ON THE AGENDA
1. Passage Interpretation – What is John 20:19-31 saying to you?
2. Sermon Reverb – GCI Lectionary Notes on John 20:19-31
3. Irreligious HardTalk – What Do You Believe About HELL? – A Conversation
- Do you believe in Hell?
- Why do you believe in Hell?
- What kind of Hell do you believe in?
- What do you believe is the purpose of Hell?
- Where do you believe Hell is?
- When do you believe Hell was created?
- Do you believe people are in Hell right now?
- Do you believe God is in Hell?
- If there’s going to be a new Heaven and a new Earth, do you believe there will be a new Hell?
- What do you believe Jesus will do with the keys to Hell?
1. Passage Interpretation – What is John 20:19-31 saying to you?
John 20:19-23, 24-25, 26-29, 30-31
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were [e]assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, [f]“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written (Cf. 1 John 5:13) that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Luke 24:13-18, 19-24, 25-27, 28-31, 32-35, 36-39, 43, 44-49
13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day (see Lk.24:1) to a village called Emmaus, which was [e]seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.
17 And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you [f]walk and are sad?”
18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”
19 And He said to them, “What things?”
So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”
25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He [g]expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He [h]indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was [i]known to them in the breaking of bread.
36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
40 [j]When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish [k]and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, [l]and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city [m]of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
2. Sermon Reverb – GCI Lectionary Notes on John 20:19-31
Out of Doubt, Exaltation
Every year, on the Second Sunday of Easter, we are blessed to be able to reflect on the experiences of the disciples as they encounter the risen Christ and contend with the reality of a world turned on its head: the one who the leaders reviled, rejected, tortured and crucified, is now exalted by the Father. It’s an incredible moment in history, filled with incredulous people being taken from a place of doubt and fear to one of faith and hope. There is one man history has made the very incarnation of the incredulity and doubt – Thomas, often unfairly labelled “Doubting Thomas.” Let’s have a look at his encounter with the risen Christ.
Our doubting souls
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “I never doubted you!” cried when we succeeded at something. While the phrase might sometimes be a sincere statement, it does of course beg the question, if there was no doubt, why did the thought of doubt even come up? It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge just how prevalent doubt is in our lives. Think of everything you have doubts about on any given day: We doubt we can get out of bed without being grumpy. We doubt we can get the kids to school on time, or ourselves to work for that matter. We doubt that we’re the right person for the job, any job that is! We doubt that anyone else is the right person for the job!
Some doubts are generation-locked – derived in early childhood from our parents, teachers and other influencers. Then as teenagers we began to form our own doubts – often doubting that anyone really cared about us. As young adults we doubt anyone else has a clue what they’re talking about (that doubt might be more intergenerational than we care to admit). Once we hit middle age, we doubt every life choice we made up until that point. Past middle age we begin to doubt our own bodies; we doubt we can make it to the bathroom on time without throwing our hip out again. And toward the ends of our lives, like the teenagers, we often doubt that anyone really cares about us (again this one might be intergenerational).
While we might not have personally experienced all the same doubts at the appropriate age (some people have perfectly good hips their whole lives), many of us have had similar doubts. That’s because those doubts have foundations. They don’t crop up out of nowhere – and knowing why we doubted something is key to being able to overcome the doubt.
Share a personal anecdote of a time you had a doubt – it can be funny or serious, but it should be empathetic – a doubt people can relate to because the reasons for the doubt can be easily explained.
The deep foundations of doubt
Doubting God, like most other doubts, also has an identifiable foundation. Many of us have had moments where certainty wavered, hope flickered, and we had to contend with the cold and terrifying existential prospect of a world without Jesus. Yet in our passage today we have poor Thomas, singled out for being the doubter amongst a sea of doubters. The question we need to ask though, to help us understand what is happening in the passage, is what was the foundation of his doubt? Let’s have a look at the way he frames his doubt:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b)
Thomas makes a simple assertation – his belief is dependent on being able to verify Jesus’ wounds. There are many reasons why Thomas might have wanted to do this. Some theorize that he was fearful that Jesus could be a ghost, or a masquerading evil spirit. Others claim that he needed to touch the wounds to verify it was Jesus and not just a prank.
So, which was it? Why did Thomas want to touch the hands and side of Jesus? Was it just that he needed the physical contact to assuage his doubts? A tactile moment of certainty? That’s something many people could get behind – just give us the cold hard facts!
For others of us, the idea that he was worried about a spirit masquerading as Christ might be a little more divorced from our experiences – we might have a harder time empathizing with the rationale of his doubt.
But what if there was yet another cause for his doubts, one that hinged upon a prevailing philosophical outlook that persists to this day. Perhaps it came down to a simple question: How could God bleed?
If this was part of his thought pattern, Thomas may have been contending with a deeper theological challenge. For Thomas, like so many before and since, this idea that God (or his appointed Messiah) could bleed was probably preposterous. That God could be in any way affected by the material world did not stick with the Jewish understanding at the time and contradicted the prevailing theories amongst Hellenistic philosophers.
