John 20:19-31 From Unbeliever To Believer

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

May There Be Peace In You

1. The disciples were afraid of the Jews, locked the door to the house they were in and shut themselves up tight in it.  Whereupon, the risen Lord Jesus appeared right in there midst.  What did the disciples do?  It says, "The disciples saw the Lord and were glad," (verse twenty).

2.  Of course, the disciples should have been glad for their beloved Lord Jesus that they were able to meet with Jesus again who they expected to be dead --.  But, is that the way it really went?  We must not forget that the ones who were in that house were the disciples who had forsaken the Lord Jesus and fled.  Just one week ago, they had gone into Jerusalem with the Lord Jesus.  They knew how dangerous it was to do that.  Thus, it was that they had resolved to die together in case the Lord Jesus was to get arrested, (John 11:16).  But, when it actually all came down, they forsook the Lord and fled away just as the Lord Jesus foretold they would.  It's not an exaggeration to say they let the Lord Jesus die alone without helping him.  And they were afraid of the hand of pursuit upon them so they were hiding in the house.  That's the scene here.  Could you simply be happy if you stood by watching some loved one close to you die and that person died a suffering death and then that person suddenly appeared before your eyes?  I don't think I could.  Instead, it would be a dreadful thing, wouldn't it?!

3. So, when the disciples saw the Lord and were glad here, this was not a proper response.  Something special was going on there.  It's that the risen Christ had said, "May there be peace in you."  What if he hadn't said these words?  I suppose that without these words, if the Lord Jesus had made them look at his hands and side it would have been for them nothing but a round of getting their sins thrust in their faces.  But, the Lord says, "May there be peace in you," and let them see the wounds to his hands.  It is the forgiveness of sin that is going on here.  They were standing before the Christ of the resurrection as men pardoned of their sin.

4.  But then, the sentence itself of "May there be peace in you," was the normal words of greeting in Jewish society.  Even today Jews say, "Peace to you (Shalom leha)" for "Hello" and "Good-bye."  However, the Lord carried the substance of those words in his hands and showed them.  The peace (shalom) which the Bible speaks of does not merely mean the absence of war.  It originally meant a state given by God wherein one's existence is filled with life.  The Lord said "May this shalom be in you."

5.  Obviously, the disciples had lost their shalom.  That's how they were; their sin didn't just make them lose the peace in their heart.  No matter what kind of sin we have it is essentially against God and it makes one lose fellowship with God, it makes one lose shalom.  Because it is lost by sin, one cannot be restored unless one's sin is forgiven by God and that sin is taken away.  It was truly nothing but the forgiveness of sin that Christ brought with the words, "May there be peace in you."

6.  Therefore, accompanying these words, the wounds of his hands and side that the Lord let them see was not meant to expose their sin or accuse them.  The wounds of Christ were shown them as a sign of the forgiveness of their sin.  And The Gospel According To John shows us as well the wounds of Christ and tells us that there is forgiveness of sin in them.  This has been announced already since the beginning of this gospel account.  Please call to mind that John the Baptizer once pointed to the Lord Jesus and cried out, "Behold, [he] is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," (1:29).  In this way the Lord died as a lamb to atone for the sin of the world.  The scars of the nail-pierced hands of the Lord and the scars of the side that was stuck with a spear are a sign that show that the Lord bore our sins and was crucified on the cross.

7.  The Lord shows them his very hands and side in this way and says again to them "May there be peace in you."  Then he sends them into the world.  The Lord blew his breath on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you pardon anyone's sin, those sins will be forgiven.  If you do not pardon someone's sin, he or she will remain unforgiven," (verses twenty-two and twenty-three).

8.  The passive expressions, "those sins will be forgiven" and "he or she will remain unforgiven," are Jewish expressions that could be rephrased as "God forgives you" and "you remain in a state where God has not forgiven you."  The one who ultimately forgives sin is God and not the disciples.  But, the important thing here is that the message of the forgiveness of sin is turned over to the charge of the disciples by the One who holds the sign of the forgiveness of sin in his hands.  Just as the Lord said to them, "May there be peace in you," the disciples also can say, "May there be peace in you," and tell of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, tell of the good news of Christ's forgiveness of sin, and preach forgiveness of sin.  In this way, the disciples who were forgiven by God or the generations of the church to follow were entrusted with the ultimate message regarding the forgiveness of humanity's sin.

Be A Believer

9.  The narrative that deals with the character Thomas follows the sending forth of the disciples by Christ.  One of the twelve, Thomas, who was called Didymus, was not with the disciples when the Lord Jesus first appeared to them.  Then, the disciples tell Thomas "We have seen the Lord."  But, Thomas says this, "Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and put my finger in the nail prints and unless I put my hand in his side, I will never believe," (verse twenty-five).

