“The Risen Savior Says, ‘Peace Be with You’ “
(John 20:19-31 – Easter 2 – April 8, 2018)
John 20:19-31 – Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Dear Redeemed in our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ:
Have you ever had really good news you wanted to share with someone, but they did not believe it? Perhaps it sounded too good to be true – a bit of a stretching of reality – and they did not take you seriously.
It happened to the disciples. That first Easter evening Jesus had appeared to most of them, but Thomas was not with them. They could only tell him the good news later on. Here is what happened. They had been hiding behind locked doors in fear after Jesus’ death, when suddenly, He stood among them saying: “Peace be with you.” With their own eyes they saw Him who had died on the cross standing there, showing them His nail-marked hands and spear pierced side, sharing the proof of His victory over the grave! With their own ears they heard Him proclaiming the forgiveness and peace that He had secured between God and sinners. And now, the risen Savior had sent them out to share His Gospel of forgiveness and peace with others.
They wanted very much to share the good news with Thomas, that he might share their joy. So as soon as they saw him they reported: “We have seen the Lord.” No doubt, they repeated Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you.” But at first, Thomas thought it all sounded too good to be true – too far-fetched a story – and he would not believe it. Only later, when Thomas saw the Lord with his own eyes, did he believe.
As we see in this account, whether speaking in person or through His messengers, “The Risen Savior Says, ‘Peace Be with You.'” But there will be different reactions to His message. 1) Unbelief misses out on His peace, but 2) Faith rejoices in His peace.
1) Unbelief misses out on His peace
For sure, the other disciples shared with Thomas all the evidence they had for Jesus’ resurrection. They shared the report that Mary Magdalene and the other women had brought back from the tomb, having seen the risen Jesus. They shared the news that Peter and John had given, after visiting the empty tomb and seeing the powerful evidence there; and then how Jesus had later appeared to Peter. They shared the account of the two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread. And finally, they told how Jesus had appeared to all of them behind locked doors.
But Thomas would not accept their testimony. His reaction was skepticism and unbelief: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Was there any good reason for Thomas’ refusal to believe their testimony? Like the other disciples, Thomas had accompanied Jesus the past few years, seeing His divine power at work. Together, they had seen Him raise people from the dead. Together, they had heard Him teach from Scripture about His own coming death and resurrection. Thomas knew that the other disciples also, at first, had considered Jesus’ resurrection impossible. That is why they had been hiding out in fear behind those locked doors – convinced that the Savior was dead and all hope was lost, fearing that Jesus’ enemies might come after them too. But now, the other disciples’ fear was changed to joy. By their honest and straightforward report, they all believed because they had seen Jesus alive. Why didn’t Thomas believe their testimony? And more than that, why didn’t he believe the testimony of Jesus, who had foretold all that would happen to Him?
Here we see the basic response of unbelief. It says: “I will trust what I see or feel more than the testimony of Scripture and Jesus’ own Word.” Unbelief says: “Others may be fooled by insufficient evidence, by what only appeared to be true, but not me! I will be convinced only by more evidence.” The others reported seeing Jesus, but Thomas demanded not only the evidence of sight, but also of touch. He refused to believe until his own terms were met. When it comes down to it, there is stubborn pride in unbelief. It will go on indefinitely saying: “That is not enough evidence; I need more. I am not as narrow-minded and foolish as those who believe.”
Here we also see the result of unbelief, in that it misses out on the peace and joy the Savior wants us to have. You might say that Thomas was living in the past. He was stuck on Good Friday, as if Jesus was still dead and His Easter resurrection victory was a fairytale. His unbelief could not take to heart the risen Savior’s words: “Peace be with you.” In spirit he was still hiding behind locked doors, fearing the world, fearing what life might bring without a Savior. More than that, ultimately he was fearing death and meeting God. For he did not know that forgiveness and peace with God that only the living Savior can declare. He did not know the joy of looking forward to eternal life, as long as in his mind Jesus was dead.
What about us? Do we sometimes go on like Thomas, trusting what we see or feel more than the reliable testimony of God-breathed Scripture and Jesus’ own Word?
