Easter sermons have been preached, blogs written, and triumphant music played and sung. It seems time we now move to the next liturgical celebration. We turn the page, but is there really any other?
The narrative in John 20:19-29 sticks in my post-Easter mind. The resurrected Jesus does not stand at the door and knock. He appears without an open door in the middle of the disciples. He does not wait for anyone inside to let Him in. What He brings is much too important to leave in the hands of the human will to decide and open the door. Instead, He appears in the Upper Room and surprises the fearful disciples with His presence. His message is short but profound: “Peace be with you.”
This is not just the common Hebrew greeting of, “Shalom!” He has ascended to the Father and received the Father’s word: “Tell them there is now Shalom between humanity and divinity. The debt has been paid. Nothing is owed. Instead, tell them how rich they really are.” That is why He storms in with the news: “You were condemned by your lives, now you are justified by my death.” His announcement and this event are parsed by Paul a few decades later: He “was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised up because of our being declared righteous. Having been declared righteous, then, by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:25-5:1 YTL).
With this declaration of peace, Jesus was telling His disciples, “Because I died for you, you are now justified.” And here is the proof, here is the evidence: “the scars on my hands, and the wound on my side. I have resurrected to let you know: you are now justified before God. Through my shed blood, you are now at Shalom with God.”
Jesus the Christ was not resurrected so that He could look around and see who merited justification and who did not, who was keeping the law and who was not. He was resurrected to testify that His death accomplished what divinity had set out to do: justify humanity. The disciples’ reaction is evidence that they heard Christ’s announcement with faith: they “rejoiced, having seen the Lord.” He tells them that as the Father sent Him to witness to their justification, so He sends them to give witness of their justification through His death. By believing, they have Him, the peace of God.
Then Jesus the Creator performs an act of creation on their behalf. “He breathed on them” (John 20:22). He did what? Yes. He breathed on them. In Greek grammar, this verb form enephysēsen (breathed) has an outlandish name. It’s a hapaxlegomenon. This means nothing more than that the verb form is found only once in the New Testament. However, it is found in the book of Genesis. When the Greek translators were working on translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint), they came to Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” There they found the Hebrew verb naphach (to breathe, to blow). How did they translate it? They used the same Greek verb, enephysēsen, John would use later in his Gospel to describe Jesus breathing on the disciples. Do we dare think in Upper Room terms? As in Genesis 2:7, the Creator breathed into Adam the Spirit’s breath of life, now He breathes on the disciples the Spirit’s breath of eternal life on account of their justification! From now on, the justified breathe the breath of eternal life! Not even death can take it away. It is ours to keep. Forever. It is truly the greatest gift of the Spirit.
The Shalom we receive from Christ through His death is a breathing peace; it is nothing but His breath of eternal life. No wonder the apostles rightly called Jesus “our peace” (Eph. 2:14). What Jesus was announcing in the Upper Room to His disciples is that the angels’ song had now been fulfilled: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14). Shortly before His death, also in the Upper Room, He had told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus’ post-resurrection announcement in the Upper Room “Peace be with you,” is the actual fulfillment of this peace. That is why it is a peace given “not as the world gives” but as He gives, through His justifying death. The peace that the world attempts to give is justification through works, through a constant struggle toward satisfying the Law’s call for moral perfection, which is nothing but unending warfare.
But Thomas was missing. He literally missed out. Thomas had been a no show in that Upper Room experience. Thomas, “the Twin,” for that is the actual meaning of his name. Thomas, the doubter. The one who most needed to hear the announcement had missed it. Isn’t that the way it is? When you preach, or teach, or hear a great sermon, there’s always that one person you wish had been there to hear it. He showed up late. But when he did show up, his faith was still a no show. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Can you imagine the disciples? They had just witnessed the greatest event of all human history, touched the resurrected Christ, received His peace, breathed His living breath, and this guy won’t believe? Try to imagine what it was like living with Thomas for those eight days recorded in John 20:26. Day after day, they must have recounted the events of the Upper Room. Thomas’ only response was, “Unless I see and feel for myself, I won’t believe.” Come on, Thomas.
One long week later, the scene is replayed. All are now there, this time they’ve managed to keep Tom inside. They keep recounting the events. Tom is still on denial. Suddenly, again, sans an open door, Jesus irrupts into Tom’s unbelief and places His very body right before it. Incredibly, Jesus repeats the same words of “Peace be with you” to the unbelieving Tom. The message is the same to those of faith and to those who doubt: “Through my death, you have been justified. You deserved death and condemnation. But I took your death upon my death. Tom, I took your unbelief and died as an unbeliever on your behalf. Therefore, you have peace with God. Tom, you are justified, and here is the evidence. Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” God gives no other proof to unbelief. Only His resurrected body which says, “Do not be faithless, but believing.” To all agnostic and atheistic objections to the existence of God, to all of reason’s protests to the cross and to Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of sinners, to all the why’s of human tragedy and suffering, to all the doubts about our worthiness before God, the answer is still the same: “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”
Thomas (the Twin) exclaimed before the evidence of Christ’s wounds and scars, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus looked forward to the centuries to come and finds us also in our unbelief. I’ve often wondered what happened to Tom’s twin. Aren’t twins supposed to look alike, think alike? How come he wasn’t called? How come he wasn’t a disciple? Think again. Take a selfie. Enlarge the picture. There’s the other twin, staring back at you and me. There is our unbelief. Yet Jesus’ words reach out to us as well, “Peace be with you. Regardless of your unbelief, you too have been justified. You may now breathe the Spirit’s eternal breath of life. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
After Easter, there’s no other page.