by Pastor Cherie Johnson
With today’s scripture, we can consider this Easter: Part 2, the Sequel. That’s perfectly appropriate on the second Sunday of Easter or the Easter season. Today, we pick up right from where we left off last week. It is the same Easter day. Remember, the breathless excitement as Mary found the tomb open. Peter and the other disciple flat out ran to the tomb, looked inside, rather perplexed, and went home. Mary looked inside and saw the angels, turned around to see Jesus, right there. She talks with him, then reports everything to the disciples. “I have seen the Lord!” Now, we continue later that same day…
John 20:19-31 NIV
19 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!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
On Thursday and Friday, the relationship between Jesus and the disciples hits a very high note, with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, commanding them to love one another, breaking bread with them. Peter promises to lay down his life for Jesus. Then, it all falls apart. It is completely broken as the disciples flee. Peter denies knowing him. Jesus is executed. The relationship is completely broken. There was no time for apologies or making up for their mistakes.
Now, they hear that Mary has seen a living Jesus. She delivered his message. One might wonder why they remain huddled in this locked room. Sure they’re afraid that the authorities that killed Jesus might be after them next, the top lieutenants of a revolutionary leader. Yet, that hadn’t stopped Peter and the other disciple from running to the tomb when they heard it was empty. Why weren’t they out there now, looking for Jesus?
As Jesus told Mary that he was going to God, perhaps they thought she was having a vision and did not encounter a flesh and blood Jesus. Even if he was really there in the flesh, he still said he was going elsewhere. Really there was no point in looking. He literally could have been anywhere.
So, Mary has an encounter with Jesus, but all that some of the disciples had was a look at the empty tomb. They remained in their locked room, supporting each other in their guilt and grief. They know they let Jesus down. They know the Jesus had the right to be very angry with them, to put it mildly.
Yet, when Jesus does come, it is not with anger and accusations. He enters with the words, “Peace be with you.” He enters with words of forgiveness, words to repair, to heal the broken relationship.
And Jesus does not wait. He does not wait for the disciples to apologize for their desertion or their betrayal. He comes offering words of peace. It reminds me of the story of the prodigal son from a few weeks ago. The son is at the end of the drive walking back to the house. His father is running down to meet him ordering robes and rings and announcing the feast before the son even starts his apology. “I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” (Luke 15:11-24) There’s nothing even remotely like this from the disciples, and Jesus doesn’t demand it from them either. I’m sure it was in their prayers, but nothing when they are face-to-face with the resurrected Jesus. It seems a bit odd. Just like with the father in the story, to Jesus the relationship was more important than anything they might say.
Not only that, Jesus allows them to see and experience what they needed to believe that Jesus’ resurrection was real and not their imagination or wishful thinking.
“But these are written that you may believe,” it says in verse 31.
For the Apostle John, believing is not to assent to some set of facts or be able to recite a particular creed or litany. Believing is to be in a relationship. Jesus’ encounters in today’s narrative is about repairing and rebuilding damaged relationships in the way that they needed.
In the middle of this, we have John’s Pentecost moment when Jesus breathes on them, and the disciples receive the Holy Spirit. Then, Jesus tells them that if they forgive someone’s sins, they are forgiven, and if not, they are not. In fact, Jesus is conferring his power on them, the power that he exhibited throughout the gospels when he tells people that they are forgiven (and gets him into a lot of trouble because only God can forgive sins). He does this via the Holy Spirit. This can sound pretty harsh. We don’t often talk about the possibility that God won’t forgive us when we confess our sins, but this is where context is so important. He tells them this immediately after forgiving what we might consider unforgivable, especially considering that it was done to Jesus. The line from The Lord’s Prayer comes to mind, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” [Emphasis mine.] When they are deciding whether or not someone is forgiven, they will be reminded how far Jesus was willing to go to forgive and be in relationship with them. And of course, the whole event of Jesus’ death and Resurrection is to allow a permanent repair in the relationship between God and the world.
But Thomas isn’t there. Despite the fact that all of his friends tell him that Jesus is alive, and they have seen it, he cannot believe it. This recitation of facts is not enough for him. Thomas needs to feel that relationship with Jesus again. What’s amazing is that Jesus allows him to have it. Thomas is bold enough to state what he needs. I need to see the injuries. I need to feel the wounds.
