"Resurrection, Re-Creation and Doubt" Bible Study on John 20:19-31
April 8, 2021, 10:36 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from John 20:19-31 (Common English Bible).

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

Our text is John's depiction of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps to establish the thematic proximity of the gift of the Spirit to Jesus' resurrection, John keeps the scene on that very first Easter Sunday in the evening.  The disciples are huddled in fear -- despite hearing the news of the resurrection from Mary Magdalene -- because they expect further recriminations from the authorities.  Their battened-down hatches are unable to withstand Jesus' approach as the one who trampled down death by death needs not huff and puff and blow the house down like the big, bad wolf to get inside.

In their midst, in their fear, in their confusion, Jesus shows up when least expected and says, "Peace be with you," showing them the scar-marred hands and side (John 20:19-20).  Quickly, the fear, the confusion, the guardedness dissipates.  The fog of fear is lifting, and they are finally able to see and understand the power of resurrection through the power of Christ's Holy Spirit.  I wouldn't be surprised if the sun twinkled one last time and the birds sang one last chorus before settling down for the night.  Regardless, the disciples were "filled with joy" (John 20:20).  Jesus, seizing the moment, offers an extra helping of peace before reminding them that they're not just disciples (who learn from their teacher) but apostles (meaning the sent ones) whom Jesus sends, much as he was sent by God.

But Jesus, having taken stock of these purported followers who scattered when he was arrested and whom he found cowering in a secure location not preaching in the streets and on the rooftops, knows that commissioning them in that state to go into the world -- the same world that had rejected him and that he told them would reject them too (see John 15:18-25) -- would not be setting them up for success.  Jesus' plan is to give them the very best thing he has.  Jesus defies all COVID-protocols and breathes on them, exhales into their nostrils and lungs, and says the most inspiring words: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).  Interestingly, the keys to the kingdom, the binding and loosing powers which in Matthew 16:13-20 are given, some would argue, solely to Peter, seem to be bestowed on the whole company.  "If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven” (John 20:23).

In breathing the Spirit into the disciples, Jesus reenacts the scene from the Garden of Eden, is once more (as always) the Creator who takes raw, lifeless potential, and makes it into something real which it could never otherwise be.  With the Spirit, the frightened deserters are made into the Church, the company of believers, the resurrected Body of Christ, the friends of God.  Jesus, the Word who was with God in the beginning (John 1:1), is re-creating them.  The project begun in the resurrected Christ is not yet complete in them, and yet by the Spirit is already begun in them as well.  The Apostle Paul can cry out, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25) and a few verses later, also say, "The way we live is based on the Spirit" (Romans 8:4).

Jesus' unexpected visit to the disciples that Easter evening changed them from disciples into apostles, those sent proclaim that they had been joined to Christ's new humanity and that all people could experience the same thing they had through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This new humanity had been God's plan all along.

And now a word about "doubting" Thomas, as if all the other disciples had more faith than he did and that made Thomas a bit of a problem.  Remember what happened.  For one reason or another, Thomas was not with the others on Easter evening.  John's Gospel doesn't say why, but perhaps Thomas had unexpected company that weekend.  So, Thomas didn't share their experience of the Risen Christ.  That meant they had something he didn't have, and instead of their experience, what Thomas had was their word about what they had seen -- and that wasn't enough.  You see, Thomas never doubted Jesus; he doubted the other apostles.  The problem was not really Thomas -- the problem was the credibility of the others.  They had seen the Risen Jesus; they had been given Christ's peace and his Spirit; they had been sent by the Risen Christ to continue his work in the world.

It was now up to these witnesses to share the good news.  That's what they were sent to do.  And, bless their hearts, their witness to the resurrection was not even compelling enough to convince Thomas; and Thomas wanted to believe -- he was ready to believe.

I think that it's the same way now.  The temptation is to say that the problem is out there, with all of those unbelievers like Thomas -- if they would only shape up and believe better and then join our church, then things would improve immeasurably.  It's easier to do that, to complain about them, than it is to pay careful attention to the less-than-persuasive words and lives of today's disciples -- of those who are called to be witnesses to the Way of Jesus Christ.  It feels better to call Thomas "doubting" than to call the disciples -- or ourselves -- unconvincing.

But Thomas is here to make us uncomfortable, not smug.  Remember, faith almost always comes to people through the faith and actions of others, through the life and ministry of the Church that is visible doing the work of Jesus.

Virtually everyone "out there" is like Thomas.  Virtually everyone "out there" -- and that includes children and grandchildren -- depends upon people who already believe to point them toward faith.  Virtually everyone "out there" -- that includes children, grandchildren, and youth -- depends upon us.

Peace be with you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen in us!  Alleluia!

Pastor Greg Rupright



04-11-2021 at 9:14 PM
Pat May
Thanks for reminding us/me of the difference between “disciple” and “apostle!”
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