Today’s Gospel passage describes two encounters with the resurrected Jesus, the first happens on Easter Sunday evening and the other one week later.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
April 15, 2012
John 20:19-31, The Blessing of Believing
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
The Blessing of Believing from BBC Staff on Vimeo.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twinc), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Quite often a losing locker room is not a pretty place. I think the disciples, locked up in a room out of fear resemble a losing team in a locker room. Can you see the pointed fingers? Can you feel the weight of dissension? I wonder what the discussion was like. “Where were you when he was being crucified, Peter? Some rock you turned out to be?” “Oh yeah, well you weren’t exactly bright eyed in the garden when he was praying, Andrew.” “Sons of Thunder, hah, James and John, all talk and no action.” Can you hear them? Even though Mary Magdalene had announced to the disciples earlier in the day that she had seen the Lord, the doors of the house where the disciples had gathered were locked out of fear. This was not their finest hour, though we can understand why.
Last week on Easter Sunday I spoke a little about grief which is one of the primary emotions we have around death, another is fear. I’m sure the disciples had not wanted to consider what life would be like without Jesus. Most of us don’t want to think about what life will be like without someone we love. Whenever we do think about it, or when it happens to us, we may become gripped by fear. What would or will life be like for me without him or her? Locked in a room perhaps the disciples were pondering what life would be like for them without Jesus and what did this empty tomb news mean? They also were afraid for their lives wondering if they were next on the crucifixion hit list. All the gospels agree the disciples abandoned Jesus at the end. They didn’t expect to see him again regardless of everything he said to them. Note the sudden and surprising nature of these encounters with the disciples. Jesus intrudes into their midst. They don’t make him present. They weren’t praying he’d show up. They didn’t have an extra place set at the table. They’re frightened when Jesus appears. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” The risen Christ gives them his peace three times, each time followed by a message.
The first time Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he shows them his hands and side. Peace has a high price. He shows his wounds so that his friends may know that the one who lives is also the one who was slain. Peace describes the new relationship with God secured through the obedience, righteousness, and death of Jesus for those who respond in trust and faith. Romans 5:1, says, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is what we sing in the Christmas carol Hark The Herald Angels Sing that we could also sing around Easter; “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Peace is a relationship not only with God but with other people. According to Hebrews 12:14 we are to “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 13:11, encourages us to “live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
The first thing we need when we’re frightened is peace. Have you ever locked all your doors and even windows out of fear? We can be paralyzed by fear, literally scared stiff. Bill Cosby liked to joke that as a boy he always tried to get home by ten o’clock because that’s when the monsters come out. He’d whistle because he believed that monsters can’t get you as long as you have your music. Fear of the dark is primal and basic to being human. There are times when all of us are afraid, but how we respond in the face of fear distinguishes us as Christians. Jesus enters a room locked by fear and the power of his life drives away fear and brings peace.
Jesus is alive not as a ghost, not as a resuscitated body, nor as an immortal soul. He is present in a new resurrected body which bears the wounds that resulted from his offer of forgiveness and peace with God. He is not there as a shadow of his former self, but as a more powerful and commanding presence.
Jesus says to the disciples a second time, “Peace be with you – as the Father has sent me so I send you.” The peace of Christ not only comes at a high price, it comes with an expectation of mission. God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus sends his followers into the world. Jesus expects his church to speak, teach, heal, love, and to forgive in his name and on his behalf. St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours, no feet but yours; Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”
Just as Jesus is trusting his church to carry on his work, so the church is dependent on Jesus. Without Jesus the church has no message and no power. The empowerment of the disciples, which enables them to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world, comes from the Holy Spirit, which comes from Jesus himself. Since Jesus gives the disciples the Spirit, they can be for the world as he was (John 20:21-23). The gift of the Spirit in John resembles Genesis 2:7 where God breathed into man and Ezekiel 37 where the Spirit of God moved over the dry and lifeless bones. God’s Spirit makes new life possible. God sent Jesus to love, heal, and forgive. In John 20, Jesus is instructing the disciples to go out and love, heal, and forgive in his name by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Think about it, this has been quite a day for the disciples. It began with the report of an empty tomb and word that Mary had seen the Lord. Now the rest of the disciples appear to be freed from the fear and doubt that had caused them to lock themselves up. They have seen the risen Lord. Thanks to the peace and forgiveness of Christ they’ve changed from a defeated group suffering from dissension to a more unified team. Rather than sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, Jesus himself has given them work to do. They’re to carry on his mission of reconciling human beings to God and to one another. What a day! The only problem is Thomas missed it all. Has that ever happened to you? Everyone else has a great or unbelievable experience and you missed it? Then they all tell you, “It was awesome, you should have been there!”
You know how it’s said that an optimist thinks the glass is half full, the pessimist thinks it is half empty, and the engineer thinks the glass is the wrong size? Thomas was brave, but he was a natural pessimist. Back in John 11:16 when Jesus informed his disciples that they were going back to Bethany in the very shadow of Jerusalem, it was Thomas who courageously said, “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Thomas loved Jesus and maybe he wasn’t with the other disciples Easter evening the first time Jesus appeared because he wanted some time alone with his grief. Yet for Thomas and for us, Jesus comes again a week later and says for the third time (John 11:26b-27), “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” We’re told the doors of the room were shut, but they are no longer locked in fear. For Thomas and for us, without believing there is a lack of peace. The faith that will not believe until it has seen a miracle is not real faith.
One of the main characters in the Flannery O’Connor’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, is an escaped murderer known as the Misfit. At the conclusion of the story he is talking to the grandmother about Jesus. “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what he said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can. I wasn’t there so I can’t say he didn’t, I wisht I had of been there,” he said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would’ve known. Listen lady, if I had been there I would have known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” I wonder how many people feel that way. We wish we could have been there to see and hear Jesus in person because we think then we would know for sure. If we could know with absolute certainty then we would think and act differently. Or would we?
The Gospel of John is the last of the Gospels to be written and the words spoken by Jesus in John 20 provide the transition from the life of Jesus to the story being lived out by the community of faith toward the end of the first century. They are those, like us, who have not seen yet believe and are blessed. The faith of the community rests not in a vision or an idea but in a resurrected person. All the characteristics of authentic religious experience are present in this encounter between Jesus, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples: the sudden intrusion of power, the reaction of fear and fascination, and the sense of being commissioned for service. The experience of the holy leads to action; the experience of the risen Lord leads to proclamation. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit and commands them to bring the message of peace and forgiveness to others.
One time when I was speaking to a group I asked everyone the question, “What state have you lived in for most of your life?” While some people answered, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New Jersey, one person replied, “Confusion.” There are two primary states in which Christians are to live – those are the states of peace and joy. Those were lacking in the disciples until the risen Christ was present in their midst, then he gave them peace and they rejoiced.
I can remember watching the movie classic The Wizard of Oz when I was a little kid and the first time I saw the film, parts of it were pretty scary, especially the Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy and her companions the Scarecrow and the Tin Man follow the yellow brick road into a dark forest. They begin to imagine something terrible behind every tree. Clinging to one another they begin to run and say, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” But it turns out they don’t see any tigers or bears and the lion who shows up turns out to be nothing more than a big scared pussycat. We can laugh at the all the effort they wasted being fearful for nothing, but how often have responded in a similar way? When we start to feel ourselves becoming afraid, it can be helpful to remember words of scripture like, “Perfect love casts out fear. In God I trust, what can people do to me? The Lord is my shepherd.”
Many of our fears are unfounded and turn out to be nothing while other things we didn’t anticipate can happen. Even when our worst fears are realized as they were for the disciples when Jesus was crucified, there is a peace that Christ can give to those who believe. Jesus is the key that unlocks the doors of fear and despair. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will change our circumstances, but his presence can change our attitude and perspective on our circumstances.
Thomas’s response to Jesus is, “My Lord and my God.” This is the conclusion that John’s Gospel hopes we will reach when we consider all that Jesus said and did. Christ brings peace and he gives us the Holy Spirit for power and guidance, but he only gives peace and the power of the Spirit to those who believe. The whole purpose of the Gospel of John is expressed in verses 30-31. It is written so that you, (insert your own name here), may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing ___________ may have life in his name. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Whoever would approach God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who seek him.”
Blessing: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7. The Lord be gracious to you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24).
Prayer: Faithful Christ, we confess to You that our faith waivers and falls short. We allow doubts and fears to enter our lives and control our choices. We doubt the goodness of our brothers and sisters. We doubt our own ability to be of any help or hope to the world. We doubt the basics of our faith, that forgiveness is available, and that we through Christ also have the power and grace to forgive others. Christ, forgive us for our doubts and fears. Forgive us when we hold back instead of letting go. Draw us away from the path of sin into your path of hope, reconciliation and faithfulness.
Almighty God, like the first disciples, You called us into being and created us to be in community. We thank You for our church, for our brothers and sisters, this family of God. We are mindful that our community of faith extends beyond these walls and borders and into the whole world, we think especially today of your church in Bulgaria to which our friends and family members are traveling today. You continue to call us to live in faithful community with other believers. May we be reminded of our ancestors in the faith who gathered together and shared all they had with others. May we be reminded of how they broke bread together and praised You in worship and fellowship. May we live out their example in our world and reach out to others in need. God, call us away from the ways of the world, where we desire what others have and dwell on what we don’t have. Call us away from the ways of the world where we judge others by how they live against how we live. Call us away from the ways of the world that separate and dehumanize us. Guide us instead into Your way of love, justice, and peace where we see each other as brother and sister, where we are called to live in communion with each other. May we continually walk towards building up Your kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
c Greek Didymus