You Are My Lord and My God

Easter 2 A, B and C

John 20: 19 31

Introduction

This reading is set down for the second Sunday of Easter, or alternatively called, the first Sunday after Easter and is always the same text every year. The commentary below is followed by a series of Additional Readings which give added clarity to the Easter events.

Notes On Our Text

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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

The account of Jesus appearing to his disciples begins with a clear indication that it is still Easter Day. All that follows is tied very closely to the Easter event.

By the time St. John wrote this Gospel, near the end of the first century, Sunday was beginning to be celebrated more formally as the special time for Christians to meet (like this occasion, after work).

At this late afternoon meeting, the disciples locked the doors for fear of the Jewish authorities. In John's Gospel, the reference to "Jews" almost always applies to the antagonistic authorities;  not to the Jewish people. "Jesus came and stood among them.." Notice he did not just suddenly appear. He came, and said to them "Peace", (He would have been justified in saying, "Where were you all when I needed you!") His greeting is like an absolution. When Jesus speaks peace, there is peace: peace within them and peace around them.

Verses 20 and 21

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

Jesus shows them his wounds before going any further, and they are overjoyed.

Why does Jesus repeat the peace greeting? St. Augustine said to reassure them. A 19th century writer explained that the second peace was, through them, to be passed on to others. Jesus then declares, "In the same way that my Father sent me into the world, so I am sending you out into the world". These words are to be taken in the fullest sense. God sent Jesus to teach his doctrine, to gather out a flock, to pasture and feed that flock and to give each member of it the Holy Spirit. As the Father instructed the Son what to teach (12: 49) , so the Son instructed his disciples (17: 8). If there was one thing likely to be reserved by God, and withheld from mere humans, it was giving the Holy Spirit. Yet they did give it (Acts 8: 15 — 18; 19: 6, 2 Tim 1: 6).

Verses 22 and 23

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

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

As the disciples were to carry out the work of the master, so too they were to be channels of his power, so he breathed on them. This symbolic action fulfilled the expectation of John 1: 33 and the promise of the Paraclete. In the Greek original, the word for "breathed" is the same as used in Genesis 2: 7 and Ezekiel 37: 9 in the Greek version of the Old Testament. (This, until the 4th century, was the version the early Church used as its base text rather than the Hebrew). So the connection between God's breathing life into the first man, life into dry bones, and new life into the disciples, is clearly evident.

With the gift of the Spirit, Jesus directs how it is to be used: in the active demonstration of God's mercy and loving kindness! This can only be done through the agency of the Holy Spirit within, making the disciples Jesus' ambassadors. To those who respond, the forgiveness is assured. But to those who refuse, their sins remain unforgiven.

Special Note on Chapter 20: 22 23

Confusion can arise if we try to harmonise these verses and Pentecost in Acts into a chronological arrangement. This is the Apostle St. John's interpretation of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Christian community, as Pentecost is St. Luke's interpretation of the same experience. For John, the Resurrection, Ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit all take place on one and the same Easter Sunday. This need not be seen to conflict with Luke's portrayal of Ascension and Pentecost separated from Easter by fifty days. What John is emphasising so very strongly is the intimate connection of the Resurrection with the animation of the Church by the Spirit, (see 1 Corinthians 15: 45). This is the essential message.

Verses 24 and 25

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

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 it."

Thomas, who had been absent from the Sunday evening meeting, was briefed by the others as to what happened. Understandably, Thomas outlines the condition on which he would believe the testimony of his fellow disciples. After all, they had the chance first to see Jesus' wounds (v 20). Thomas is very emphatic: "I will not believe it!"

Verses 26 28

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!"

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."

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

A week later Thomas is present when the disciples gather. Again Jesus appears and this time speaks to Thomas: (literally) "Do not be unbelieving but believing". In other words, "Thomas, put aside the world's conditions for believing and allow all I have taught you to come alive and take over your mind and heart. Then you will be able to truly believe".

This Thomas does instantly, and he accords Jesus with the most sublime acclamation ever made to him from human lips. "You are Adonai Eloheinu". (You are the Lord, the God of me). Three times daily this devout Jew recited the most central prayer of Judaism from the Torah:

Sh'ma Yishrael. Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad.

The Lord (is) Our God, The Lord is (the) One.

The Apostle would not have used Yahweh as this was whispered only once a year in the Holy of Holies. But Thomas meant:

"You are Yahweh Elohim. You are my Lord, even my God", echoing Psalm 61: 1. This is the climax of St. John's Gospel. The Spirit is actively at work in the infant Church.

