The God of the Living: John 20:19-31

Derek and Sherrad are writing a reflection on the Gospel reading for each Sunday this Easter season called, “The Resurrected God.”

Image credit: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio

John 20:19 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.

The disciples do not see a ghost of Jesus. They do not see a hallucination, or a vision, or a dream of Jesus. They do not see a reanimated Jesus. Thomas does not put his hands into the side of a zombie.

They see, for the first time, what it is to be human. Jesus is what they will one day become, a human person with a glorified body over which death no longer has sway.

Make no mistake, John’s description of the locked doors in v. 19 is not here to make us think that this Jesus now exists on some ethereal plane where he can walk through walls. He has not transcended above the physical. But neither is he bound by what we think is physical. He is not, as the disciples are, chained indoors by fear, threats, or death. He has passed through all these things and come out alive. Neither is he stopped by the locked doors. His resurrected body is more realthan the doors, more physical than the physical. As he said, he is the Door. And the doors the disciples vainly lock are as ghosts to him.

He offers them peace – three times in this passage – because his body is the sign of their peace. Why should they fear the Jewish leaders? The Sanhedrin could do no worse to them that it did to Jesus. Yet, here is Jesus, standing in front of them, showing them his hands and his side. His wounds could no longer kill him; the scars stand eternal witness that it is finished. The peace has been bought for a price. God, the victor over sin and death, sends his very Spirit that he might be present with his friends. He has forgiven them their sins. And the disciples are now ambassadors of that forgiveness because they have seen in the flesh the cost of forgiveness.

But Thomas doubts. The other disciples doubted before when they did not believe the true testimony of a woman. Thomas needs to see. He needs more than to see; he needs to touch. He needs more than to touch; he needs to feel inside with his whole hand. And Jesus condescends to Thomas. Jesus condescends as he did when he washed Thomas’ feet. Jesus bends low, as he did when he left his throne of power to become a baby. Thomas does believe and makes one of the boldest confessions in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”

This Jesus is human. This Jesus is the God who created humans. This Jesus is the God who suffered death by humans so that humans would no longer suffer death.

And the signs of his wounds, as with the many signs in Scripture, are given so that we might believe. When you see someone come back from the dead, belief cannot be a mere assertion of facts. It cannot be a calculus of probability. It must be a way of living, a way of following, that leads to life in Jesus’ name. Indeed, it is a way of living that will lead the disciples out of their locked rooms so that others who have not seen – like us! – will believe and be blessed. Because the Resurrected God is not a god of the dead but of the living.

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