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PART VII (A).
THE TRIUMPH OF JESUS IN HIS RESURRECTION
1. At the empty sepulchre (John 20:1-10).
2. Mary of Magdala and the Saviour (John 20:11-18).
3. The risen Lord’s first appearance to the ten disciples.
(1) The greeting of peace;
(2) their apostolic mission;
(3) an effusion of the Spirit as an earnest of the fuller outpouring;
(4) the power to bind and loose (John 20:19-23).
4. The unbelief of Thomas (John 20:24-25).
5. Christ’s appearance to the ten and Thomas, whose doubts are vanquished, and who acknowledges the Godhead of Jesus (John 20:26-28).
6. The blessedness of faith (John 20:29).
7. The purpose of this Gospel clearly stated—life through believing (John 20:30-31).
Synoptic parallels.—Chap. John 20:1-18 : Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12. Joh. 20:19-23; Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:36-44.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
St. John’s narrative of the Resurrection is not general. He describes how faith in the risen Lord was established in his own case and in the case of the other disciples. But although he does not record all the facts noted in the Synoptic narratives, he incidentally shows that he was aware of them. It is to be remembered that these historical pictures by St. John of the Passion and Resurrection were written for Christians, who were already acquainted with the facts of the Redeemer’s life.
John 20:1-2. The first day of the week, etc.—Of the week (τῶν σαββάτων): σάββατον seems to have signified the whole week, the interval between two Sabbaths (Luke 18:12). Mary Magdalene, etc.—There were others with her, as the Synoptists record (Luke 23:55-56; Luke 24:1, etc.). St. John implies this in John 20:2, We know not, etc. The stone.—St. John does not mention the fact of its having been placed in the opening of the tomb, but here again he implies his knowledge of the fact. Mary thought that the body of Jesus had been removed when she saw that the stone had been rolled away, and ran with troubled heart to tell the disciples, especially Peter and John. This is in agreement with the record of the angelic message in Mark 16:7.
John 20:5-6. Stooping down (παρακύφας).—The word describes, perhaps, both the bending position (bending beside), with the head on a level with the somewhat low opening, and the eager, penetrating gaze into the semi-darkness of the sepulchre. Simon Peter was not content with this, but went in, and, as the word (θεωρεῖ) expresses, looked carefully and observantly at the various details presented to his view.
John 20:7. Napkin.—A sudarium (σουδάριον), tied probably under the chin.
John 20:9. They knew not the Scripture, etc.—Even though Jesus had impressed upon them the truth that He must die and would rise again, apparently the disciples were altogether unprepared, even to the last, for what had occurred on Calvary. Thus the first announcement of the Resurrection seemed to some of them to be “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11).
John 20:11. Mary, etc.—She had returned after telling the disciples about the empty tomb.
John 20:12. Two angels, etc.—Seated as if they had been guarding the body while it rested in the tomb, and had remained to testify that God had given His angels charge concerning His Son’s sacred body, which was not to see corruption (Psalms 16:10; Psalms 91:11). This was a special appearance of the angels to Mary (see Luke 24:4).
John 20:13. She saith unto them, etc.—The one thought occupied her (John 20:2). Now evidently she is alone, as her language shows: I know not, etc.
John 20:14-15. And when she had thus said, etc.—Turning away sorrowfully from contemplating the tomb, her eye rested on another presence. Why did she not recognise who it was? It may be that “her eyes were holden,” as in the case of the two on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:16; Mark 16:12). Jesus saith, etc.—These are evidently the first words of the risen Lord (Mark 16:9). Whom seekest thou?—A person, not a dead, inanimate form. The gardener.—And therefore a servant of Joseph of Arimathæa, and friendly. She supposes he can throw some light on the mystery; that perhaps, for some good purpose, the body had been removed.
John 20:16. Jesus saith, etc.—Mary seems to have turned again to the sepulchre, for when Jesus spoke she turned herself, and saith unto Him [in Hebrew], Rabbuni (רבּוּבִי).—The phrase in brackets is included in the Greek MSS. The familiar voice addressing her in her own name at once revealed to Mary who it was who spoke. Rabbuni.—My teacher, a term of reverence and respect.
John 20:17. Touch Me not (μή μου ἅπτου, cling to Me not).—Mary had to unlearn much in her conceptions of Christ, and He begins now to lead her to higher knowledge. He did not mean to repel the mere touch (for see John 20:27), but to teach Mary that she must have different conceptions now of her divine Master and Lord. She must not cling to His mere outward presence (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). She must seek to rise to that communion of the new creature with the risen Lord which would be enjoyed in highest measure when He had ascended to the Father, according to His promise (John 14:23). But even now she must seek chiefly for this blessed communion. Then Christ gives her to do something that is far more glorious than any mere external clinging to Him. He gave her a commission to perform for Him—Go to My brethren (Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:10). Through His redeeming work His true disciples have become joint heirs with Him in the heavenly inheritance. They are no longer slaves, or even friends—they are brethren in the Lord (Acts 1:15-16; Hebrews 2:10-17). I am ascending.—The process of ascension, so to speak, had begun; the delay of its final step was for the disciples’ sake. My Father, whose Son I am by essential nature; your Father through redeeming grace (see Westcott, in loc.). My God He says as the incarnate Son.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 20:1-18
John 20:1-10. The resurrection of the Redeemer.—How long and cold soever the winter may be it cannot prevent the advent of spring. Its storms may be fierce and terrible. It might seem sometimes as if nature could not live under their fury. But they pass at last; and then even under the calm of the last chilling frosts men are sensible of the coming change, when the ice-bound waters and the hardened ground will be freed from the power of winter, when the hidden plants will begin to come to light, and the life of nature awaking from wintry sleep will pulsate in all her animated realms. In this part of Gospel history we see the beginning of a new and better period for humanity. The winter of humanity had passed away, the dark time of alienation between God and men, when storms of wrath were dreaded. But now there was “peace on earth.” The storm had expended its worst fury on Him who lay in Joseph’s tomb. The wintry time that had begun in Eden was about to break in joy-giving spring in that garden near Calvary.
I. The place and time of the Resurrection.—
1. The Sabbath dawned peacefully on the garden where was Joseph’s tomb, and the place was still and peaceful during the Sabbath hours, save that a Roman guard appeared to set a seal on the stone which had been rolled to the opening of the sepulchre (Matthew 27:62-66).
2. In the evening perhaps their vigilance was redoubled; and the silent night passed on, until when the morning watch drew near a portent occurred. The firm earth quaked, the sealed stone was rolled away by invisible power from the opening of the tomb, and a heavenly watcher appeared before whom the Roman guard quailed and fled to the city (Matthew 28:2-4).
3. It was in the night when the Saviour rose, before the dawn of morning; and with His rising dawned a new and brighter day for the human race, the beginning of a glad new year of salvation and grace to men. In this history of the Resurrection it does appear as if there were a harmony between the natural and spiritual worlds. When Jesus died the sun was darkened, nature put on a funeral pall. But when Jesus rose the dawn was near to breaking, and soon the sun would herald the advent of a new day. It was fitting that the light of humanity should thus usher in the new spiritual day.
4. The place of resurrection then was Joseph’s tomb, the time the last watch just before the dawn. “There where the noble seed had been laid with reverent sorrow (Psalms 126:0) it sprang up to sudden verdure and fruitfulness.” In that place round which tears of sorrow had been wept in the night joy came with the resurrection morning. There where the hopes of ardent disciples had been buried they were awakened to perpetual bloom.
5. He who rested in that tomb saw no corruption. The tomb itself had hitherto been untenanted; and He who now rested in it for a season could not be holden by the bands of death. The heavy stone could not impede His passage. He who voluntarily laid down His life had power to take it again (John 10:18). He died freely, willingly; but because He the innocent died for the guilty vicariously death had no power over Him. Therefore His spirit returned from its sojourn in paradise. Unmarked by human eye did the divine Father’s power awake the Son from His sleep, and the Son resumed His life again (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 1:20; Acts 2:24; Romans 1:4; Romans 6:4) in order to appear in His glorified body, freed from the bounds of space and time, to testify to His disciples that He had really risen again, ere He entered on His full glory in the presence of the Father.
II. The Resurrection revived the dead hopes of the disciples.—
1. How graphic are the Gospel narratives of the resurrection of Jesus! Ere the dawn of the morning of the first day of the week, ere the light of the stars had faded, the little company of women who had lingered by the cross, and had seen where the Lord’s body had been laid, might have been seen approaching the sepulchre. They had perplexedly asked each other who should remove the heavy stone from the tomb’s mouth. But as they drew near even in the dim twilight they saw that the stone had been rolled away.
2. In haste one of the company, Mary Magdalene, ran to tell the disciples who were evidently closest to Jesus—Peter and John. The Gospel graphically depicts the excitement and amazement with which the news filled the disciples, and thus indirectly their failure in faith and hope. But now with hope reviving in their beating hearts, as the sayings and promises of Jesus began to crowd in again on the memory, they both ran in haste toward the garden sepulchre.
3. John being younger, ran in advance, more quickly than Peter, and reached the sepulchre first: in his agitation, and with feelings of awe and perhaps fear, he did not enter the tomb, yet looking in saw the linen cloths, which had wrapped the body, lying apart. But when Peter came, with characteristic impulse he entered the tomb, followed by John. And what they saw showed that the body had not been taken away to be interred elsewhere—that whatever had been done, had been done in orderly fashion. And when John saw he believed. A light clearer than that of morning was shed on Scripture and the sayings of Jesus which hitherto had been dark to them. But what they now saw revived their faith and hope.
