We Are Sent… So GO!
John 20:19-31

by | Apr 16, 2024

PRAYER:  Jesus our Lord and savior, remind us today of the calling that you’ve placed on all of our hearts to be your disciples, to share your love, and to demonstrate healing and hope.    May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

The first time we encounter Thomas in the gospel of John is in chapter 11 when Jesus is planning on going to Judea because he’s heard that Lazarus died.  He intends to bring Lazarus back from the dead.  It’s an important story in John’s gospel.  Most of the disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going because they were concerned for their safety.  They knew that the Jewish authorities were planning on stoning Jesus.  Most of the disciples tried to stop him from going.  You know who didn’t try to stop Jesus?  Thomas.  He said, “No… let’s go take our chances.  Let’s do this thing!”  Thomas was the only one of the disciples who showed any courage.  He didn’t doubt then!  He believed Jesus and trusted him.

All of the other disciples – in that story – doubted, but the funny thing is that they don’t get the word “Doubting” used to describe them for thousands of years.  Only Thomas does.  Yet, only Thomas showed the courage… the willingness to believe Jesus, to take him at his word.

And then, at the last Supper, Jesus tells the group that one of them would deny him, one of them would betray him.  They all denied it; they all said, “Oh nooooo Jesus.  We’re with you.  We’ll stand by you.”  And of course, once Jesus was arrested, they all ran.  They ran away and presumably regathered in the upper room.  It’s safe to assume that they were still afraid of the Jewish authorities, it was their worst fear realized!

The beginning of our story from John 20 today says, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”  Just for a little bit of context, let’s remember that this is the same night of the resurrection.  It was earlier that same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty.  It was earlier in the same day that Peter and the other disciple had this bizarre little footrace to the tomb.  So you can imagine what was going on in their heads at this point when Jesus shows up in a locked room and says, “Peace be with you.”

He showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  The disciples had to see just as much as Thomas apparently did.  But even so, when Thomas showed up later that same day, they told him this fantastic story about Jesus, and he got hit with the title “doubting Thomas” because he didn’t believe.  But look at the chronology of the events in the story.  The disciples told Thomas this story and he didn’t believe.  He has this famous line, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

What was Thomas doubting here?  From the very beginning when Jesus recruited his disciples, they were all – I think we can say it… they were all a little slow.  Even though Jesus constantly preached a message of loving their neighbor, forgiveness, feeding the hungry, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, they all seemed to believe that Jesus was going to bring about a military victory and that they would become the ruling class in Israel.  Jesus would perform healings and feed the multitudes, and they would respond by asking him questions about who would sit on his right side when he took power.  Even in the gospel of Luke during the walk to Emmaus, the two disciples that are walking alongside Jesus himself before they recognized him said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  The disciples didn’t get it.  I believe that Thomas didn’t doubt Jesus.  After his experiences with the other disciples being all wishy washy… he was doubting the disciples!

For proof of that, we need look no further than the upper room on the night of the resurrection when Jesus came the first time.

Jesus showed up that first night and said, “Peace be with you”.  He showed the disciples his wounds, and they rejoiced.  “And then, Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”  The key takeaway  from all of this is: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. 

This was a call to action.  This was a Pentecost moment.  This was Jesus sending his disciples out to continue the work, to continue the ministry he had been demonstrating to them.  “As the Father sent me, so I send you!”  That sounds pretty unambiguous to me.  So let me ask you this:  If Jesus came up to you and said that he was sending you somewhere… would you get up and go, or would you sit around for a week?

A week later, this time with Thomas in attendance, Jesus shows up again.  A week after Jesus tells the disciples “As the Father sent me, so I send you” and they’re still there.  And once again, it bears noticing that the door was locked.  Jesus offered to show his wounds to Thomas.  Now, we don’t really know if Thomas took him up on that offer, but it’s obvious that he realized that the disciples were actually telling the truth a week before.  Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me?”

In the entertainment industry, there is typically an invisible wall that exists between the audience and the performers.  This is called the fourth wall.  Every so often, there is a performer or performance that calls for the breaking of that invisible fourth wall and the character speaks to the audience.

At this moment in today’s reading, I feel like Jesus himself is breaking that fourth wall between the story being told and the audience.  I feel like Jesus suddenly turns, not to Thomas, not to the other disciples, but to the audience behind the fourth wall and says to us all, “Look at these guys!  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Remember that ALL of the disciples – not just Thomas – had to see before they believed.

Jesus has now been there twice.  They didn’t listen to him the first time.  They were sent out, but they didn’t seem to move out of that upper room.  They were still there a week later, with the door locked.

Like the disciples, we too are sent.  We are sent to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This is not just a catchy phrase, it is the official motto / mission statement of the United Methodist Church.  We are sent, and it is incumbent upon us all to not sit in a closed off, locked room when Jesus, the one whom Thomas called, “My Lord and my God” is sending us out into our community to be connected with others.

Thomas didn’t doubt Christ, he doubted his followers.  He doubted those that gave witness to the risen Christ, perhaps because they showed no evidence.  Even after encountering the risen Christ, they were still locking themselves in a room.  Is there any wonder that he didn’t believe them?  What evidence do we show that there is a risen Christ?  If all we do is lock ourselves in rooms, in our sanctuaries, then why would anyone believe that we have been changed by a miraculous experience?

We are sent, not to force our ideology or belief system on others – that’s not what making disciples of Jesus Christ is about.  Jesus didn’t do that.  Jesus demonstrated love and compassion.  He proclaimed good news to thee poor, recovery of sight to the blind.  He taught forgiveness and he offered hope to people who had none. That’s what we are sent to do!

Jesus turns to the audience of the story – he turns to us because his statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” is more about us than it is the disciples.  It is a word of encouragement to those of us who believe even though we have not actually seen.  His statement is an obvious encouragement to the community receiving the gospel.  The good news is that you need not have seen Jesus to believe.  The offering to believe is made to all.  The question is, “What will you do about it?”

At the end of the reading are the words, “believing, you will have life in his name.” What does it mean to have life in Jesus’ name? Is it purely about afterlife?  Is following Jesus just about believing so that you can get to heaven?  Or does having life in Jesus’ name mean something more?

I believe that it must mean something more, just as it did to those disciples who were sent.  We cannot stay in what amounts to our upper room and be content that having new life in the resurrected Jesus compels us to remain here.  We are sent out to our community that we can speak out on behalf of the poor.  We are sent out to our community that we can proclaim and demonstrate – that we can re-present the risen Christ to our neighbors.  We are sent that we can share the love that God shares with us.

A couple of weeks ago, I encouraged you to be in prayer about what it is that God is calling us to do both as individuals and as a church.  Acting in the name of Jesus to lift up the brokenhearted and offer healing hope to others is a matter of faith.  Seeking justice and offering new life to others is an act of faith.  As individuals and as a faith community, we are sent out into the world offering the love of God that proclaims to others that new life in Jesus has changed us, and new life in Jesus Christ can be made available to others.

Jesus told his disciples, and he tells us all, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Let this moment be your calling to leave the comfort of whatever the upper room means to you and go out into your community bearing the good news, proclaiming the joy and the salvation that is offered through the one that Thomas believed.  “My Lord and my Savior,” Thomas said.  He didn’t doubt Jesus and that’s who sends us.  That’s who we worship.  That’s who tells us to go in his name.  So the only thing left for us to do is… let’s go.

To God be the glory.