November 18, 2017

The Appearances of the Risen Christ, 9

By Chaplain Mike

We are marking the Great Fifty Days of Easter with a series of devotional thoughts on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Today we look at another narrative in John’s story of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances, from John 20:19-29 (ESV).

Text

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.”

Thought

As we said in our last post, this two-part story forms the climax of the Gospel of John, and specifically, of its resurrection narratives. It completes a “development” of sorts in terms of faith—John believed because he saw the empty tomb, Mary believed when she heard the personal word of her Master, now Thomas believes when he sees the empirical evidence of his Lord in the flesh. Today’s passage ends with a reminder from Jesus himself that those who live in post-apostolic days will not be afforded the same evidence, but may still share in the blessing of faith (20:29).

So, in essence the journey of believing taken in these resurrection narratives is actually a regression, not a progression!

  • At Jesus’ tomb, John simply believed, the only evidence being the tomb—that is the highest form of faith described here.
  • However, by the end of the narratives, Thomas must actually see and touch the flesh of the risen Christ in order to trust him.

The “blessing,” which Jesus gives in 20:29, is for those who will believe, not in the way Thomas did, but as John did. That is why, after the account of Thomas, the author immediately gives a closing “invitation” to all his readers—Believe!

“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” (20:30-31).

In this Gospel, the resurrection is portrayed as the ultimate “sign” performed by God through Jesus, so that we might believe and have eternal life.

We could discuss many details in this passage:

  • The risen Lord bringing peace to those who cower in fear.
  • John’s presentation of Jesus’ “great commission”—As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
  • Jesus’ impartation of the Holy Spirit, as he had promised in the Upper Room (John 14-17).
  • Jesus setting the apostles apart as his representatives and giving them the authority to forgive sins.

These are vital components of this text, worthy of attention and contemplation.

However, the primary dramatic emphasis of the pericope surrounds what happens to Thomas, and how he moves from “doubting Thomas” to “worshiping Thomas”. Note the two contrasting, passionate outbursts from Jesus’ friend:

  • “Unless I see…I will never believe!” (20:25)
  • “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

Though he required a kind of empirical certainty that is not available to us today, where Thomas ended up is where John (writing on behalf of God himself) wants us to be—

  • recognizing Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, the Word who is God, who was with God in the beginning (1:1,14);
  • acknowledging Jesus as “the only God, at the Father’s side, who has made [God] known to us” (1:18);
  • accepting Jesus’ claim that “I and the Father are one” (10:20) and that “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (14:6-7).

Is this where you are, my friend?

May you know the blessing of belief. May you come to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. May you receive and experience fullness of life and life eternal in his name.

If we can help you with your faith questions or issues, let us know. You are among friends on the same journey.

Prayer

Almighty Father who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give me grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that I may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Prayer Appointed for the Week from The Divine Hours)