Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” — John 20:29
A Disciple We Can Like
In the village of Glendale Springs, N.C., just off the Blue Ridge Park-way, sits a tiny Episcopal church called the “Church of the Frescoes.” A marvelous fresco painting covers the entire wall behind the pulpit area of the church, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The scene depicts Jesus and the disciples gathered around a long table for their last Passover meal.
The artist used local people as models for the different disciples, and included the pastor posed in a serving role. The artist’s own face is in the picture, too. Following a longstanding artists’ tradition, Ben Long painted himself as “Doubting Thomas.”
Visitors to the church note that, no matter where they are standing, Thomas seems to be looking directly at them, as if asking “What do you think?”
Absent Thomas(vv. 19-23)
Thomas does not appear in the first scene of the story that so shaped his reputation, and is not mentioned at all until the second scene. Unlike the disciples who cloistered themselves in secrecy following Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas was out and about. Was he out keeping watch, or obtaining provisions, or just needing some time alone? The text does not say.
It was in the evening of the first Easter Sunday that John says Jesus suddenly appeared to the dumbfounded disciples, who were quite certain they had locked the doors. Seeing their shock and fear, Jesus offered what their troubled hearts needed most: “Peace to you,” he said.
His followers needed peace: they must have thought they were seeing a ghost. As the angels who predicted Jesus’ birth had offered comforting words to Mary and Joseph, as angels at the tomb had told the women to fear not, so Jesus counseled peace.
Knowing that the disciples would be confused and questioning, Jesus voluntarily showed them the marks in his hands and feet (v. 20). It was important for them to understand that, despite the apparent differences in Jesus’ appearance (after his disappearance!), he was not just some spectral visitor, but the same person they had loved and followed along the dusty roads of Galilee. But, there was also something remarkably different. Jesus was helping his disciples to trust his spiritual presence by showing them a physical connection.
The faith of the early church is clearly reflected in the way this story was remembered and related, for the author immediately has Jesus turn to the church’s mission, and to the empowering spirit. As John tells it, Jesus said “As the father has sent me, so send I you” (v. 21). Other early traditions preserved Christ’s commission in different ways, but with the same intent (compare Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).
As Christ was related to the Father, so Christians were related to Christ. As Christ had come into the world to accomplish his unique mission, so his followers were to venture forth in pursuit of their own calling to spread the good news of the kingdom of God. The death and resurrection of Jesus had opened wide the kingdom’s doors: to his followers lay the task of leading others to find the way.
According to John, the Holy Spirit came and rested upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (1:32-33), and Jesus had promised to bless his followers with the Spirit (14:15-31). Now, Jesus “breathed on them” and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22).
The Spirit’s presence and leadership would be necessary for the church to carry out its role of mediating both forgiveness and judgment to the world (v. 23; compare Matt 16:19, 18:18).
The idea that Christians have the authority to forgive – or to withhold forgiveness – is a bit frightening. Yet, Christ clearly empowered the church to practice grace in a hard and demanding world. The same command in Matthew is followed by a rather extensive discourse on the supremacy of forgiveness over judgment (Matt. 18:21-35).
Doubting Thomas(vv. 24-25)
The text says nothing about how Jesus departed from the bewildered disciples on that first Easter evening: readers often assume that he vanished as suddenly as he had appeared (compare Luke 24:31). In any case, v. 24 moves us to a time when Jesus has left the scene and Thomas enters.
A study of Thomas’ intriguing character must begin with his name. “Thomas” was not really a proper name, but a Hebrew or Aramaic nickname, meaning “the twin.” “Didymus” is simply a Greek version of the same name. Scholars have scratched their collective heads in wondering who Thomas’ twin was, but without result.
Thomas was a devoted and occa-sionally outspoken disciple. When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, the religious authorities were already seeking to do him harm (John 10:31).
It would be dangerous for Jesus and his followers to leave the relative safety of their trans-Jordanian camp and travel to Lazarus’ home in Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem. But, when Jesus insisted on going, Thomas declared his willingness to join him, even if it meant death (John 11:6).
