By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 19, 2020
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
19 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, 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 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.” 26 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.” 27 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.” 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 believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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.
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. This is the most controversial event in human history. Some are out there saying that it never happened, while others are saying that it did. I want us to really consider our stance on this event. I know that this seems like a weird statement, but I want us to really think about it. If we say that “He is Risen!” do we actually live as if he does?
When the three disciples went to the tomb last week, they ran they did not walk. They rushed to get the information that they sought. They entered that tomb to find the cloths laying there but no body to be seen. Peter stood there in confusion, and we were told that the other disciple believed. What exactly did he believe? If we are to look at his actions and listen to the witness of the Gospel writer, that he did not believe that Jesus was risen at that time. In fact if we were to look at the story, this man who ran the fastest to the tomb hearing that that the stone was moved away went away that Easter morning believing that he was in danger, that his hope was lost, and that his death was near.
I say this because Peter and the other disciple walked away from the tomb and went back to the house while Mary remained in place. Mary stayed out in the open, ready to face whatever the world might throw at her, while the men went to a room and locked the doors.
They went to the house. They locked the door. They remained there until the evening. Why? For fear of the Jews. When John, the gospel writer is not telling us that Jews are bad, he is referring to the the religious leadership. These were the religious leaders that convinced the Roman governor to execute an innocent man. These leaders where able to manipulate the people to act according to their whims and desires. And the disciples knew that if they were willing to kill Jesus, they would be next because they were the friends of Jesus. These men were afraid because they knew the way the world worked. They knew how politics worked and they knew that they stood on what appeared to be the wrong side. They chose Jesus and Jesus had been crucified. They chose Jesus and the passion of the people had chosen Barabbas. They choice opposed the will of the world and now they sat afraid, because even the body of their king was gone.
Mary stood at the tomb weeping, we can understand Mary, we understand how and why she embraced the emotions she exhibited. We struggle with the men. This is partly because we have made heroes out to these men. We hold them up as pillars of faith and we want to believe that they could do no wrong, but the reality is that these men were very human. They had followed Jesus with their whole being. Peter and Andrew dropped their nets right on the beach and followed. James and John, looked at their dad and their employees and they jumped out of the boat without looking back. Matthew was sitting at this tax collection table, with stacks of coins setting there, and when Jesus called out to him he walked away without even securing the money. Each one of these disciples had listened to Jesus, had been inspired and walked away from the lives that they knew and embraced the life they hoped for.
They embraced a different life, but Jesus died. The world came crashing down on them and they locked the door. They had heard and saw yet the world’s weight was heavy on their shoulders. And they locked the doors. They had three years of teaching and experience yet they sat sealed in a room, why?
This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. This is the difference between belief and faith. This is the difference between ideology and life. They had seen many things in the past three years. They had seen Jesus turn water to wine, feed five thousand with a simple sack lunch, they had seen him cleanse the lepers and give sight to the blind. They had even participated in these things, they themselves had provided freedom to others from the bondage of demon grasps. They knew the power of God that Jesus controlled. But when the world came cashing in with their populous manipulating powers, where are the disciples that once claimed that they would walk to death with their lord?
Mary remained at the tomb, and the disciples we cherish so much were locked behind closed doors. These men were human, just like us. They did not know what to expect and they were confused and afraid. I think we all can identify a bit with these men. We have spent a month at home sheltering in place from a pathogen that seems to strike at random. One might even go as far as saying it is like a thief in the night, taking one while leaving another working in the fields. One is considered essential and another is not. One is on hold with the unemployment office and the other is afraid of getting sick at work. We know the fear that these men may have had. The world is crashing in on us, we are gripped in fear, confused, and ingnorant as to what to do next. Do I get another package of toilet paper or do I plan for future expenses?
We know what those disciples felt. They had knowledge, they even believed but that did not move them out of that room. Mary, though, was not in the room with them that morning. Mary was at the tomb, she was waiting in that place she last knew her lord was. She did not move away but she remained at that place until she her belief moved into something greater, hope.
Some of us are at the tomb and some of us are have already walked to the house and closed the door. Both have ignorance of the future, but there are two different approaches. One does not care what the world might think where the other withdraws from the world. Which are you?