Verses 29 31

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Thomas' acclamation is warmly received by Jesus. The acclamation of disciples who have not seen Jesus will move Heaven even more so. The Spirit continues to be at work in the Church today seeking to empower similar acts of faith and love in those who will place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit. So with an open heart let us ask for and be open to receive the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

A Final Beatitude from Jesus for us:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

(The remainder of the Gospel was added by the writer some time later.)

Aided by the Spirit of Truth, Thomas was able to respond to Jesus' words: Stop doubting and believe.

His response has remained one of the most common prayers on the lips of Christ's disciples ever since.

The meaning is clear to those who wish to be his disciples:

Through the Holy Spirit we too can proclaim Jesus to be Lord, and this is what will be needed, if the world is to be able to believe.

Let us go forth and proclaim it with power that those who believe may also share in the Life of the risen Christ.

Additional Readings

The 13 verses are the subject of many studies and theories. Contemporary scholars provide a mass of helpful commentaries, which are easily accessed by those who wish to study them more deeply. On this site we make available some useful scholarship, which is much harder to find.

The text could be seen to have two parts: 

a) Verses 19 23, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and

b) Verses 24 31, Thomas' incredible mind-shift from scepticism to total belief. We offer some readings for each division in question / answer format. They are not definitive, they simply offer helpful perspectives.

What is the connection between the Gift of the Holy Spirit in John 20 and Luke's Pentecost in Acts?

Commenting on John 20: 22, Sadler (1886) writes:

The Spirit now given was for the Apostleship. Hitherto they had been, if one may say so, Apostles designate, because Christ was visibly present, and as He Himself worked on all occasions they had little to do in the way of representing Him, but now that He was on the eve of departure they were to supply the need of His visible Presence. So now He saith, "As my Father sent Me, so send I you," and He breathed on them, and saith, as it were "Receive ye the Holy Ghost to fulfil your ministry, as those whom I send to act in My place." This breathing was their full ordination to the Apostolic Office, which is the first of the Gifts of the Spirit to man (1 Cor. 12: 28, Ephes. 4: 11). It appears, then, that by this "breathing" they received the grace of the Holy Spirit to perform all Apostolic duties and functions, such as ruling the Church, appointing and regulating its pastors, government, ordinances, and worship; and, as all the ministry was then contained in them, they received the full grace of the Christian ministry to be in time to come conveyed by them to those whom they ordained to any office or work, as each office required. The Pentecostal gift consisted rather of visible powers, such as the gift of tongues, working of miracles, etc., to enable them to exercise their ministry on the scale, and with the astonishing success, which we read of at the planting of the Church. This breathing, then, betokened a special gift to them as Apostles, whereas the Pentecostal gift was on them and the whole Church, to enable that Church to exhibit the miraculous powers and the fruits of holiness by which it began to subdue the world.

What Does it mean: "He breathed on them"?

Contemporary scholars (e.g. D. A. Carson) suggest verse 22 should be translated as: "And with that he breathed, and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"

A century ago J. C. Ryle wrote an interesting explanation which still has much to offer:

In this verse our Lord proceeds to confer a special gift on the disciples, and, as it were, to ordain them for the great work which He intended them to do. And we have in it a remarkable emblematical action, and a no less remarkable saying.

The action of our Lord, "He breathed on them", one that stands completely alone in the New Testament, and the Greek work is nowhere else used. On no occasion but this do we find the Lord "breathing" on any one. Of course it was a symbolical action, and the only question is, What did it symbolize? and, Why was it used? My own belief is that the true explanation is to be found in the account of man's creation in Genesis. There we read, "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." (Gen.2: 7.) Just as there was no life in man until God breathed into him the breath of life, so I believe our Lord taught his disciples, by this action of breathing on them, that the beginning of all ministerial qualification is to have the Holy Spirit breathed into us; and that, until the Holy Ghost is planted in our hearts, we are not rightly commissioned for the work of the ministry.

I do not however feel sure that this view completely exhausts the meaning of our Lord when He breathed on the disciples. I cannot forget that they had all forsaken their Master the night that He was taken prisoner, fallen away from their profession, and forfeited their title to confidence as Apostles. May we not therefore reasonably believe that this breathing pointed to a revival of life in the hearts of the Apostles, and to a restoration of their privileges as trusted and commissioned messengers, notwithstanding their grievous fall?   I cannot help suspecting that this lesson was contained in the action of breathing. It not only symbolised the infusion for the first time of special ministerial gifts and graces. It also symbolised the restoration to complete power and confidence in their Master's eyes, even after their faith had so nearly breathed its last, and given up the ghost. The first symptom of returning life, when a man is recovered from drowning, is his beginning to breathe again. To set the lungs breathing, in such cases, is the first aim of a skilful doctor.

When we remember that the wind is pre-eminently an emblem of the Holy Ghost (John 3: 8; Ezek. 37: 9; Acts 2: 2), we cannot fail to see that there is a beautiful fitness in the symbolical action, which our Lord has implied.

