John 20:19–31 (NRSV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
(Lk 24:36–43; 1 Cor 15:5)
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A week and 2000 years ago something amazing happened. Mary a close friend of Jesus had just come from the tomb and just kept cheering, shouting, laughing, and crying that Jesus was alive. “Jesus is risen!” She said. HE IS RISEN!
The disciples looked at her, and you know what they did. They closed the door and locked it.
John and Peter ran to the tomb with her, because just hours earlier she came to them crying, saying that the tomb was empty, that someone had taken the body. Peter and John ran to the tomb, they confirmed that the body was indeed gone, but it was odd because the grave clothes were left there and the head covering was laid apart from the rest. It was almost like it was removed after the body was taken a couple of steps away. They could not imagine what had happened, but the one thing they knew was that if someone took the body the authorities would soon be coming to question them.
They were afraid of this. This could not be good. To disturb a tomb that was officially sealed was a capital offense. It would not be long before Roman soldiers were knocking on the door and they knew that there would not be an honest trial, Pilate was not known to be a lenient man. He had crucified many for less, just a hint of rebellion and men were hung. They had not only hinted at rebellion they had cheered and proclaimed publicly throughout the city of Jerusalem that Jesus was the Son of David, the King of the Jews. They were all on Pilate’s radar. All he needed was an excuse.
They are all sitting in a room, the windows are covered and the door is locked. They are listening to Mary one more time as she tries to explain to them what she saw. What exactly did she see? It is too unbelievable; did she say again that Jesus is alive?
They sat there in fear. Every noise they believed was their ended. They were petrified, and unable to move. They locked the door. Attempting to keep everything else out. They feared not only the Romans but the Jews, their own people. If they were not part of their exclusive group they were sealed out.
Then out of nowhere, He was with them right there in that room. Words could not form in their throats, and Mary just stared at them with a look of satisfaction. Yet they remained in that room scared. Then Jesus spoke to them. “Peace be with you!”
Peace be with you. Peace, freedom from worry, be with you. Imagine the paralyzing fear they were experiencing at that moment, and in a word, Jesus is telling them let it go. Be released from it all, be free. They just stood there with their mouths agape, so he showed them his hands and his side. Slowly their mouths begin to form utters, partial words, and then all together they begin to rejoice. JESUS! It really is you, your hands look at them and the spear went right there. Mary you were right He Lives!!
Jesus then repeats the words, “Peace be with you.” And he adds as the Father sent me so I send you. Then he does something different, he breaths on them. There are many things attached to this action. The first is that Jesus was truly alive and breathing. They might have had an ounce of doubt to this point, maybe it was merely a spiritual manifestation of Jesus that they were seeing. One that is there to give them hope but he is really not with them. But no, Jesus is breathing they felt the wind coming out of his mouth, it was not a cold wind, but one that was tempered by the warm blood coursing through the veins of a living person and there was the hint of humidity that is also present in beings whose bodies contain seventy percent water. He breathed on them, which also snaps them to attention. When God formed the first human out of the dust, He then blew the breath of life into them. It was this breath that gave them life, true life one that connects both the physical and spiritual. It was that breath that connected them with God. And it was that breath that was taken from them when they fell in the garden. Life of sin is a life filled with fear. It is a life lived under the dictatorship of fear. The disciples were cowering in a locked room in the clutches of fear, and Jesus came to them, breathing life into them and giving them freedom and peace.
He did this because there was more to do. So, the father had sent him He is sending them out into the world. They were not created to sit in a locked room sealing out the things that bring fear. Instead they are to go out into that terrorizing world and breath life into it. They are meant to continue to spread the good news of the Kingdom because their king is not a king like the king of the world, their king was crucified on a tree, was buried for three days, and lives.
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus continues as he finishes breathing life back into them. They remember the teaching He shared with them. The Spirit is like the wind, you know it is there but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. When Jesus spoke these words, he was saying that we do not know the beginning or the end, but we can follow where it leads, just like a leaf can sail along on the passing breeze. Jesus is encouraging them to latch onto that wind, because that very breeze is the breath of God. We may not know where it came from or where it is bringing life. Follow that wind so that we can participate in His kingdom work. Follow the Spirit, learn to discern its leadings, just as he showed them while he went to the wilderness to pray.
Then Jesus says something that puzzles me, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” At this point the wind dropped. My kite was flying high and it suddenly took a nose dive, and my mind says, “WHAT?”
This statement is similar to the one that Jesus spoke to Peter, the keys of the kingdom, “what ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loose in heaven.” Which to be honest is just as confusing. But the difference between versions is that in John’s gospel account Jesus tells this to the entire body of apostles, whereas in Matthew is directed toward Peter. This is confusing because there is great power within these words. If I do not forgive does that mean that that sin remains on that person? Yes. It also means that if you do forgive that person is released from the obligation or wages of sin. That is a great deal of power to give to humankind. What about those grudges that people hold and you are not even aware that you might have caused harm to them, are you destined for an eternity outside of God’s blessing because they held a grudge against you? If that is the case then every one of us is in a great deal of trouble.
