John 20:19-31 Trust, Truth, Choice, and Belief
The rumors had been flying. Some of Jesus’s followers were saying that Jesus was alive, that he had risen from the grave. Could they dare believe this? I mean it was really a wild rumor. How could Jesus be alive? They had watched him die. The Romans did not fail at executions. The idea of Jesus being alive was just a cruel hoax.
The disciples, except for Thomas, were in hiding together. They were afraid. They were afraid they would be next. When would the religious rulers come after them? They had locked the doors thinking this would help them to be safe.
We like to feel safe. Notice I said feel safe because in a world in which death reigns, nowhere is safe. If nothing else Covid has taught us this. It matters not who you are or where you are, we are always susceptible to dangers. We can ignore such dangers, and use our finances to try and mitigate the danger by purchasing security devices but in reality, there is no place on this planet that can keep death away forever.
I wonder what they talked about while in hiding. I am sure that Jesus took up most of their conversation, but what were they saying? Did they talk about how they missed him? Did they talk about the violence, the shame, and the injustice? Were they angry? We are not told what they were discussing. We do know that while they were gathered, Jesus appeared. The first words out of his mouth are, “Peace be with you.”
This life is hard. This life is difficult. This life is challenging. If you are not aware of this now you will be. There are so many things that can create the perception of fear, so many things that can make us anxious and afraid, and so many things that can dash our hopes.
The perspective of peace, real peace, the kind of peace that can make even the darkest of situations filled with illumination and joy. Jesus, who was crucified is alive. Jesus who was dead brings the disciples peace by his presence.
Jesus had made a promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27 NIV) Jesus keeps his word. Jesus comes to his disciples with the gift of peace. The Lord does not abandon his own.
There have been so many times in my life when I have needed this peace. When people I love die, I need this peace. When I find myself in the depths of depression, I need this peace. When I reflect on my life and on how many times I feel I have let God down, let my family down, let friends down, let the church down, and let myself down, I need the peace that only Jesus can give. It is the peace that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This peace, the peace of Jesus, is also the peace that produces perseverance. Jesus comes to his disciples to remind them they have a mission. The disciples are to carry on the work Jesus started. They are to be salt and light. They are to be people of the promise and will do even greater works than have been done. Jesus spoke to them at the Lord’s supper, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father. (Jn. 14:12 ESV) And then, Jesus gives the disciples the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them all they need to be successful in their mission. Thus, the mission is made possible by the power of the Spirit, who simultaneously represents the continuing presence of the risen Christ with his disciples and the creative power of God always at work to enliven creation itself.
Some would see this as being an inconsistency in the Scripture. Does the Scripture not say in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit will be given at the time of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that takes place on Pentecost? The event we find here in John is not an inconsistency but a different event. The disciples were going to need to make decisions. Jesus has given them a new means to do so. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift of discernment, it is the means through which we can do the will of God.
I believe if there is one mistake many Christians make today is not allowing the Holy Spirit to be our guide in life. When Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit it is a fulfillment of his promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age. It is the promise that God will live in us, and we will live in God. The Spirit is with us always, but the Holy Spirit will not overpower our wills. If we do not listen, the Holy Spirit will not force us to do anything. Love never forces.
Then comes verse 23. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” How can we forgive sin? Only God can forgive sin. Some view this as the ultimate job description of the church. If we continue the work of Jesus, people will have their sins forgiven and if the church does not do its work, then sins will not be forgiven. The forgiveness of sin is not about power but about grace. Not forgiving sins is about judgment. We have no right to judge.
So, I believe the best way to deal with this passage is to understand it as a call to responsibility and involvement. This is where the mission Jesus assigns to those who have the Holy Spirit comes in. It is about making the reality of the Kingdom of God and the salvation it offers known. It is an awesome God-sized challenge. The issue with Thomas reveals that.
Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared. Thomas was a skeptic. He had seen Jesus die and no amount of foolish speculation or trickery was going to change what he believed. Thomas needed physical, tangible proof that Jesus was alive.
Thomas gets what he asks for. Jesus once again appears to the disciples in a room with locked doors. Once again Jesus greets them with the presence of peace. Thomas touches Jesus and then declares, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas was fortunate. Thomas is also an example for all of us. Faith is not about physical, provable certainty. In fact, such certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty does not need faith, it has certainty.
Jesus responds to Thomas’s profession of faith by saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I love our Lord’s words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” I love being told I am blessed. I am so thankful that true faith, confident belief does not require the arrogance of certainty. God does not have to prove the divine self to be known and loved. God does reveal God’s self to us through seeking to influence our decision by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit’s primary purpose.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (Jn. 14:26)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (Jn. 14:26-27 NRS)
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 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.
The incarnation and resurrection are not instances of God showing off. These acts were carried out for us. These events are for the purpose of giving us reason enough to chose to have faith in God. Faith is about trusting the truth. Jesus is that truth.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 NRS)
This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn. 14:17 NRS)
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32 NRS)
The choice of life, of hope, of love, comes to us through the Holy Spirit that leads us to believe in Jesus which leads us into the grace, mercy, salvation, and promise of God. The choice is ours.