation preachers. It can be read in Sermons of Martin Luther (Edited and translated by John Nicholas Lenker, Baker, reprinted from the 1906 edition, volume 2, pp. 403-412).

You will notice that Luther agrees with me that the Disciples were lost men, going to Hell, before the resurrection of Christ. That is the main thesis of the whole sermon. On page 408 Luther tells us that Christ could not strengthen the Disciples until He had given them "the right strong drink, namely the Holy Spirit [ref. John 20:22] of which they drank and were comforted in the right way so that they are no more as before, bashful and terrified" (ibid., p. 408). This is Luther's description of the conversion of the Disciples after Christ's resurrection.

Then Luther shows us the conversion of Thomas. He says, "Now the disciples themselves proclaim that they had seen the risen Lord. Yet Thomas is stubborn and will not believe it; yea, and he will not be satisfied even if he see him, unless it be that he sees the print of the nails in his hands and puts his fingers into the print of the nails and his hand into his side. And the beloved disciple will thus himself also be lost and condemned, in that he will not believe. For there can be neither forgiveness of sins nor salvation if one believes not, since therein lies all the virtue and power of faith and eternal life… To perdition will Thomas also go, he will not be saved but wills to be lost, because he will not believe that Christ is risen. And he would have perished and been condemned in his unbelief had not Christ rescued him from it by this revelation" (ibid., pp. 404-405).

Have you come to Christ? Do you know Christ? Have you encountered the resurrected Saviour?


(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 20:19,24-31.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (by Martin Luther, 1483-1546).

THE OUTLINE OF

THOMAS DELIVERED FROM HIS UNBELIEF  -
ADAPTED FROM A SERMON BY MARTIN LUTHER

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 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" (John 20:24-25).

(Romans 1:16-17)

I.   The unbelief of Thomas.

1.  Shows that the human heart is a miserable thing.

2.  Shows that we are nothing when God withdraws
His hand, I Corinthians 15:14,17.

3.  Shows the stubbornness of the human heart,
John 11:16; John 20:22.

II.  The deliverance of Thomas from his unbelief.

1.  Shows the power of Christ's resurrection,
John 20:25-28.

2.  Shows the way salvation occurs, John 20:28.

3.  Shows the fruit of conversion, John 20:29;
Romans 6:1-10; John 20:31; Acts 4:12.



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