Sermon: Walking with Jesus…in peace
Reading: John 20:18-31
Sermon Date: April 8, 2018
Can you recall a time when you happened to miss out on an exciting event that everyone else was talking about? How did it make you feel / how did you react?
Can you remember something from last Sunday’s sermon that struck you?
We are looking at John 20:19-31, and this is the last in our series ‘Walking with Jesus’ - this time specifically ‘Walking with Jesus in peace’.
(Note: There is a lot of material here - don’t feel you need to cover everything! Choose what you feel will be most relevant and helpful for your group. See the Helpful Hints section at the end for more information that you can feed into the discussion, if helpful.)
Intro & Background
In the first part of the passage we’re looking at, the event takes place on the evening of Easter Sunday, after Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene. Then the action skips forward to a week later. Luke and Mark have similar accounts of Jesus appearing to the women and the other disciples after his resurrection, but with varying details and emphases (Luke 24:36-49, Mark 16:14-18).
General note – John’s gospel is much more reflective in style than the other gospels, less focussed on the chronology of events and facts. John is concerned to portray the spiritual significance of events in Jesus’ life, looking back at them in the light of his post-resurrection understanding of Jesus. To this end, John uses symbolism, imagery and allegory - physical things and events stand for spiritual truths.
Try to keep this in mind when reading and discussing today’s passage.
Questions: (see Helpful Hints)
The Peace & Presence of Jesus
Read: John 20:19-23
Q1. Fear – read v19
Considering the events they have experienced over the past few days, can you imagine how the disciples must have been feeling?
The disciples’ fear had led them to lock themselves behind closed doors. What are some of the fears that can keep us ‘locked up’ (personally or corporately)?
Jesus’ first words are, ‘Peace be with you.’ He repeats this again two more times. (v21, v26)
Q3. Jesus’ wounds – read v20a ‘he showed them his hands and his side’
What do you think the disciples would have understood this to mean?
How is the peace that Jesus brings different to the world’s idea of what peace is?
What do you think it means to receive God’s peace? Can you share a specific experience of this in your life?
When you or someone you care about is afraid, or facing difficult circumstances, what do you tend to pray for? – a change in circumstances? Or to experience the peace of God, through the presence of Jesus by his Holy Spirit?
Do you find it surprising that Jesus’s resurrected body still bears the scars and wounds of his suffering and death?
Why do you think this might be? (remember to think about the possible spiritual symbolism)
Q4. Joy – read v20b ‘the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’
Q5. Sent – read verse 21b ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’
Can you relate to this experience?
Would you say that being a Christian brings you joy?
Q6. Life - read v22
What do you think Jesus meant by this / what would the disciples have understood him to mean?
Do you see yourself as having been sent by Jesus? In what way?
Q7. Anything else that strikes you about this passage that you want to share, or ask about?
‘he breathed on them’ - this might seem like an odd detail to include - why do you think John did include it? (think about symbolism and spiritual significance)
Dealing with Doubts
Read: John 20:24-31
Q8. Thinking about Thomas & the other Disciples:
Q9. Thinking about ourselves
Thomas is known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ – is this fair?
Do you think Thomas was more unbelieving than the other disciples?
Is it OK to have doubts about your faith?
How do you deal with doubts? Are you someone who always wants tangible evidence of God’s existence and presence? What sort of things do you look for?
Are there any areas where you feel you are ‘stuck’ in unbelief? How can you encounter Jesus in those areas, and move from unbelief to belief?
How do you react when other people share great spiritual experiences they have had? Are you able to rejoice with them and be inspired in your own faith, or do you feel envious or sceptical?
Action / response:
When we move from the first part of our reading to the second, we find that the disciples are still behind locked doors a week after their first encounter with the risen Jesus - having rejoiced at seeing him alive, received His peace & presence through the Holy Spirit and told that they were being sent out. Think about ourselves. We have just celebrated Easter and the resurrected Jesus. How do we go forward from this – are we still stuck behind closed doors? or are we moving out, in obedience to Jesus who sends us out?
How can we move out of the comfort & safety of our church buildings to reach others with the Good News of the risen Jesus?
- As individuals
- As a housegroup
- As a church community
When Thomas encountered the risen Jesus, he responded in faith and worship – ‘My Lord and my God’. Spend some time in God’s presence, acknowledging Jesus as your risen Lord and Saviour.
Rejoice that you are one of those who Jesus had in mind when he said ‘blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed’
‘Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
The Lord be with you all.’
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Helpful Hints for discussion questions:
Peace & Presence
Q2. Jesus doesn’t promise to take us out of the world, or to give us easy circumstances – his promise is to be with us, and it is his presence which brings peace. The role of the Holy Spirit is key, he is God’s presence with and in us.
John 14:16-18; John 14:26-27; John 16:33;
2 Thessalonians 3:16;
Q3. Jesus ministers to us out of his experience of suffering and brokenness, and we are called to do the same. God brings healing and redemption, but he that doesn’t mean that our past is obliterated. He can use our ‘wounds’ to help us to minister to others who are hurting.
