Updated: Apr 21
John 20:19-31 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
God’s grace is on full display in this text that takes place on the evening of Easter Sunday. And what a time to hear of God’s grace, huh? You face uncertainties of various kinds during a global pandemic. Will I, or any of my loved ones get sick like so many others have, even in our state of Florida (you may have begun to wear a mask to the grocery store to prevent it)? Will I lose my job as so many have? Maybe you have lost your job, and are facing the uncertainty of not having income for the foreseeable future. Maybe you’ve seen investments plummet as a result of this crisis, and your retirement that was predictable and sure is no longer so. So many uncertainties you face about this life during a time like this.
Presumably, you are listening to or reading this message because you recognize that there can be uncertainties about the next life as well. Jesus’ disciples were facing uncertainties of both kinds on the occasion of our text.
What a lot they’d had learned about themselves in the previous 72 hours. They had said things like, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33),” and, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you (Matthew 26:35)!” But as our text begins, they are held up in a locked room for fear of the Jews, it says - paralyzed in their fear, really - afraid that what had happened to the Lord would also happen to them. Despite what they’d said, when it came right down to going with Him both to prison and to death; dying with Him, they had found they weren’t quite so willing as they had previously thought.
They had lived through a terrifying ordeal just a few nights before in the garden of Gethsemane. Real soldiers had come with real weapons, and seized their Lord. They had seen this one in whom they had put their trust, killed and put into a tomb. And this was so troubling to them that they weren’t sure of anything anymore. Simon Peter was still dealing with his denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest, and Jesus’ confirming look that had sent him weeping outside (Luke 22:61). Now, the women had come from Jesus tomb, and told them news that should have brought joy, but instead was causing them anxiety.
Imagine the guilt they were feeling. They’d blustered so about their faithfulness. They wouldn’t let the Lord down - even if them dying with Him was what He had in mind. They really believed this to be the case. Their commitment would demonstrate itself in an heroic faithfulness when the time came. Their commitment, their faithfulness. It’s a trap every believer can fall into.
In reality, they couldn’t leave Him fast enough. Jesus was alone as He stood trial before the High Priest. The disciples had fulfilled the prophetic words of Psalm 38 (11)
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.
John was quietly observing somewhere around the proceedings. As we said earlier, Peter was out in the courtyard swearing up and down he’d never met Christ. Matthew’s concluding statement on the matter as it had taken place in the garden was this: Then all the disciples left him and fled (26:55-57). That’s what their great commitment, their heroic faithfulness had amounted to. As the disciples waited in the locked room on instructions passed to them from the women who had gone to the tomb, they were filled with anxiety and guilt.
It’s safe to say that the devil would have the same be the case for you. He would have you in hiding - paralyzed in anxiety and guilt (quite reasonably, considering your many sins). He would want your confidence in Christ shaken by the thoughts of all of your failures to be faithful. He would want your witness for Christ muzzled as you think, who am I to try to tell someone else this message when I have fallen so often into shameful sin? He would want you questioning your place with Christ. Will He still have me after I have denied and betrayed Him so often - putting up such a feeble battle against temptations? He would have you seeing Christ as your enemy who wants to do you harm.
But Christ - the only one Who didn’t desert, the only One Who loved unto death - is the one who comes to the disciples in our text - these floundering failures. He comes and He says, “Peace be with you.” He reassures them, showing them His hands that nails had pierced, scarring them; showing them a hole in His side torn open with a soldier’s spear. This was really Him, the same they’d seen crucified three days before. “Peace be with you,” He says again.
And then He answers the question of whether or not He will still have use for these unworthy servants as His witnesses in this world. He authorizes them. He puts them under a charge. They will go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). These called ministers of the Church will hear peoples’ confessions on its behalf, and with Christ’s authority, open heaven to the repentant and lock it to the unrepentant. That’s what Jesus means when He says to the disciples in our text: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The Catechism calls this special authority of Christ to His Church, the Office of the Keys and Confession.
Finally, don’t we see God’s grace in the way in which Jesus talks to Thomas? Thomas gets the rap as a doubter. He hadn’t said anything the rest of them hadn’t also felt before they saw Christ, when he said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Christ had rebuked all the rest of them too, for not believing the news from the women who’d seen the empty tomb (Mark 16:14). Thomas just happened to have been away from them when Christ appeared the first time.
“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” That’s what He says to Thomas. It’s as if He’s saying, “It’s alright. It’s really me. Relax now. There’s no need to be afraid.” It’s similar to the Transfiguration. Jesus touched the terrified disciples and said, “Rise, and have no fear.”
Jesus presents Himself to you in peace. You come to Him with guilt and anxiety that is well-earned. You have found yourself in circumstances at times, in situations of unfaithfulness to the Lord that you never thought possible. You’ve thought, even if I have to die with Him, I will be faithful, but then fallen like the disciples before you. To you, like to them, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He says it as the One Who has made payment with His own blood so that you can have peace - not just for this life, but for the life to come. He’s the risen One, Whose body still bears the marks of the punishment He has endured for you - to purchase your full and free forgiveness.
Let His Words of peace free you from your anxiety and your guilt. Let the message of His resurrection instill your confidence - not in your own commitment or heroic faithfulness, but in Him. Let the absolving words of His servant free your tongue to tell others the news of this risen Christ. Let His tender words to Thomas and the other disciples speak tenderness also to your own heart, and remind you that He has forgiven your sins, and has prepared a place for you in His kingdom that no crisis of this life can remove, whether it be of health, or security, or any other thing. He is the friend Who has remained steadfast for your eternal good. God be praised. Amen. Other Texts for Easter 2:
Job 19:25-27 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
1 John 5:4-12 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.