10.  Because of this statement, Thomas is usually called "Doubting Thomas."  Many people seem to have an image of Thomas as a kind of young argumentative kid.  But, was he really a sort of a pragmatist or a skeptic?  Was he saying that "I will not believe" because the resurrection of Jesus was unreasonable?  Will the words of the Lord Jesus spoken by Thomas, the words "Be a believer not an unbeliever" later rebuke his rationalist attitude?  I never felt like they did.  We shouldn't overlook the fact that this exchange between Thomas and the Lord Jesus is a continuation to what was written before.  This narrative is thoroughly dealing with forgiveness of sin.

11.  The Gospel Of John depicts Thomas as a man who dearly loved the Lord Jesus.  As I mentioned earlier, when the Lord Jesus was wanting to go to the land of Judea, the disciples clearly understood the risks in it.  But, the Lord Jesus still persisted on in going forward to that land where his enemies awaited him.  At that time, it was Thomas who had said to all of them that "Will not we too go and die with him?" (11:16).  And while seated at the last supper when the Lord said to the disciples, "You know the way where I am going," it was this Thomas who had said, "O Lord, we don't understand where you are going," (14:5).  He intended to follow to the end wherever Jesus was going come what may.  That's the way he was, and he was sincere.  As far as he was concerned that's what he intended to do.

12.  However, a short while later when Jesus was arrested, Thomas, just like the other disciples, forsook the Lord Jesus and fled.  As a result, the Lord was judged, whipped, torn to tatters, crucified and killed.  He really messed up bad.  You can just imagine how much Thomas blamed himself for being like that.  But, no matter how much he blamed himself, he couldn't go back and change the past.  He couldn't wipe away his sin on his own power.  The burden of sin probably crushed him ruthlessly.  It must have been that he could not possibly have had any hope that this burden would be removed and that he could begin living all over.

13.  Thomas wasn't with the group.  It's dangerous for one man to be alone.  But, he probably couldn't bear being with the other disciples who had likewise deserted the Lord and fled.  When he met the disciples under such conditions the disciples spoke to him as follows, "We've seen the Lord."  What's more, they were happy.  They told him the news with joyful exuberance.  Their appearance and words like that must have looked to Thomas like it was so selfish of them.  The more a person ponders his or her sinfulness, the more he or she will come to deny a message that speaks of hope.  Instead, while blaming themselves for the rest of their lives, tormenting themselves their whole lives, they live and keep carrying the dead weight of their sin, and then as they suffer death looks the best way to go.  Thomas undoubtedly felt that way.  So, Thomas refused to believe what the other disciples were saying.  Therefore, he said, "I will never believe it."

14.  However, Christ appeared to him [though in] such [a mood] just as well.  The Lord said to him too, "May you have peace."  Then on top of that, he said this to Thomas, "Stick your finger here and see my hands.  Also, raise your hand and put it in my side," (verse twenty-five).  This is the answer for Thomas who had said, "Unless I see the nail prints in your hands and put my finger in the nail prints, and unless I put my hand in his side, I will never believe."  The Lord presented the nail prints which are a sign of the forgiveness of sin and told him to touch them.  He presented his hands with their nail prints and told him to stick his finger in them as if to say, "I died for you and rose again from the dead.  I died and rose again so that you would be forgiven.  Your sins are forgiven!"

15.  Then, the Lord said to Thomas, "Be a believer not an unbeliever." When you give it some thought, it's not about whether he believed it or not that Jesus appeared right in front of his eyes. But the reason the Lord spoke like that must have been for no one else but Thomas because he was the one who unfortunately intended to remain "an unbeliever [in his own state of forgiveness]."  It was toward such an one that the Lord said, so to speak, "You should believe, you hear me!"  The Lord says, "You will never believe, quit trying so hard.  You needn't live shouldering your sins and blaming yourself.  Believe what you've been told, you hear!"  It was an invitation to receive forgiveness of sin and begin living anew that the Lord was giving here.  Thomas accepted the words of the Lord's invitation, worshipped the Lord, and expressed his faith, saying, "My Lord and My God."  It was the eighth day since the resurrection, an event on the Lord's day.

16.  The eighth day keeps revolving back and around.  On the Lord's day, the eighth day, a call is issued out to us as well like Thomas to "Be believers not unbelievers."  The Lord said to Thomas, "Did you believe because you've seen me?  Blessed are the ones who believe though they don't see," (verse twenty-nine).  Thomas saw the Lord of the resurrection.  But, it is not critically important whether he had seen the Lord or not.  Because Thomas was already told of the Lord's resurrection.  The gospel was told [to him].

17.  He who had the sign of the forgiveness of sin on his hands and side was resurrected.  This good news was entrusted over already to the disciples and the church.  Generations of the church have proclaimed this good news and brought it to us as well.  Therefore, we don't need to live shut up and bound in our fear and worry like the disciples once did.  We don't need to live bearing the burden of our sin and blaming ourselves continually like Thomas once did.  We are allowed to live in receipt of the shalom that Christ gives us.  "Be a believer not an unbeliever."

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