Jesus' disciples were discouraged, confused, and afraid. Their Messiah is dead, and they are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. They had seen Christ perform miracles before . . . but all those miracles paled in comparison to the One that was about to walk into their midst.
"BEHIND CLOSED DOORS"
In 1916, Georgia Tech played a football game against Cumberland University, a tiny law school. The Tech team was a mighty football powerhouse and rolled over Cumberland by a score of 222 to 0. Tech pretty much beat the Cumberland players to a pulp, too. The Cumberland players were tired, bruised, discouraged, disunified, afraid, defeated and the game wasn't even over. The crowning action of their despair occurred toward the end of the game. Cumberland quarterback Ed Edwards fumbled a snap from center. As the Tech linemen charged into his backfield, Edwards yelled to his fullback, "Pick it up! Pick it up!" Edward's fullback, seeing the monsters rush in who had battered him all day, yelled back, "No, you dropped it, you pick it up." That fullback was tired of being pulverized - no more!
Well, it's the score could be kept between the disciples and their world - it would be the world, 220; the disciples 0. The disciples were discouraged, confused, afraid . . . they're hiding out behind closed doors - locked for fear of the Jewish leaders - the story was already circulating that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus - perhaps the authorities would apprehend and punish them - perhaps Rome was execute them as well for breaking the tomb's seal. They didn't know - but the air was filled with a mixture of confusion and fear.
They were aware that the tomb was empty - two disciples among them had recently arrived with the news that Jesus had appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. . .it was too much to hope for - like Cumberland getting their hopes up that they could somehow score 220 points in the last few seconds - that would take a miracle.
I want to invite your attention to a miracle - it's found in John 20. It's a miraculous appearance that will enable the disciples to pick up the ball and run again - without stopping and without fear.
verse 19. When therefore , it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to
them, "Peace be with you."
I love those first words - "Peace be with you. . ." Can you imagine what the Lord could have said?!
This is His first appearance to them after they denied Him, abandoned him, refused to own him so much so that none of them took part in his burial. The women had shown the only display of courage among them, apart from the Apostle John.
He could have really let them have it. Like a parent who really gives his children a tongue lashing - like I do with my children when they leave their bikes and coats out overnight and it rains. When they fail in their responsibilities - they don't have many . . . like forgetting to feed their parakeet for three days and she nearly dies - which would be an answer to my prayers . . . or the time, just a month or so ago that one of my third graders announced a project was due the next day - he'd forgotten all about it - my wife stayed up late into the night and finished it for him, only to discover the next day that the project wasn't even due . . . I won't repeat portions of his tongue lashing!
Like a Father, Jesus Christ could have let the disciples have it - "I poured three years of my life into you fellas - and I can't believe your disloyalty, your unfaithfulness - downright ingratitude.
And it wouldn't be any surprise to us if the latter part of John 20 was a record of a tongue lashing the disciples would never forget.
But look again at Christ's first word to them - "Peace"
Somehow Jesus had slipped through those locked doors - His glorified body capable of transcending all physical barriers - physical, literal - capable of eating and drinking and bearing scars, yet different - able to appear and disappear; to be somewhere one moment and another the next.
The disciples are meeting in terror, listening for every step on the stairs and for every knock at the door - expecting arrest, and perhaps death.
They are afraid, and they lock the doors!
What wonderful news - in our greatest fears, we cannot lock Him out.
And He say's to their fears - "Peace be with you."
The words, “they rejoiced” was more than a statement that they were giving each other high fives and shouting “praise the Lord.” The word rejoiced had a much deeper meaning.
The battle of Marathon, several hundred years before the resurrection of Christ, was the decisive battle in which Greece crushed the power of Persia. Pheidippides, the champion runner, threw down his shield, and ran like the wind to tell the good news to victorious Athens. He burst into the Acropolis with the cry "caireth" = we have conquered. From that time on, the Greeks made this word their regular form of salutation
which, translated literally means, "Rejoice" and it's context was victory in battle.
So the very first thing Jesus and His disciples did was rejoiced - "Jesus Christ was victorious in battle over the grave, death and hell!
What wonderful news - now notice his display in verse 20. And when
He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. (Just in case there's any doubt who I am, Jesus implies, let me show you!
It's fascinating to me that in the mind of God, Christ's resurrected body would be perfectly whole, yet, it was His decision for His Son to retain five scars (Luke tells us that Jesus showed them His feet as well).
Five scars that forever remind us that He was the Lamb, sacrificed...