III. The Resurrection has brought hope to humanity.—
1. It has brought the hope of reconciliation and peace with God. That for which men longed in all the ages is given at the empty tomb of Jesus to them that believe. Acceptance with God and peace and joy in His service were the ends aimed at in all the religions, the rites and sacrifices, of the past. And these ends were fully attained only when the cry “It is finished” rang from the cross on Calvary. But it could only be known that this was so, and that the great expiatory sacrifice of Jesus was accepted, when He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
2. And from this follows the foundation of a second great hope—the hope of immortality—not only a pale, shadowy existence for the spirit beyond the sphere of this life, but for all those united to Christ in His death, so that they die unto sin—the hope of a blessed life for the whole man. They look for the appearing of the Saviour, who at His coming shall speak, and the dead shall hear (John 5:25), and shall change the body of their humiliation, that it may be conformed unto the body of His glory, etc. (Philippians 3:21).
3. These blessed hopes form a spring of Christian endeavour which has brought blessing to all men. Animated by it, men and women have laboured for the unseen and eternal, and have raised life higher, made it more unworldly and self-sacrificing, because they have “set their affections on things above,” etc. (Colossians 3:1, etc.). And it has become a source of living spiritual energy, inspiring men to nobler effort in the service of God and man.
Lesson.—The first day of the week was the day of Christ’s resurrection, i.e. on the same day on which Creation was begun was the restitution of the fallen world begun, and hope given to men of a new and higher life. “He died for all, that they which live,” etc. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation,” etc. (2 Corinthians 5:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). “We are buried with Him by baptism unto His death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Has the winter of the old life passed away, with its storms of passion, its coldness of alienation, its fruitlessness in good? And has the new eternal year begun to move in all the nature, to bourgeon and shoot forth with promise of fruit to God? This can come only through Christ. “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
“Can all the wiles of art, the grasp of power,
Snatch the rich relics of a well-spent hour?
These, when the trembling spirit wings his flight,
Pour round his path a stream of living light,
And gild those pure and perfect realms of rest,
Where virtue triumphs, and her sons are blest.”—Rogers.
John 20:1-8. Easter.—It is the festival of Easter we celebrate. Our Christian festivals are more than simple festivals of remembrance. The facts and marvels of redemption on which they are founded have an eternal significance, a perpetual influence. Those facts and wonders we live over with each other; they pass before our eyes; they impress their influence upon us. To-day we gather together at the grave in Joseph’s garden, and keep Easter with each other. We consider:—
I. The sympathy which it awakens.—
1. Its impression was felt in the dominion of death, whose gates were burst asunder, and whose prince was bound and led captive.
2. Participation in it extends to heaven. All good spirits praise God the Lord, offer to the victor their reverence, and receive their commission for the Easter proclamation which went forth from the grave of the risen One, by the mouth of the angel, and has re-echoed down the centuries.
3. The participation in it extends to earth. Earth and sun take part in the victory of Easter. Men and women come together to the open grave. Wounded consciences and sick souls are healed. Easter songs of triumph are sung of the riven bonds of the tomb and of the opened heaven.
II. The special facts which it emphasises.—
1. An Easter Church is there, the empty tomb, this place of a mighty victory, this birthplace of all light, which lights up the darkness of life, this place of refuge of those forsaken, this field of victory of those who strive, this workroom of eternal life, this lofty choir of the worshipping Church, where all Christian worship took its beginning—this Easter Church, which has been the foundation of all other Easter Churches.
2. An Easter preacher is there—the Easter sermon is entrusted to one of the blessed spirits who ever stand before God’s face.
3. The Easter sermon has as its purport, “Fear not,” etc. It brings comfort; it awakens repentance; for it commands not to seek the living among the dead. It tells of victory; sin, death, the grave, are conquered. It demands faith: He is not here. The women must first believe, then they will behold. Thus too with us.
III. The impression which it leaves.—“The disciples again departed,” etc. Our hearts also sometimes fluctuate between fear and joy, between doubt and faith, until they become joyful Easter hearts.—Appuhn, in J. L. Sommer’s “Evang. Per.”
John 20:9. Grounds of belief in the resurrection of the Lord.—The lines of proof of this great fact may be briefly pointed out as follows:—
I. The confident declaration of the apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead shortly after His crucifixion.—They were not expecting that this would occur. The disciples seemed to be about to disperse, thinking their beautiful dream was over. When the women related the vision of their risen Lord, their words seemed to the disciples to be “idle tales,” vain imaginations. Two of the company even, disbelieving the vision, and with hope extinguished, were travelling sadly toward their distant home. But if this were their attitude on the third day after the Crucifixion, how quickly was it changed. In little more than a month’s time we find those desponding, doubting disciples proclaiming boldly, in the midst of adversaries, all too willing to overthrow them, that Jesus had risen from the dead. The enemies of the apostles, not being able to confute their assertions, tried to put them to silence by persecution and imprisonment. But the disciples only persisted more earnestly in their proclamation. Strangely enough, one of the most bigoted of their persecutors (one called Saul of Tarsus) himself became convinced, and preached fervently that doctrine, for holding which he had persecuted the apostles. And it is in the history of his life, and in his Epistles, that this fact is most prominently dwelt upon. Even the most rationalistic and sceptical of modern critics allow that the great Epistles of St. Paul and the Book of Acts were products of the apostolic age, and authentic; so that these facts are admitted beyond doubt. How then can this fact be accounted for, unless by admitting that it occurred as narrated in the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles? The adversaries of the apostle Paul—even the Judaisers—never called this fact in question. On the contrary St. Paul uses it—uses the fact that the risen Christ had appeared to him—as a proof of his apostleship, to show that he was really the called of God. Had the resurrection of Jesus, then, not been a fact, nothing would have been easier than to disprove it. But the Jews at Jerusalem could not do so. And such men as Gamaliel, who would not stoop to subterfuge and lying, saw that it was the part of wisdom to let these men alone, at all events.
II. The very day on which we meet for worship is an ever-standing proof of this great truth.—What except the occurrence of some such outstanding event would have led men, trained as strict Jews, and who at first did not believe that Jesus had risen, to have changed a custom and tradition bound up with the very existence of their religion? And yet practically they changed the day of rest, meeting together (excepting when in Jewish communities, and then on both days) on the first day of the week instead of the seventh. Why, unless in memory of this event, and because on that day Jesus first appeared to them when He had risen from the dead? In the same way the Church festival of Easter—the only one that can claim a high antiquity, leading up to apostolic times (although the name Easter in the north indicates that the Church united it with the ancient Teutonic springtide festival)—shows from collateral history that the fact of Christ’s resurrection was universally believed in the Church during the apostolic age.
III. The promises that Jesus in His own words, as recorded in the Gospels, made dependent on His resurrection have all been fulfilled.—He promised that after His death His disciples should see Him for a little while, and that then He should go to the Father; that He would send them the Holy Spirit to be their comforter and guide. The books granted by all to be contemporary with the apostles tell how these promises were fulfilled. The divine Spirit did descend on them—at all events after the crucifixion and ascension we find the apostles animated with a new spiritual life. They were invested with spiritual power, and gifted with various tongues. All this was in accordance with Christ’s promise that He would send them power from on high. In a few years His words were literally fulfilled. The apostles and their followers became His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judæa, etc. Conquests of the gospel in the present day also, in accordance with Christ’s promises and predictions, lend additional force to the argument. They are proofs before our own eyes of the working of the Spirit of our risen Lord. When we see men of idolatrous and barbarous nations rising through the gospel to a higher life, when we see individuals who had been living for self and in sin become changed in character and life by this gospel, we see there an evidence that “Christ hath risen from the dead” and is “alive for evermore.”
IV. The number and character of the witnesses to the resurrection.—St. Paul truly said to King Agrippa that “these things were not done in a corner.” First, the pious women and the disciples saw Him; then the “five hundred brethren at once,” and the whole Church at Jerusalem to the number of one hundred and twenty, many of whom also would be witnesses of His ascension. It would be a circumstance almost, if not wholly miraculous, if it could be proved that such numbers of people could be self-deceived—especially as the number contained many of known probity and intelligence. No doubt the number included more than one man of the stamp of Thomas. The whole mental and moral position also of a man like St. Paul forbids the supposition of self-deception. Were the disciples and their followers deceivers then? If so, to what end? See in 2 Corinthians 11 a sketch of the manner of life of those early preachers of the cross—a life of hardship, etc. Truly St. Paul might say, “If in this life only,” etc. (1 Corinthians 15:19). Their character also, and the lofty morality and spirituality of the doctrines they proclaimed, exclude all idea of wilful deception so far as they are concerned. One of the leading rationalistic theological thinkers of Germany (De Wette), after a long life spent in the investigation of the New Testament in a keen, critical spirit, came at last to the conclusion that, although the manner of the resurrection may be a mystery, yet the fact is one that cannot be overturned any more than any other firmly established historical fact.
John 20:11-18. Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus.—Mary Magdalene! Hers becomes a deeply interesting figure in these closing scenes. She is the last at the cross, the first at the tomb. And there are few passages in the gospel narrative more really beautiful than that which is before us. There are those, of course, who feel conscientiously and solemnly bound to accept tradition. And tradition mixes up Mary of Magdala with “the woman which was a sinner,” who anointed the Saviour’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). But if we take simply what Scripture says to us, and let tradition shift for itself—as probably some of us are quite prepared to do—then we are bound to hold that these two women are perfectly distinct and different persons.
