From John 20:
19-20 Later on that Resurrection day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were awestruck. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
24-25 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing” (John 20:19-29 Message).
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This Easter—just a few days ago—I became fascinated with a phrase from this narrative.
“But Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”
Where Was He?
Maybe he had momentarily run to get a cup of coffee. Or perhaps he needed to check on his family. Could it be he just needed to get away—maybe go to that place in mountains where Jesus had taken His disciple on retreat. It couldn’t have been too far—there had not been time to travel any distance.
Twenty-four hours before this gathering of the disciples, they had all fled—scattered from the authorities and killers of Jesus and scattered from each other. There is the possibility that Thomas didn’t get the memo that a get together was scheduled. Wherever he was, “he was not with them.”
What Was He Doing?
The truth would sink in: My world has changed, and there is no repair shop that can make it like it was.
Wherever Thomas was and whatever else he was doing he was doing what you are doing—grieving, mourning and…
Wherever he went, would you guess he just needed to sort things out? Grieve privately? Try to figure out what he was to do, now? Now that his life had upended and the One to whom he had given his allegiance, future and dreams was gone? He was wondering what was left.
Did I do something wrong? Did I miss clues and red flags? Could I have done things differently?
Having spent 2-3 years with Jesus, what would he be remembering? He surely would remember the trip to Lazarus’ funeral. All the other disciples had tried to talk Jesus out of going. Thomas had been the one to encourage him—“We’ll go and face down your enemies or we will die with you,” he had said.
He would have remembered when Jesus had told them he was going away. We have the story in John 14:1-6
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
What Caused Him to Return?
I don’t think this disciple had walked away from faith. As far as he knew, the reason for and the center of his faith had left—there was nothing left. It had vanished when Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Some Bible scholars say the other disciples knew where Thomas was hanging out and went to check on him. I heard a man tell his story the other day as he celebrated a family who came looking for him when he was trying to find his way from addiction. Thank God for those who come looking for us.
During that visit, the Bible Writer says the visitors said, “We saw the Master.”
Those words sound so academic, sterile. “Oh, by the way, The Master stopped by.” There isn’t even an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence in John 20—“We saw the Master.” I doubt it was like that at all. It would have been the first thing out of their mouths. It would have been loud and packed with emotion—lots of exclamation marks!
Don’t you think Thomas would have done a confused and dazed “Say what?” It would have taken a minute to assess that news. “What did he say? What did he do? From the beginning—tell me everything!”
“He said ‘Peace be to you…twice. He gave us His peace—twice.”
Jesus’ “Peace to you,” was not a unique way of saying, “Hi, Guys.” He was giving them peace to replace their present fear. They were hiding in fear. Jesus said, “Peace.” He may have been saying “shalom” with a specific application to the moment and their state of mind.
The Greek word Jesus uses means, quietness, rest, + set at one again—it is designated as God’s gift of wholeness—“when all essential parts are joined together.”
Turmoil, mental and emotional fragmentation can be a natural part of fear, mourning, grieving, stress. Nothing fits, all the old patterns and templates that had worked are questionable. Upheaval threatens to become the new norm. But God’s gift is wholeness. He puts the pieces together.
Apostle John tells us that Jesus was preaching a hard message and the crowd started walking out. Not just one here and there, but hundreds or thousands at a time.
“So Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go. You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68).
Occasionally God zaps us with Peace or floods us with peace, but usually it comes to us in seed-like words or events.
I was told this story by the main characters. Grandmother knew how to bake desserts and sweets which made going to her house a great adventure. The grandkids don’t get many sweets at home, but it’s a different story at the Grandparent’s house. A few days ago, Grandmother died. This time going to her house was different, no cookies or cakes, but lots of questions. “How come Grandma is not here? Why did she get sick?” For starters.
A couple of days ago, the grandmother’s son, his wife and their young children went into a convenience store and while there, the little boy acquired a snack. They took it to the counter—the young clerk came around the counter knelt to look the boy in the eye and talk to him. As the clerk placed the snack into a sack, he told the little boy his own story of his age.
When in the car, they opened the sack and found not only the sack of snacks but suckers. Six big, extraordinary suckers. The Mom asked where the suckers came from. Since no one knew, Daddy thought they should be paid for. He took them back into the store and told the clerk about the mysterious suckers. No one in the store knew anything about them. None had placed them in the sack. There were no winks—every clerk claimed total ignorance of where they came from including the young fellow who shared his own story.
There were 6 of those super suckers.
The young father and mother immediately knew where they came from! They were the kind of sucker that Grandma would buy. And there was one for her grandson, one for her granddaughter, one for Mom, one for Daddy, one for Grandpa and one for an important Uncle.
They may have been super suckers, but they mostly were peace seeds—words of eternal life—to speak to the grieving hearts and fragmented minds. A message from Grandma and a gift of wholeness from God.
Apostle Paul describes the peace—God’s gift of wholeness when nothing fits together:
“And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus….” (Philippians 4:6).
The disciples described that evening and that Jesus suddenly appeared in the room, one of the disciples said to Thomas, “Then he showed us his hands and his side.” (20:21)
It was not a doubting or impudent Thomas, but a stunned Thomas who said something like, “Well, if he showed you his hands and side, I should see them also.”
It was 2000 plus years ago last Sunday night—
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” 27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
“This time Thomas was with them”
I wonder if Jesus was looking at Thomas when He said, “Peace to you.” Did Jesus repeat the ordination and promises and authorization?
Thomas had questions; Jesus had answers. There was no ridicule or judging or eye-rolling. Jesus made room and opportunity for questions and wonderings—the “Why’s” and “Howcomes?” And he still does! And that is the most important point of this narrative. Jesus gave Thomas His presence and attention, not just answers. That brought peace, joy, hope, direction. Presence!
We have no video evidence that Thomas took Jesus up on the offer to touch his hands and side. We do know what he said…
“My Lord, my God.”
That was not a cognitive declaration. Thomas was not saying, “You’ve convinced me.” It was not just mental assent. We have no description of this disciple falling onto his knees before Jesus, but it seems probable.
For a couple of weeks, I have tried to ascertain what all Thomas meant with his proclamation. I have a clue. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy met Soviet Leader Khrushchev for the Vienna Summit. Kennedy wanted to challenge the Russians to a “Peace Race” rather than an “Arms Race.” Khrushchev was impressed with Kennedy’s preparation for their talks but had no interest in the proposal. He seemed to be committed to a nuclear subjugation of the USA. Given the President’s goals and hopes, the Vienna Summit had been a failure. President Kennedy was described as despondent.
On the long flight home, JFK wrote a paraphrase of a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“I know there is a God. I can see the storm is coming. If He has a plan for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready.”
The Sunday night altar surrenders, and dedications are so important. This goes beyond. At some point we must establish the pattern of “My Lord, my God—whatever your plan for me, I am ready.” For Thomas the frequent “My Lord, My Master, My God” led to India.
The next step, next season, next “next” depends on the response–“My Master, my God.”
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
(c)2022 D. Dean Benton –A specialist in wondering.