Because of our high view of Scripture, of our accepting the testimony of the Old and New Testaments to being the Word that God spoke first to his prophets and then to his apostles, we may sometimes forget that this Holy Bible isn’t just a Word from God, a Word from heaven, and therefore timeless in the way it has ever addressed humanity from God’s eternal throne; but this Holy Bible is also an historical record of actual people living in actual places here on earth. The Bible presents us not only with God’s Word to man but also with how those women and men responded upon hearing his Word and seeing how he fulfilled that Word before their very eyes.

Last Sunday we celebrated the most wonderful promise and fulfillment of all—the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. And we’re going to linger on that wonder this morning and next week as we ponder a few of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. What we’ll see this morning is how difficult it was for these disciples to grasp not the fact of Jesus’ death, but of his rising from death.

Now that Jesus told his disciples prior to his dying that he was going to die and rise from death is beyond dispute. The Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke which bear witness to and provide a synopsis of many similar events in the life of Jesus—tell of at least three times in which Jesus spoke of his impending death.

  1. The first was after Peter’s confession concerning Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[1] After this profession of faith Matthew notes, “21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”[2] Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that these things might happen but that they must happen for this is why God in Christ came to earth;
  2. Next, after healing a demon-possessed boy that his disciples had been unable to heal,[3] we’re told that when Jesus and his disciples “22 … came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.”[4] Again, Jesus couldn’t have been clearer about what was, without a doubt, going to take place—hence, the disciples’ grief;
  3. And the final time occurred when, “17 …Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’”[5] Again, none of this is presented as a possible Jesus presents it all as written in stone. These are the things that will take place.

So, again, on at least three different occasions prior to his death, Jesus clearly told his disciples not only that he would die but also that he would rise from death on the third day. But, as can happen in the complicated task of communicating, it’s almost as if the disciples stopped listening when they heard him say that he would die. As Matthew states, they “were filled with grief”[6] and Mark and Luke[7] note that they didn’t understand what he meant and they were afraid to ask—which is understandable since he was telling them about something that is difficult to grasp: he was telling them not only that he would die but that he would die and actually rise from death, never to die again! And so at this point it seems they never got beyond understanding that the Jesus whom they loved was going to be condemned to death. They remained in their grief and in their state of wondering what in the world he meant by these words.

Notice, too, how prior to our passage in chapter 20 of John, we’re told that Peter and John ran to the empty tomb upon hearing from Mary Magdalene that Jesus’ body was no longer there. And in verse 9 John adds a parenthetical note stating, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” That Jesus had died on the cross they knew for they had witnessed it. But given that Jesus had told them not only that he would die but also that he would rise from death, how could they not have understood that this was the reason his tomb was empty? For, again, Jesus had told them that this was going to take place. Three times! Therefore not only did the disciples not understand the Scriptures that foretold what God was going to do; not only did they not understand Jesus telling them three times prior to his dying that he would also rise from death; but even after he had, in fact, risen from death, they still didn’t understand. For the life of them, they couldn’t figure out why the tomb was empty. They hadn’t yet connected the dots between Scripture and Jesus’ prophecy and the fulfillment of those prophecies in time—in their time.

But we mustn’t be too hard on the disciples for they were being confronted with the mystery and wonder of eternal God taking on human form that he might place upon himself the sins of humanity that his image-bearers might now become his children by receiving his eternal life. The disciples were being confronted with the mystery not only of the Incarnation, of God taking on human form, but also with the mystery of the cross, of God in Christ dying for those who are his that he might thereby give them grace and eternal life rather than condemnation and wrath. So at this point Jesus’ disciples understood neither the promise nor the fulfillment of this promise in the person of Jesus Christ. They were not yet able to understand and proclaim, “Christ is risen, he is risen, indeed!”

And so in turning to our passage we read how, verse 19, “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!’” Now since Jesus’ resurrected body was a physical body, we needn’t assume that he mysteriously passed through the door, ghostlike. It’s more likely that he miraculously unlocked the door and then walked through it much like when Peter while in jail was awakened by an angel and the iron gate “opened for them by itself, and they went through it.”[8] But more importantly, it was when the disciples were together, fearing for their lives that dear Jesus, holy Jesus, chose to come to them and in so doing transformed their fear into jubilation. And so he entered their midst and pronounced a benediction, a blessing of peace, of God’s shalom, upon them. A blessing for the way he created things to be; a blessing for the way that things ought to be; a blessing for the way only God in Christ could and would restore and make them be once more.