I. Mary’s love to the Redeemer.—Mary of Magdala was healed by our Lord of a terrible mental or spiritual malady, but Scripture nowhere tells us she had been—in the sense in which the word is evidently applied to the other woman—“a sinner.” Surely there is a wide difference! Some of us may have dear friends who were for a time Asylum patients, or who once wildly raved and struggled in fever-delirium, but we don’t think or speak of them as having been (in that particular sense of the word) sinners! Tradition is not infallible. It may have erred in this, as in other things. And it is certainly far more pleasant to look at the picture which Scripture holds up to us—that of a woman (there is at least some shadow of reason for believing, a lady, of good worldly position) to whom, in God’s providence, life for long years had been very burdensome and bitter. Happy they who have never chanced to know how sore such an affliction is. No wonder, when that woman came back—“herself” again—to happy life, that she bore deep reverence and solemn tender love within her heart to Him whose word and touch had dispelled the dark cloud, and brought gladsome light once more into the Magdala home. And who can doubt that He whose word restored and blessed that woman’s mind, did even likewise for that woman’s soul! that the richer, higher blessings of spiritual life and health were bestowed by the Saviour’s hand. Thus rescued, and thus blessed, the remainder of that woman’s life was nobly, solemnly, tenderly, anxiously devoted to the Saviour’s cause. That was the ship that held her heart within it. No love was ever given to the cause of Christ more pure and true than that of Mary’s heart. And (excepting that of the virgin mother’s, and, it may be, that of Mary of Bethany) no heart was more sorely pierced at Calvary than the heart of Mary of Magdala.
II. Mary at the empty tomb.—How beautifully lifelike is the story of her coming thus to the empty tomb! It is the very picture (in little homely touches that tell) of a bewildered, distracted woman. She has come in the early morning, and found the door stone removed. She has rushed to summon Peter and John. They have come, and gone in, and found that the body was away; and the poor helpless men turn homeward broken-hearted. She cannot leave the place. She is in a state in which she knows not what she does, and, in some interval in her bursts of grief, she bends down and abstractedly gazes into the tomb. The angels speak to her, and her mind is so distraite, so bewildered with grief, she answers them quite simply as though she spoke to two mortals like herself. Oh! the tone of distracted grief that rings in that cry, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him!” She turns wildly round while she says it, as though looking everywhere for that which she had lost. The Lord Himself—within a few feet of her—speaks, echoes the angels’ question, “Why weepest thou?” and adds the still more home question, “Whom seekest thou?” And still Mary, too completely grief-stricken and grief bewildered to recognise the supernatural, answers as though to a common man—the man in charge of the ground—surely he may know something. “Sir! if thou hast borne Him hence!” etc.
III. Rabboni.—Who has not often tried to think of the tone in which that one word “Mary” was spoken? True, her own name was uttered, but there was more than that. We all know how tones live in memory, and that “Mary” probably called back to her the time when its utterance brought her spirit out from demon-darkness into light and peace. “Mary”—its utterance brought back later days of holy teaching. It brought back the Teacher, the Saviour, the Lord Himself! and then Mary flung herself at the Saviour’s feet with that first glad resurrection cry that issued from the Church on earth—“Rabboni!” Who can think of the tone in which that was uttered!—Rev. Thomas Hardy.
John 20:1. The Lord’s day a memorial of the Resurrection.—Well might that day, which carried with it a remembrance of that great deliverance from the Egyptian servitude, resign all the sanctity and solemnity due unto it, when the morning once appeared upon which a far greater redemption was confirmed. One day of seven was set apart by God in imitation of His rest upon the creation of the world, and that seventh day, which was sanctified to the Jews, was reckoned in relation to their deliverance from Egypt. At the second delivery of the law we find this particular cause assigned, “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched-out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the Sabbath day.” Now this could not be any special reason why the Jews should observe a seventh day; first, because in reference to their redemption the number of seven had no more relation than any other number; secondly, because the reason of a seventh day was before rendered in the body of the commandment itself. There was, therefore, a double reason rendered by God why the Jews should keep that Sabbath which they did: one special as to a seventh day, to show they worshipped that God who was the creator of the world; the other individual as to that seventh day, to signify their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, from which that seventh day was dated. Seeing, then, upon the resurrection of our Saviour a greater deliverance and far more plenteous redemption was wrought than that of Egypt, and therefore a greater observance was due unto it than to that, the individual determination of the day did pass upon a stronger reason to another day, always to be repeated by a seventhly return upon the reference to the creation. As there was a change in the year at the coming out of Egypt, by the command of God,—“This month,” the month Abib, shall be “unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you,”—so at this time of a more eminent deliverance a change was wrought in the hebdomadal or weekly account, and the first day is made the seventh, or the seventh after that first is sanctified. The first day, because on that Christ rose from the dead; and the seventh day from that first for ever, because He who rose upon that day was the same God who created the world, and rested on the seventh day: “For by Him were all things created,” etc. (Colossians 1:16). This day did the apostles from the beginning most religiously observe by their meeting together for holy purposes and to perform religious duties. The first observation was performed providentially, rather by the design of God than by any such inclination or intention of their own; for “the same day,” saith the Evangelist, that is, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, “at evening, being the first day of the week, the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews.” The second observation was performed voluntarily, for “after eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them”: the first day of the week, when Christ rose, by the Providence of God the disciples were together, but Thomas was absent; upon the first day of the next week they were all met together again in expectation of our Saviour, and Thomas with them.… From this resurrection of our Saviour, and the constant practice of the apostles, this first day of the week came to have the name of the “Lord’s day,” and is so called by St. John, who says of himself in the Revelation, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” And thus the observation of that day which the Jews did sanctify ceased, and was buried with our Saviour; and in the stead of it the religious observation of that day on which the Son of God rose from the dead, by the constant practice of the blessed apostles, was transmitted to the Church of God, and so continued in all ages.—Bishop Pearson.
John 20:1-8. The meaning of the Resurrection for Christ’s people.—The risen life had its clearly defined obligations no less than its glorious privileges. Those who had in very deed shared in Christ’s resurrection-life should seek things above the level of that tomb which, with Him, and through Him, they had left behind. A consideration this, sufficiently practical, and peculiarly suited to the Paschal season. Brighter far than any other days in the Christian year for the living members of God’s redeemed family are the forty days through which we now are passing. At the thought of the divine Saviour’s triumph over death, the Christian heart swells with a joy, nay, almost with a chastened pride. In the realm of spiritual life, Easter feelings seem to correspond to that union of deep thankfulness and of triumphant exultation with which an Englishman, at any rate of the last generation was wont to hail the anniversary of Waterloo. “The Lord hath risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon” (Luke 24:34). He has risen, and we Christians have a share in His resurrection. “This is the day,” etc. (Psalms 118:24).… But high spirits are not without their attendant dangers; and it is never so necessary to insist upon the practical aspects of a truth, as when we are being carried along by the full tide of buoyant feeling which has been stimulated by dwelling on it. “Risen with Christ.” Observe the relation in which the miraculous, external, historical fact, that Jesus Christ our Lord rose from the dead, is made to stand to the practical spiritual Christian life. In the earliest teaching of the apostles the Resurrection prominently dominates over all other Christian doctrines. That which chiefly gives it this early prominence is manifestly its evidential value. With the apostles, especially in the Pentecostal period, Christ’s resurrection is the palmary proof, the invincible assertion of the truth of Christianity. The story how Jesus, after being crucified and buried, rose in triumphant life from His grave, provokes, as Jewish multitudes listen to it, a sense of wondering awe. It rouses the attention even of the most indifferent; and the interest thus created is deepened by reflection; in the event, it is deepened and consolidated into a defined conviction of the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is thus the usual, the effective weapon, by which the apostles force their way through the dense obstructive blocks of Jewish or heathen thought around them.—H. P. Liddon.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 20:19. Evening of that day.—I.e. the day on which our Lord rose from the dead.—When the doors were shut.—St. John notices this fact, not only to show how terror-stricken and despairing the disciples had become, but in order to indicate that Jesus entered the room in a miraculous manner. This fact gives us a glimpse of the power of the spiritual body, showing that it is not confined by material limits such as we know them; but it tells us nothing regarding its nature. Peace, etc.—The disciples’ hearts were still troubled, therefore the first word of Jesus reminds them of one of His most blessed parting promises (John 14:1; John 14:27).
John 20:20. He showed them, etc.—The marks of the wounds received in winning redemption for them, to convince them that it was He whom they saw in very truth.
John 20:21. As My Father, etc.—Christ’s work on earth done by Him in actual bodily presence was completed; but the disciples were now to go forth in His strength to continue His work.
John 20:22. Breathed on them, etc. (see John 3:8; Genesis 2:7).—“The natural meaning of the words of Jesus is, “Receive an effusion of the Spirit.” What Jesus gives them is not a simple promise, but neither is it the fulness of the Spirit; it is an earnest. Raised Himself to a degree of higher life, He hastes to make them sharers in it as far as that is possible. This communication is to the Resurrection what Pentecost will be to the Ascension. As by Pentecost He will initiate them into His ascension, so by breathing on them now He associates them with His life as the Risen One” (Godet).
John 20:23. Whose soever sins ye remit, etc.—“The words, closely considered, amount to this: that with the gift and real participation of the Holy Spirit comes the conviction, and therefore the knowledge, of sin, of righteousness, and judgment; and this knowledge becomes more perfect, the more men are filled with the Holy Ghost. Since this is so, they who are pre-eminently filled with His presence are pre-eminently gifted with the discernment of sin and repentance in others, and hence by the Lord’s appointment authorised to pronounce pardon of sin, and the contrary. The apostles had this in an especial manner, and by the full indwelling of the Spirit were enabled to discern the hearts of men, and to give sentence on that discernment (see Acts 5:1-11; Acts 8:21; Acts 13:9). And this gift belongs to the Church in all ages, and especially to those who by legitimate appointment are set to minister in the Churches of Christ: not by successive delegation from the apostles—of which fiction I find no trace in the New Testament—but by their mission from Christ, the Bestower of the Spirit for their office, when orderly and legitimately conferred upon them by the various Churches. Not however to them exclusively,—though for decency and order it is expedient that the outward and formal declaration should be so:—but in proportion as any disciple shall have been filled with the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, is the inner discernment, the κρίσις, his.” (Henry Alford, D.D.) See also Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18.
