Be A Believer!

March 30, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 20:19-29

May You Have Peace!

1. Something very marvelous is written in the passage that we read for today. All of a sudden Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples who had secluded themselves away behind a locked door. Of course, that's not the marvelous part. However, something really marvelous is written. It is that "The disciples saw the Lord and were glad," (verse twenty).

2. The circumstances are different from finding a person who had been missing unaccounted for. They had confirmed that Jesus was dead and buried. But this Jesus appeared [to them]. Please try to imagine it. Your grandpa at home passes away and has a funeral service. Then around three nights later, in a locked house, your grandpa suddenly appears. If it was you, would you be glad? You would probably be scared.

3. Of course, in the event that a beloved family member or a close friend passes away, some people may feel, "I want them to appear. Even if they [come back as] a ghost, that's okay." Therefore, it is possible for someone to be glad if someone who had passed away might reappear. But, take a good look at this situation. You have betrayed the person. Then that person dies betrayed. When you wanted to apologize, the person was no longer living. Each time your heart recalled it, it ached. Well, after the person passed away, on the third night one hour, all of a sudden, what if he made his figure appear to you? Would you be glad? I don't think you would be glad. You'd probably be afraid of it. Without fail, you would kneel right there and sob with tears, saying, "Please forgive me. I wronged you!" If I may compare it that way, Jesus' having appeared in the midst of these disciples of his is that kind of situation.

4. We must not forget that the disciples there [in that room] just a few days back had forsaken Jesus and had fled away. They let Jesus die alone without helping him and were hiding in a house running from the authorities chasing after them. [It was] to these disciples [that] the Lord appeared. Furthermore, it says that he showed them his hands and his side. The scars from the large nails, and after being stabbed by a spear, were graphically left in those places. They probably couldn't bear it when he had shown them to them; because it was something that could thrust their guilt and sin at them.

5. Thus, obviously the reason the disciples see the Lord and are glad is not just because the Jesus who was supposed to be dead had appeared to them. The act of Jesus appearing to them in and of itself was scary for them. So, why were the disciples glad? It was because Jesus, as he appeared, said to them, "May you have peace!" To these men who had been flat out crushed by the guilt of what they had done, to these men who had been knocked down flat by their own sinfulness, it was a message of grace that far exceeded anything else [they could have heard]. "May you have peace!" That was at that moment nothing other than a pronouncement of forgiveness of sin from Christ.

6. [The kind of] "lord" whom the disciples were looking at was the Lord who said, "May you have peace!," even to these same disciples who had forsaken him and fled away. [It was] Jesus who had already forgiven them, and Jesus who had loved and accepted them through thick and thin, through thin and thick. [It was] Jesus who would never forsake them, though they might flee or whatever they might do. "The Lord," whom the disciples were looking at, was that kind of Lord. They were able to meet with this Lord of theirs once again. Thus, "The disciples saw the Lord and were glad."

7. Furthermore, they not only saw the Lord and were glad. They were sent into the world by the Lord. The Lord says again, "May you have peace!," and then goes on to further announce, "As my father has sent me, I also am sending you," (verse twenty-one). Jesus did not only grant pardon of sin to the disciples. He did not only grant peace and joy to them. Jesus was looking at their future. He was also ready to use the disciples, who had a share in the peace of Christ, for God's work of salvation. Christ sends the disciples into the world.

8. It is not insignificant that the text deliberately says that it happened on "the first day of the week." The first day of the week would be Sunday. It is the day when the church assembles for worship. That's right, what happened to them also happens to us when we assemble on Sundays. The Lord is saying to us as well, "May you have peace! Peace! Be still!" Like the disciples we too accept the peace of Christ in this place. We receive forgiveness and a perfect peace from the one who will never forsake us, but will love us through thick and thin and through thin and thick. Since we are forgiven and loved by Jesus, everything is quite all right. We have nothing to be afraid of and can be sent out into this world. As he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit!," he blew out his breath. In the same manner then, we will carry the peace of Christ and be sent out into the world.

Be A Believer!

9. Then in regard to what happened that Lord's Day, the scriptures say more with the spotlight on a particular character. That character is Thomas, called Didymus. He isn't in that [room] on "the first day of the week." But then Sunday comes around again and with it him as well. Where it has "after eight days" it means, in the way we would say it, "one week later." It is the next Sunday. Let's see what happens to him there.

10. Thomas has already been told about the resurrection of the Lord. The disciples, who had met the risen Lord and were granted the peace of Christ, told Thomas that Jesus had appeared unto them risen from the dead, "We have seen the Lord." Whereupon Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail scars in his hand and put my finger in the nail prints, and unless I put my hand in his side, I will never believe," (verse twenty-five). Because of this statement of his he has come to be called "Doubting Thomas" even to this day.

