“Stop Doubting” / John 20:19-31

This morning we are reading a familiar passage. The time is Easter Sunday afternoon. Let’s remember – one week ago, these followers of Jesus were happy to be associated with him. It’s great be with a winner, right?

But things went terribly wrong.

  1. First, Jesus upset the authorities by turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.
  2. Then he blasts the religious authorities to their face.
  3. During the Passover meal, Jesus tells his disciples he won’t be eating with them again until after they get to heaven.
  4. They go to the Garden of Gethsemane, but as they are praying together, one of their own shows up with soldiers and betrays Jesus!
  5. Things really begin to unravel, and they all run away.
  6. Peter, the one who said he would fight to the death with Jesus, denies he ever knew him.
  7. By Friday, Jesus is being executed between two criminals, and is buried in a borrowed grave.
  8. Then on Sunday, the women tell the disciples about the tomb being empty.

Now, they are huddled together in a locked room, afraid that the Jewish authorities will send a delegation to arrest them as well.

Let us try our best to put ourselves in that room, Sunday evening. How are you feeling? Sad? Angry? In a state of disbelief or denial?

Let’s read our passage this morning, beginning with John 20:19-23: 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!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now, let’s be frank – if you are Jesus, what is the first thing you are going to say? I thought so – this is proof that we are not like Christ.

“Thanks a lot! Where did you guys go? I was left alone! And you, Peter, you said you would fight to the death! You even denied me three times!”

Pretty accurate, right? And what does Jesus say to these terrified men? “Peace be with you.”

The first words from our Savior and Lord are “Peace be with you.” By appearing, Jesus does two things: First, his greeting of “Peace” calms their fears; second, he assures them of his identity, and he offers them proof that he is alive.

In Luke’s account, Jesus tells them, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

The disciples are overjoyed! Not only to see their friend again, but also to realize that he was undefeated by death and that his claims were validated.

We also learn something about the resurrection body. First, Jesus is not bothered by locked doors. The resurrection body has properties different from our earthly bodies. On the other hand, it is not a mist or ghost-like. There is a definite link between the physical body of Jesus’ earthly career and the new body since his hands and side still showed the scars that identified him.

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

Jesus repeats the greeting “Peace” to reassure them of his presence. Next, he renews their commission as his disciples. Obviously, if there had been no Resurrection, there would have been little motive for them to undertake a mission in his name. But since he had been raised, their commitment was even more compelling. “As the Father has sent me,” he said, “I am sending you.”

Jesus had come into the world to fulfill the Father’s purpose and had completed his task. Now he expected them to continue his work in his absence. Obviously, things have been working, since Jesus expects us to complete his work in his absence. In order that they might be empowered to fulfill that mission, Jesus breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit. The mission and its success are linked to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Gee, sounds familiar! This is the reason we pray for the Holy Spirit to help us whenever we can. This is the reason I pray that, when I preach, the words are from God and not from me.

I need to make some comments on verse 23: If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Needless to say, this has been cause for some confusion over the centuries. Literally, the sentence reads, “Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven.”

Without getting into the Greek, the second verb implies a condition that began before the action of the first verb.

Bottom line? God does not forgive a person’s sins because WE decide to do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because WE will not grant it. We announce it; we do not create it. This is the essence of salvation.

I can proclaim it, which I do every Sunday after we confess our sin. But essentially, it depends on whether or not you receive that forgiveness. When I proclaim it, do you receive and accept it?

God is offering it – what is your response?

Recall that there was one other disciple who was not there – let’s continue, John 20:24-29: Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Why are we so hard on Thomas? How many of us have used, or been the target of the well-known epithet, “doubting Thomas”?

On the other hand, think about this: how many disciples stayed with Jesus when he was arrested?

Remember that Peter, who a few hours earlier was full of fury, denied him. From what we know, John was the only one at the cross. None of the eleven went to the tomb on their own. When Jesus suddenly appeared, of course they believed, but it seems they had as much as disbelief as Thomas until that time.

Something else to consider – why was Thomas with them the second time? Maybe it was because of the witness of the other ten. They had gone to Thomas with the news, and because of this, Thomas came back. Even though he still did not believe it, he was there.

Let me say something here about Hillcrest Church. Perhaps there are some here today who, at one time or another, left our fellowship, for whatever reason. But after being away, you came back.

It might have been because someone called you, or saw you, and asked you to come back. Someone said to you, “Hey, things are going great, or whatever, and you should come back.” Maybe there is someone out there whose name has been placed on your heart by God. Like those who reached out to Thomas, reach out to that person and invite them back to the fellowship.

We all know the story – Thomas was somewhat pessimistic, based on earlier episodes. The disciples tell him they have seen Jesus, and his response? “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.”

One week later, Thomas is with them, and Jesus appears again. But nothing less than physical evidence will ever convince Thomas. Do you suppose Thomas was surprised when Jesus repeated his words? Gosh, how did he know that?

Notice also, Jesus does not scold Thomas for his doubts, but challenges him to make the test he had suggested. Essentially, Jesus’ words can be translated, “Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer.” Thomas was on the road to unbelief, and Jesus gave him a different road to follow

Thomas’ response: “My Lord and my God.”

Remember this – for a Jew like Thomas to call another human “my Lord and my God” is incredible.

For a Jew, the deification of anyone was regarded as blasphemy. Thomas, in light of the resurrection, gives Jesus two titles, Lord and God, both of which are titles of deity.

In one sentence, this so-called “doubting Thomas” declares the true identity of Christ – fully human, fully divine.

Jesus commends Thomas for his declaration, and yet in the same sentence he does something else – he commends us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now, who do you suppose that is?

My friends, what did Jesus say to Thomas? “Stop doubting and believe.”


When I stood up here a few minutes ago and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven…” Did you believe what I said?

After the Gloria Patri, when we prayed to ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, and open our ears and minds, did you believe what we said?

Last week, when you sang, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” did you believe it? Did you mean what you sang?

When we read about the appearance of the risen Christ, did you think to yourself, “Oh, what a nice story…” Or did you believe what you heard?

When Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed….” do you really, really, believe it? Or are you still doubting?

Let’s finish – John 20:30-31: 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.

These two verses summarize the strategy, the subject, and the purpose of the gospel. Basically, John is telling us that he chose only a few signs to make his point. None of the gospel writers intended to give an hour-by-hour account of the life of Christ. The gospels were not intended to be biographies of Jesus, they are meant to be appeals to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Their aim is not to give information, but life.

Elsewhere, John writes that, if he included all the things Jesus did, the whole world would not have room for all the books! And the subject? Of course, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

For us today, this is obvious, but to his Jewish audience in the first century, it needed to be said

John is saying to them, and to any doubters today, “This is the Messiah!”

And the purpose? “That by believing, you may have life in his name”

Have you seen Jesus?

Maybe emotionally, or certainly spiritually, but most likely, not in the flesh like Thomas did. Thomas, forever branded a doubter, saw the risen Christ in the flesh and believed.

Today, this morning, Jesus wants to bless me and you.

Do you want to be blessed by God himself?

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Stop doubting and believe.