The word in verse 20 for show is literally, "display". That means that Jesus somehow slipped one of His arms, perhaps out of his sleeve, and pulling the loose fitting garment down He showed them his pierced side - his pierced hands, his pierced feet.
It wasn't a show and tell punctuated by the Savior saying, "Look what you made me go through - look what I had to endure for you."
Oh no - this was more like a soldier - decorated for his bravery showing his children his bullet wounds - with joy - "This was for your freedom children" - So also Jesus shows them - "This is a reminder of redemption paid for in full - these are wounds for your healing - your freedom!"
v. 21. Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you."
The resurrection of Christ produced a responsibility for Christians.
In other words, we are not to remain behind closed doors!
The Apostle Paul calls us the "body of Christ" - we are his hands, His feet, His mouth - and if there ever was a time when the simple, clear message of Christ is needed; if there was ever a time when confusion abounded it is now.
People are hungering for truth - like thirsty men - they are drinking from empty wells of experience, pleasure, possessions. . .we have the water of life - we are not to keep it locked in a safe.
"As the Father has sent Me, I also send you!"
I like to imagine it this way. Use your imagination for a moment - Imagine I'm digging in my back yard - suddenly a stream of water sprouts upward - I immediately notice that the dry autumn leaves touched by the water instantly come alive and turns into spring colors. The dry brown grass turns lush green. I let some of it trickle through my fingers, and my skin turns soft and young looking. I take a sip and immediately I feel energetic - I run inside, look in the mirror and my face is more handsome than ever - I said, use your imagination. As I lean closer to look into the mirror, I notice that I have to push brown hair away from my eyes to see - something I haven't had to do for several months - keep imagining! What do you think I'd do next - who do you think I'd tell. My wife! No question! Just last month Marsha went to the eye doctor and after testing was told what she didn't want to hear - she needed glasses. She was downhearted - that's not what she wanted to hear - I told her -"Honey, now listen, we're growing old together." What a stupid thing to say. You can only imagine how grateful she was.
Suppose I discovered the fountain of youth. What about the rest of my family - my children - would I let them drink from it? Depends - if they promised never to ask for money, they do their homework - AND they don't get interested in dating until after they graduate from college, okay!
This gospel - this fountain of everlasting life is not ours to keep to ourselves - or to sell with strings attached - it's free! Jesus Christ says, "I'm sending you to a thirsty world - give them a drink of what you've discovered."
But, as you all know, we can't do this in our own strength - thus the significance of verse 22. And when He had said this, He breathed on
them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Now other passages make it clear that the Holy Spirit would come in fullness after Christ ascends to the Father. That won't happen until some 50 days from this point.
Just one or two pages over Acts 1:8. "But you shall receive (future tense) power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses..."
The Lord ascending, the spirit descending was yet a future event.
Like many expositors, I believe that this passage in John is an experience whereby Jesus provides them with a preliminary provision - a foretaste of the strength to come. In the meantime, this breath of the Holy Spirit would be a sweet gift that will enable them to wait nearly two months for the fulfillment of Christ's promise and the creation of the New Testament church.
And if you've ever had to wait two months for a life-changing answer, you know how important God's presence and grace was during that time
Then notice in verse 23, Christ said, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
Now this verse is used by the Roman Catholic church as the biblical basis for the priest's authority to forgive sins. The special privileges vested in the Roman priesthood are taken from a verse.
Actually, the Bible clearly teaches the wonderful doctrine called the individual priesthood of every believer. That means that every Christian has direct access to God, every Christian can go directly to God for forgiveness of sins and the restoration of fellowship.
The High Priest, Jesus Christ, did away with any further need of human mediators. Hebrews declares that on the basis of His blood sacrifice we can come with boldness before the throne of grace and Peter later will write these amazing words, "But you (all believers) are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. . ."
The cross has destroyed the clerical pedestal - every Christian stand before God on equal ground. While our gifts determine our function within the church, and certain functions create special authority - no one is given special intimacy, no one has been granted special access, no one has special power.
So what about this verse Stephen - looks clear enough to me:
First, let's think theologically for a moment: We know, first of all, there isn't anyone who can forgive sins but God. When Jesus healed the paralytic he said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." The Scribes objected and said, "Who can forgive sins but God only." They were right - they just didn't understand that Christ was God.
Theologically, we've got some problems if we can forgive each other's sins, or I as the under-shepherd could forgive your sins. And I'll tell you right now, I can't and I won't even try.