Now that Christ Jesus is God’s peace and came to bring God’s peace to his creation is evident starting from the time of his birth:

Recall when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, praised “the Lord, the God of Israel, because he [had] come to his people and redeemed them.”[9] And then Zechariah prophesied by the Holy Spirit[10] about how his son would “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”[11] And he ended by proclaiming how Christ Jesus—who at the time Zechariah said these things was still but a baby—had come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”[12] Christ came to restore God’s peace to a world of darkness, a world that had been marred by the Fall;

So, too, the heavenly host that appeared with the angel praised God in the presence of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night and proclaimed in their presence, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”[13] Again, God in Christ came to earth to bring God’s peace; to bring his peace;

And dear Simeon, “righteous and devout saint who was waiting for the consolation of Israel”[14] taking baby Jesus “28…in his arms…praised God, saying: 29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’” Now that Simeon had seen the Christ child, he could die in peace knowing that the Prince of Peace had, at last, arrived;

And when he grew up Jesus himself taught his disciples about who he was and why he came. After teaching them that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one is able to come to the Father but through him,[15] he went on to explain how the Holy Spirit he would give would help them and be with them forever.[16] And having taught them about God’s triune love, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”[17] Christ came that we might know and trust him and thereby know and experience the peace he brings;

And Jesus, after teaching his disciples about his being the vine[18]—and how the world would hate them as it had hated him first[19]—again taught them how when the Holy Spirit, the Advocate came, he would testify about Jesus as they themselves must.[20] And Jesus didn’t mince words but let them know that they would be persecuted and that Jesus himself must go to the Father for unless he went, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, could not come to prove the world wrong about righteousness, judgment, and sin. Yet this Advocate would guide the disciples in all truth[21] and their grief would turn into joy.[22] And after sharing these matters with his beloved disciples, Jesus went on to say to them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[23] In the midst of a troubled world, all who love and follow Christ, can nonetheless know and share his peace;

And Jesus, when he healed a woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,”[24] whom no one could heal,[25] bestowed his peace upon her, saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”[26] For Jesus, the Prince of Peace,[27] brought the peace of God—which is to say he brought his peace—wherever he went.

So as we fast-forward to our morning’s passage, we can see that Jesus had taught his disciples about his death and resurrection—and they didn’t get it; he had taught his disciples about the peace he would bring—and they didn’t get it. But Jesus, being ever patient with those whom he loves, continued to teach them about his peace upon rising from death. And they needed his peace for they were in danger; they needed his peace for they were afraid. And what better way of reassuring them, of bestowing his peace upon them, than by showing them the wounds he suffered at his crucifixion? And so, verse 20, after bestowing his peace upon them, “he showed them his hands and side.” Now at one level this seems a rather gruesome thing for Jesus to do. Why did he have to show them the place where the nails had been driven into his hands? And the place where the spear had wounded his side? He did this that they might know that it was he; he did this that they might know that the very Jesus they had known and loved; the very Jesus who had suffered and died; was the very Jesus who now stood before them. And with that their fear was dispelled and they experienced his peace for when “[t]he disciples…saw the Lord” they “were overjoyed.” Their joy knew no bounds; their cups overflowed with the joy of seeing Jesus again, in the flesh, standing before them, still bearing the wounds he had had inflicted upon his body, a body that was now alive; a body that would never die again.

And so for a second time, Jesus blessed them with those beautiful words, verse 21, “Peace be with you!” The first offer of peace had been to disciples in fear; this offer of peace confirmed and added to their delight. But this second offer of peace had a condition attached: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And so he commissioned them by breathing upon them and saying, verse 22, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now this wasn’t the fulfillment of his promise to send an Advocate which was later fulfilled at Pentecost,[28] but rather this was but a foretaste to this and the means by which Jesus passed on the baton, giving his disciples the very authority he himself had, to proclaim and share the truth of the Gospel. Notice verse 23: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus had commissioned his disciples to proclaim the truth that forgiveness for sins is found in Christ alone. That those who believe in Jesus have forgiveness for their sins; and those who do not believe in Jesus do not.

These were the very instructions Jesus had given his disciples prior to his death. In chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel we’re told how Jesus taught his disciples what they should do when a brother or sister sinned—namely, they were to go and point out their fault in order to win them over. Yet if the brother or sister didn’t listen, then they were to take one or two others to encourage them to turn from their sin; and if they still didn’t respond, then they were to tell it to the church, cutting them from fellowship in the hope that such a great loss would lead them to repent.[29] And at the end of this teaching, Jesus stated, “18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus’ disciples are given God’s authority to continue his teaching and ministry and this includes disciplining those believers who turn away from the teaching God has provided in his word. For restoration to fellowship with God and others is always the goal. Therefore believers are called not only to discipline but also to extend forgiveness in the name of God—which is the very thing Jesus went on to tell the disciples when Peter, upon hearing Jesus’ teaching, asked how many times they ought to forgive. Jesus’ answer? Seventy-times-seven times[30] if need be. We are called to forgive for this is how in Christ God has forgiven us.[31] Therefore we are to go and do likewise.

