Jesus Meets Us in Our Weakness
Pastor Peter Metzger First Lutheran Church
Easter 2 Lake Geneva, WI
John 20:19-31 April 23, 2017
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus Brings Peace, Proof, and Purpose
I have a conscientious dog at home. She’s quite well behaved. So, when I leave the house in the morning, I can feel comfortable leaving her loose. Every once in a while, however, I’ll come home in the afternoon and she won’t be waiting at the door to greet me. She might be hiding in her kennel or cowering behind the couch because she knows that she did something wrong. Maybe I had forgotten that the plate on the counter still had the irresistible aroma of last night’s dinner. Maybe she knocked over a plant. Whatever it was, you can tell that she knew she had done something she wasn’t supposed to.
You can probably imagine what it’s like to come home to an obviously guilt-ridden dog. Immediately you begin to wonder what she did. You might survey the house for signs of damage, but what do you say to your conscientious dog? Do you grab it by the scruff of its neck and drag it over to the mess and say, “Look what you did”?
Maybe you’ve done just that, with a pet or a child, a roommate or employee. I’d be lying if I said that I never scolded my dog for doing something she wasn’t supposed to do. But what effect would your scolding have on an already remorseful sinner? It might only serve to drive them deeper into fear and probably wouldn’t help the situation all that much apart from releasing your frustration.
When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning and appeared to his disciples later that night, he had every reason to scold them for their fear and doubt, but instead we find a very different response. The risen Christ brought peace for the fearful, proof for the disbelieving and a purpose for his visit.
John begins this section of his Gospel reminding us that these disciples were behind locked doors, hiding for fear of the Jews. They were afraid because their friend and leader, their mentor and teacher was dead and they were afraid that they might die too.
At that moment, possibly the lowest moment in living memory, Jesus appeared out of nowhere! He didn’t skulk out of the shadows as if he had been hiding where they couldn’t see him. He didn’t walk through the wall like a ghost. He didn’t announce his arrival by knocking on the door. He was just there, in the midst of them, with no warning at all.
Up until that moment they hadn’t believed the reports that they had heard. Remember that Mary saw the risen Jesus first. Then he appeared to a group of women who even grabbed onto his body. Later in the day he appeared to Peter, as well as 2 disciples on their way to Emmaus. The disciples had every reason to believe in the resurrection. Jesus had predicted it, and their friends had corroborated it, but there they were cowering in fear and doubt.
If you were Jesus, what would you have said to them? Would you have shown the disciples the holes in your hands and said to them, “Look what you did! It was your sins that deserved this death. These holes should be in your hands, if not for your sins, then for your loyalty to me, but where were you? You abandoned me and were hiding, just as you are now. Oh, you of little faith.”
If I were in Jesus’ sandals, I might have been tempted to say that. If I were one of the disciples, that’s certainly what I would have been afraid that Jesus would say. But it’s not even close, is it?
Jesus simply says, “Peace be with you.”
To these frightened failures, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. I’m not a ghost come to haunt you. I’m your friend and Savior risen from the dead. Be at peace. The reports that you’ve heard are true. I am alive. See for yourself! This is a real body. This is my real body. But most of all, be at peace because the holes in my hands and side are the reason that you can be at peace. My suffering and death set you at peace and in harmony with your Father in heaven. Your sins are forgiven. You are saved. Peace be with you.”
Then John writes – without even an exclamation point, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Their fear had turned to joy. They need not feel guilty anymore, because Jesus came and announced forgiveness for their sins. They need not feel afraid anymore, because Jesus came to give them peace. In his grace, he came to them, not with a message of rebuke, but he met them in their weakness and gave them comfort and hope and peace.
If only all of the disciples could have been there to receive it. We find out, though, that Thomas was not, and worse than not being there, Thomas didn’t believe a word of what he heard. He even said that he wouldn’t be convinced as easily as they were. He would have to touch Jesus – not just see him – and plunge his hand into Jesus’ wounded side. Thomas did more than doubt. He refused to believe.
Eight days later, Jesus appeared again, and when he did, he turned directly to Thomas with a message just for him. Surely this time it would be a message of rebuke, right? “Thomas, how obtuse can you get? All your friends have seen me! Why won’t you believe?”
But that’s not what he says, is it? Instead he says, “Peace be with you! Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Obviously, Jesus addresses Thomas’ sin of doubt and disbelief. He addresses Thomas individually, which must have felt awfully lonely and intimidating to Thomas, but look at the way that Jesus does it. He’s gentle and comforting, meeting Thomas in his weakness and overcoming his doubt by giving him proof that what he had heard about Jesus was true. He had risen from the dead, after all!
So, Thomas gives the only appropriate response, “My Lord and my God!” His doubt had been turned to belief, because Jesus had come to him.
Who of us has not wished for this treatment? Who of us has not asked God to reveal himself, to show himself to us in our weakness to comfort us and to remove all doubt and fear? How nice it would be to have Jesus appear in the middle of the room any time that we were lonely or troubled or sad. But he doesn’t do that, does he?
Is it because he doesn’t love you as much as Thomas and the other disciples? No. Jesus explains: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
With these words, Jesus sets the expectation. He warns us not to put our faith only in things that we see. If we do, we will be sorely disappointed because we will be looking for signs and messages from God that will never come. Instead, he encourages his followers to believe what they hear and not to demand proof because they trust that what God says is true.
That’s why John continues: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
God does not promise to appear to us the way that he appeared to Thomas and the Ten. God does not promise that the answer to every question we might ever have is written in the Bible. Here, and later in Chapter 21, John reminds us that there are a lot of things that we don’t know. There are a lot of things that Jesus said and did that aren’t recorded in the Bible, but that’s OK! Because what is written is enough.
You don’t need to know why God lets people die. You don’t need to know how the budget year will end. You don’t need to know whether your cancer will be cured or your child’s sickness taken away. You don’t need to know when or if you’ll get married, or when or if you’ll get the job that want.
All you need to know is that Jesus died for your sins, but did not stay dead. He died to pay the penalty that your sins deserved, but he rose to declare his forgiveness to be yours and to give you the sure and certain hope of heaven. Jesus’ resurrection means that his promises are kept, your sins are forgiven, you have peace with God and eternal life in his name.
True faith, then, does not demand, “Show me!” True faith instead trusts that God already has, hundreds of times to his disciples and entrusted them with the composition of this book, so that when you read their eye witness testimony, you can see the proof of Jesus’ resurrection and the peace that it brings to your life.
What a comfort it is to know how God deals with his people! He is patient and persistent with us in our weakness, just as he was with his disciples. He comes to us and meets us in our weakness, not in the appearance of the risen Jesus, but in Word and Sacrament, which he uses to nurture our faith over and over again.
God knows our weakness; he knows our doubt; he knows our every fear, but in his Word and through the testimony that points to the resurrection, he gives us all we need for faith and for hope and for eternal life. Receive the peace that Jesus brings and be content with it. It’s enough for you, Jesus himself said so. “Peace be with you.” Amen.