Thomas’ desire to remain close to Jesus is also reflected in John 14. During the Passover meal, Jesus spoke of his coming death in terms of going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for his followers, adding “you know the way where I am going” (vv. 1-4).
All of the disciples must have been confused, but it was Thomas who spoke up: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (v. 5). Jesus responded with the familiar but enigmatic “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6).
Perhaps these vignettes are intended to suggest the depth of Thomas’ grief when Jesus was indeed taken away from him. When he returned to join the others after Jesus’ appearance, the news seemed too good to be true. Surely Thomas wanted to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, but his grief was too deep for facile acceptance of someone else’s word. The others claimed to have seen the Lord, including wounded hands and side. Thomas refused to believe Jesus was truly risen until he could see and touch Jesus’ deadly scars for himself.
Have you ever tried to put yourself in Thomas’ sandals? What would it have taken to convince you that Jesus had truly risen from the dead?
Believing Thomas(vv. 26-31)
A week later, according to John, Jesus again appeared among his disciples without bothering to open the door that they kept firmly closed. This time Thomas was present, and Jesus sought to open the door of faith that remained closed in Thomas’ heart.
We can only begin to imagine the quiver in Thomas’ stomach when Jesus called his name and challenged him to touch his hands and side (vv. 26-27). When he had done so, Thomas said the only thing he could say: “My Lord, and my God!” Thomas acknowledged that Jesus was not only alive, but also divine, and worthy of worship.
Thomas’ presence in scripture is of immense value to the church, for we can identify with his struggling honesty as he sought to believe something far too good to be true. Most thoughtful Christians have periods of doubt as they travel life’s journey. Sometimes, like Thomas, our questions are raised by things that seem too good to be true: Is there really a loving God behind this great universe, and if so, does God really care about individuals like me?
On the one hand, isn’t it just too incredible to think that the eternal God would choose to enter the world in human form and experience death in our behalf? On the other hand, if the gospel message were not too good to be true, it would hardly be good enough to save us. As Jesus challenged Thomas, so he challenges us to believe, even though we have not seen (John 20:29).
John concludes chapter 20 by moving beyond doubting Thomas to confront doubting readers. Jesus did and said much that was not recorded, John wrote, but the things in his gospel were written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).
Doubt comes easy to us. We may doubt God’s presence when something happens that seems too bad for a real God to allow. But, if we did not question our faith in the midst of tragedy, we wouldn’t be thinking at all.
When we doubt God’s presence because the innocent suffer, we would do well to remember the truly innocent one who suffered on Calvary for our sakes. By the power and presence of Christ, we may also learn to accept tragedy, to absorb it, and to overcome it with grace.
When we are tempted to cry that life is not fair, we can remember that the great Lord of the universe has nail prints in his hands and a wound in his side that goes all the way to the heart.
Doubt is a natural part of life, and it is the growing edge of faith. An unquestioned faith is an untested faith, and much less likely to hold up in times of trial. The strongest Christians are those who have worked through their doubts to the point of experiencing Christ’s benison: “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.” NFJ
Additional information at nurturingfaith.net
| © Nurturing Faith Bible Studies are copyrighted. DO NOT PHOTOCOPY.
Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for April 3, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: John 20:19-31
The focus of this section has changed from teacher-centered to parent-centered. This will be a brief, less than 150 word, introduction to what their student has discussed during their small group time and a way that the conversation can be discussed at home as well.
“Prove it to me!” or “Why?” It’s a common exhortation from the mouth of teenagers. They search for answers, and then when they get them, they want to know how and why you believe what you said. With the advent of the internet and answers at the tips of their fingers in nano-seconds, answers are easy to come by. What students quickly learn is that where the information comes from is as important as what the information actually is.
“Because I said so.” is an answer that is often given in response to “prove it” or “why”. Sometimes we utter this because we don’t have a better response at the time and other times, we say it because it really is true. It is what we have said. For our students to believe the “Because I said so” we have to be involved in our student’s life. We can’t just pop in and out of their life. We have to be present consistently, so that when we say “Because I’ve said so.” they have seen it lived out in our life.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“I Trust Her” from Zoolander 2 via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: John 20:19-31