Again, without being asked directly, Jesus offers himself to Thomas for examination. Jesus tells him to, “Stop doubting and believe.”(John 20:27b) Or, stop doubting and renew your relationship with me, based on what John means by “believe.” Resume your relationship with me.
Once Thomas was convinced, he held nothing back, Proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”(John 20:28)
Then text continues with a message to the reader (us), who cannot have this particular kind of encounter with Jesus. He says in verse 29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
And yet, we all have our own individual needs when it comes to encountering and developing our relationship with Jesus. And it is the gift of God that he gives it to us, customizing it for what we need to believe, what we need to be in relationship.
I have mentioned before that I was not raised in a religious household. We weren’t even spiritual let alone religious, but it wasn’t atheistic either. We just didn’t address it in any meaningful way. It was not a part of our lives. However, some seeds were planted in me by some neighbors when I was a young child, and over time I became a spiritual Seeker, or maybe Explorer is a better term.
After many years of this, I found myself in a church as a seeker and explorer, and I was invited to be in a long-term intensive Bible study called Disciple. Some of you may be familiar with it. At this point, I was firmly in the agnostic camp, and I was a true definition of the word, not knowing. I had yet to be convinced either way.
I decided to use this study to make a final decision whether Jesus was the real deal. Considering myself a logical person, I had a criteria of what would be sufficient to make a decision. It had nothing to do with my heart being strangely warmed, and that can bother some people.
My need wasn’t that different from Thomas’ when you think about it. It didn’t matter how much he wanted it to be true, Thomas needed to see, to touch, to feel.
I obviously could not do that, so I decided to commit to a 34 week Bible study that had 6 days of homework each week. If that sounds like a lot, it is, but I think that if you ask most people have taken part in this course, the rewards far outweigh the effort. We actually have it here, and I would love for us to be able to offer it, but I digress.
It wasn’t until week 27 that I’ve got the information I needed to make my decision. I could tell you what my criteria were, but it doesn’t really matter for two reasons. There’s no reason why what was important to me would make any difference to you. You have your own personalized, customize needs, just like Mary, just like Thomas. The other reason is that what persuaded me to decide to believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected is now almost meaningless compared with the fact that I made the decision. It is the reason that I became a Christian, a full-fledged follower of the ways of Jesus. It is not the reason that I remain a follower, a disciple.
It is what has happened in my life since then. It is the new life that I obtained through Jesus Christ though I’m not sure that I would have even described it that way before this week, but it started that day. The way I interacted with the world began to change that day. I started regarding the world with Resurrection tinted glasses.
Now, I have a short video to show you. It is a man trying on a new kind of glasses. You see, he is colorblind, and we are going to see him look through these glasses for the first time. Watch.
This gentleman was able to see the vivid color of the world for the first time. It can be like that when we start looking at life in the light of the Resurrection through Resurrection tinted glasses. You have a pair of 3D glasses in your bulletin. I invite you to put them on for a moment.
When you start looking through Resurrection tinted glasses, it can be overwhelming, just like that man who had to take glasses off. He was overloaded with information even as he was delighted by it.
Sometimes we may retreat in the beginning, but as we keep the glasses on, we will regard the world and the people in it differently. We will start to detect God’s involvement in our own lives that we never realized before.
I may have become a follower of Jesus because of seemingly random criteria, but I have stayed a follower because of things that were too profound to be coincidence. How living by the guidelines that Jesus and the New Testament talks about made my life better, my relationships better. You know that loving your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:36-40), and the wisdom of, “Love is patient, love is kind, etc…” (1 Cor 13:4-13) really does have a positive impact on other people. More than that, over and over I would see God at work in my life and the lives of the people around me, transforming us. I had, and have, those God sightings that I like to talk about.
Looking at the world through Resurrection tinted lenses shows us that the Resurrection, the new life we get with Jesus is the promise of an “abundant life with God – forever AND now. That’s salvation for the Apostle John – relationship with Jesus, with God, here and now […] a relationship with God that not even death can bring to an end.” (Karoline Lewis, “Resurrection Is Relationship” Resurrection is relationship”)
And over the next several weeks, we’ll be examining the vividness of the world, of our relationship with God, of what it means to be human, and what life can be like in light of the Resurrection, wearing our Resurrection tinted glasses. Prepare yourself. You may see colors that you never knew existed before!