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John 20:19-31

Leader Guide

Participant Guide


Lesson Focus

Jesus’ work in the world is not done. He now sends us to be his Spirit-filled hands and feet in the world.

Catching up on the Story

In John’s gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has taken place. John recounts for us Jesus’ resurrection and the various encounters he has with believers. The first encounter comes with Mary Magdalene as she prepares to anoint Jesus’ body. Mary, following Jesus’ instructions, runs back to the disciples to inform them that she has seen Jesus.

The Text

The disciples are huddled in a room in Jerusalem. It has been three days since Jesus, their leader, was crucified. They are clustered in this room because, we are told, they are afraid of the Jews. There are two reasons they might be afraid of the Jews. First, they were, after all, followers of this man whom the Jewish leaders hated, hated enough to have killed (along with the Romans). They were “guilty by association.” If you and I were a follower of a radical leader like Jesus, one who was challenging the status quo and reinterpreting everything that people believed, we would have been a little scared too. Second, the disciples were scared because they had received news earlier that day that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was now empty. The stone had been rolled away, and the only thing left inside was the burial clothes.

The Jewish religious leaders had placed guards and sealed the grave up nice and tight, so this sort of thing might not happen. The religious leaders were afraid that Jesus’ disciples might steal Jesus’ body and claim that he had been raised from the dead. By this time in the day, it was certain that the Jewish religious leaders knew that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. It didn’t matter that Mary Magdalene had claimed that she had seen the risen Christ. The Jews would probably still accuse the disciples of stealing the body anyway. There were many reasons to fear.

So now, as night was falling on Easter Sunday, the disciples were held up in a room in Jerusalem, afraid of what might come next. I’m sure that there was hope amid this fear. Hope that what Mary had seen and reported was true. But still, fear persisted. Fear persisted in the absence of the One who had promised them peace, the one who had promised them a new way of life.

Then, as they were discussing all that had transpired, all that had happened over the last few years, as they stood discussing what in the world they might do next, something happened. As they sat in fear, suddenly, Jesus appeared right in the middle of their conversation. The disciples stared in disbelief. How could this have happened? The door was locked? How did this man get in? The fact that Jesus came through a locked door should not be overly stressed. It is, according to Bruner, a signal to John’s readers that Jesus’ resurrected body had been transformed, but it is still Jesus’ original body, as his wounds will display. Jesus has, at the same time, his original human body, but a body that has been transformed by the resurrection.

Then Jesus spoke. He spoke with a calmness and assurance that only Jesus could speak. “Peace be with you.” This simple, ordinary greeting shatters the silence. “Peace be with you.” In the midst of fear, dread, amid the hopelessness of the death of their leader, these words suddenly drive away, with great force, the fear that had previously pervaded the atmosphere.

The questions about what to do next slowly faded away as Jesus began to reveal to these men the wounds and scars of his crucifixion. These wounds and scars are no longer open and cause pain. They have been transformed. Jesus shows his body to his disciples to prove to them that it is indeed him who hung from the cross three days ago. But it also proves to the disciples that something decisive has happened.

The sin, pain, and death that Jesus had suffered were nullified and done away with. What humanity tried to do to Jesus to kill his message of salvation, love, and selflessness was ineffectual. Pain could not hold the power of God. Death could not hold the power of God. Death had been conquered. Jesus was alive. The disciples begin to rejoice! Their fear has been dispelled. Now that the power of God is more powerful than that of the Jews, of death, of anything humanity could do to them, the disciples can now rise to a new level of faith and action.

A few moments of rejoicing, of embracing pass. Jesus speaks again. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he stopped talking, he took a step back, drew in a deep breath, and slowly exhaled over the room: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Immediately everyone in the room remembers what they had learned as a little children: that God breathed into Adam and Eve and gave them life. Surely this means that some kind of new creation is happening.

What the disciples had been—scared, feeble, weak, and faithless men—is not what they now are. Jesus has given them the Spirit of God, and they have been changed. They have been remade. And they have been sent. Any time the breath of God or the Spirit of God is given, things change.

A week passes, and the disciples again gather together on the first day of the week. They are all there this time, gathered in the room in Jerusalem. They are gathered in the very same room in which Jesus had appeared to them a week earlier. Thomas, who had not been present the previous week, expresses his doubts about what had happed.

Thomas isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t particularly faithless. He merely wants what all the other disciples have already had, an encounter with the Risen Christ. Jesus, however, has a way of knowing what we need. As Thomas and the other ten discuss the previous week’s events, suddenly, Jesus appears. Joy once again fills the room at the presence of their risen Savior. Once again, Jesus greets his followers: “Peace be with you.” As before, he gets right to the point. He instructs Thomas to touch his hands and his sides. “Believe, Thomas, believe.”

In one of the most remarkable confessions in the book of John, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” It is a confession not just of Jesus’ position of leadership over Thomas. It is a confession of Jesus’ deity. This very same man that Thomas had been following for all this time was indeed God. Thomas sees it now more clearly than he ever has before. But Jesus, in his calm, gentle way, doesn’t harshly chastise Thomas. He doesn’t cast Thomas out for not believing what he had not seen. No. Rather, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have not seen but yet have believed.

So What?

This is a fantastic story. It is so simple yet so meaningful and profound. Amid our fear about the future, amid our sinfulness and brokenness, the risen Christ comes to us and commissions us. Jesus’ words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” are spoken to us here today.

God has enlisted us to continue the work that Jesus Christ started through his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. We are to be little Christs. The breath that Jesus breathed on the disciples, Jesus now breathes on us. The Holy Spirit that creates men and women and makes them new, Jesus now breathes on us. This breath now comes to us to fill us with new life, supply us with new energy, and fill us with a new ability to go out into our world and be like Jesus for the salvation of those around us.

This is what the Resurrection means for us. It is our salvation. But it is more than that. It is the beginning of Christ’s work through us to participate in redeeming the world.

Specific Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. Why were the disciples afraid? Who were they afraid of? If you were in the disciples’ shoes, would you have been scared too?

  2. Why does Jesus greet the disciples with a blessing of peace? Does this blessing of peace forgive the unfaithfulness and unbelief of the disciples in the last hours before Jesus’ crucifixion?

  3. Read Philippians 2:1-11. How do these verses by the Apostle Paul help us understand what it means to be sent as God the Father has sent Jesus?

  4. In verse 22, Jesus breathes on the disciples the Holy Spirit. Why is this important? How might the Holy Spirit help us to fulfill our mission?

  5. In verse 23, Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What does Jesus mean by this? How is this connected to our being sent as Jesus has been sent?

  6. Why does Jesus insist that Thomas feel his wounds? Is Thomas any different than the other disciples? The other disciples saw Jesus and believed.