So that very night – remember, Mary just went to the tomb this morning, just ran and told everyone this morning, talked to Jesus in the garden this morning – and tonight, the disciples are gathered together, and they have locked themselves in because they are afraid the Jews will be coming after them next.
What they have witnessed has been brutal. These are dangerous times – you can’t trust just anyone.
Can you imagine the chatter? Can you imagine all the talk about Jesus’ death and what has happened to them in the past few days and what in the world is going on now with his body missing? Could it really be that he is alive? They’d seen him die. They saw him wrapped for burial and placed into the tomb. But sure enough that stone was pushed out of the way, and he wasn’t in there this morning. And Mary says she TALKED to him. Can this really be happening just as he had told them it would happen?
And then all of a sudden, inside that locked room with them, there he is. Standing right there with them saying to them “Peace be with you.” Oh, when I think about the turmoil these folks have lived through in the past week and all of a sudden there is Jesus saying those words: “Peace be with you.” The excitement is certainly undeniable – they are thrilled to see him – I think maybe they would have been relieved to even catch a glimpse of his lifeless body – but he is there ALIVE and offering them peace on top of that! What a comfort to know that not even locked doors can keep Jesus Christ out of our midst. Even when Christians have to stay at home, isolated from church gatherings, socially distanced from others – even when we have to meet through technology – the presence of Jesus Christ cannot be shut out.
And there in that closed room – locked away from the rest of the world – he breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” What a gift! As if being alive weren’t gift enough. And this gift keeps on giving! When we gather – even through technology – when we gather as the community of faith in times of intentional holiness, the Spirit of God is breathed right into us. But that’s a story for another time – that’s coming up in a few weeks, but for now...
For this morning, at this time, in this scripture, this story keeps going! Jesus tells his friends that they have more power than they realize. He explains that they have the power to forgive and that if they will use that power and forgive people, then sure enough people will be forgiven. Jesus then gives a warning that has echoed through generations.
In more recent years, we’ve heard this warning from a variety of sources. From the French National Convention in the 1700s, to British Parliament in the 1800s… from Winston Churchill in the 1900s, right down to SpiderMan in the 2000s.
Jesus warns the disciples that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Now Peter Parker may not have been talking about forgiveness, but the reasoning is the same. The disciples – and now that includes us today – we have great power. Power to forgive. If we truly forgive, then others receive the blessing of living free and clear of that burden. However, if followers of Jesus do not forgive others, then people will not be forgiven – and what would happen to them then?
Now this power to forgive sins isn’t given so that disciples of Christ may be judgmental. No, just the opposite is true. The power of forgiveness is a mark by which we are identified. We may be distinguished from non-Jesus-Christ-followers because we are the ones who are to be known by our willingness to forgive! We are the ones who are to build up one another through our holy living, not tear one another down. We are the ones who are to find the good, the happy, the accepting way of living – we are to be accepting of one another even in our shortcomings. When we sin, we have the power and responsibility to forgive one another.
And there are no given degrees of forgiving here. When we sin – and Paul reminds us that we all do, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – when we sin, when we fall, the mark of true Christians is that we forgive. Jesus is spelling it out for us here that we will eventually be judged by God based on this. This is big picture/end time stuff, coming from someone who is supposed to be very dead!
Now the big catch in all of this is that one disciple who is missing on this night, Thomas, has stepped out to run over to Sherry’s Bakery for a really good donut, and he isn’t with the rest of them to see Jesus.
So he misses the big reveal, and when he comes back, they’re all trying to talk at the same time and tell him that Jesus was here! And Thomas says: “Nope, I already gave every part of me to this idea the first time. This time I need to see it before I make myself vulnerable again. My heart was broken just a couple of days ago. I’m not going through that again. Not unless I can see that it is real.”
Thomas didn’t have the proof, and it was hard for him to accept something just because someone said so. It wasn’t enough to hear Mary’s story. It wasn’t enough that the other disciples wanted him to believe. It wasn’t enough to know that the others had experienced the risen Christ. Thomas needed to see with his own eyes – needed to have the experience himself. He was going to have to see Jesus on his own terms or not at all.
