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From Cowardice to Courage

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–31

Believing in the resurrection of Christ brings peace, comfort, and encouragement. It also brings the responsibility and privilege of proclaiming the message of peace and forgiveness available in Christ.


Back in 1916 Georgia Tech’s football team took on tiny Cumberland College. Georgia Tech was a football powerhouse, and it quickly humiliated Cumberland College. The game ended with an embarrassing score of 222 to 0. The Cumberland players were tired, bruised, and discouraged. In fact, near the end of the game, Cumberland quarterback Ed Edwards fumbled a snap from center. As the Tech linemen charged into the backfield, Edwards yelled to his fullback to pick it up! That battered and bruised fullback yelled back, “You dropped it; you pick it up!”[1]

If the score had been kept between the disciples and the world, it would have been the world—222; the disciples—0. The disciples are discouraged and defeated. In fact, they are hiding out behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. It is going to take a miracle for them to pick up the ball and run with it again.

The resurrection of Jesus is that miracle. Several things happen in John 20 that will turn this defeated little team of disciples into a powerhouse team of ambassadors for Christ.

We begin at verse 19, which we touched on in an earlier Wisdom Journey:

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.

By the way, this reveals that His glorified body is capable of transcending any physical barrier. It also reveals that when you are absolutely discouraged and afraid, you cannot lock Him out. He shows up and says to His disciples here in verse 19, “Peace be with you.”

“Peace” is much more than “Hello” or “God bless you.” It is a statement of blessing for those who are in a right relationship with the Lord.[2] No matter what you are going through today, my friend, hear the Lord reassure you with this word “peace.” God is in control, and you belong to Him by faith in Christ.

In Luke’s Gospel the focus is on how startled the disciples are to see Jesus (Luke 24:37); and that is because at first, they think they are looking at a ghost. I can understand why.

John’s Gospel tells us here in verse 20 that Jesus quiets their fears by showing “them his hands and his side.” Luke adds that He shows them His feet as well (Luke 24:39-40).

The word translated “showed” in John 20:20 means “displayed.” Jesus must have slipped one arm out of the sleeve and showed them his pierced side, as well as His pierced hands and feet. He has chosen to keep some of His scars. Indeed, the only scars in heaven will be His.

Luke records that Jesus also eats some fish. This shows that even though He can pass through locked doors, He is still a real person, made of glorified flesh and bones.

Jesus then reminds them of their apostolic mission, saying in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” This told them at least two things. First, Jesus is not going to kick them off the football team and go gather a new one. That is encouraging. Second, they have a responsibility in light of His resurrection. That is challenging—to them and to us today.

We are not supposed to hide behind closed doors or in some commune or monastery in the mountains. There is a world out there that is thirsty for truth, and they are drinking from muddy puddles. We have the water of life, and we are not to keep it to ourselves.

Verse 22 says, “When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Now don’t misunderstand; the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit will come fifty days later on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. What Jesus gives them here is a one-time, temporary enablement that will empower them as they wait nearly two months for the descent of the Holy Spirit and the creation of the New Testament church.

Then in verse 23, Jesus says to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Again, this text has been misunderstood to mean that Peter and the apostles began a priesthood that had the power—even to this day—to forgive people’s sins. Not at all. In fact, the two verbs here translated “forgiven” and “withheld” are perfect passives in the Greek New Testament. Jesus is saying that the disciples can tell people that “their sins have already been forgiven” or “forgiveness has already been withheld.”  

In other words, Jesus is telling the disciples—and us today—that we can actually announce with confidence to those who believe in Jesus Christ that their sins have now been forgiven, forever. We did not forgive them; Jesus did! And with confidence we also can tell those who reject Jesus that their sins have not been forgiven.[3]  

Now with that, John’s Gospel adds here in verse 24 that somebody is missing: “Thomas . . . was not with them when Jesus came.” When Thomas hears about Jesus’ appearance from his fellow disciples, however, he is skeptical.  Listen to his words in verse 25:

“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.”

Thomas carried his faith in his fingertips. He was like many people today, who are only going to trust what they can see and touch. John fast-forwards to eight days later, and this time Thomas is with the other disciples. Jesus appears, again announcing peace, and then He looks directly at Thomas and says in verse 27, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

That is exactly the evidence Thomas had demanded; but now, in the Lord’s presence, his doubts disappear and he says, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28). This is the first time in the Gospels Jesus is addressed in this way.

This is what theologians call the great Christological announcement that silences the cults and world religions and naysayers regarding the singular deity of Christ. And would you notice, Jesus does not correct Thomas. He does not say, “Now Thomas, you’re going too far here.” No, He accepts Thomas’s declaration that He is God, and He welcomes Thomas’s worship of Him as God in the flesh.

Now this next verse is especially for you and me—and frankly, for every disciple throughout human history:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (verse 29)

That blessing is for you, beloved. There is a special commendation, a special reward one day, because you believed in Christ without ever having the opportunity to touch His hands and His side and His feet.

Perhaps today, you are discouraged and defeated and doubting. It might feel like the score in life is 222 to nothing and you are on the losing team. Oh, you wish you could see the Lord’s face, like Thomas. I understand. There are times I would like the same thing.

But, beloved, while you cannot watch Him eat a fish dinner, He is in your house today; while you cannot see Him, He can see you. Listen to His heart commend you for believing in this written Word, trusting, believing, waiting until that moment when you finally see Him.

In the meantime, don’t worry about the score. It might feel like 220 to nothing, but just remember, the game is not over. And when it finally is, you can be sure that a joyful victory celebration will begin—and it will never end.

[1] Rose Eveleth, “In 1916, Georgia Tech Beat Cumberland College, 222-0,”, August 2, 2013.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1971), 658.

[3] John F. Hart, “John,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham  (Moody Publishers, 2014), 1661.

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