First Mennonite Church
April 16, 2023
Living in the Assurance of Jesus’ Peace
Text: John 20:19-29
20:19 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.” 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 20:25 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.” 20:26 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.” 20:27 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.” 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 20:29 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.”
This incident happened on the Sunday after the crucifixion; it was in fact the very first Easter Sunday. It was evening and the disciples were gathered and locked inside because they were afraid of the Jews. The reference to those who were gathered inside the house as “the disciples” might mean they were not necessarily only the remaining Eleven. It could be the core group of Apostles and other believers included. They had gathered to mourn the death of their Master. They had hidden themselves because they were afraid of the “Jews.” Let us understand here that even when John speaks in general terms about the people the disciples were afraid of as “the Jews,” he is not necessarily saying all Jews, but the Jewish religious authorities. Those who were responsible for crucifying Jesus.
The disciples had come together to grieve; the disciples had come and locked themselves up because of fear. If we remember the words of Jesus to the women who were weeping as he walked the Via Dolorosa, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the women, “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (23:31). The disciples’ fear was not unfounded. They had all the reasons to be afraid. They knew how far the religious leaders could go with the help of the Roman representatives in terms of meting out punishment. They had been first-hand witnesses of how terrible a death Jesus had had. For that reason, the disciples regrouped and locked themselves in for fear of the Jews.
Many times, because of our familiarity with the Passion story of Jesus and its distant past, our minds do not grasp how traumatic Jesus’ death was to his disciples. But, in the words of two of Jesus’ disciples, we can hear how they viewed Jesus and his death. In Luke, we hear from the mouth of two of the disciples who were on their way to Emmaus. When Jesus asked them about their sadness and item of candid discussion, Luke writes: They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. (Luke 24:19-21)
Jesus’ crucifixion came as a hard blow to the hopes of some of Jesus’ disciples, maybe to all of them. Jesus’ death was a humiliating experience for the disciples, therefore, staying together and keeping a low profile was a way of dealing with problems facing them.
Hence, when Jesus came to them that evening, his first words to them were “Peace be with you.” Peace as understood by the Jews is not simply the absence of conflicts or wars. Peace is holistic (complete) well-being. Therefore, peace means being free from anxiety; having inner harmony as well as being in good relationship with others. Peace means having enough for the physical need, as being at peace with God, through his forgiveness.
However, the disciples were brokenhearted; they were broken in their spirit. They were broken amongst themselves because Judas had betrayed their Master and even Thomas was not there with them. And by hiding, they were breaking away from the rest of the people “for fear of the Jews”.
In his book Courage to Teach, Parker J. Palmer makes a deep analysis of the effect of fear in every human realm of life, but especially within the educational sphere. Palmer says that fear is the worst enemy against effective human relationships, including the teaching-learning processes. Because of the fear of being called stupid, or of exposing their ignorance, many students do not ask questions about things they don’t understand. Oftentimes, unprepared professor hides their fear behind their titles and authority in class, says Palmer.
As we know, fear makes people close their doors to others. Fear leads to suspicion. Fear prevents us from talking with each other, but especially from listening to each other. Fear makes people build walls, fences, and barricades of all kinds. But above all, fear unconsciously creates walls between the mind and soul; therefore, someone can be very intellectual, yet emotionally numb or dead. Fear creates a wall between words and deeds; thus, someone can express himself or herself well but fail to live by them. Fear to change and to allow God to take full control of our lives creates a wall between our faith and our practice.
After Jesus had greeted his disciples, he showed them his hands and his side.
In doing so, Jesus gave proof that indeed he was the very one who was crucified. Joy replaced sadness. The irrefutable proof that Jesus was alive must have shocked the disciples. They must have reacted with laughter, tears, and awe. It was a transforming moment, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said and he breathed on them.
Then our passage focuses on Jesus and Thomas. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present and when the others told him that Jesus had appeared to them, he replied, “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.”
Thomas’ demands in order to believe were not necessarily to put his finger in the marks of the nails as he wanted to see Jesus personally. He wanted tangible proof. He wanted to have the same experience the others had had of seeing the Lord. He wanted to have the same kind of joy the others had. So, 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.” 20:27 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 be unbelieving but believing.” 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 20:29 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.”
Jesus comes to meet Thomas’ condition in order to believe. Jesus invites Thomas to put his fingers in the wounds left by the nails. Then Jesus exhorts Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving but believing.” Thomas was moved from unbelief to faith. And his exclamation is the most profound and truth-bearing statement ever found to be said about Jesus: My Lord and my God!” Please notice the great difference between Thomas’ response and that of the other disciples. When Jesus gave them proof of his marks they rejoiced, but when Jesus gave Thomas proof of his bruises, he worshiped Jesus as no one had done before. What a transformation took place in the life of Thomas!
My dear brothers and sisters, just as the disciples locked themselves inside a house because of fear, we too can also find ourselves locked behind other kinds of doors. There are many things that can inspire fear in us: health issues, the state of our finances, the problems around the world, or the predictions of catastrophes, etc. Internally, we can be afraid that others might discover our weaknesses and imperfections, thus we stay to ourselves, and away from others. There could be fear of losing our jobs or of not doing a satisfactory one, thus we hide our insecurity by blaming others.
Today let us remember that the Risen Lord can break through any kind of locked door. He can enter into any hiding place we can be. And his words for us are, “Peace be with you!” He wants to give us wholeness, freedom, and the gift of his Holy Spirit. He wants to breathe into us new life.
There is something that many of our translations make us miss about the way Jesus came to his disciples. In our story, Jesus appeared to his disciples two times. On both occasions, the text reads, Jesus came and stood among them. The text should read, “Jesus revealed himself to them.” So, even when it might seem not to make much difference, the truth is that it does. That is why Jesus’ appearance had such a huge impact on the lives of his disciples. In the midst of their darkest hour, Jesus revealed himself to them, bringing them joy. In the midst of their greatest fear, the Lord breathed upon them the power only the Holy Spirit can give. In the midst of their brokenness, Jesus revealed himself to them, bringing them peace. In the midst of their unbelief, Jesus gave them renewed faith.
Today, the Lord wants to reveal himself to you. He wants to fill you with his joy. He wants to piece your heart together. He wants to give you the faith that is for salvation. The Lord wants to reveal himself to each of us so that we like Thomas would exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Let us bow before him in prayer and worship. He is the Lord and mighty God.
Pastor A. Romero