13 April 2024

Behind closed doors

Captain Luke Johnson

Captain Luke Johnson considers how Thomas moved from doubt to certainty.

Key text

I think that, as adults, we often forget how much joy and wonder children can experience. Our four-year-old is at that stage where he is continually discovering new things. His learning and growing is coming through a series of revelations – including how to use an iPad.

John 20 starts with the revelation of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. The followers of Jesus are discovering something that is completely beyond their comprehension. One of the most striking things is the fear that grips the disciples. They shut themselves away. I imagine them hanging a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door. They are together, unified in fear and stuck behind the closed doors of disorientation and disappointment.

Pause and reflect

  • What is it that causes you to want to run away and hide?
  • Why are we sometimes fearful of what’s ‘out there’?
  • Do we sometimes shut ourselves away in our halls, fuelled by fear of the unknown or unexpected outcomes?

Suddenly, the scene changes. Jesus arrives among the frightened disciples in the locked room and utters the words: ‘Peace be with you!’ (v19). The resurrected Jesus is right there.

Even when they are trying to keep the religious leaders out, Jesus makes a way to reveal himself. Just imagine what would it have been like to be in that room. It is utterly astonishing. Jesus shows the disciples the marks on his body. It’s almost as though Jesus is saying: ‘Look, it really is me.’ The fear expressed in verse 19 turns to joy in verse 20. They have seen the Lord.

Then, Jesus gives the disciples three important instructions. First, they are to be a sent people. There comes a time when the huddle needs to unlock the door, trust God for the next step and take the revelation of Jesus they’ve experienced into the world. The disciples may well have thought: ‘How do we do this?’

A photo shows someone touching a window.

John 20:22

And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'

Read John 20

Second, the disciples are to receive the Holy Spirit. As Tom Wright in his commentary John for Everyone observes, the disciples need the Holy Spirit ‘to enable them to do the job they could otherwise never dream of doing’. Without this life-giving power of God, they might as well stay in that locked room.

Third, followers of Jesus are to be people of forgiveness. At the start of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist declared that Jesus was the one who would forgive sins (see 1:29). Those who follow Jesus are to do the same – reveal the forgiveness offered by Jesus to whosoever.

Pause and reflect

  • Can you think of a time when Jesus changed your fear to joy?
  • In what situations do you need the Holy Spirit’s power?

One way of thinking about revelation is when something previously unknown becomes known. The disciples tell Thomas they’ve seen the Lord. Thomas missed that appearance. We are not told why. Therefore, Thomas has a choice – to believe his friends or to look for more evidence. Put yourself in Thomas’s shoes for a moment. What do you think your response would be?

In verse 25, we read that Thomas wants certainty. However, Thomas must wait a whole week to find out whether the revelation shared by the disciples is true. Will he accept their testimony? Dare he believe that Jesus has really revealed himself – that Jesus is really alive?

Pause and reflect

  • Are we comfortable in asking our own questions about Jesus?
  • How would you finish this prayer? ‘Lord, help me to see…’

In verse 26, we discover a similar scene to the first part of the passage in verse 19. This time, Thomas is in the room with the other disciples. Once again, Jesus appears and it’s the turn of Thomas to see Jesus and to hear him say: ‘Peace be with you!’ (v26).

Jesus knows the doubts and questions that Thomas has. He invites Thomas to touch him and to see that he is indeed the resurrected Christ: ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side’ (v27).

Once again, the scene has shifted. The disbelief of ‘unless I see … I will not believe’ (v25) has been replaced by a declaration of faith: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (v28).

In everyday conversation, people sometimes describe a person as a ‘doubting Thomas’ – generally in a negative way. Yet Thomas is the first person in John’s Gospel who looks at Jesus and addresses him as ‘my God’.

My own experience has shown me that, even when I cannot understand it all, doubts, questions and difficulties can lead to a deepening of faith in Jesus.

Maybe his words in verse 29 remind us that each person’s experience of the revelation of Jesus is different – no two journeys are the same. Jesus accepts each one of us in his all-embracing love.

Pause and reflect

  • Can you think of a time when your doubts and questioning have led to a deepening of faith?
  • What might it mean for you to hear Jesus say ‘peace be with you’?

These post-resurrection appearances of Jesus encourage us to seek him for ourselves. May we all be open to seeing the continuing revelation of God in our lives and in the lives of those we journey alongside.

My prayer is that this will take us beyond locked rooms of fear and doubt and out into spaces where we, in freedom, share the amazing love of Jesus.

Bible study by

A photo of Luke Johnson.

Captain Luke Johnson

Corps Officer, Minster

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