Lampe thinks our Lord breathed on all the disciples at once, and not on each separately. It is probable that it was so, in my judgement.

Hooker remarks (Eccles. Pol. 6, v. c. 77), "The cause why we breathe not, as Christ did on the disciples unto whom He imparted power, is that neither Spirit not spiritual authority may be thought to proceed from us, who are but delegates and *assigns to give men possession of His grace."

*assigns = people to whom something is transferred.

Did Thomas need to touch Jesus before he believed?

J C Ryle offers his answer:

Whether, after all, Thomas did actually touch our Lord's wounds, as he was told to do, is an open question, which we have no means of deciding. There is certainly, as Augustine observes, no proof that he did, and his exclamation reads as if it was sudden and immediate, and not the result of examination and deliberation. May we not well believe that the discovery of our Lord's perfect acquaintance with every word that he had said on the previous Sunday, combined with the evidence of his own eyes that he saw before him a material body, and not a spirit, would be enough to convince him? The question is an open one, and every reader must form his own opinion about it. We are neither told that Thomas did touch our Lord nor yet that he did not. Certainly our Lord says in the next verse, "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed."

How can faith and reason co-exist?

J. C. Ryle comments in the style of a century ago:

Nothing is more common now a days than to hear people say, that they "decline to believe things above their reason, that they cannot believe what they cannot entirely understand in religion, that they must see everything clearly before they can believe." Such talk as this sounds very fine, and is very taking with young persons and superficially educated people, because it supplies a convenient excuse for neglecting vital religion altogether. But it is a style of talking which shows a mind either proud, or foolish, or inconsistent.

In matters of science, what sensible man does not know that we must begin by believing much which we do not understand taking many positions of trust, and accepting many things on the testimony of others? Even in the most exact science the scholar must begin with axioms and postulates. Faith and trust in our teachers are the very first conditions of acquiring knowledge. He that begins his studies by saying. "I shall not believe anything which I do not see clearly demonstrated from the very first," will make very little progress.

In the daily business of life, what sensible man does not know that we take many important steps on no other ground than the testimony of others? Parents send sons to Australia, New Zealand, China, and India, without ever having seen these countries, in faith that the report about them is dependable and true. Probability, in fact, is the only guide of most parts of our life.

In the face of such facts as these, where is the common sense of saying, as many rationalists and sceptics now do, that in such a mysterious matter as the concern of our souls, we ought to believe nothing that we do not see, and ought to receive nothing as true which will not admit of mathematical demonstration? Christianity does not at all refuse to appeal to our intellects, and does not require of us blind, unreasoning faith. But Christianity does ask us to begin by believing many things that are above our reason, and promises that, so beginning, we shall have more light and see all things clearly. The would-be wise man of modern times says, "I dislike a religion which contains any mystery."

I must first see, and then I will believe." Christianity replies, "You cannot avoid mystery, unless you go out of the world. You are only asked to do with religion what you are always doing with science. You must first believe and then you will see." The cry of the modern sceptic is, "If could see I would believe." The answer of the Christian ought to be, "If you would only believe, and humbly ask for Divine teaching, you would soon see."

The plain truth is that modern freethinkers are like the leaders of Jesus' own people who were always demanding some visible sign that our Lord was the Messiah and pretended that they would believe if they only saw it. Just in the same way there are hundreds of people in this latter age of the world, who tell us they can believe nothing which is above their reason, and that they want stronger evidences of the truth of the doctrine and fact of Christianity than probability. Like Thomas they must first see before they believe. But what an extraordinary fact it is that the very men who say all this, are continually acting all their lives on no better evidence than probability! They are continually doing things on no other ground than the report of others, and their own belief that this report is probably true. The very principle on which they are incessantly acting, in the affairs of their bodies, their families, and their money, is the principle on which they refuse to act in the affairs of their souls! In the matters of this world they believe all sorts of things which they have not seen, and only know to be probable, and act on their belief. In the matters of religion they say they can believe nothing which they do not see, and refuse the argument of probability altogether.

Never in fact, was there anything so unreasonable and inconsistent as rationalism, so called! No wonder that our Lord laid down, for the benefit of Thomas and the whole Church, that mighty principle, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed."

Conclusion

We close our mind-stretching with two soothing Scriptural questions: the Holy Shema from the Penteteuch, and St Thomas' acclamation::

  • "Sh'ma Yishrael. Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad."

Hear O Israel.
The Lord (is) our God,
The Lord is (the) One.

(Blessed be His name, whose glorious Kingdom is for ever and ever)

  • "You are my Lord and my God" (Psalms 63: 1)

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