Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
It’s not Easter Sunday, but it is Easter season.
The church has set aside a full fifty days celebrate the good
news that Christ who died was also raised, that he conquered sin and
death, and that he has given us the gift of eternal life.
Fifty days may be the minimum requirement for such a
celebration. But I’ve
been thinking about that first Easter Sunday, and what it must have
been like for those first disciples.
It must have been the strangest day of their lives.
Not the saddest: that would have been Saturday, when Jesus was
lying dead in a stone-cold tomb.
And not the most shocking: that would have been Friday, when
they saw him nailed to a cross and watched the life drain from his
body. But certainly the
strangest, beginning with Mary Magdalene bursting into the room
saying that someone had taken away her Lord.
Peter and that other disciple, the one Jesus loved, jumped up,
slipped on their sandals, grabbed their cloaks, and headed out the
door to see for themselves.
When they got back all the other disciples were wondering
what was going on. Peter
confirmed what Mary had said: the tomb was empty.
Someone must have taken away the body of the Lord.
But that other disciple had a different story: he believed
that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
He was just beginning to tell them about it when Mary burst
in again with the news that she had seen the Lord.
“Well, where is he?” the others asked.
“Can we see him, too?”
“No,” she said.
“He’s ascending.” “What
does that mean?” they wondered.
“I don’t know,” Mary said, “But he told me not to hold on to
him, but to come and tell you that he is ascending to his Father and
your Father; to his God and your God.”
They must have wondered about that all day, and they may have
still been wondering when evening came.
John says the doors were locked because they were afraid that
the same people who had come looking for Jesus might come looking
for them. I can picture
them huddled around the table, their faces lit up by the lamplight,
mostly quiet now, having asked all the questions they could think to
ask. And then, suddenly,
there was his face in the circle.
And, of course, it would have scared them out of their wits.
Can you imagine?
There you are sitting at your own supper table: you look down to cut
your meat and when you look up again there’s Jesus, staring at you
and smiling. At the very
least you would drop your fork.
I think that’s why Jesus said, “Peace,” the first time, because
that’s just what the disciples needed.
They were terrified.
Their hearts were pounding in their chests.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said, or in Hebrew, “Shalom.”
He may have even held up his hands when he said it, and when
he did they saw the marks of the nails and knew it was him, but they
still might have wondered if they were seeing a ghost.
So he stood up and showed them his hands and his side.
He convinced them that it was really him—risen—and not a
ghost. And then they
rejoiced, to think this was real, that this was really Jesus, and
that he was with them again!
They felt their hearts pounding but for a completely
different reason: not for fear this time, but for joy!
So that Jesus had to say again, “Shalom!”
And then he did three things:
- He gave them a
said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And you almost have to stop and remember what the Father
sent Jesus to do before you get it.
John 3:16 is a clue: “God loved the world so much that he
gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might
not perish, but have eternal life.”
And then in John 3:17 we hear, “Indeed, God did not send
the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that
the world might be saved through him.”
If Jesus is truly sending his disciples as he himself was
sent, then he is sending them to love and save the world. How
does that make you feel?
might help to remember that the word
salvation in the New
Testament often simply refers to a state of health and
wholeness, a state of
may be sending his disciples to make the world healthy and
whole, to bring it and the people who inhabit it into a state of
perfect peace with the Father.
- He gave them the
Spirit. This is
the Johannine version of Pentecost, and it doesn’t happen fifty
days after Easter: it happens on Easter Sunday.
Jesus had told his disciples earlier that it was to their
benefit that he go away, so that he could ask the Father to send
them another paraclete,
a Greek word that means “friend,” “helper,” “advocate.”
This one would be the Holy Spirit, and it would be with
them forever: loving them, helping them, and guiding them into
all truth. I’ve been
wondering lately if that’s why Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to
hold on to him. He
said he was ascending to the Father.
Maybe he was on his way to ask the Father for the Holy
Spirit so he could bring it back and give it to his disciples.
- Finally, he gave them
power to forgive sins, and it’s hard to know exactly what he
meant by that. He
said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
That sort of thing could make you judgmental, couldn’t
it? Thinking it was
your job to decide whose sins should be forgiven and whose
shouldn’t be? You
might start looking around and keeping a record of wrongs.
But it might also make you gracious, to realize that you
have the power to let go of those old grudges and hurt feelings
you’ve been carrying around, to open your hand and watch them
fall to the ground forever.
Isn’t there some place in the Bible where we are urged to
forgive as we have been forgiven? (Eph. 4:32).
Maybe Jesus is giving his disciples the power to practice
And then he’s gone—just like that.