Fellas, if you had an argument with your wife this morning - you barked at each other all the way to church - until you pull into the church parking lot - then the smiles appear - "Hi - good to see you - God bless you" So far, how many of you don't like this illustration?! Well, if you came up to me after the service and said, "Pastor, I just want you to know that I argued with my wife all the way to church - she started it - and I finished it - well, I was wrong and I'd like you to forgive me."
You're talking to the wrong person
The New Testament is clear - there are only two people involved in your confession - the person you've sinned against and since all sin is ultimately against God you go directly to God and ask forgiveness.
Secondly, let's think historically:
There is not one instance in any of the New Testament books of any apostle taking on himself the authority to pardon sins. Furthermore, in this upper room were several others given this challenge who were not even apostles. Luke informs us that Cleopas and another unnamed disciple from the Emmaus road experience were also in the upper room. So this statement wasn't applied in the early church for apostles only.
Now, let's think grammatically:
You might notice a footnote in your Bibles in verse 23. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them...
Now my footnote translates the tense to literally read, "There sins have previously been forgiven them."
The two verbs in verse - "have been forgiven...have been retained" are in the perfect tense. Now you don't have to remember this for the test, but what that tense refers to is something that has already happened - past action with existing results.
So what are the men in the upper room given? A special message - they, and we all are given the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God and announcing the terms of forgiveness.
Luke 24 says we are to preach the repentance and remission of sins!
Did you realize the authority you display every time you share the gospel? Do you realize that you are giving a person the conditions whereby sins will be forgiven by God. . .I've done that many times.
I've said, "Dear sir, will you right now bow your head and ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sin and come into your life?" You will, great! And I've watched men and women pray prayers of repentance and salvation. Then you know what I say? I look them in the eye and say, "God heard your prayer and your sins, past present and future are forgiven." What incredible authority. Imagine speaking for God - declaring to human beings on earth what has been done in heaven.
NOW. . .all this excitement happened and notice verse 24; "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came."
Now Thomas has been dubbed the doubter. This twin - that's what Didymus means - has been saddled for centuries with characterization of being the doubting disciple...you know, we don't refer to Peter as Denying Peter. . .I think it's unfortunate to know only of Thomas' failure.
Let's backup for a moment - I want you to see something.
Turn back to John 11.
Lazarus has died and Jesus has announced his desire to return to Judea. Notice verse 8. The disciple said to Him, Rabbi, he Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?!" skip to verse 14. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him." 16. Thomas therefore who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."
Lazarus’s body was in Bethany, 2 miles east of Jerusalem - humanly speaking, it was suicide for Jesus to return. Thomas' response shows us two things about this twin man.
-it shows us his courage - the greatest courage is not the courage of the optimist because the optimist is convinced everything will turn out alright anyhow. No, the greatest courage is the courage of a pessimist because he expected the worst and was still willing to follow through. Thomas showed great courage!
-but this passage also reveals that Thomas was a pessimist - he was sure of the worst. . .Jesus didn't say anything at all about dying; but here's Thomas saying, "All right, let's go with Jesus and help dig even more graves...the worst is bound to happen"
Thomas viewed life in the negative. . .he is best characterized by Charlie Brown who one day announced to all his friends, "I have a new philosophy for life, from now on I'm only going to dread one day at a time."
For a guy like Thomas, Murphy's law rules - "If it can get any worse, it won't until the worst possible moment!"
Now turn ahead a few chapters to John 14. Jesus is telling His disciples about heaven. Look at verse 3.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. 5. Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way."
This is classic! "Lord, we do not know where you are going, and we don't know the way. . .Lord, don't leave us. . .we'll never find the place!!
So in John chapter 19, Jesus is crucified . . . and when he died, Thomas is shattered. You can almost hear him say. . ."I knew it. . .all my fears have come true. . .He's gone and I don't know where. . .he died, and I didn't die with him . . . I'll never see Him again."
Orwell's book "1984" ends pessimistically as evil conquers. Some have suggested this pessimism came because Orwell was dying as he wrote. Listen to what he wrote - I can see Thomas in these words: "Since about 1930 the world has given no reason for optimism whatever. Nothing is in sight except a welter of lies, hatred, cruelty, and ignorance, and beyond our present troubles loom vaster ones which are only now entering into the European consciousness. It is quite possible that man's major problems will 'never' be solved . . . The real problem now is how to accept death as final.
For Thomas the Lord was dead! His pessimism has proof! It's a cross standing on a windy hill . . . it's a tomb with a stone for a door, fresh seal and Roman guards standing outside . . . IT'S OVER!
Peter Ustinov wrote, "An optimist is a person who knows how sad a place the world can be. A pessimist is one who is forever finding out".