11. However, we are not just calling him "Doubting Thomas" but want to consider why he had said such a thing. To begin with, he would never had said this if having some doubt he were only seeking to verify it with his own eyes because the other disciples were saying that they "had seen the Lord." Normally wouldn't we have put it as "I myself will not believe until I see the Lord" for myself? Or maybe the best we may say could be, "I won't believe till I see his face" for myself? I don't think [most people] would think or say something as grotesque as "putting my finger in his nail scars."

12. What he said was not the words of a man in pure doubt no matter how you turn it. He is obviously fixated over the nail prints and the wound on his side. When Thomas heard the other disciples saying they "had seen the Lord," what came into his mind's eye were the scars from the nails and the scar from where he was stabbed in the side by a spear. The point is that when he is about to recall his memories of Jesus, he could not remember anything but that. After he had traveled with him for three and one half years, during that time, on countless occasions, Jesus must have turned to Thomas with a gentle and smiling face. But, he cannot recall now that gentle and smiling face of Jesus. He cannot recall now those days he had spent with joy traveling with Jesus and working hard with him. What he can recall now is the hands and the feet that had been pierced by thick nails. [And] the bright red blood flowing out from those wounds. [And] Jesus nailed to the cross with his face twisted by pain. The shouting voice upon the cross. The long thick spear of the Roman soldier piercing Jesus' body which had already stopped breathing. The bright red blood spray spurting out from his wound like the rapids. He could only recall that.

13. What's more, [Thomas] himself, remembering that imagery, was still a survivor. Why? Because he had fled. Truth be told, should any dangers happen upon Jesus' person, he had intended to die with [him]. Once, when Jesus was about to head into dangerous Judea, Thomas was the one who had made the claim, "Shall we, too, not go and die together?," (11:16). But [Thomas] himself had fled. Then Jesus died. He became a corpse with hands pierced with big holes, and with an abdominal side having a huge wound in it.

14. True as it may have been, we are highly likely to want to forget Jesus' nail scars in his hands. We are highly likely to want to forget about the wound in his side. We are highly unlikely to be able to truly put it into words. But he dared to word it. He refused to forget the nail scars of Jesus. He refused to forget the wounds in [Jesus'] side. He refused to forget why, why [Jesus'] body had scars. [Thomas was the kind of] person who came face to face with the wrong he was guilty of and would not deceive himself about it. [Not expecting him that way,] but yet that is Thomas.

15. There are a lot of folks in society thinking as if their past sins vanish away when they forget them. There are a lot of folks thinking they are not supposed to have any past [once] they forget it themselves. I think it is safe to say that the man Thomas was a much more honest and truthful person than any of these folks ever were. How ever great the punishment upon himself, he was probably willing to live continuously bearing his guilt upon his own shoulders his whole life. Please give some thought to how the figure of these other disciples, who had forsaken the Lord just as Thomas did but were glad, had looked to Thomas the way he was. They said, "[We] have seen the Lord," and were glad. That must have been a figure difficult to forgive. Therefore, he had said, "I will never believe." Not believing [them] and living in suffering probably looked [more] true and righteous [to him].

16. But Jesus did appear to this same Thomas as well. Thomas' way of living may certainly have been earnest and true. However, Jesus did not desire that Thomas bear the heavy load of sin upon himself for his whole life and live in suffering. Just as Thomas was thinking, there were scars from nails in [Jesus'] hands for sure. The past did not go poof like water under a bridge. The fact of [a certain] sin [committed] does not disappear. But, Jesus also said to Thomas, "May you have peace!" Also, the Lord said, "Stick your finger here and look at my hands. In addition, stretch out your hand and put it into my side. Be a person who believes, not a person who does not believe."

17. "Be a believer, not an unbeliever." This is not a statement that accuses Thomas of unbelief. It is, so to speak, as strong a call as possible to him from Jesus. -- You should not be so quick to say, "I will never believe." You should believe. You should believe that I rose from the dead and that I am with you here in this place saying to you "May you have peace!" You are forgiven. You should believe it. Be a person you believes. -- Jesus was speaking like that. Thomas replies to the call to him with "Oh my Lord, my God!" He doesn't just lay prostrate before the risen Jesus as "Lord" and "God." The thing that is impressive here is that Thomas calls Jesus "my Lord" once again. Thomas was able to turn his face straight to the Lord. As a forgiven man. As a loved man. As a man granted peace from Christ. And he was also sent out into the world by Christ. We are told later that he brought the gospel as far as India.

18. This is the event that took place on the first day of the week after it rolled around again. Today falls on a Sunday after so many many [Sundays] since then. Nearly two thousand years have passed since then. But, as for Jesus, he never changes neither yesterday nor today nor in eternity. Jesus does not change with us today either, but says to us, "May you have peace!" Jesus forgives us, will never forsake us, and loves us through thick and thin. Having seen the risen Christ, that day, Thomas alone was not particularly happy and blessed. Jesus said, "The person who believes [in me] even though he or she does not see [me] is blessed." We are given a far greater blessedness than Thomas or the other disciples [ever had]. We, too, are being sent from this place as blessed persons who have been granted the peace of Christ.