Easter, Part Two

The kind of person Jesus loves, John 20:24—29

Easter is all about the Resurrection of Lord from the dead.  Easter is all about Christ’s triumph over death, Hell, and the grave.   Most Christians love the Easter story.  I love the stories of the people Jesus appeared to after His Resurrection; for me, those are far more interesting than the fact of the Resurrection.  Don’t get me wrong, the Resurrection is basis of my faith.  However, given that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that His Resurrection had been foretold in prophecy throughout the Old Testament, the Resurrection is not a surprise.  And if the Jews had read their Scriptures with eyes of faith instead of religious eyes, the Resurrection of Christ would not have been a surprise to them, either.

I would like to take a look at Christ’s second appearance to His disciples because, at its heart, the lesson of this encounter is the triumph of belief.

1.  The first appearance, 20:19—24

In order to understand the second visit of Christ to His disciples, we need to glance back to His first visit.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  (verse 19)

Jesus’ friends were scared.  Consider:  these men had narrowly escaped arrest and probable death along with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; they knew the odds were good that trouble was just around the corner for them because of their association with a known agitator.  Their doors were locked as they gathered this evening for fear that the Jews would send the authorities to get them as they had Jesus.

They were all there with the exception of the traitor, Judas, who was dead, and Thomas was nowhere to be found.

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  (verse 24)

The sudden appearance of Jesus in the locked room must have both startled and excited His disciples.  Obviously a locked door couldn’t stop a Man who just defeated death!  The “resurrection body,” while not like our bodies of flesh and blood, is clearly not ethereal, like the misty ghosts we see on TV.  Christ’s body bore the marks of His crucifixion, which suggests that there is a continuity between the physical body of flesh and blood and the resurrection body.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  (verse 21)

The fact that Jesus had to repeat His message of “peace” shows that these had none of it.  They should have, because Jesus had warned them what was to come, but they were still fearful.  All it took was His appearance, however, to renew their devotion and their hopes.  But it took a lot more than that, however, to keep these men focused on their commission. They rejoiced to see Jesus again, but Jesus did something beyond merely appearing to them:

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  (verse 22)

For their coming work, Jesus gave the disciples the Holy Spirit.  This was sort of like a mini-Pentecost.  The phrase “breathed on them” is found only one other time in Scripture.  In Genesis, we are told this:

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

This evening, Jesus Christ breathed “spiritual life” into His disciples; this spiritual life was desperately needed to give them strength and courage to carry on.   The days between the Resurrection and Pentecost were strange days for the followers of Christ and His disciples, the new leaders of this new movement needed special power from on high to remain faithful until the Holy Spirit was given in full measure to the whole Body of Christ.

But one man was missing this evening, Thomas.

2.  Putting conditions on Christ, 20:24—25

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”  (verse 25)

For some reason, Thomas was not with the disciples the evening Jesus came to them to encourage them and to give them the Holy Spirit.  He should have been there, but he was not.  We can only guess why Thomas was missing, and it has to do with his character.

What do we know about this man?  Thomas was a devoted follower of Jesus, but he tended to be negative.  Though not mentioned often, when he is he is always seen as both devoted and despondent; he was always afraid that he would lose Jesus Christ or that their future would be bleak.  Thomas was the kind of man who always saw the bad, never the good.  He always seemed to expect evil and could never bring himself to believe the good when it occurred.

That he was devoted to Jesus is clear from John 11:16—

Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas was afraid that Jesus was in danger and he loved his Lord so much he didn’t want Jesus to die alone.  So this doubter was undeniably loyal, outspoken, and a little pessimistic.  He was so devoted to Christ, that when He was crucified Thomas’ whole universe collapsed.

Despite the fact that his friends had repeated their eye witness account of their encounter with the risen Christ, Thomas was stubborn in his refusal to believe.  He was absolutely certain that Jesus was dead and, let’s face it, most dead people don’t up and leave their graves.

So for Thomas, simply hearing the truth was not enough.  This man needed more.  Whoever this was that supposedly appeared to the disciples would have to measure up to certain standards which Thomas himself would insist upon.  Notice that Thomas needed see something and he needed to feel something before he would believe.

There are a lot of people today who are just like Thomas.  For them, “seeing is believing” and they place a premium on what they feel.  If they don’t “feel it,” then it’s not real.

3.  The condescending of Jesus, verses 26—27

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Literally it was eight days later and we find the disciples still in Jerusalem, still meeting in the same room, and still locking their doors.  This time, though, Thomas is with them.  We don’t know why Thomas decided to show up this time.  Perhaps his grief and sadness and lessened or, more likely, it was better to be among friends than to remain alone.  If a Christian is to “grow in grace,” he has to fellowship with other believers.  Hebrews 10:24—25 makes it clear as day—

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We grow together when we come together.  Thomas’ doubts did not keep him from fellowshipping with his friends.

The rest of verse 26 is almost an exact replay of verse 19.  When Jesus reappeared this second time, once again He wishes them “Shalom,” “peace.”  Obviously peace was in short supply in those days.  Another reason Jesus’ second visit was a virtual carbon copy of His first visit was, perhaps, for the sake of the doubter; how could Thomas accuse the other disciples of making up a story when Jesus came and greeted them in the exact same manner as before.

What Jesus said to Thomas reveals that He knew what Thomas had said the previous week; Jesus knew all about Thomas’ conditions.  How startled Thomas must have been!  How did Jesus know what he said?

What is really interesting about how Jesus spoke to Thomas is that the Lord did not upbraid him for his doubts, but He challenged him to make the test he suggested.  In fact, for each demand of Thomas, there is a command of Christ.   Jesus told Thomas to “Stop doubting and believe” which can be literally,“ Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer” (Tenney)

Despite Thomas’ doubts, Jesus did not love him any less and He willingly submitted Himself to Thomas’ conditions.

4.  The doubter’s response, verse 28

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

We don’t know if Thomas actually reached out his hand to touch Christ’s wounds.   I don’t think he did.  He didn’t have to.  There are many people today who are much like Thomas:   “If I could just see Christ, I would believe.”  The problem with unbelief is not a lack of credible evidence of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The problem is with the human heart.

God will meet the honest doubt of a person; but He won’t waste His time on dishonest doubts.  Thomas, doubter though he was, already loved Jesus.  He was already devoted Him.  He had faith, but it was fragile.  This is the kind of person Jesus works with.  The man who, just few days earlier, wanted to place conditions on Christ, now called Him, “My Lord and my God.”  Those are powerful words and not insignificant words for a Jew to say.  The Law strictly forbade the deification of any man; what Thomas said of Jesus would be considered as blasphemy!  But Thomas, in light of the Resurrection, called the risen Jesus Lord (kyrios) and God (theos), both titles reserved for Jehovah.

When he realized who Jesus Christ was, Thomas’ wishes—his demands of Christ—disappeared, for he finally recognized his sovereign Lord.  When any of us recognizes who Jesus Christ is, we all have the same attitude as that of Paul:  May He increase and I decrease.

5.  Christ’s response, verse 29

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas’ wonderful confession of Christ as Lord was perfect.  There was nothing wrong with what he said.  There was, however, something wrong with how he said it.  Thomas should have believed without seeing.  Christians are supposed to “walk by faith, not by sight.”  Jesus’ very mild rebuke of Thomas was not for his benefit; it was for the benefit of all those who, in the centuries that followed, would come to faith in Christ.  Jesus’ words are for people like us:  Blessed are they who have never seen Me, yet still believe in me.

In the experience of Thomas, we see how simple belief comes to maturity and how it changes the entire direction of one man’s life.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd
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