And so… he waits… for an entire week… he waits. I don’t know about you, but for me is seems that Easter was more like a month ago, rather than a few days. And I’m not sitting around with a bunch of friends trying to change the very core of what I’m believing.
Thomas eats every meal with a bunch of people who can’t seem to talk about anything else. He goes to bed each night, not understanding and not sure what he believes anymore. A whole week of wondering and pondering and mourning – a whole week later thinking “what happens next?” And then… Jesus accommodates Thomas – meets him where he is.
Just as he showed his scars to the disciples the week before, he now shows them to Thomas. They all knew what they were looking at. They knew about crucifixion. They knew how the Romans had driven nails through his hands – some of them had seen his side pierced with a spear. Those actions would have left marks – scars. And scars are proof, confirmation of wounds, in this case proof of injustice. Horrible nasty proof of the sacrifice that was made. Thomas was face-to-face with the wounds and the scars, face to face with the risen Lord – Jesus, who doesn’t hide in his perfection but wears the scars of victory.
But those scars are also proof that death doesn’t win – it’s been exposed as a false victor. It’s sting has been removed. And Thomas is told to stop doubting and believe.
Now we like to call him Doubting Thomas, but the Greek here doesn’t really translate as doubt. The word for doubt is used in other places very plainly – remember Jesus saying something like: “Peter, you silly sinking man. You can’t walk on the water because you doubted – why did you doubt?” The word used there is clearly doubt.
The word here, though, is more about faith and believing. “Thomas, stop disbelieving and believe. Stop questioning your faith – you’ve gotten this right for the past three years that you’ve been with me. You’ve followed, and obeyed, and done everything in a good and right, faithful, believing way. Don’t let go of that now.”
And Thomas does something the others haven’t done. He responds to Jesus’ calling him: "My Lord and my God!" This is confessional, this is personal, this is relational. Thomas is claiming Jesus as his own. He doesn’t say “you are God” – he says “MY God.”
And Jesus doesn’t correct him. Jesus allows Thomas to recognize him as God, allows Thomas to make it personal – allows Thomas to worship him.
And Jesus says “Good for you Thomas – you believe. But blessed are those who believe without the proof.”
And there it is – the focus leaves Thomas and the disciples who have seen, and moves to us – we who do not have the benefit of such a physical encounter. It’s as if the spotlight on the disciples fades and the houselights come up – and here we sit in the theatre of life, the future of Christianity right here resting on us.
We don’t have that hard-core physical proof. We have the stories of the Bible, we have the witnesses who give us the details of their experiences, we read that Mary was there, we hear Thomas calling Jesus “God.” We have the information – but I can’t put my finger into the scars where the nails were. I can’t place my hand into Jesus’ side where the spear was. I can’t prove anything – but I believe.
I believe that Jesus Christ did rise from the grave. I believe that Jesus still meets us where we are. I believe that the Good News is that Jesus lives! I believe in the promise of the resurrection. I believe that not even death can defeat our Lord.
And because I believe, I see, without doubt, without question, that Jesus IS Lord. I claim him as my own, and with this claim I have to tell others that Jesus is Lord. And with your claim, you have to tell others that Jesus is Lord.
We can all listen on Facebook or YouTube this week and then turn it off and wait for next week to come around. When the stay-at-home orders are ended, we can all come together and sit in a worship service week after week and then go home and wait to come back the next week – and we could let that be the end of it. But if you know in your heart that Jesus is Lord, then how can you keep that to yourself?
People all around us need to know what happens next! To know the powerful personal proof that only comes through faith and believing.And we are to tell the stories in the context of forgiveness and acceptance.
We have left the barren, reflective season of Lent behind us, and we are moving through the Easter season filled again with Alleluias! We are marching through these forty days of Easter experiencing the Living Risen Savior, and we are looking ahead to his ascension into heaven where he waits for us now. We have read the end of the book. We know what happens next! And whether we are together every day or separated for a time, it’s powerful. And it’s personal. And that’s our proof.