John 20:30-31. “It cannot be doubted that St. John, … at the close of this chapter, before recording the special bearing of the resurrection life and spiritual power of Christ on the subsequent condition of the Church, … gathers up the general significance of his Gospel and its relation to other books” (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.). But these are written, etc.—The Evangelist here states the object of his Gospel. It was not his purpose to write a complete account of Christ’s life, but to record a selected series—typical of the whole—of those “signs” in word and work given by Christ which manifested His glory and proved His divine Sonship, which led to faith and salvation in the case of the disciples, and which thus would lead others also to believe and live.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 20:19-31
The peace of the Resurrection.—The three portions (John 20:19-23; John 20:24-29; John 20:30-31) into which this passage may be divided are not easily brought into unity in treatment. Hence many homilists treat only of one or other of the divisions. The joy of Christ’s resurrection, the path from doubt to faith, the office of the ministry, its source, its equipment, its mission, are the chief points in the passage. When catechumens are to be admitted (or confirmed) the reference to young believers, their profession, their solemn vows, their work, and their hopes, ought to be especially kept in view.
Introduction.—(By His resurrection) Jesus proved Himself to be victor over sin, death, and the evil one. The Risen One has gained this victory for us; therefore those who are His should be sharers in the peace won by Him, and joyful in their faith. Thus the Risen One, even on the day of His resurrection, appeared to His followers in order to make them partakers of this peace. There is something especially blessed in this resurrection peace; and to-day we speak concerning it in order to quicken and increase our desires after it. In regard to this peace as the fruit of Christ’s resurrection we see—
I. That it cannot be found by our own reason.—
1. Thomas did not believe the tidings of the Resurrection. He desired to see first in order to believe, and therefore he missed the Easter message of peace.
2. Our natural reason seeks after proof from the senses before it is convinced. It shuts itself out from the fellowship of the faithful; the heart remains empty in its unrest and dejection.
II. How it is accorded by the Lord Jesus.—
1. He conveyed it to the assembled disciples with His greeting. He ordained them to His ministry, by which His peace would be spread abroad. He pursued Thomas with compassionate love, and aided him to arrive at the acknowledgment of His divinity.
2. The ministry of the gospel proclaims in Christ’s stead the peace of the Risen One, imparts it to us in proclaiming forgiveness, follows our erring souls, seeks to persuade them and to lead them to that faith which will lay hold of Jesus’ peace.
III. It is accompanied by a true (spiritual) life.—
1. Thomas confessed Jesus as Lord and God, indeed as his Lord and God, whose possession he would forthwith be, and to whom he looked for his true life.
2. The heart which has found true peace prevails over reason. Faith grows by means of the Word. In believing the life of Christ overflows within us, which blesses us for time and for eternity.—J. L. Sommer.
John 20:19-21. The joy of the Resurrection.—It was the close of the Resurrection day, a day of gladness for humanity. But that gladness had as yet found entrance into few hearts only—Mary Magdalene and her sisters in sorrow, John the beloved disciple, and Simon (1 Corinthians 15:5), and the two now hastening from Emmaus through the gathering gloom to tell their joyful news to those whom they had left sorrowing (Luke 24:33). These two have just reached Jerusalem, and entered the house where the disciples had assembled within locked doors, for fear of the Jews; and ere they told their news were met with the words, “The Lord is risen indeed,” etc. (Luke 24:24). As they sit pondering on these things—some doubting, some half-persuaded, some believing, but all sorrowful and depressed, remembering how they had denied the Lord, and all thinking with troubled hearts of what might soon befall them—the Lord Himself suddenly stands in their midst. The bolted doors could not bar His entrance, and at first the disciples are afraid (Luke 24:37; see Matthew 14:26). This Gospel gives the fullest account of what Jesus’ appearance brought to the disciples.
I. It brought them peace.—
1. This peace they needed. Without were trouble and tribulation, within were fears. The Lord’s foes were the foes of His disciples.
2. There was little peace in their souls. The cross and shame had shattered their hopes, and were not yet become the symbol of victory and glory to them.
3. Then, even though strange rumours were abroad as to Christ’s having risen, and some of those present asserted the truth of this from their own personal knowledge, the truth does not seem to have met with anything like full credence, whilst in the hearts of all remained the bitter thought of having left their Lord in His hour of need.
4. Therefore the Lord came to them from the well-won fight to confer on them the firstfruits of His conquest, and raise them from their despondency and fear. Thus His first greeting recalls to their minds one of His last blessed promises (John 14:27).
5. And it is thus the Redeemer brings peace to all waiting hearts. Those to whom the risen Christ has not been revealed have “fightings without and fears within.” The fear of death and eternity, the unrest of conscience, the feeling of degradation caused by sin, all cease when through the barriers and bolts that close up our hearts Christ comes to reveal Himself in His risen life, and brings with Him His peace.
II. It brought them joy.—
1. When Jesus appeared among the disciples in order to allay their fears “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20 : comp. Luke 24:39), as if He had said to them, “See in these wounds what I have endured for you: why, then, should you fear?”
2. Then we read that “the disciples were glad,” etc. Well might they be glad! The disappointed hopes, gloomy doubts and forebodings darkened their spiritual life. Spiritually, and so far as hope was concerned, they were like the dead host that Ezekiel saw in vision on the battle-plain, when bone had come to bone, etc., but the men lay prone without the breath of life and until the word of life was spoken. But among these spiritually torpid disciples the Life Himself now appeared, and as they felt the quickening influence of His presence, the darkness, the clouds and mists of doubt and fear began to disperse, and as the new day of hope arose upon them, no wonder they were glad.
3. They were glad to see their Lord again, to hear His voice, to rejoice in His presence. They rejoiced, for now the mystery of the cross and the grave would be becoming clear to them; the promise of His resurrection, and all it involved would now be recalled vividly. The conviction that He was indeed the Messiah, and that the things which He suffered, and which had almost bereft them of faith and hope, “He ought to have suffered and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26), would come home to them with power, dispelling and scattering doubt and fear.
4. And they would be glad also that, in spite of their faithlessness in forsaking Him in the garden, and their want of trust in His teaching, their forgetfulness of His mighty works, He had not forsaken them—that He appeared to them so graciously, that His first greeting was one of peace.
5. And that gladness which Jesus brought to His disciples was not confined to them nor to the day of His resurrection. He brings not only peace but gladness into the hearts into which He enters. Because His entrance means forgiveness of the sinful, unbelieving past, it brings comfort to troubled souls; it gives assurance that the promises of Christ are yea and amen; it dispels the darkness that hitherto, through sin, has shut out the light of God’s countenance; and in the risen Christ, baring the marks of His soul-travail, it makes men rejoice in the revelation of infinite, eternal love.
John 20:19-23. The Risen One for the first time among His disciples.—The whole life of the Christian should be one of joy in the Resurrection. (This idea seems to meet us in our Gospel, in that it shows us the Risen One among His followers.) Our gaze is directed to—
I. The closed doors through which He entered.—All the witnesses, whose words agreed with so many clear predictions, could not confirm and make joyful the hearts of the disciples. The timorous little company sat anxiously behind closed doors. Our hearts also are often foolish and dejected, for which cause the Lord must often come unto us too through closed doors. Evil warders refuse Him entrance to us: the fear, that He may blame in place of comforting us; the doubt, that He cannot heal our sorrows; shamefacedness, lest He may find us all too unclean; anxiety, lest He should demand that which our heart will not let go; hesitancy, in view of what the world would say were He to come in unto us. Through closed doors the Lord must come to us, and only then will it be Eastertide in our souls.
II. The greeting He gave to the disciples.—When the Risen One stepped into the circle of the disciples He did not at first reprove them, but absolved them and greeted them with unspeakable graciousness, “Peace be with you!” Thereby He called to their minds the fulfilment of His promises (John 14:27; John 16:33), and represented Himself as the Prince of Peace who had effected complete reconciliation. Thereby also He offers to each one who will have it the complete salvation won on the cross, the fulness of His grace.
III. The marks of the wounds which He showed them.—The Lord showed them His hands and His side, and in these they beheld marks of love, marks of victory, marks of peace.
IV. The ordination that He imparted to them.—The Lord imparted that ordination to His apostles, upon which afterward at the Ascension followed their introduction to the office of the ministry (comp. Matthew 28:18-20). The act of ordination has three steps: their sending forth (“As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you”); their equipment for the office (“He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost”); their authority (“Whose soever sins ye remit,” etc., John 20:23). This is an authority and prerogative, but also a responsibility, such as no monarch possesses, yet which is imparted, and will continue to be, to all servants of the divine Word.—Appuhn, in J. L. Sommer.
John 20:20. Faith’s view of Christ.—When the Lord of glory left His Father’s bosom and came into this world we are sure it was for a purpose suited to His divine nature. Christ came to make men glad. It was said of Him, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath appointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek,” etc. (Isaiah 61:1).
I. What it was not that made the disciples glad.—
1. It was not riches. They were all poor fishers: none of them bad nets of their own. Like their Lord, they were poor. One of them once said, “Lord, I will follow Thee, whithersoever Thou goest.” Jesus said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath nowhere to lay His head.” When Jesus rose again He did not give His disciples riches.
2. It was not friends that made the disciples glad.
3. Their joy did not proceed from their own righteousness. Some have all their joy from looking at themselves. The disciples did not do this. Ah, no! What would they have seen had they done so? They had once known the Lord; but they had all forsaken Him in His sufferings; one of them had denied Him: they were cast down; they did not know what to do; but they were glad when they saw the Lord.
4. The disciples’ joy did not flow from a sight of Christ with the bodily eyes. Ah! some of you may think, “Oh, if I had been there, I would have been glad”; but it was not seeing Him with the bodily eye that made them glad, for two reasons. First of all, because many saw Him, and only wagged the head and spat upon Him. Second reason: It was not by seeing Christ with the bodily eye, for many have felt the same joy that the disciples did who never saw Christ with the bodily eye.
