Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read John 20:19-31

These twelve verses from John are bursting at the seams with incredible details.  Our story opens on the “evening on that day”.  What day, you ask?  Great question.  To get our bearings, let’s step back one verse: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that [Jesus] had said these things to her. When it was evening on that day…” (v18-19).

So our story starts on the Easter evening.  Mary told them about her conversation with Jesus just a few hours ago.  In spite of this incredible story, the disciples are still hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders and authorities.  Roughly 72 hours ago their friend, leader, and teacher was brutally tortured and publicly executed for the whole world to see.  Good Friday wasn’t that long ago and they don’t want to be found guilty by association, so they’re understandably skittish.

It’s at this point that Jesus appears before them.  He doesn’t tap the secret code, he doesn’t have the secret password, he doesn’t crawl through a window…he just comes and stands among them.  He gives them his peace, shows them his wounds, and breathes on them the Holy Spirit.

This giving of the Spirit draws us back to the second Creation account when “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)[1]  This human-shaped collection of dust and dirt did not become a living being until the breath – the Spirit – of life was given.  So when Jesus appears to his disciples and gives them the Spirit, he is breathing new life into them and into a new community.  A new creation of resurrection people is being formed.

We all know Thomas wasn’t with the disciples that Easter evening, but I want to caution us to not saddle this poor guy with the title “Doubter.”  It’s a terrible nickname for Thomas.  First of all, it’s derived from a not-so-great translation of the Greek.  Jesus says, “Do not doubt, but believe” (v27), but a better translation would be “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  He’s being encouraged not to be apathetic or careless, to continue engaging the relationship that’s giving him struggles, to not give up.

Also, we don’t have time for this, but a quick study of Thomas in chapter 11 reveals that he’s an all-in sort of guy, even to the point of resigning to his own death.  So while we don’t know where he is on that Easter evening, my guess is he’s in shock, struggling with the horrific loss of his close friend and the companion for whom he was willing to die.  There’s more that could be said, but I’ll save my Thomas soapbox for another time…back to today’s text.

Thomas is not with the disciples when Jesus first appears to them.  Cut to a week later and they’re still hiding behind locked doors.  I wonder what the reason was for that.  Was the temperature of the city still so tense that they continued to be afraid?  Whatever the reason, a week later, Jesus returns to them and, specifically, for Thomas.  Jesus comes back for Thomas.

Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus comes back for people.  The man who was born blind is kicked out of his home, community, and synagogue…and Jesus comes back for him.  Lazarus is ill, dies, is buried for four days…and Jesus comes back for him.  Mary Magdalene stays near the cross, wakes up early after the Sabbath and finds an empty tomb…and Jesus came back for her.  The disciples are hiding away, terrified…and Jesus comes back.  Thomas is unable to wrap his brain around what happened and demands – pleads – for some reassurance to keep his faith going…and Jesus comes back for him.  We – the creation that is captive to sin and all that separates us from God – we struggle and yearn for reassurance…and Jesus left death behind to come back for us and to reveal that there is nothing that could ever keep God separated from us.

Thomas knows it’s Jesus when he sees Jesus’ hands and side, when he sees the living Jesus’ wounds.  Those marks are still there.  They didn’t stay in the tomb but stayed on Jesus as he stepped into the morning light and chatted with Mary Magdalene.  The disciples and Thomas saw that the reality and pain of Good Friday wasn’t erased on Easter morning.  The resurrection doesn’t negate how death leaves its mark but it does promise that death won’t have the last say.  The resurrection promises that we will receive new life, scars and all.  This promise is revealed to the disciples and to Thomas and to all of us.  Thanks be to God.

[1] David K. Rensberger, footnote to “John 20.22” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated NRSV ed. Harold W. Attridge (San Francisco, HarperOne, 2006), 1852.

Reflection Questions

1) In a year of what has seemed like endless limitations and constraints, where do you still recognize God breathing new life? Where do you see this life-filled community moving?

2) As a resurrection person, where do you feel God breathing new life in you?

3) Do you find it significant that Jesus comes back for people? If so, why?

4) What does it mean for you that the resurrected Jesus still has the marks of the crucifixion?

5) How might God be calling you to respond to this passage?

Extinguish the candle