And look what Thomas missed . . . 20:24. But Thomas, was not with them when Jesus came.
Isolated in the cold chill of sorrow, while others were warmed and filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.
Ladies and Gentlemen, when sorrow comes and sadness envelops you, there is a tendency to shut yourselves up and refuse to meet with believers in worship and fellowship. That is the very time when we need it the most - for it is there that we are most likely to meet Him afresh.
Thomas' mistake was seeking loneliness instead of togetherness.
In the dark days of persecution, Pliny wrote to Trajan, the Roman Emperor and said this about the Christians; "They are given to meet together on a stated day before dawn and sing among themselves a hymn to Christ as God."
The other disciples urged Thomas to join them - v.25. The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
Thomas, like every one of us often carries our faith in our fingertips. We will believe only what we can see and touch.
26. And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut/locked, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you."
Imagine that - I'd have said, "Where's Thomas. . .Thomas come here - won't you ever believe?"
Oh no! Christ is still declaring victory - victory over death & DOUBT!!
One of the most precious verses that overflows with grace; 27. Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing."
Thomas wasn't kicked out of the flock for doubting - for pessimism. Instead, the Great Shepherd reached down to where this frightened sheep was and gave him an unforgettable gift of grace.
Jesus Christ is committed to turning failure into faithfulness.
Jesus Christ is dedicated to turning doubt into declaration.
28. Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord
and my God.
Did you know that this is the first time in the gospel accounts that the Lord Jesus is addressed in this way. It represents a great insight of faith, even greater than Peter in his declaration that Christ was the Son of God.
Thomas said, "My Lord and My God!"
This is the great Christological announcement that defies and silences all the cults and the isms and the spasms who say Christ is not God.
Thomas was never corrected - his worship was received!
Now for every reader of John's gospel - in the first century and the 20th century - v. 29. Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
You can write your name there in verse 29. "Blessed is Stephen who did not see, and yet believed. . .blessed is Mike and Cindy and Mark and Jan.
The truth is, we also have problems with what we don't know and can't comprehend and can't see or touch or taste. . . verse 29. is a special commendation and encouragement for you and me.
Joe Schmitt of St. Paul, Minnesota told the story of a father who was awakened by the smoke detector in his basement. He woke his wife and they quickly went to their children's bedroom and woke them up and started heading for the door through the smoke which was getting quite heavy. The father was carrying his one and a half year‑old daughter in one arm and held the hand of his four year‑old son with the other. The son, being scared and unsure of what was happening pulled his hand from his father's clasp and ran to what he thought was a place of safety ‑‑ upstairs to his bedroom. The father got outside and called to his son who appeared at the bedroom window crying and calling for help. Smoke was billowing out the window. The father called to him and told him to jump, but the boy screamed, "But I can't see you!" Then the father called back and said, "That's alright, jump - I can see you!"
Perhaps you've come this morning, discouraged, doubting . . . you would love to put your hands into his and see the scars and see His face; remember, while you can't see Him, He can see you and His heart commends yours for believing the written Word, knowing that you will one day see the Living Word.
We don't know much about Thomas after the ascension of Christ. There is an apocryphal book called "The Acts of Thomas" which supposes to give his ministry. More than likely, a kernel of truth is woven into legend. It records that after Christ ascended, Thomas went to India to preach the gospel. It is, by the way interesting that the church of South India traces it's origin to Thomas' missionary work. Well, King Gundaphorus entrusted a great deal of his wealth to Thomas to build him a palace. Thomas was however so overwhelmed with the poverty of the poor that he slowly gave the King's money away. The King eventually sent for Thomas and asked him, "Have you built me the palace Thomas?" Thomas answered, "Yes." "When can I go and see it?" Thomas answered, "You can't see it now but when you die you can see it's fruit in heaven." At first the King was incensed, but Thomas, in the end, won the King to Christ.
Thomas, you investing in a kingdom? Yes.
Where is it? In heaven.
You ever seen it? No.
You ever been there? No.
You ever seen it? No.
Where exactly is it? I don't know.
Then where is your proof? I have none, other than this, within my heart lives the King, and according to His promise, one day He will come and take me to live with Him in His wonderful Kingdom.
Like the dear blind hymnwriter put it
Face to face I shall behold Him, far beyond the starry sky;
face to face in all His beauty, I shall see Him by and by.
For now, at times, might seem the score is 220 to nothing - the message to you is, pick the ball up and run with it. You might get knocked about, bruised by this game of life - but in the end, there will be a miracle - in the end, our team wins.