Picture the scene in John 20:19-31. All the disciples except Thomas are in a room behind locked doors at night. It was common for early Christians to meet at night. In times of persecution they were forbidden to meet during the day, so they had to meet at night. The disciples are scared. They saw their leader brutally killed, and they are afraid that they will also be killed. In more ways than one, the room and the situation are dark.
Suddenly, Jesus appears. He walks through the locked door. The first words Jesus says to the assembled disciples are, “Peace be with you.” They are terrified, first for fear of the Jews and because they thought they were seeing a ghost. But when Jesus shows them His wounds, they know this is their Lord. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come. Just as God created humanity with His breath in Genesis 2:7, He gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples by breathing on them. God is recreating humanity in Christ. The darkness of the room is dispelled by the light of Christ.
Jesus gave the disciples and us a mission, but we and they can’t begin this mission of healing and peace without the power and energy of Jesus’ risen life. Jesus breathed on these men. As God breathed His life into that first man and he became a living soul, Jesus shared the intimacy of His own life with His disciples that they may be a new humanity, recreated and empowered for their mission.
If Christianity seems to us to be having rather less than a remarkable impact on the world, it’s because too many people have the idea that we’re in a waiting game, that we are basically killing time until Jesus comes back and we all get to go to heaven. We’re sitting around like people waiting to catch a flight. That isn’t what Jesus told us to do. He didn’t say, “Now sit tight in those pews and twiddle your holy thumbs. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I send you.”
Part of Jesus’ mission, and hence part of the mission of the disciples and us is to deal with forgiveness. Specifically, we are to declare on what terms, to what people and to what temper of mind God will extend forgiveness. It is not the authority to forgive people. It establishes the terms and conditions on which people can be pardoned, with a promise that God will confirm all that they taught-that is, that all might have assurance of forgiveness if they comply with these terms.
In John’s Gospel, sin is a failure to see the truth-a refusal to accept the risen Christ. Jesus is sending the disciples and us into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the risen Christ. Some people will accept their testimony and ours, and others will reject it. Their response will determine whether they will find themselves among those whose sins are forgiven or among those whose sins are retained.
One of the sins that can be forgiven is unbelief-specifically, refusing to believe that Christ rose from the dead. Thomas was guilty of this sin. He refused to believe the disciples’ statement that they saw the risen Christ. He wanted concrete proof. Many people today are like Thomas. They refuse to believe because they do not see Jesus. The testimony of fellow believers, like that of the other disciples, should be enough proof that He rose from the dead.
Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his unbelief. Rather than belittling Thomas for His doubts, Jesus welcomed his reach and touch, which moved Thomas from unbelieving to believing. Thomas saw and believed, and Jesus affirmed his belief. But then He added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Anyone today can have as much confidence believing without seeing as those who saw and believed. Jesus approved Thomas’ faith, but He more highly approves the faith of those who should believe without having seen the risen Saviour.
To Mary, Thomas and the disciples, sight of the risen Lord was granted. Faith doesn’t rest on sight or smell or touch, but on the word and call of the risen Lord! As the apostle John believed before he saw the risen Lord, so we believe and trust the witness of those who have seen and believed. We have seen His life revealed in the community of those on whom He has breathed and as we have heard Him speak our name and responded in trusting faith, we have been born into His family. The Spirit then confirms that we are the children of God, as blessed as those who have seen and believed.
Closely connected with the sin of unbelief is the sin of doubt. Doubt destroys faith if doubt is not resolved. At times it serves as an excuse not to do God’s will. It can also be used as a cover to do evil. Doubt can’t remain without harming us. To cease doubting means that we must take action, to believe, to trust in the Lord, to surrender our lives to Him, to follow Him-and to confess Him as Thomas did: “My Lord and my God!”
Will we be more like the disciples during the first week after Easter, who claim to believe in the resurrection, but whose lives give no sign that it has made a difference for them? Or will we be like the kind of people whose words and actions proclaim the faith that has claimed our lives, graced us with peace, and has given us a sense of meaning and purpose?
The cause of Thomas’ defection was his own doubting and denying heart. Those who profess to be Christians and yet deliberately absent themselves from fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters are the ones who are usually most in need of Christian fellowship. There are certain things that we can only experience when we are part of Christian fellowship. The idea that we don’t have to go to church to be a Christian is a folly. We can only know God’s blessing when we are part of His body here on earth.
Amid the scandal of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, Jesus doesn’t hide. He reveals himself, makes himself known to those who love Him. When we go through the struggles and temptations of life we are sometimes tempted to hide from our trouble. During this time, we find ourselves only wanting to be with the selfish trinity of me, myself and I. We find ourselves no longer wanting to fellowship with friends and family and becoming most distant from those whom we love. It might be beneficial during times of trial to retreat, but we must do what Jesus did. We must make ourselves visible instead of hiding like Thomas did.
One way we can make ourselves visible is to tell our own stories of joy and pain, sunshine and rain. When we share our stories, we create the opportunity to become wounded healers. If we have a story of suffering, we must share it, because there is glory to be found in our story.
What will it take for us to believe? Our eternal destiny rests on our answer. Jesus lives and because He lives we can agree with a no-longer doubting Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God.” If we do, our lives will be eternally changed for the better.
Are we doubting Thomases? Do you doubt God could ever love someone like you? Maybe you’ve been ridiculed and bullied and struggled with your self-worth? Author Philip Yancey once said, “Grace does not depend on what we have done for God, but rather what God has done for us. Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, ‘Be good.’ Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, ‘Help!’”
When we embrace God’s love, it’s easier for us to let go of the need to please people, the need for validation. We choose to please God through obedience because we love Him and He loves us, unconditionally.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1478-1479)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 275-280)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Selwyn Hughes, “Missing from the Meeting.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- “Stop Doubting.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
- Pastor David J. Risendahl, “Doubting Apostles.” Retrieved from www.StPlC.org
- Rev. Ken Klaus, “What Will It Take?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Rev. Billy Honor, “How to Handle a Scandal.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- “An Invasion.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Rev. Gregory Seltz, “How is God Present in My Life?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 20:19-31.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Carol Round, “Are You a Doubting Thomas?” Retrieved from email@example.com