For example, Scripture testifies: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But in time of temptation, how often do we doubt that God will provide the way of escape – or if He does, that it will be a way that makes us happy? We trust what we see or feel more than we trust His Word. That is the root of sin. Like Adam and Eve, we question the testimony of God’s Word. We demand the right to touch and taste the forbidden fruit, to see for ourselves if it isn’t good for us. We want to have our eyes opened on our own terms, to see new wisdom, to feel hidden pleasures.
When we trust what we can see or feel more than God’s Word, we never truly find happiness and fulfillment. This is especially true when we doubt and disbelieve Jesus’ words of peace. He comes to speak to us today through His Gospel. He says, “Peace be with you – I forgive all your sins.” But sometimes after hearing His absolution, the evidence of His Word alone does not satisfy us. We say, “But I don’t see my sins gone; I don’t feel forgiven.” So we go on carrying a burden of guilt, as if we were still living in the past on Good Friday without His Easter victory. In His Gospel Jesus says, “Peace be with you – I live to give you life to the full; I live to give you eternal life.” But after hearing His promise, the evidence doesn’t satisfy us. We say, “But I can’t feel that fullness of life right now; I can’t see that eternal life.” And we go on living in gloom, as if we had nothing beyond this vale of tears to look forward to. When we are overtaken by doubt and disbelief, we miss out on the peace Jesus wants to give us.
2) Faith rejoices in His peace
Have you ever prayed the way that one man spoke to Jesus? In his weakness He cried out: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). When our faith is weak, the Scripture says of Jesus: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Matthew 12:20). He only wants to strengthen our faith that we may rejoice in the peace of His salvation.
This is what we see in our Savior’s patient and loving treatment of Thomas. “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ “
Thomas must have been shocked when Jesus suddenly appeared, as the One who had always been there. He must have been ashamed to realize that Jesus had been listening when he demanded evidence on his own terms. But the Lord had not come to chew him out and humiliate him for his lack of faith. Jesus looked at him and said: “Peace to you.” Those were words of pardon for Thomas – the peace of forgiveness for his pride and unbelief.
Now we see that the Savior’s words had their intended effect. Thomas exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas saw that the Lord of life had conquered death. Now he had the peace of knowing his living Savior would always be with him. He knew he never needed to worry again, since he was living in the loving care of those nail-marked hands. When the risen Savior said, “Peace to you,” Thomas knew that all was well for him in this life and in eternity.
Now Jesus says something to Thomas that reaches all the way to us: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Unlike those first disciples, we have not seen Jesus with our own eyes, yet we believe. Truly, we are blessed by God. Remember what Jesus once told Peter when he confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? Jesus replied: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17). That is our blessedness. Faith is not something we have worked in ourselves. It is God’s gift, worked in us by His Holy Spirit through the powerful Word of Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:17). The apostle John makes this connection at the end of our text. After recording the words and works of Christ he says: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Thankfully, saving faith does not depend on our shifting feelings or our failing senses. It rests securely on the rock-solid foundation of who Jesus is as our risen Savior, and on His unshakable words. Let us say: “I believe because He says so – not because I feel or see it.”
It is by God’s gift of faith that we can rejoice in our Savior’s peace. Through His Gospel, our living Savior stands among us today and says: “Peace be with you.” No matter how often we have doubted and shown disbelief by sinning, He gives us the peace of His forgiveness. He is only here to strengthen our faith. Through His Gospel, He reveals those marks in His hands and side, guaranteeing the peace He gives us with God through His blood shed on the cross (Colossians 1:20). And faith rejoices in that peace. When we are troubled about anything in life or death, His Gospel says: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16) – reassuring us that He will never forget nor forsake us; reassuring us that as we live in the care of those devoted hands, all is well for us in time and eternity. And faith rejoices in that peace.
Now Thomas had good news to share with others. Tradition says that after Pentecost he went as far as India, preaching the Gospel. Truly, you and I have good news to share with our friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors. Like those first disciples who witnessed to Thomas, we can share Jesus’ Word with others. We can tell them: “The risen Savior says: ‘Peace be with you.’ ” And we don’t need to worry if it sounds too simple or too good to be true. Jesus’ Word is powerful to convince the heart. That is why it is said of us: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.