Q5. Matthew 28:18-20 - the ‘Great Commission’
John 3:16-17: Jesus’s own explanation of why and how He had been sent into the world by the Father – the motivating force is love, and the purpose is to save, not to condemn; consider how this should shape our mission and evangelism, if Jesus is sending us out in the same way.
Q6. Breathing on them signifies proof that Jesus himself is alive, but also conveys the deeper spiritual significance that he is able to give life. The Greek word for ‘breathed’ (‘enephysesen’) is the same as that used in Genesis 2:7, where God breathed the breath of life into Adam.
Genesis 1:1 – the Spirit’s central role in the creation account.
1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Jesus the source of new life
Q7. People may have questions around v23: ‘If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’, which on first reading can appear problematic. Surely only God can forgive sins….?
This verse is not saying that the disciples, or we as Christians now, have the authority or right to decide whether particular sins in other people’s lives are forgiven or not. Rather, we have the authority to declare the truth about how God forgives sins.
‘What Jesus commits to his disciples, and by extension now to us, is the right to authoritatively declare, in his name, that there is forgiveness for sins, and on what conditions sins will be forgiven’ (i.e. by believing the good news about Jesus). See Mark 16: 16:15-16.
Dealing with doubts
Thomas: the other place that we read about Thomas is in John 11:16 – here we read that it was Thomas who, when the other disciples tried to stop Jesus going to Bethany to raise Lazarus because they thought it would be too dangerous (the Jews there had previously tried to stone Jesus), courageously declared: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’. This perhaps reveals another, more positive, side of Thomas’ character.
The other disciples: John tells us just before this passage that Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Jesus and told the other disciples; John doesn’t record their reaction, but see Luke 24:9-11 and Mark 16:9-14, which both say that none of the disciples believed Mary or the other women.
One of the commentaries on John says that Jesus’s words to Thomas in verse 27 (‘be not unbelieving, but believing’), were addressed in effect to all the disciples, and Thomas’s response, (‘my Lord and my God’) speaks not just for himself but for them all. Thus these two passages can be seen as Jesus addressing and overcoming the collective unbelief that the disciples showed as a group after his resurrection.
V29 ‘because you have seen me you have believed’ is often read as a rebuke to Thomas; but it can be argued that it is to be read not as a rebuke to Thomas, but as an encouragement to us, the readers, the emphasis of the verse being on the pronounced blessing. This would fit with the following verses: v30-31 ‘these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you might have life in his name’ – this is an invitation to the reader to enter into the same experience that the first disciples had, and to claim the blessing in v29 for themselves.
Q9 – Ourselves
Some of the different ways in which people might deal with doubts
may try to intellectualise everything, want a rational explanation that answers all their questions
may want physical evidence, tangible proof (eg specific answers to prayers; miraculous ‘signs’)
may not be able to deal with having doubts at all; construct a simplistic, perhaps overly-dogmatic faith which does not allow for doubt, thus enabling the difficult and uncomfortable task of grappling with doubts to be avoided
Jesus does meet Thomas at his point of need, he shows him his hands and side – likewise, Jesus understands our doubts and meets us where we are; however, he urges us not to stay there in our place of unbelief – ‘Stop your doubting and believe!’ Thomas does just this – his response is one of faith and worship ‘My Lord and my God.’
How were Thomas’s doubts overcome? – by a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. It will be a different experience for each of us, but we all need a personal encounter with Jesus, which is real and meaningful to us. This is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. And we can’t just rely on a one-off encounter when we first come to faith, we need to be continually refreshed and inspired by encountering Jesus as we walk with him day by day.
While it is good to grapple with intellectual questions relating to our faith, we must be careful not to let this intellectual process be a stumbling block to faith and action. Thomas and the other disciples would surely still have had lots of questions… how was Jesus actually raised…, how did he just appear and disappear in a locked room…., how was his body the same and yet different….? They didn’t have neat answers to all their intellectual questions, but their encounter with Jesus had overcome any doubts about who Jesus was – ‘my Lord and my God’ – and that was enough to believe and trust him.
Additional point of interest:
John 20:19-30 can be understood as the fulfilment of what Jesus had promised his disciples in his farewell discourses in John 14-17 – see below:
John 14:18 ‘I will come to you’
John 20:19, 26 ‘Jesus came and stood among them’
14:27 ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you
16:33 ‘I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace’
verses 19, ‘Peace be with you’
verse 21, ‘Peace be with you’
verse 26, ‘Peace be with you’
16:22 ‘I will see you again and you will rejoice’
20:20 ‘The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’
14:16-17 ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - The Spirit of truth’
20:22 ‘He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
17:18 ‘As you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world’
20:21b ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’
17:20 ‘My prayer is not only for them but also for those who will believe through their word’
20:29 ’blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed’
John 14:29 ‘I have told you before it occurs, that when it shall occur, you may believe.’
John 20:27-28 ‘Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God’