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John 20:19-31


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.