5. The disciples’ joy did not proceed from seeing their Master again. The joy they had flowed from looking at His hands and side.
II. What it was that made the disciples glad.—
1. It was the sense they had got that His work was finished. When they saw His hands and His side, they saw His work was all completed.
2. The disciples were glad, for they saw Jesus was their living Head. “Because I live, ye shall live also.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The disciples were no doubt sad—they felt a load of guilt; but now they would rejoice, for they had got a sight of Him as an ever-living Saviour.
III. You may learn from this if you are disciples.—
1. What does your joy flow from? Does it flow from riches, from friends? The disciples’ joy proceeded from a spiritual sight of the Lord Jesus.
2. Seek a sight of Jesus. Oh! seek this joy—a joy that will not pass away.
3. To you that are seeking Christ night and day. Oh! how glad you will be when you find the Lord! Look away from all to Jesus. Oh! look to Him as a crucified, risen Saviour.
4. To you that once had this joy, but have backslidden and lost it. Ah! you must look again to Jesus. Learn, all of you, the folly of self-righteousness. Suppose the disciples had looked to themselves, what would they have seen? One had denied, all of them had forsaken Him in His sufferings; but the disciples looked only to Jesus, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” Look, then, to Jesus, and you will have true peace, true joy, fulness of joy—joy that the world cannot give nor take away. You that are Christ’s “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.”—McCheyne.
John 20:21-23. A divine mission and a divine power.—Not only did Christ reassure His disciples, and make them glad by His greeting and presence at the close of the Day of Resurrection; He gave them a mission which would further increase their joy, and fill their hearts with grateful love. For it would show them that they were still to be privileged to remain in His service after all that had come and gone during the past few days.
I. The mission on which the disciples were to be sent.—
1. This commission Christ gave them was in reality a proof of their reinstatement into the apostolic office—the assurance that it was still theirs, though they had brought grievous shame on it by their want of faith and fortitude.
2. It was a mission analogous to that on which He Himself had come to the world (John 17:18). He had been sent into the world to redeem it through His life and works, His truth and His atoning death. But now, though He was ascending to His Father, that work was not to cease; and its instruments for the beginning of it were before Him. Already with awakening faith and hope, with hearts beating with a new gladsome energy, they were being made fit for that work, and to be the precursors of a mighty army of labourers in the world’s harvest fields, who should reap and gather fruit unto life eternal (John 4:36-37).
3. But this work was all dependent on Christ’s work. Had He not laboured and travailed the reaping would have been one of wrath only, and not of joy. And although Christ’s work is far above that of the apostles, and members of the Christian Church to-day, yet it had, it has, the same end, the glory of God in the redemption of men. This is the mission confided to the whole Christian Church. But how remiss many of its members are! They pray, “Thy kingdom come,” yet stand coldly looking on whilst others labour in the harvest field, and others still bring help and sustenance to the actual labourers. When will all Christians rise to a sense of their lofty duty and heavenly calling?
II. Power for the exercise of their high office was then given by the Lord to His apostles (John 20:22).—
1. It was as when the word of power in prophetic vision was spoken (Ezekiel 37:9). Those who were spiritually meet, etc., were quickened for service.
2. And it was not a promise merely of what should follow at Pentecost; it was a real gift, though not the full outpouring of the Spirit. It was, as it were, a seal of their new call to the apostolic office, and an earnest of the fuller, richer outpouring yet to follow, when Jesus had ascended to the Father’s right hand. But ere that it was needful that a special gift should be imparted, so that in the interval the feeble Church might be strengthened to cohere and endure. And by breathing on them now, and giving them an effusion of the Spirit, Christ associated them with Himself in His life as the Risen One.
3. And it must be remembered that this divine “breathing” of the Spirit was not conferred on apostles alone; others were present. It is therefore typical and prophetic of the fuller outpouring on Pentecost “proceeding from the Father and the Son.” And this incident teaches that it is not intellect, or knowledge of tongues, or eloquence that makes a man an apostle, a missionary, one sent. It is now, as then, the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is not baptism or Church membership or knowledge of Scripture that makes men and women true disciples of Christ. Now, as of old, it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. Is it the lack of this gift that makes the Church so weak, and hinders the love for and the advance of the kingdom of God?
III. The power to remit and retain sins was given to the apostles with the divine office and gift.—
1. This power, promised before (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18), was now conferred not on the apostles individually, or as apostles only (for others were present—Luke 24:33), but on those there assembled as representing the whole Church. 2. “Only he who believes in the Risen One, who seeks and finds forgiveness on the way of true repentance and genuine faith, is in a position to pass a just sentence, and to use aright the keys of the divine kingdom. Such a one will testify with unwavering freedom against sin wherever and whenever he may find it, and shut it out with God’s word and in His name. But yet with tireless patience will he seek to erect the broken reed and to warn the erring, and entreat, invite, entice, so that they, coming in repentance and faith, may have the kingdom opened to them. Both are necessary—the retaining as well as the remission. Where there is no power to retain, neither is there power to declare remission. It is indeed an act of divine love to keep back the impenitent and openly sinful from holy things.… And there need be no fear of a misuse of this power when the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church and its ministers” (F. Arndt).
3. This power is given to the whole Church; but as all the members cannot exercise it, it is committed to the regularly appointed servants of the Church. They exercise it for the community. But if the spiritual life of the community be low and the servants’ hands be not upheld by prayer, then this power may fall into disuse, and the Church be corrupted and weakened. But in that case, though not openly, yet really, the “binding and loosing” are still exercised from the heavenly throne.
John 20:24-30. Thomas.—
I. The character of Thomas.—In the very few words the gospel narrative has given us concerning this man, how clearly it has set his character before us! A plain-sailing, common-sense, practical, matter-of-fact man, with no idea of grasping anything supernatural; but loving—devotedly and bravely—Jesus as a Teacher, a Master, a Man. A few weeks before this, when he thought his Master was madly rushing to His death at the hands of the priests and Jewish mob, “Let us go with Him and defend Him,” cried this true-hearted follower, “and if we cannot save Him, let us die with Him!” And when what he had feared at length happened, and his Master died in the hands of His enemies, no heart more truly than that of Thomas mourned his murdered Lord. And no heart more sorely mourned for the Master’s cause, which he looked on as lost and gone for ever.
II. The unbelief of the disciple.—The disciples told him of the Master risen—the Master appearing to them, speaking to them. Thomas sadly shook his head. No, no! that was something he could not believe! That a man, crucified and buried, should come alive and rise! It was some wild delusion of theirs! He did not care to join them in their meetings. He went about alone, cheerless, hopeless, in melancholy musings, thinking of Him whom he had loved so dearly, gone from his sight for ever. And the kingdom he had hoped his Lord was to establish! that had perished with Him! Thomas was no infidel, no traitor, no turncoat, no faithless forsaking disciple. His faith in his Lord was strong as ever. His love to the memory of his Lord was true as ever. But Thomas could not, would not, believe anything except it was attested to him on the evidence of his senses: And such was his answer when they told him they had seen their Lord. Only if that testimony were given him which his mind demanded as necessary would he believe that his Lord had risen.
III. The Redeemer’s dealing with Thomas, and the disciple’s confession.—How well the Saviour knew all His followers in all their varying shades of character—in all their strength and all their weakness, in all their individual peculiarities! And how considerately and tenderly He dealt with each! How gently condescending was He with the special weakness of this one man! Had they told Jesus, think you, those words, that bold demand of Thomas? Nay! we may be very sure Jesus needed not to be told. Another “first day of the week” came round; and they met again, “Thomas with them.” No door was opened. No one saw His entrance. But suddenly the risen Lord was there! To all in the room there His “peace” was spoken; and then He turned to Thomas. The test the disciple had demanded was before him now, was within his reach. But the Bible does not tell us that Thomas applied the test. There is a marked silence as to that, which one would imagine leads most readers to understand that the spear-wound in the side and the nail-prints on feet and hands were not needed now, when Thomas looked on the face he knew so well, and heard the voice-tones that thrilled his very heart. He was practical and common-sense, and what not; and he needed, poor man, the very plainest proof. But he had it. His living Lord was before him in that room, looking on him, speaking to him. And Thomas made the confession of his faith in two words—of wondrous meaning. “My Lord!” Yes; all doubt had vanished, and he knew that Jesus, the Lord, the Master he had loved and followed, was before him. And “my God” he added—for his faith, once set in motion, bounded high into the world unseen; and he owned his earthly Lord as more, far more—almighty, the Son of God.
IV. The blessedness of faith.—The Saviour said that day to Thomas something which concerns us. We “have not seen.” But oh, let us seek by His grace to be of those who “yet have believed.” And if so, then we are—for the Lord said it that day—“blessed.”
“We stood not by the empty tomb
Where late Thy sacred body lay,
Nor sat within that upper room,
Nor met Thee in the open way;
But we believe that angels said,
‘Why seek the living with the dead?’ ”
—Rev. Thomas Hardy.
John 20:29. The blessedness of those who have not seen, yet believe.—The presence of Thomas among the disciples and the record of his experience should teach the Church to be patient in dealing with doubt and unbelief. Here was one who was evidently an attached follower of the Saviour, who had been drawn to Jesus by the magnetism of love, but whose materialistic and pessimistic cast of mind, which had already more than once shown itself (John 11:16; John 14:5), led at last after the Crucifixion to sullen and even bitter despair and unbelief. Yet, in the end, of all the disciples it was he who gave utterance to the highest expression of faith in our Lord’s divinity.
I. The proximate cause of the unbelief of Thomas.—
1. The remark in John 20:24 appears to intimate that there was a certain amount of blame in the absence of Thomas. This was a result of that weak side of his character which he had not yet learned to distrust: that trust in his own judgment, the refusal to see or believe nothing but what came within his limited ken. He could see nothing but the outward aspect of the cross—the awful tragedy which had shattered his hopes, and filled him with gloomy despair.
