(Notes for an exegesis of John 20: 19-29 + Luke 24: 36-43).
V.19. begins with: ‘On the evening of that first day’. The writer wants us to understand that it was still that ‘first day’ of Christ's Resurrection; when the disciples hardly dared to believe the stories, that he was alive again.
The verse continues: ’When the disciples were together, with the doors locked, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them’. Incidentally, Verse 26 tells us that, a week later, the Lord again appeared in that way.
John gives that strong emphasis, to make sure that we understand what is happening. The doors were not only closed, but also locked; yet Jesus passed through them. How could that be?
St. Paul wrote something about this, at 1.Corinthians 15: 44b - 49. ‘If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written “The first man, Adam, became a living being” (Genesis 2:7) the last Adam, a living spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that, the spiritual…
The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven…
And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven’.
What Paul has to say, doesn't explain everything; but it sets us thinking in the right direction. What he calls a 'spiritual body'; is very different from our human body, in terms of what it can do.
Various women had seen the Resurrected Lord, very early, on that first day; but, until much later, Peter, John, and others, had only seen an empty tomb.
It is probable that their first sight of the Resurrected Christ; was when he appeared among them, that evening; in the house, with its locked doors.
Having no experience of a 'spiritual body' that could go through locked doors; it is no wonder that, as our text at Luke 24 tells us: ‘They were startled, and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost'.
Back to John’s gospel account; it is important to note the way in which Jesus lovingly helped, those startled and frightened men. He said: ‘Peace be with you’; which he repeated, at Verses 21 and 26:
By using the normal, everyday greeting between friends: ‘Shalom! Peace be with you’; Jesus brought a degree of normality, into a very unusual situation; which, in less loving and capable hands, could have been most upsetting.
Having said. ‘Peace be with you’, he took the initiative. In showing them his hands and side; recognizable signs; he helped them believe that he really was alive, and among them; different, and yet the same!
At Verse 21, Jesus said: ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’. This particular form of 'sending' was unique to those earliest days of the Church.
The original, twelve disciples were also called: 'Apostles'; and ‘Apostle’ means ‘sent one’. Christ instituted and commissioned the Church; and sent out Apostles, to establish it, in many places.
Once the Church had become established; in Israel, Asia Minor and southern Europe; there was no further need of Apostles, but a very great need of evangelists.
So, today's Christian faith does not require 'Apostleship' (for the Church is long established) but 'Evangelism' (helping the Church to thrive, and grow, as it takes the 'Good News' of God's love in Christ, to the needy world).
V.22. tells us that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. The Greek word (pneuma) which we translate as 'Spirit’, also means 'breath' and 'life’.
We can see a strong connection between God's initial giving of life, in the act of creation, as described in the Book of Genesis; and the giving of new, and spiritual life, through the Resurrected Christ, in the act of recreation.
At Genesis 2:7. we read: ‘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’.
At John 20:22. we read that Jesus ‘breathed on them, and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit". Receive the Pneuma of God; receive breath; life, and spirit; become like me.
At Verse 23. Jesus teaches that, among other things, receiving the 'breath'; 'life', 'Spirit' of God, will lead to a particular ability, which entails a great responsibility.
If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’. This statement is very much in keeping with what Jesus said at Matthew 16:19.
Speaking to the Church, through Peter; he said: ‘On this rock, I will build my Church. Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’.
Much of what Christ had in mind, when he gave that teaching, seems to remain a mystery; but, surely, some part of the meaning, is that we have a share in Christ's mercy, love and grace...
... and that; as the 'Body of Christ', set within a needy world; we undertake the Lord's ministry of loving forgiveness, wherever it is needed.
At Verse 24, Thomas appears in the story. 'Thomas' is an Aramaic name, which means ‘a twin', and 'Didymus' is the Greek translation of his name.
At Verse 25 we find him saying that, before he can believe that Christ is alive, he would need to see the same confirming signs, that the other disciples saw a week earlier; when Jesus appeared to them, and showed the wounds in his hands and side.
When Jesus appeared again, with Thomas present, he did not condemn him in any way. Instead, lovingly, he met Thomas' need of confirming signs, and gently helped him to move into the place of belief and faith.
Thomas responded to Jesus, in a very definite and positive way, that just cannot be mistaken: ‘My Lord and my God!’.
Jesus fully accepted Thomas’ new-found faith, as genuine, and complete; and then commented upon it: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed’, and went on to say: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed’; and I'll touch on that again, in a few moments.
Now for one or two thoughts, in moving towards a close.
At the beginning of that 'first day of the week', Jesus had said to Mary, at the empty tomb: ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father’.
Within a few days, Jesus encouraged Thomas to actually touch him, and this in a very particular way, with the fingers put into the nail-holes ...
... and his hand into the spear-wound in Christ’s side. This seems to suggest that, in the intervening days, Jesus had, in some mystical way, 'returned to the Father’ - for a while, at least.
And here is one, brief look at the text from Luke 24, at Verses 41 + 42, where it says: ‘And while they still did not believe it, because of joy and amazement, he asked them: Do you have anything here to eat?”. They gave him a bit of broiled fish, and he took it, and ate it in their presence’.
To ask them for something to eat; was the most loving thing that Jesus could have done for them, at that moment.
On that first day, when they hardly dared believe the stories about Jesus being alive; when he suddenly appeared through locked doors, and they were startled, and frightened ...
…in such a mixed-up feeling of fear, amazement and joy; where they hardly knew what to say or do; Jesus brought another important bit of ordinariness, of normality, into their situation: ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’.
The great thrust and drive of what we call ‘The Upper Room Appearances’, is Christ's concern and care for his followers; and the way in which he helped them to cope with an amazing situation.
Peace be with you’, a usual greeting among friends, and said three times. His initiative, in showing his wounds to the disciples, as a confirming sign, to help them come to a place of belief…
... Christ’s acceptance of Thomas' doubts, as being quite normal among frail human beings ...
... and his further acceptance; of Thomas' new-found faith, being both valid and complete.
Christ also allowed touch, which had been usual, among his friends in their social times together, especially during meals; and that last, loving question: ‘Have you anything here to eat?’.
All the way through the event, there is a wonderful concern and care for others, that give both a great witness, and a great challenge, to the Church; and to all who would follow Christ.
Now for a closing thought, relating to the last verses in our text from John.
Jesus told him: 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet have believed’.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God ...
and that; by believing; you may have life, in his name’.
In today’s Church, in these islands; especially within evangelical circles; there is a strong emphasis upon witness and testimony; and on moving away from old, known places, into new experiences of the power of the Spirit.
All of this has its importance, providing we don't lose sight of the 'old, known place' of the Bible; and the great power of its written word ...
... a ‘written word' that can change a life; and lead a man, woman or child, into salvation grace.
Jesus said to Thomas: ‘Because you have seen me; you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed’.
To that, he might have added: ‘And blessed are those who, in the future, will not see me; and yet will come to believe, through the power of God's 'Word'.
Long ago, and in his ‘spiritual body’, Christ, without invitation, entered the ‘Upper Room’, through a physical door; which the disciples had locked, against whatever it was that they feared - and great blessing followed.
God tends not to repeat himself.
Today, many otherwise, good, sensible people are in an ‘Upper Room’ of their own creation; with a ‘spiritual door’, locked against whatever it is that they fear; involvement; commitment; a greater reality than they are willing to face up to; and so on.
In such cases, Christ will not enter, uninvited.
It is only when the ‘spiritual door’ of our lives is fully open; and he is invited in; no matter how reluctantly; that blessing follows; as the Lord enters, and meets all of our needs; and fulfils all of our potential. Amen.