Sin, what exactly is this? Most of us have heard the definition that is derived from archery which means that we have missed the mark. This is a word, translators used to describe a concept. It is a theologically loaded word that basically means that something is amiss. It is both a legal term as well as a relational term, an error was made somewhere and the goal we were trying to obtain was missed. The word sin as we know it did not exist as sin in the original languages of scripture, it was a translator’s attempt to give us an idea of missing the life God intended for us to have. Jesus said that he came to give life and to give it abundantly, or to the full. That abundant life of which Jesus speaks is a life with Him, a life in communion or in community with God. It was the life that Adam and Eve experienced before the serpent hissed in their ears in the garden. Jesus describes life filled with contentment and joy, he does not mean wealth and health in the manner in which we think of it, but relationships. A life free from sin is a life where we are focused on pleasing those around us, where everyone is set on mutual profit instead of selfish gains. The greatest image of this is a marriage.
In an ideal marriage, let me stress ideal because we all know that often it is not ideal, both are help mates to each other. Both are assisting one another so that they can accomplish whatever their task is. They may have different roles to play in that task but if the task is complete both equally enjoy the benefit of their labor. Each member of the union is giving themselves fully to the other, and when both live in this way the romance is beautiful.
Marriage also shows us what a life of sin looks like, because if one member of a union does not live fully for the other and is taking more from the relationship than they give, tension builds and anger and resentment takes hold. If you want to know what sin is, all you have to do is look at your relationships with others. What angers you about them, and what causes them to become angry? What are the things that you can do to prevent these emotions, and what can you do to create a more harmonious union? Whatever you forgive is forgiven what ever is retained is retained.
For a relationship to flourish we need forgiveness, because we are people prone to selfishness. But in a relationship who loses if forgiveness is withheld? If you carry resentment to an action done against you by another you are causing a rift to build within the relationship and that relationship begins to tear apart. You begin to build up protective walls within yourself to prevent damage and you begin to pull back on your willingness to provide mutual benefits. In your mind you begin to take care of yourself instead of the other. And this self-focus pulls us away from the abundant life.
Jesus gave freely. Yes, he was aware of his limits but when he pulled away it was so he could reengage again in ministry to the other. We need to do this at times because we are human, and we interact with humans. At times we do not know where the boundaries are that we should not cross so we push forward and if we do not communicate we end up taking more than we should. Forgive and it will be forgiven, retain and it will be retained.
Jesus came to show us how to live a healthy spiritual life. He showed us how to live in ministry with others. Time together, time alone, and time in celebration. This goes with all relationships even with God. Jesus lived this so that we could live this with others, because we are sent to continue the work that he started.
That day 2000 years ago, well approximately 1985 years ago. The disciples moved from fear to life, but there were some that were not with them. One individual was Thomas, we all know him as doubting Thomas. He gets a bad reputation that he does not deserve because he is no different than the rest of the disciples, they all doubted they were all confused. His greatest sin was that he was not there with them. But whatever we forgive is forgiven and what ever is retained is retained. The disciples went out to find Thomas and they brought him back into the group. They forgave or offered forgiveness and the relationship was restored. Immediately within days of Jesus’ commission to them the disciples began to live the abundant life, and Thomas was the first fruit. But there was another member of their group that was not present, a man by the name of Judas. They did not seek out Judas that did not seek to restore the relationship with him, and he remained outside the community. To this day we do not see Judas Iscariot as a saint of the church but as the vilest of sinners. His sin was retained, and could it be that their actions had something to do with that?
One man was forgiven and another was not. The disciples themselves chose to judge, but was it their place? Do we do all we can to restore the relationships around us? We do not know if the disciples attempted to bring Judas back or not, all we know is that he continued down a pathway of destruction. I would venture that the disciples most likely tried to restore but Judas chose to retain his own sin and ended his own life. He was unwilling and unable to see the forgiveness offered and it drove him mad.
Which leads us back to the theological discussion of the power we possess over sin. Jesus said that the only sin that remains is grieving the Spirit all other sin is forgiven. All other sins. The only sin that remains the only retained sin is a conscience rejection of following the Spirit to the foot of the cross. When we reject the Spirit, we like Judas are unable and unwilling to see the forgiveness offered to us and we too are driven mad and continue to rip our relationships apart. This leads to marriages ending in divorce, suicide, exploitation of humanity in various ways. And when these things happen in individuals it bleeds into the greater community, which then bleeds into nations becoming mad with selfishness and unhealthy self-preservation which leads to the dehumanization of nations and war. And it all comes down to one thing will we forgive or retain? Will we follow the spirit to Christ or will we continue to walk away? Will we do all we can to encourage one another or will we push people away? Will we lock the doors to seal ourselves from the scary world or will we boldly enter the world proclaiming the gospel? Jesus lives do you believe? Jesus lives and he is breathing his breath of life on us all are we willing to take that breath inside of us and witness the abundance of life? Are we willing to live a life of forgiveness for the good of others like Christ lived or will we live as Judas?