Mary was in a position where she was open to the lord’s leading, she was the first to experience the risen Lord, and she became the first witness of this amazing event. Mary Magdalene is actually the first apostle, the first to be sent out to share the message of the greatest hope, Jesus Christ is alive.
At times, we are in a position where we are right were God needs us to be to respond to ministry and service. We might be sitting at a table next to someone that has begun to choke and we can quickly spring to action. We might have access to funds that can be used to encourage other in their life’s journey. We might be a friend that happened to notice when someone’s response was just a bit off and were able to step up and help them avoid a suicide attempt, or could counsel them through a major life event. We might be like Mary in the right place at the right time, but all to often we are somewhere else.
Often we are like the other disciples, we are like the disciples that have the knowledge that the tomb is empty and we walked away and gather in a building, away from the world. I am often this disciple. I like the building, it gives me something tangible. There is safety, security, there are people that will not think I am crazy for having certain ideas. I love the places the church meets, and assembles. Even the name church, which is a gathering, implies that we should come together and withdraw from the world into this group of like minded people to fellowship and encourage one another.
The gathering is important, but we need to recognize the danger that might also be there. The disciples gathered together which is great, but they gathered together, locked the door, out of fear. They were not engaging in ministry, they were not even in a position to begin to minister. They were locked away in fear. They were there talking amongst themselves, and the fear was multiplying. Each of us have stayed home, we have limited contact to those around us, we have limited knowledge as to what is going on outside our dwellings. We are living with only partial knowledge, and how can we move forward?
The disciples knew that the body was missing, but that is all they knew. They sat in that room with only part of the story, and they were afraid. But there is hope, Jesus met Mary by the tomb as she wept and Jesus meets the disciples as they lock themselves away in fear.
The one thing that the COVID19 stay at home orders have shown us is that church and ministry can take on various different roles. Many of us once only viewed our church as being a building in one community, but as these worship services have been moved to an online format, people join with us in worship, in some manner, from anywhere. This is opening our eyes to something greater.
Jesus met the disciples in that room and he showed them that there was something greater than fear, hope. The greatest fear in humanity is the fear of death, because that is the greatest mystery of all. We do not know what lies beyond death. Is it the end? Is there a constant chain of reincarnation? Is their a different form of life? Every person that lives has a theory of death, and as a result it often dictates their life. What happens when the fear of death is removed?
The other fears are often connected to the first fear. In an article called “The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share” from Psychology today, they list off these various fears. The first they say is extinction, which is basically the fear of death. I could also be connected to the fear of things we perceive to cause death. The second is fear of having our bodies mutilated or invaded, this includes the anxiety we have about animals because we perceive them as causing us bodily harm. Next is the loss of autonomy, separation, and finally the fear of humiliation or loss of our self identity.
We fear death so we live our lives to protect ourselves as much as we can from that. The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and they were in fear because those leaders had just killed their lord. Jesus joined them in their fear. He joined them in that room in the midst of their fear, and he removed that base fear from them. If Jesus is alive, if the grave could not hold him why exactly are they sitting in that locked room?
Jesus met them in the midst of their fear, but he does something more. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Have we ever really thought about this statement? It is a peace blessing. It is in essence a peace treaty. Jesus meets them in their state of fear and he declares peace. He offers to them an opportunity to move out of the life of conflict that they are experiencing at that time. He is offering to take away the fear and replace it with courage.
This peace treaty is forgiveness of sins. He shows him his hands and his side, and he breaths on them and says, “Peace be with you, as the Father sent me so I send you.” He then breaths on them. In this very act Jesus is telling them, your hierarchy of fear has been shattered. Every fear we have from the loss of self identity, separation, autonomy, mutilation, and death have all been taken on Jesus himself. Everything that keeps us from pursuing the life God has called us to, has been carried by Jesus. And he is breathing life back onto and into us saying peace, its forgiven, chose to live. God the Father sent him, now he is showing us through his hands and side we have been released from our fear to pursue life more abundantly.