2. All the words of Jesus as to what was to come after the death which He foretold were either forgotten by Thomas or relegated to the region of idle dreams. The scene at the grave of Lazarus was forgotten. If he did remember it, it might only be to put aside the thought. A living Christ might do such mighty works; but One who was crucified, dead, buried—the dream for Thomas was over. It had been pleasant whilst it lasted; but now had come the awful awakening, and with it bitter grief, unbelief, despair.
3. Thus he had refrained from meeting with his fellow-disciples. Of what use were it to dwell on past hopes, and thus increase the burden of present sorrow? What comfort could they bring each other? Better with set face and resolved heart to forget the past, and front what they had to meet in the hopeless future. And when the disciples met him and told of the risen Redeemer, not only did the story seem to him, as at first it appeared to the others, “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11), but there appears to be a ring of hardness in his voice as he lays down the only conditions on which he will believe. There is a touch of impatience in his words, as if he had said, You say you saw the wound in His side, etc.; you will not find me so easily convinced. “Except I shall … put my finger,” etc. And thus for the time at least he remained, proud perhaps of his superior insight and rationality.
II. The blessedness of faith.—
1. It is possible that before Thomas became a disciple he had been influenced to some extent by that philosophical rationalism prevalent at the time, which found its chief expression among the Jews in the sect of the Sadducees. A mind of his caste could hardly fail to have been troubled by the new thought of the time.
2. The words of the disciples would seem, however, to have awakened a glimmer of hope in his darkened soul. And when after eight days had passed Jesus again appeared among the disciples, Thomas was one of the company. The Lord offered him the proof he demanded. But to see was enough for him. At once his despair and unbelief were swept away, and in a transport of joy and adoration he testified to the foolishness of his unbelief, and made full confession of the Godhead of the risen Lord.
3. Whilst in the words of Jesus in John 20:29 there is certainly a gentle reproof of His disciple’s faithlessness, and consequently of all similar unbelief at all times, there is yet more of comfort and joy for faithful disciples who have not seen and yet believe.
4. Our Lord does not mean here to inculcate a blind unthinking faith, or require that men should not seek to be able to give a reason for the faith that is in them. But Thomas, confident in his own rationalistic way of thinking, refused to accept the testimony of the others, because it did not coincide with what seemed to him must be the truth. His mind, like that of many, was keenly alive to the things of sense and time, but contracted in its outlook on spiritual realities. In the words of Christ, in the testimony of others, he had sufficient proof of the Lord’s resurrection, and yet he refused to look at the evidence.
5. Mere sight, sure evidence, may not lead to faith. Many of our Lord’s contemporaries saw Christ, heard His teaching, beheld His mighty works, and yet believed not. Their lot was not blessedness, but woe (Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 23:13).
6. The blessedness of those who believe, although they do not see, consists in the possession of the spiritual mind which discerns spiritual things (John 3:5-6; John 3:12; Romans 8:6). This lifts them above the tyranny of the seen and temporal, which by their continual fluctuation cause unrest in the spiritual life, and often deprive the soul of comfort and peace. Those who through faith have learned to rest on Him who is the same yesterday, etc. (Hebrews 13:8), have an unmovable foundation on which to build life’s activity (1 Corinthians 3:12). In all this there is blessedness.
7. And all may have this blessedness. All could not see Christ, although certainly it was a source of joy to the disciples to have done so. But even for them it was expedient that He should go away (John 16:7). The disciples saw Him, and their testimony, confirmed by arduous labour, and in most cases by martyrdom, should be sufficient to convince. And all may have the spiritual gifts Christ bestows from His throne; being born from above, and receiving that influence of the Spirit which began at Pentecost, they may have the witness in themselves and the blessedness of those who have not seen, etc.
John 20:19-29. What we may learn from the intercourse of Jesus with His disciples after the Resurrection.—
I. How gentle was Jesus with His disciples.—True He “upbraided them with their unbelief,” etc. (Mark 16:14). But whilst He reproves, it is for their profit. This Gospel tells of His tenderness and love—His reassuring greeting, His blessed gift, etc. It specially records His gentle dealing with Thomas, and thus gives a pattern to the Church in all time as to the manner in which troubled, doubting disciples should be dealt with.
II. The materialistic spirit which refuses credence to what cannot be tested, etc., by the senses, is to be avoided and repressed.—Are the senses themselves infallible? Do they never err? Is there no truth above and beyond material fact? Far otherwise, say the great thinkers of all ages. They realise that knowledge is limited, that there are spheres beyond men’s reach both in the world of matter and mind, that the wisest is a very infant in knowledge, with infinitude around him. Happy he to whom spiritual discernment is given to receive the great truths revealed by God concerning the higher life. Then his life’s path will stretch before him, cleared from uncertainty and brightened with hope and promises as he presses toward the mark.
III. It is not well to forsake the assemonies of Christ’s people, lest a blessing be lost.—Had Thomas been among the disciples on the morning of resurrection he might not have fallen so deeply into unbelief. It is not wise for any simply because they cannot understand some of God’s ways or part of His word to forsake the worship of His house—to imagine that because one point cannot be understood the whole must be obscure, and that ministers as fallible men, like their hearers, will not be able to clear up what seems mysterious, etc. Spiritual truth is not grasped by the intellect. One of moderate intellectual ability may make spiritual truth clear. And, however that may be, where Christ’s people wait on Him, He will be present; and to those souls who long to know Him He will reveal Himself, however simple or humble the worship and thought.
John 20:30-31. The purpose of John’s Gospel.—The declaration of these great truths was fitted to lead those who received them to faith, and those who already believed to deeper trust, more close and abiding union with the living Vine, and therefore to life. And thus John fitly states here the purpose of his Gospel, when he has shown how it has led even the doubting disciple to adoring faith. And there was no need for the apostle to narrate the ascension of our Lord. To the disciples that was implied in His resurrection (John 20:17). It did not need that event to confirm their faith.
I. The limitations laid down in carrying out his purpose.—
1. The Evangelist simply drew what was sufficient for his purpose from a full store, reverently gathered by him (see Introduction, pp. 7–10).
2. He did not think it necessary in this book to go over ground already occupied by other books, i.e. the other Gospels. It was sufficient for him to record from his own personal experience such signs as Jesus did, both in word and deed, in the presence of His disciples, as chosen witnesses of the truth; which signs having led him and his fellow-disciples to faith and higher life, would be fitted to lead others also to the same blessed haven.
3. Doubtless there were many other details of the life of Jesus which might have been recorded. But it is not necessary to record every word and every action of a life in order that we may know what manner of life it was. The multiplication of incidents, etc., might only tend to burden the mind and lead to a confused rather than to a clear image.
4. The Gospel writers, guided by the Spirit, were true artists in divine biography. They display what is characteristic of all the books of Scripture—a wise reticence. The result is not only clearness in details, but a succinctness which brings the whole history within a moderate compass.
II. The record is that of an eye-witness confirmed by others.—
1. The signs which Jesus did were not done in a corner. They were done in the presence of faithful men, some of whom suffered martyrdom, and all of them persecution for their faith, thus witnessing to the sincerity of their testimony.
2. Thus the writer did not set down “cunningly devised fables”; he recorded facts which he could personally vouch for, and words which no one but the eternal Logos could have spoken. Those facts thus attested, and those words of heavenly wisdom, bring their own evidence with them. John’s book is therefore no fiction, but a record of divine truth, testifying to the divine Sonship of Christ.
III. The chief purpose of the record.—
1. It is that which Christ Himself brought to John—life through believing in Christ’s name, i.e. through trust in His divine power.
2. It was for this purpose that the wonderful life was manifested (John 1:4; John 1:12). This Gospel shows how through faith, leading to trustful abiding in Christ, unity with Him results, and the participation in His life which is life eternal. “I am come that they might have life,” etc. (John 10:18).
3. This life begins on earth, but is neither of the world nor influenced by it (Galatians 2:20). It is above the world—hid with Christ in God—leading men to set their affections on things above, to have their conversation in heaven.
4. The Church to-day witnesses to the truth of this record. Believing in Christ’s name still brings life into the soul, makes men new creations. Men may have the witness in themselves. Happy are those who have. Then it will be their joy to spread this faithful record, so that others may be moved to believe, and may attain to life, and that thus over the whole earth the true Life and Light of men may bring salvation (Isaiah 60:1-3).
John 20:19-20. The risen Redeemer’s greeting of peace.
I. It is to the disciples a most joyful word (John 20:19-20).
II. It is to the world an acclaim full of blessing.
III. It is to the wavering a great, divine power.—M. Herold.
John 20:21-23. How the Lord equips His servants for their office.—He gives them—
I. For their hearts, His peace.
II. For their preaching, His Spirit.
III. For their activity, His authority.
IV. For the result, His promises.—J. L. Sommer.
John 20:23. The power of forgiving sins.—The result of a careful examination of Biblical teaching upon this subject is the acceptance of the following propositions:
1. That the power of forgiving sins is divinely bestowed upon the disciples of Jesus Christ in their corporate capacity, and that such power is in harmony with the purpose of Jesus Christ’s mediation and the genius of the religious epoch in which we live.
2. That Jesus Christ taught the doctrine of individual confession to the offended individual, and called upon the offended individual to forgive the offender upon receiving such confession.
3. That nowhere in the sacred Scriptures is forgiveness promised apart from confession and restitution, whether the sin lies between man and man, or between man and God.
4. That nowhere in the sacred Scriptures is there any authority given to any official person, bishop, priest, minister, or deacon, to receive secretly and confidentially a confession of sins.
5. That the confession of sins is too sacred a duty, involving consequences too many and important, to be reduced to a system and presided over by any single human being.
