Connections 04.23.2017: Four Things to Remember in John

John 20:19-31

For me, this passage contains some of the most moving and powerful moments in John’s entire Gospel. There are four specific things I love about it:

1. The disciples are hiding behind a locked door (v. 19). This small group of followers who knew the man Jesus better than anyone else momentarily ran out of hope. They had known him, learned from him, listened to him, ministered with him, eaten with him, watched him interact with others, and loved him. And then they had seen him killed in one of the most gruesome acts of capital punishment our world has ever witnessed. Now they were afraid, devastated, uncertain. They had run out of hope. Have you ever been in that place? I know I have.

2. Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (vv. 19, 21, 26). To his frightened group of followers who had run out of hope, Jesus offered the gift of peace. He didn’t come barging in with a flashy show of power and rage and vengeance upon those who had killed him. He didn’t chastise his friends for feeling hopeless. He didn’t command them to leave that locked room and do what they were supposed to do. He calmed their anxious, fearful spirits with the gift of peace. Has Jesus ever done that for your spirit? I know he has for mine.

3. Thomas questions what he has heard about Jesus (v. 25). Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance in the locked room. But he sure heard about it! His fellow disciples didn’t hesitate to tell him what they saw. He heard their testimonies and wondered what they meant. He longed for their words to be true but couldn’t imagine how it was possible. Instead of blindly accepting the witness of someone else, Thomas dared to make his faith real to himself. He took what others told him about Jesus and demanded that it be proven to him personally. Have you ever dared to move beyond what you’ve been taught about Jesus and seek the proof of his existence in your own life? I know I have.

4. John tells us there are many other signs of Jesus “not written in this book” (v. 30). John wrote a lot about Jesus Christ. He even started well ahead of the manger birth and talked about Jesus as “the Word” who existed before creation (see John 1). The rest of his Gospel contains many stories about Jesus’ life on earth as he ministered to people and taught his followers. All of this is more than enough to make a case for Christ, but then John adds, at the very end, that there is so much more! No one, whether in the Bible or in any other theological writing, can encapsulate all of who God is. Our Lord is far greater than we can imagine. Have you ever spent time wondering how much more there is to know about Jesus? I know I have.

John gives us glimpses into the life of Christ—both his eternal life and his earthly life. And here in the final chapter, John affirms that life can be hard, that Jesus brings peace, that it’s okay to question our faith, and that there is so much more to know about Christ. I’m grateful for this honest, encouraging, hopeful ending to the Gospel of John.

Discussion

1. Have you ever wanted to hide from the rest of the world like the disciples did after Jesus’ death? If so, why? What has made you afraid?
2. Has Jesus ever given you the gift of peace? If so, when? How were you able to sense his peace? Was it dependent on your circumstances or did it transcend them?
3. When have you questioned something that another person said about Jesus? What was the result in your walk of faith? Why do you think Jesus granted Thomas his request?
4. What other kinds of stories might there be about Jesus’ life on earth? Why do you think John (and the other Gospel writers) chose the stories we find in their writings?
5. How does this passage encourage and comfort you?

Reference Shelf

Jesus responds to Thomas’s confession: “Because you have seen me in the past and continue to see me [perfect tense], you have believed and continue to believe [perfect tense]” (v. 29a). The verb tenses are appropriate to Thomas’s situation. He had seen Jesus (i.e., prior to Easter) and now he continues to have the experience (i.e., in a resurrection appearance); he, therefore, believed (prior to Easter) and continues to believe (after Easter). Because of his empirical experience, he believes in Jesus who is the same person prior to and after Easter (remember 1 John 4:2: “Every Spirit which confesses Jesus Christ having come and remaining [perfect tense] in flesh is of God”). Continuing to believe in Jesus is the desired aim. Thomas has done so because of his empirical experience, but there are others who will not have such experience and yet need to believe (remember 17:20: “those who believe in me through their word”; 1 John 1:3: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us [the eyewitnesses]; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”). The situation is analogous to that described by Rabbi Simeon b. Laqish:

The proselyte is dearer to God than all the Israelites who stood by Mount Sinai. For if all the Israelites had not seen the thunder and the flames and the lightnings and the quaking mountain and the sound of the trumpet they would not have accepted the law and taken upon themselves the kingdom of God. Yet this man has seen none of all these things yet comes and gives himself to God and takes on himself the yoke of the kingdom of God. Is there any who is dearer than this man? (Tanhuma §6 [32a]; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel according to Saint John [London: SPCK, 1958], 478)

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 283.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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