The next thing John tells us is that Thomas, who was called
“the Twin,” one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus
appeared. We don’t know
where he was. I’ve often
suspected that he was out buying groceries at the time.
But there is another option, and that is that Thomas was so
overwhelmed by grief he didn’t want to be with the others.
People grieve in different ways, you know.
Some like the comfort of being around others.
Some want to be alone.
Thomas may have been one of those.
And there are hints in the Gospel that Jesus and Thomas were
especially close. One of
them is in chapter 11.
When Jesus learns that his friend Lazarus is sick he doesn’t go
to him right away. He
stays where he is a couple more days.
But then, when he makes up his mind to go, his disciples try
to stop him. They say,
“Lord, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were just now trying to
stone you to death. Are
you sure you want to go back?”
But Jesus says he has to go, that Lazarus has died and he has
to go raise him from the dead.
And that’s when Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die
with him.” And he’s not
talking about Lazarus; he’s talking about Jesus.
He means that if they’re going to kill Jesus they going to
have to kill him, too.
And then in chapter 14, when Jesus says that he is going to
prepare a place for his disciples so they can be with him where he
is he says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going.
How can we know the way?”
It seems clear that he wants to know the way.
He’s trying to get directions so he can get to the place
Jesus is going. And
that’s when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father but by me.”
I’m not sure Thomas understood what he meant by that, but
even in that brief exchange you can sense his determination to go
wherever Jesus is going, to follow him anywhere.
Keep that in mind when come to the next part of the story
because this is where Thomas has gotten a bad reputation.
When the disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas
said, “I don’t believe it, and furthermore I won’t believe it, not
until I put my fingers into the marks of the nails in his hands and
put my hand into his side.”
We call him “Doubting Thomas” because he couldn’t believe
that Jesus had risen simply on the testimony of those other
disciples. But maybe he
just didn’t want to get his heart broken again.
And think about it: those others didn’t believe at first
either, not when Mary Magdalene told them she had seen the Lord, not
when Jesus himself appeared in their midst.
It was only when he showed them his hands and his side that
they rejoiced. Thomas
isn’t really asking for any more than anyone else has received.
Well, maybe a little more.
He really does want to touch as well as see the risen Lord.
But you can hardly blame him.
At least, I can’t blame him.
I would want to see Jesus with my own eyes, wouldn’t you?
And I’m not sure about putting my fingers into the marks of
the nails or my hand into his side, but I would want to be reassured
in the most tangible way possible that it was really Jesus standing
in front of me and not just me, hallucinating.
I can’t blame Thomas for asking.
In fact, I’m glad he did, because if he hadn’t what would we
have? In this Gospel at
least we would only have Mary’s testimony that she had seen the Lord
and the disciples’ testimony of the same.
It may have been a dream or a vision they saw, no more!
I don’t know about you, but I’d like some proof!
So, I’m glad that Thomas asked for it, and I’m glad that
somewhere Jesus heard that request.
Because a week later they were gathered together in that same
place. Once again the
doors were locked. And
then, once again, there was Jesus.
“Shalom,” he said,
holding up that wounded hand.
And then he said, “Come here, Thomas.
Put your finger in the mark of the nails.
Put your hand into my side.
Don’t be an unbeliever any longer; become a believer.”
And here’s what we sometimes miss.
Thomas didn’t put his finger into the marks of the nails.
He didn’t put his hand into Jesus’s side.
At least, not that John tells us.
The next thing that happens in this story is that Thomas
says, “My Lord and my God!”
It is the highest Christological confession in the Gospel,
and it comes from Thomas’ lips in a rush, even before he has a
chance to touch Jesus.
“Have you believed because you have seen me, Thomas?
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to
believe.” And he’s
talking about us, about all of us who have become believers on the
testimony of others, on the testimony of Scripture, or through our
own limited experience of the living Lord.
We haven’t seen him, we certainly haven’t touched him, but
somehow we have come to believe—like Thomas—that Jesus is both Lord
and God. And it may have
been that return appearance that did it for us.
We may have decided that if it was that important to Jesus
that Thomas become a believer, then it might be that important that
we become believers, too.
The author of John’s Gospel says as much.
He says, “There are many other signs that Jesus did that
aren’t written in this book, but these things are written that you
may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and
through believing you may have life in his name.”
In other words, the whole Gospel has been written so that you
might become a believer, and if that hasn’t happened by this point,
the Gospel has failed!
And you wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?
So do it: look on Jesus with the eyes of faith.
Don’t be a doubter any longer.
Be a believer.
But if you find that you can’t do that yet, take heart.
Those other disciples made a place for Thomas at the table;
we’ll make a place for you, until Jesus himself whispers in your
“Don’t be a doubter any longer.
Be a believer.”