Well, what a difference a day makes! The disciples who had been fearful and tearful over Jesus’ crucifixion and death, were now overjoyed because they were coming to the realization of what Jesus meant when he had told them not only that he would die but also that he would live, that he would rise from death. And now here he was, the very Jesus who had suffered and died on the cross; the very Jesus who had his hands and side pierced, blessing them with his peace and commissioning them to continue his work on earth as it is in heaven.

Now poor Thomas, unfortunately, wasn’t present when all of this took place, verse 24. Therefore “the other disciples,” of course, told him, verse 25: “We have seen the Lord!” And in an echo to Jesus’ having shown the others his hands and side, Thomas replied to their amazing and wonderful good news by stating, “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.” So at this point it’s clear that Thomas was where the other disciples had been prior to seeing their risen Lord. Thomas believed that Jesus had died but he did not yet believe that Jesus was alive.

Well, a week passed and the disciples, this time including Thomas, verse 26, were gathered together. And, once again, “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” And we aren’t surprised to hear what he again proclaims to them: “Peace be with you!” This was now the third time our risen Lord extended his peace to his disciples. And though Jesus wasn’t present when Thomas declared that he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail marks in his hands and was able to put his finger where the nails were and his hand on Jesus’ side, Jesus, being God, knew that Thomas had said these things. And so he now kindly condescended to Thomas’ avowal as he turned to him and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” What a beautiful and touching offer this was. Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to help his dear disciple believe that he was alive. We don’t know whether or not Thomas complied but we do know that he now believed for he professed his faith in the risen Christ, verse 28, saying “My Lord and my God!”

What a difference a week makes! Thomas had now gone from doubting to believing; from uncertainty to confidence; from fear to faith; from sadness to joy. This is the journey all must go to believe in Christ. And Jesus went on to encourage all who believe in him, even those who have never physically seen him, in saying to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Do you hear what Jesus is saying? All who have lived since the time Christ lived and professed their faith in him are blessed. Dear sisters and brothers, we are blessed for we have not seen yet have believed. As Peter similarly writes in his letter, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”[32] We, too, are recipients of this inexpressible and glorious joy; for we, too, are the recipients of the peace God extends through his Son, Jesus Christ, and sends by his Holy Spirit who seals[33] and indwells us.[34]

John closes the chapter by noting starting in verse 30, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.” Brothers and sisters, this is what the Gospel is about; this is why the Gospel writers took such care to carefully record what Jesus said and did. Jesus was and is the Messiah; Jesus was and is the Christ; Jesus was and is the Son of God. And what he desires, the reason why he came, is to give us eternal life. And the only price for receiving that eternal life is to believe in his name; to believe that he is who he proclaimed to be in word and deed. The only price for receiving the eternal life Jesus Christ offers is to turn from our ways to his ways; to turn from sin to holiness; to exchange our mortal lives for his eternal life. Life in him is why he made us; eternal life with him is what he offers any who believe not only that he once lived and died; but that he rose from death and thereby confirmed that God had accepted the offering of his life for ours. For our Lord Jesus Christ destroyed death by rising from death and so demonstrated that death had no hold on  him; he destroyed death that we might live not only now but forever with him.

This is the peace that he, the Prince of Peace, offers;[35] this peace with him and each other is the blessing he extends; this is the benediction he gives.

Let us pray.

[1] Matthew 16:16. See also Mark: 8:29; Luke 9:20.

[2] Matthew 16:21. See also Mark 8:31: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.; Luke 9:22: And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

[3] Matthew 17:14–20.

[4] Matthew 17:22–23. See also Mark 9:31–32: he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.; Luke 9:44–45: 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

[5] Matthew 20:17–19. See also Mark 10:32–34: 32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”; Luke 18:31–33: 31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

[6] Matthew 17:22–23.

[7] Mark 9:32: But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.; Luke 9:45: 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

[8] Acts 12:10.

[9] Luke 1:68.

[10] Luke 1:67.

[11] Luke 1:76.

[12] Luke 1:79

[13] Luke 2:14.

[14] Luke 2:25.

[15] John 14:6.

[16] John 14:16.

[17] John 14:27.

[18] John 15:1-17.

[19] John 15:18–25.

[20] John 15:26–27.

[21] John 16:1–15.

[22] John 16:16–32.

[23] John 16:33.

[24] Mark 5:25.

[25] Luke 8:43.

[26] Mark 5:34. A parallel account may be found in Luke 8:48: Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

[27] Jesus is the fulfillment of the well-known prophecy found in Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

[28] See Acts 2 which fulfills the prophecy found in Joel 2.

[29] Matthew 18:15–17: : 15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

[30] Matthew 18:21–22: 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

[31] Ephesians 5:32: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

[32] 1 Peter 1:8–9.

[33] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

[34] I Corinthians 6:19–20: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

[35] Paul also teaches that peace is one of the fruit of the spirit given by the Holy Spirit Christ sends. See Galatians 5:22–23: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.