6. That all overt sin has a human as well as a divine aspect, and that the Church, inspired and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, has power to deal with the human aspect, according to the nature of the confession which the sinner may make.
7. That to shrink from receiving confession of sin, and dealing with it according to its merits, may have the appearance of great reverence and humility, without the reality—may show that the Church has part in the first baptism only, and not in the baptism of fire.
8. That to avoid all priestly pretension, and destroy the confessional, that infinitely hateful institution which has degraded and oppressed every nation in which it has found an existence, and further to show that all who have the Holy Ghost are kings and priests unto God, the sinner should openly confess his overt sins in the presence of the Church (which could be done by writing, or before such a number of witnesses as the Church itself might appoint), and receive from the Church such comfort as can never be refused to those who truly confess and heartily repent their sins.—Dr. Joseph Parker.
John 20:28. The worship of Jesus.—At other times such visible worship of our Saviour was an act of acknowledgment or of thanksgiving for mercies received.… Thus the holy women when the risen “Jesus met them, saying, All hail, came … and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:9). Thus apparently, Mary of Magdala, in her deep devotion, had motioned to embrace His feet in the garden, when Jesus bade her “Touch Me not” (John 20:17). Thus the eleven disciples met our Lord by appointment on a mountain in Galilee, and “when they saw Him,” as it would seem, in their joy and fear, “they worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:17). Thus, pre-eminently, St. Thomas uses the language of adoration, although it is not said to have been accompanied by any corresponding outward act. When, in reproof for his scepticism, he had been bidden to probe the wounds of Jesus, he burst forth into the adoring confession, “My Lord and my God.” Thus when the ascending Jesus was being borne upwards into heaven, the disciples, as if thanking Him for His great glory, worshipped Him, and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy.—H. P. Liddon (Bampton Lectures).
 Against the attempt of Theodore of Mopsuestia and others to resolve this into an ejaculation addressed to the Father, see Alford, in loc.
John 20:29. The certainty of our Saviour’s resurrection.—The resurrection of a body, before its total dissolution, is easier to be believed, than after it; and it was this last sort of resurrection which puzzled Thomas’s reason. Various objections being removed, Christ’s resurrection is proposed to our belief upon certain and sufficient grounds:—
I. The constant, uniform affirmation of such persons as had sufficient means to be informed of the truth, and were of an unquestionable sincerity.
II. The miracles which confirmed the apostle’s words.
III. That such tradition has greater reason for its belief, than can be suggested for its disbelief.
We ought to admire the commanding excellency of faith, which can force its way through the opposition of carnal reason, with an entire submission to divine revelation.—South.
John 20:30-31. The object which the Evangelist had in view in writing this Gospel we are not left to find out for ourselves. He explicitly says that his purpose in writing was to promote the belief that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). This purpose, he judges, he will best accomplish, not by writing an essay, nor by framing an abstract argument in advocacy of the claims of Jesus, but by reproducing in his Gospel those manifestations of His glory which elicited faith in the first disciples and in others. That which had produced faith in his own case and in that of his fellow-disciples, will, he thinks, if fairly set before men, produce faith in them also. He relates, therefore, with the utmost simplicity of language, the scenes in which Jesus seemed to him most significantly to have revealed His power and His goodness, and most forcibly to have demonstrated that the Father was in Him. At the same time he keeps steadily in view the circumstance that these manifestations had not always produced faith, but that alongside of a growing faith there ran an increasing unbelief which at length assumed the form of hostility and outrage. This unbelief he feels called upon to account for. He feels called upon to demonstrate that its true reason lay, not in the inadequacy of Christ’s manifestations, but in the unreasonable and unspiritual requirements of the unbelieving, and in their alienation from God. The Gospel thus forms the primary apologetic, which by its very simplicity and closeness to reality touches at every point the underlying causes and principles of faith and unbelief.—Marcus Dods.
John 20:30-31. St. John’s method as an Evangelist.—As a polemical writer, St. John selects and marshals his materials with a view to confuting, from historical data, the humanitarian or docetic errors of the time. St. John is anxious to bring a particular section of the life of Jesus to bear upon the intellectual world of Ephesus. He puts forward an aspect of the original truth which was certain to command present and local attention; he is sufficiently in correspondence with the age to which he ministers, and with the speculative temper of the men around him. He had been led to note and to treasure up in his thought certain phases of the teaching and character of Jesus with especial care. He had remembered more accurately those particular discourses, in which Jesus speaks of His eternal relation to the Father, and of the profound mystic communion of life into which He would enter with His followers through the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments. These cherished memories of St. John’s earlier years, unshared in their completeness by less privileged apostles, were well fitted to meet the hard necessities of the Church during the closing years of the beloved disciple. To St. John the gnosis of Cerinthus must have appeared to be in direct contradiction to the sacred certainties which he had heard from the lips of Jesus, and which he treasured in his heart and memory. In order to confute the heresy which separated the man Jesus from the “Æon” Christ, he had merely to publish what he remembered of the actual words and works of Jesus. His translation of those divine words may be coloured, by a phraseology current in the school which he is addressing, sufficiently to make them popularly intelligible. But the peculiarities of his language have been greatly exaggerated by criticism, while they are naturally explained by the polemical and positively doctrinal objects he had in view. To these objects, the language, the historical arrangement, the selection from conversations and discourses before unpublished, the few deeply significant miracles, the description of opponents by a generic name—the “Jews”—which ignores the differences of character, class, and sect among them, and notices them only so far as they are in conflict with the central truth manifested in Jesus,—all contribute. But these very peculiarities of the Fourth Gospel subserve its positive devotional and didactic aim even more directly than its controversial one. The false gnosis is refuted by an exhibition of the true. The true is set forth for the sake of Christian souls. These things “are written that ye might,” etc.—H. P. Liddon (Bampton Lectures).
John 20:19-29. The manner in which Christ manifested His resurrection.—Christ, the great Sun of righteousness and Saviour of the world, having by a glorious rising, after a red and bloody setting, proclaimed His deity to men and angels, and by a complete triumph over the two grand enemies of mankind, sin and death, set up the everlasting gospel in the room of all false religions, has now, as it were, changed the Persian superstition into the Christian devotion; and, without the least approach to the idolatry of the former, made it henceforth the duty of all nations, Jews and Gentiles, to worship the rising Sun. But as the sun does not display his rising to all parts of the world together, nor to the same region shows his whole light at the same instant, but by weaker glimmerings at the first gradually ascends to clearer and clearer discoveries, and at length beams it forth with full diffusion; so Christ here discovered Himself after His rising, not to all His apostles at once, nor to any of them with the same evidence at first, but by several ascending instances and arguments, till in the end He shone out in His full meridian, and made the proof of His resurrection complete in His ascension. Thomas we have one of the last in this chorus, resolving to tie his understanding close to his senses; to believe no further than be could see, nor to venture himself out but where he could feel his way. He would not, it seems, take a miracle upon hearsay, nor resolve his creed into report, nor, in a word, see with any eyes but his own. No; be must trace the print of the nails, follow the spear into our Saviour’s side, till he even touched the miracle, and felt the article of the resurrection. But as in the too inquisitive beholder, who is not content to behold the Sun by reflection, but by a direct intuition of His glorious body, there comes such a light, as at the same time both informs and chastises the over-curious eye; so Christ here, in His discovering Himself to this doubting apostle, condescends indeed to convince him in his own way; but so, that while He complies with his infirmity, He also upbraids his infidelity; humouring His patient, but not sparing his distemper; and yet all this with so gentle a hand, and such an allay of sweetness, that the reproof is only collateral or consequential, not directly reproaching him for his unbelief, but implicitly reflecting upon it, by commending the belief of others; nothing in the meantime sharp or corrosive dropping from His healing lips, even in passing such a reprehension upon His disciple. He only shows him his blind side in an opposite instance, and so leaves him to read his own case in an antithesis, and to shame himself by a comparison.—South.
Christ, in manifesting His resurrection to the world, proceeded, after a very different way from what mere human sense or reason would probably have suggested, or looked for in such a case.—Calvin.
John 20:19. “Peace be unto you.”—Nature prescribes reprisals; for nature is only flesh and blood, and vehement desires and hot passions, ordinarily controlled only by considerations of social prudence. Leaning upon nature, we may as well despair of getting beyond her as of forcing water to rise permanently above its natural level. But if we will we may reach a higher standard, since we are not really left to our own resources. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. He does not merely prescribe, He transforms. He is perpetually asserting His presence by His spiritual transformations; He makes the feeble strong, and the melancholy bright, and the cold-blooded fervent, and the irascible gentle, and the uninstructed wise, and the conceited humble, and the timid unflinching. And now, as of old, He filleth the hungry with good things, but the rich He hath sent empty away. He has but a scant measure of endowments to bestow on those who find in the things of sense, in the pursuit or worship of wealth and rank and reputation, their deepest and most solid satisfaction. He gives Himself most fully to those who ask for Him secretly and often. O blessed gift, so bounteously given in baptism, and then again and again repeated, of the Spirit of Christ! We seek Him without, and we find Him within us; we seek Him in great assemblies, and find Him in solitude; we seek Him in the understanding, we find Him in the heart. He enters the soul when all the doors of sense are shut; He gives His benediction to each and all of its faculties: “Peace be unto you” (John 20:21). The soul hears him, it sees Him not; the soul feels Him, yet as if insensibly; and His presence is itself that peace of God which passeth all understanding. Henceforth enriched by His indwelling, the soul’s desire is to desire nothing, its will to will for nothing, its care to care for nothing, its wealth to possess nothing, out of God, its one, its everlasting treasure. This is not mysticism; it is the experience of those who have heard within themselves that there is a Holy Ghost. This is the subjective side of lives which have been spent in the purest and most unselfish benevolence, but the secret of whose strength has escaped the notice of ordinary lookers-on. Depend upon it, the kingdom of the Spirit is as near to us as it was to our fathers, and that no changes of human opinion can affect the irrevocable gifts of God. One day, each and all, we shall look back upon its blessed opportunities, upon its high responsibilities, with what feelings of self-reproach or of gratitude, who shall say? Let us be wise while we may. Let us “lay not up for ourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but let us lay up,” etc. (Matthew 6:19).—H. P. Liddon.