Jesus met these disciples in their fear, he offered them a life relieved of the hierarchy of fear, and he then sent them into that new life with the assurance of his own life renewed. And he gave them a ministry to live. Mary remained at the tomb and became the first apostle sent out to share the message of our risen Lord, and the disciples that cowered in fear were given a freedom from the grip of fear with the offer of a divine peace treaty. And he said, to go out and share this, go out to forgive. He is telling them to extend the same blessing of peace to those around them. And they begin this mission with one of their own, Thomas.
Thomas is probably the most underappreciated disciple. We tend to look down at him because of his doubt. I would even venture to say that we respect Judas more than Thomas because he at least stood for something even though he was the betrayer. But Thomas will forever be the disciple that doubted. Peter, the one that we regard as the leader of the apostles denied Jesus, he rejected Jesus when people confronted him about his association. He even swore that he did not know him. Yet he is given a place of respect where Thomas doubted, and will remain that disciple.
Thomas was not with the others. Think about that. Thomas was not locked in that room in fear. Where was Thomas that evening? Maybe Thomas heard, what Mary had said and instead of sitting in the room Thomas ran out to the tomb to seek Jesus there as well. Maybe Thomas was out among the people already promoting the teachings of Jesus, because he had seen the life that those teachings had given. Maybe, just maybe, Thomas was already living a life freed from fear. Of course there is the very real possibility that Thomas had given up and walked away completely. All we know is Thomas was not with the others. He was not aware of the peace that Jesus offered to the others. And because he had not seen the lord he would not believe.
I like Thomas. I embrace Thomas because he is a skeptic. I am one that does not like to be naive, or ignorant. I want to know what I know and live that out. I like reality and proof, because I identify as someone grounded in science. Some people might scoff at that. I am a pastor, I preach faith, and yet I love science. I am a pastor in the Show-Me State, Missouri. I mean Thomas should be my guy and he is. I understand Thomas. Do not just tell me something show me.
Thomas said unless I see I will not believe. The amazing thing is that Jesus met Thomas in that place as well. The other disciples offered Thomas the peace treaty that Jesus gave them, they forgave his lack of unity with them, and that next week, the day we celebrate this Sunday. Thomas experienced the risen Lord.
Jesus met Mary in the flowing emotions at the tomb, he met the disciples in that room filled with the smell of fear, and he met Thomas in his skepticism. Jesus restored Mary’s hope, he released the disciples from the grip of fear, and Thomas moved from ignorance into true entrusting belief as he said, “My Lord, and My God!”
It is Thomas that at that moment opened the eyes of every disciple there that day. Jesus was not just a man, a prophet, a priest, or a king. Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus revealed to them all as he stretched out his hands everything that binds us. The fear of humiliation was right there in the puncture wounds around his brow. The fear of separation still evident from the denials the disciples had voiced. The loss of autonomy evident in the stripes on his back. And his hands show the mutilation while the pierce in his side was testimony to reality of his death. Jesus stood there before them all looking Thomas in the eyes and saying to him, put your hand here. And Thomas saw in that moment that this was more than just a man. This is God with us, and God taking what holds us back and breaking those bonds to give us the opportunity to live a life restored to our proper place.
From the moment of Adam’s betrayal in the Eden’s garden to the moment of Mary’s encounter with the supposed gardener at the tomb, humanity had lived in enmity with God. We lived with this idea that God was out there trying to keep us from pleasure, or wanting to smite us if we transgressed. We lived in constant fear of God either in respect or wrath, but never fully love. Every trial we faced, was judgment from God. Every benefit we experienced blessing. Always at war, trying to please or trying to avoid, rarely companionship. Then Thomas look in Jesus’s eyes and saw God reaching his hand out to him saying, peace.
Everything that you fear was taken into God’s hands and he is looking at you today saying, “Peace be with you.” He is saying to you there is a different life and lifestyle available to you. And you can become a person joining him in removing life’s fears or perpetuating them. Those scarred hands are welcoming you home, and the scarred and humiliated brow is placed against your forehead breathing new life into your lungs. And he is asking you join him, in becoming people loosening the bonds of fear and shining the light of hope.
Let us enter into this time of Holy Expectancy, knowing that Our Lord and our God has defeated for us all our fears. And let us join each other in a lifestyle loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.