Connections 05.28.2023: Receive the Holy Spirit

John 20:19-31

Our lesson title, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” comes from John 20:22, when Jesus breathes on his frightened disciples and blesses them with a new power that will remain even after he is no longer physically present. They saw him arrested and taken away, one of them denied even knowing him (Jn 18:15-17), and many of them deserted him (see Mk 14:50).

They have many reasons to be afraid now, but instead of berating them for their betrayals, Jesus offers them peace (Jn 18:19, 21), shows them evidence that he really is himself (v. 20), and tells them what to do next (vv. 21-23). His greatest offering is the gift of the Holy Spirit—an advocate, a comforter, a sense of God’s presence that will be with them always.

Upon seeing Jesus’s “hands and his side” (v. 20), those places where his skin was punctured by the cruelty of crucifixion, this group of disciples seems to have no more questions. They rejoice because, presumably, they now recognize Jesus as “the Lord” (v. 20).

Why, then, has the disciple Thomas been labeled the “doubter” over centuries of biblical interpretation? He needs nothing less from Jesus than the other disciples needed in order to believe that this really is his Lord, standing in the flesh before him. He simply has the audacity to state what he needs: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (v. 25). Thomas is even willing to touch this man who has appeared among them; he wants to be sure he is not being fooled the way so many have tried to do with the disciples.

I don’t blame him. I don’t blame any of them for requiring some proof before they believed. Do you? Yes, Jesus expresses a little frustration at their need for such physical proof and blesses those who (like us?) “have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29), but he also grants Thomas his request with kindness and graciousness. Go ahead, Thomas, he says. Look and touch and don’t doubt me any further (v. 27). He offers Thomas peace just like he offered to the others. And Thomas, too, is part of the group who receives the Holy Spirit.

So are we, no matter how much proof we need or how much we sometimes doubt.


• What does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit”?
• Do you feel that you have received the Holy Spirit? How do you know?
• What kinds of lessons have you learned about Thomas? Is he the “doubter” in your mind, or do you view him in a different way?
• Why do you think Thomas has gotten singled out even though he simply wanted the same proof the other disciples received before they believed?
• How can we still reach out and touch Jesus today? How can this help us not to doubt?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.


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