John 20:19. The blessedness of those who have Christ’s peace.—If we would live peaceably ourselves, we should endeavour to preserve peace and prevent differences, and reconcile dissensions among others, by doing good offices and making fair representations of intercurrent passages between them; by concealing causes of future disgust, and removing present misunderstandings, and excusing past mistakes; by allaying their passions and rightly informing their minds; by friendly intercessions and pacific advices. For the fire that devoureth our neighbour’s house threateneth and endangereth ours; and it is hard to approach contention without being engaged therein. ’Tis not easy to keep ourselves indifferent or neutral, and doing so we shall in likelihood be maligned and persecuted by both the contending parties. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” saith our Saviour; “for they shall be called the sons of God”: that is, they shall be highly esteemed and reverenced for this divine quality, wherein they so nearly resemble the God of peace and His blessed Son, the great Mediator. But, further, without respect to other recompense, and from the nature of their employment, such are immediately happy; and in this their virtuous practice rewards itself, that by appeasing others’ quarrels they save themselves from trouble, and enjoy themselves that tranquillity which they procure to others. But those informing sycophants, those internuncios of pestilent tales, and incendiaries of discord, that (from bad nature or upon base design) by the still breath of clandestine whispers, or by the more violent blasts of impudent calumnies, kindle the flames of dissension, or foment them among others, … “separating between chief friends,” and widening the distance between others, … reap in the end mischief and disturbance to themselves, nor can expect to enjoy the benefit of that quiet which they labour to deprive others of.—Isaac Barrow.
John 20:21. Living as children of the Resurrection.—Why wonder that all around us Christians in the Church is supernatural, if it be thus a continuous exercise of the power which raised Jesus from the dead? Or that our Bible is essentially unlike all merely human books? Or that the Church, our mother and our home, is distinct in essence from the perishing politics and societies around it? Or that in the holy sacraments we have the sources and supports of a life that nature could neither create nor sustain? Or that in Christian souls we behold graces of which nature is incapable; faith, hope, charity—charity of the deepest, tenderest kind toward God, and for God’s sake toward man; humility, purity, patience; a joy which no earthly pleasure could minister; a peace which passeth all understanding? For all that really quickens and strengthens the Christian soul is His work who raised Jesus from the grave. The resurrection of our Lord is the measure of the risen life. The risen life is, in the mental and moral order of things, what the Resurrection is among the phenomena which are discerned by the senses. The reality of the moral fact before our eyes is bound up with the reality of its historical counterpart. If Christ’s resurrection is not a fact, then is Christianity false from the first and altogether, and its spiritual no less than its intellectual life is a delusion. If Christ’s resurrection be a fact—so certain that Christians would die to attest it—then the supernatural character of the Christian life around us corresponds with the strictly supernatural fact from which it dates its origin. And as we take the measure of the beauty and power and glory of this new and higher life which has been thus bountifully bestowed on men, what remains but to lift up heart and voice to God, and cry, “It is meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God”? Yes! one thing else remains: to see that we are living as those who are “risen with Christ.” This glorious life has manners, a temper, a bearing, a line of conduct, a code of honour, peculiarly its own. The grace of God does not put force upon our wills: we are free to obey or to resist it. Therefore the apostle adds, “Seek those things that are above.” Surely, brethren, there is need for this warning; even when, as we trust, the light of heaven is already beaming on our understandings, and the love of God is already Warming our hearts.—H. P. Liddon.
John 20:25. Faith and evidence.—There is not a little of unbelief in these words. Thomas impugned the truth of all the testimony he had listened to. He wounded his fellow-disciples most deeply, while he apparently considered them all visionaries or liars, and himself alone wise; and trusted more to the evidence of his fingers than the testimony of his ten fellow-disciples. He boldly and pertly prescribed to the Lord the only kind of evidence he (Thomas) would be willing to receive; he laid down the most definite conditions as to the only manner in which he would be willing to acknowledge Christ as the risen One, … and brought his incredulity to wear an aspect of sheer obstinacy. But is this not the manner of unbelievers in all times? Is it not so to-day? Is it not the characteristic mark of unbelief that it demands that everything should be proved, vouched for, immediately and palpably to the senses? And are not the head shaken and the shoulders shrugged by many, when belief is asked for on what cannot be seen by the eyes or grasped by the hand? And is it not frequently said in the way of excuse that the Lord Himself demands no blind faith, and that St. Paul exhorts men to “prove all things, and hold fast what is good”? that it is impossible, even unjustifiable, for one to believe everything—that, above all, a man must be thoroughly convinced of the grounds of belief? that it is natural for sober and reasonable men not to credit all at once and without proof, on the word of the narrator, extraordinary facts as being absolutely true? that to err is human, and that the wisest of men have been deceived, not to speak of enthusiastic, imaginative Eastern women, or of a Peter who was always precipitate in his assertions, or a John who was the youngest of the apostles, with the most mobility of mind? A faith which knows not why it believes is not a true, firm faith, but a reed shaken with the wind, exposed to be influenced by every storm, by new teachers and novel opinions. In these assertions there is almost as much of what is false as of what is true. It is true we must not believe without solid ground for doing so, and must avoid credulity. But the truths of Holy Writ are truths which stand on a most firm foundation, and can point to an authority for themselves which is as eternal as God Himself. Are some of these truths beyond our reason? They are yet not contrary to it; and the reason why men do not believe them lies not so much in the doctrine and facts of Scripture, as in the hearts of men themselves.—Translated from F. Arndt.
John 20:28. The faith of Thomas an argument to convince and a lesson to instruct us.—When St. Paul, after his conversion, preached the name of Jesus in the synagogues of the Jews, the Scripture says that he “confounded the Jews.” And why? Because he had been a well-known persecutor of the name of Jesus, and therefore the Jews could neither challenge nor reject the testimony which he gave in favour of the God-man. For you know (he said), my brethren, in what manner I lived in the Jews’ religion, and with what excess of rage I waged war on the new Church which I acknowledge to-day to be the Church of God. It is true I was an unbeliever as you were, and more opposed to the light of grace than you. But it was for this reason that God looked on me and Jesus Christ exercised His mercy toward me, that I might become an example which would lead you to believe in Him. Yes, He Himself spoke to me; and what is the most wonderful of all wonders, has bestowed on me the disposition which you see to be in me, who laid me low that He might raise me, who blinded me that He might enlighten me, who made me, once a blasphemer, an apostle, and who, that I may now undo the evil I have done, desires that I should serve Him as a witness among you. These words in the mouth of St. Paul, I say, would come home with a divine power. And St. Luke adds that it was sufficient for the apostle to prove that Jesus was the Christ to close the mouths of all the enemies of the Christian name. Now, I say, it would be the same in the case of St. Thomas. In order to confound unbelief in the Resurrection, and therefore in the divinity of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas had only to show himself and to say aloud: I impugned His resurrection; I was greatly opposed to believing in it; but I am now forced to acknowledge its truth, and do not desire to live except to publish it abroad. To do so may cost me my life, but it shall be to me the greatest joy, if by the shedding of my blood I can witness for such a sacred truth as I ought to do. This witness-bearing may draw on me the hatred of my people; but I shall count it as nothing to be exposed to all their hatred, if I can proclaim the glory of my God. Yet once more. What could inspire this apostle with such noble feelings? Was there prepossession in his case? Was it self-interest? Was it aberration of mind? Or rather is it not evident that it was nothing of the sort? And whilst the conversion of this apostle cannot be explained otherwise than by affirming that it was the effect, incontestable and palpable, of the truth revealed to him, what more should we desire for the confirmation of our faith? And not only is the faith of St. Thomas an argument which should convince us, but a lesson which may instruct us. After it has shown us the reasonableness of faith, it teaches what we should believe, i.e. that Jesus Christ is God.—Translated from Bourdaloue.
John 20:29. The necessity for Christ’s resurrection.—Christ rose from the dead, not to startle godless and truth-hating men into faith, but to furnish all mankind with a new and better temple, with the means of spiritual worship and constant fellowship with God. There was a necessity for the Resurrection. Those who became intimately acquainted with Christ slowly but surely became aware that they found more of God in Him than ever they had found in the temple. Gradually they acquired new thoughts about God; and instead of thinking of Him as a sovereign veiled from the popular gaze in the hidden Holy of holies, and receiving through consecrated hands the gifts and offerings of the people, they learned to think of Him as a father, to whom no condescension was too deep, no familiarity with men too close, Unconsciously to themselves, apparently, they began to think of Christ as the true revealer of God, as the living temple who at all hours gave them access to the living God. But not till the Resurrection was this transference complete. Nay, so fixed had their hearts been, in common with all Jewish hearts, upon the temple, that not until the temple was destroyed did they wholly grasp what was given them in the resurrection of Jesus. It was the Resurrection which confirmed their wavering belief in Him as the Son of God. As Paul says, it was the Resurrection which “declared Him to be the Son of God with power.” Being the Son of God, it was impossible He should be held by death. He had come to the temple calling it by an unheard-of name: “My Father’s house.” Not Moses, not Solomon, not Ezra, not the holiest of high priests, would have dreamt of so identifying himself with God as to speak of the temple, not even as “our Father’s house” or “your Father’s house,” but “my Father’s house.” And it was the Resurrection which finally justified His doing so, declaring Him to be, in a sense no other was, the Son of God.—Dr. Marcus Dods.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany