John 20:19-31 (click to display NIV text)
April 15, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
I like the Sunday after Easter Sunday. It gives a different perspective on the resurrection of Jesus. Fewer people come to church, it is quieter, there are lower expectations about what the service will be, and there is less to prepare. We have no children’s chorus today, no sanctuary brass, no video, and the lilies are somewhat diminished. But we proclaim the same message:
The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!
Last week we looked at the resurrection appearances in Matthew and Mark. In those Gospels, Jesus sends the disciples to Galilee and there he meets them. In their home territory they find forgiveness, healing, and restoration and they receive a commission. There is also a section in John that takes place in Galilee, where Peter comes to a great catch of fish, then meets the risen Lord on the beach, has breakfast and hears Jesus say, “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” So the Galilee appearances are about disciples who are grieving, who feel their failure, who are wounded by the events in Jerusalem. They welcome Jesus and he brings healing and forgiveness to them. They experience renewal and then are given something to do for the Kingdom. The Galilee passages have always been favorites of mine.
Today we look at Luke and John, where we find the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples in Jerusalem. Here the issues are somewhat different. We discover fear and unbelief among them. They are hiding behind locked doors, stuck in fear. Jesus appears to them and brings to them peace and faith. Then he gives them the commission. They are to open the doors, go out into the world and make disciples. They do that, and do not fear the persecution that is coming. Notice that when Jesus gives them the commission, he also gives them peace and he gives them the Holy Spirit.
The Jerusalem experience also fits my life. I too am given to much fear and anxiety. I too have struggled with the truth of faith and I am aware of the lurking presence of unbelief that must be addressed by the truth of God’s Word, and I too often need to have the doors of my heart unlocked.
The key figures in these two places are Thomas in Jerusalem and Peter in Galilee. Thomas needs proof so he can believe, and he needs peace from Jesus. Peter needs forgiveness and renewal. Both of them receive a commission and the Holy Spirit.
In Jerusalem, the disciples are caught in fear and locked in a room. They do not go out because they think the Temple officials will hunt them down and punish them in some way. I don’t know if their fears were valid, but we know that in the early church, the officials of Judaism, people like Saul of Tarsus, did come after the believers and persecute them. So the disciples were afraid, but they were also caught in unbelief. They felt the reports of the empty tomb and the sightings of Jesus by the women were “nonsense” (Luke 24:11). They needed to come to a place of belief in the risen Lord. This came through seeing Jesus, viewing his hands and side and finding in scripture that the Messiah must suffer and die and then be raised to life. The disciples could not trust their experience alone. They looked to God’s Word for a solid foundation in their belief.
There is something about the landscape of our hearts, with its hard and stubborn places, its wounds caused by disappointments, its walls erected by fear, which calls for both a Jerusalem and a Galilee experience with Christ. We need to be convinced. We need to have our fear taken away. We also need to be forgiven and restored and made new. The risen Lord Jesus is gracious to grant both of those experiences.
The disciples in Jerusalem were locked in a room, but it was their hearts locked in unbelief that was the greater problem. Jesus appears to them and speaks peace. His first words to them are not to rebuke or blame them for their failure to stand by him during the trial and crucifixion. He speaks peace to them, the peace that comes from the cross and the resurrection. In Greek culture, peace meant simply the absence of war or conflict. But the Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom,” means much more. Shalom is a positive blessing, a right relationship with God, a relationship with others that includes justice and mercy. Peace and salvation are very close. When the disciples receive peace from Jesus and see his hands and side, they rejoice. Joyful people don’t hide behind locked doors. They enter the community and share the Good News.
The disciples in Jerusalem on the evening of Easter needed to see the hands and side of Jesus in order to believe. A week later, Thomas needed to see them also before he would believe. This was the evidence they needed that it was really Jesus, the same Jesus they had known, who was raised from the dead. Leon Morris writes, “The scars convinced the disciples of Jesus’ identity, and of his resurrection, and the scars took away their fear.”
This is our need as well. We do not need proof in order to believe in Christ, but we must have some credible evidence, some witness that is persuasive, that does not replace faith, but leads us to the point of faith. The resurrection engages our thinking. It needs to be true, or as Paul writes in I Corinthians 15, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” There is nothing wrong with asking for reasons and evidence to believe. There is a place for study and learning in coming to faith.
Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for asking to see the scars. Instead Jesus calls him to believe. Literally he says “Do not become unbelieving but believing.” Morris writes, “The sight of Jesus is all Thomas needs. ‘My Lord and my God.’ In the moment that he came to see that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, Thomas came to see something of what that implied. The one who was so obviously alive could be addressed in the language of adoring worship.” Thomas is the first disciple to worshipt he risen Lord. He should not be known as “Doubting Thomas” but as “Worshiping Thomas.”
The resurrection appearances come with a commission, a task. This commission was given both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Those who believe in the risen Lord are to make disciples, reaching out to people of all nations. That is a task that is frankly impossible to carry out. When we try in our own strength to persuade people to believe in Christ, when we try in our own strength to grow mature disciples of Christ, when we try in our own strength to build a church that includes people of all nations and cultures and races, we gain a humility that confesses we fall short. The commission leads us to humility. We cannot do in our strength what the Lord has called us to do.
We must be reminded that Jesus gives the commission along with his peace and with the Holy Spirit. The peace of Jesus is the gift that comes from the cross and resurrection. Peace comes from the forgiveness of sin and from the victory of Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit is what empowers and makes possible our witness and disciple making. So when we carry out Jesus’ commission, we do not rely on ourselves, our learning or our persuasive ways or our winsome lives. But, in all humility we also do not give up. We do not excuse ourselves from the commission. Rather, we accept the peace of Christ through the cross and resurrection. We then pray for and seek the Holy Spirit and we depend on the Spirit in witness and disciple making. We do not serve with fear or anxiety. We do not act out of guilt. We trust the Lord. Every act of witness and every opportunity for teaching is done in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the peace of Christ.
He is risen.
He is risen indeed!