Almost 400 years before Thomas’ encounter with his risen Lord, the philosopher Aristotle posited a theory that the universe was made up of “unmoved movers” – constants that held to their pattern of existence unaffected by any other force. The greatest of these, he theorized, must be God – his theoretical omnipotent deity must be the greatest “unmoved mover”. Key to this understanding was the logic that God could not possibly be affected by his creation – he is instead ‘other’ and separated by a great distance.
Perhaps you can see the problem for Thomas here. His doubt had some deep foundations, they were founded in his religious and social cultures. His friends were claiming something that was going to force him to reassess everything he thought he knew! He had to be sure! Thomas had to learn that no one, whether priest or philosopher, could tell you who God is and how he acts. God himself would have to do that.
No foundation strong enough
This could have been the end of Thomas’ faith – he had demanded a high bar for believing that Jesus was risen from the dead – it couldn’t just be his closest friends and confidants telling him so. Yet, in Jesus’ response, we see the heart of God toward his (even stubborn) children.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Regardless of the reason Thomas felt he needed to touch Jesus’ wounds, whether he thought him to be a ghost, a fraud or a theological impossibility, there was one solution that shed all these foundations. But it wasn’t Thomas touching Jesus, even though it might seem that way from the text. What we are actually seeing here is far deeper – it is Jesus coming to Thomas; he is sought out the one sheep who had gone astray, just like he told them he would.
Jesus’ accommodation of Thomas’ desire to touch him sometimes leaves people with a difficult conundrum – what do we say to people now who say they need to touch and see Jesus? It’s a difficult question to wrestle with, but one that Jesus is actually giving us an answer to here. For Thomas, his foundations of doubt were deep – but they were nothing Jesus could not overcome. After one simple encounter with Jesus, Thomas is left exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”
Not only had he come to believe that Jesus is risen, but he also declares a theological truth that had never been so clearly uttered until that point: Jesus is God. He’s not just a political, religious, or military messiah – Jesus is God. Thomas overthrows centuries of traditions and beliefs in this one statement. He proclaims that this man, born out of wedlock, tried as a criminal – who was tortured and crucified is God! The foundations of his doubt are uprooted, in one simple moment – this isn’t something that would normally happen in one single moment of time!
Yet it does. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, opening Thomas’ eyes to God’s reality – showing that Jesus is the one to be exalted above very other name. And so we see in this passage that no matter how intimidating the depths of our doubt might be, regardless of how firm a foundation they might have in our lives, they are powerless before the Holy Spirit as he strips our doubts away.
And yet still, we see him
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:29-31).
Thomas and the disciples were not going to see Jesus again after his Ascension – at least in bodily form. Yet they had already received a clear promise, they would see him in a different manner. Earlier in John 14:19 we read what Jesus told his disciples:
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)
Thomas’ declaration, “My Lord and my God” was a fulfillment of a prophecy he had received only days earlier. This moment of revelation — where Thomas saw Jesus, not just as a man, but as God — meant that he saw him in a way the rest of the world didn’t.
Thomas saw the risen Lord … and we too, through the power of the Holy Spirit, see him. He lives in us and we in him. We see that Jesus is exalted to the highest place, that he sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, with Thomas, can declare with exaltation as we witness the risen Christ – “My Lord and my God!”
3. IRRELIGIOUS HARDTALK –
What Do You Believe About HELL? – A Conversation
Why talk about HELL?
Two reasons …
- To help us consider As I’ve read and studied, I’ve come to realize that it is the belief in Hell why … Many people have problems accepting the Gospel … Many Christians find it hard to believe that God will save all people … Many people have a wrong view of God (based on the kind of God that the concept of Hell, as a place of eternal conscious torment fosters)
- To cause you to doubt the view of Hell that many Christians hold … in the hope that you will wrestle with those doubts and develop a more certain (and hopefully better, stronger) faith.
From Barclay’s Commentary of JOHN …
The character of Thomas stands out clear before us.
(i) He made one mistake. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first coming of Jesus. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s Church which will not happen when we are alone. When sorrow comes and sadness envelops us, we often tend to shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people. That is the very time when, in spite of our sorrow, we should seek the fellowship of Christ’s people, for it is there that we are likeliest of all to meet Him face to face.
(ii) But Thomas had two great virtues. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what he did not believe. There is an uncompromising honesty about him. He would never still his doubts by pretending that they did not exist. He was not the kind of man who would rattle off a creed without understanding what it was all about. Thomas had to be sure — and he was quite right.
Tennyson wrote: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.”
There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure … than in the man who glibly repeats things which he has never thought out, and which he may not really believe. It is doubt like that which in the end arrives at certainty.
(ii) Thomas’ other great virtue was that when he was sure, he went the whole way. “My Lord and my God!” said he. There was no halfway house about Thomas. He was not airing his doubts just for the sake of mental acrobatics; he doubted in order to become sure; and when he did, his surrender to certainty was complete. And when a man fights his way through his doubts to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, he has attained to a certainty that the man who unthinkingly accepts things can never reach.
That said, let’s proceed to our convo …
Do you believe in Hell? (* ask for show of hands)
Why do you believe in Hell?
What kind of Hell do you believe in?
What do you believe is the purpose of Hell?
Where do you believe Hell is?
When do you believe Hell was created? (Genesis 1:31)
Do you believe people are in Hell right now?
Do you believe Hell will ever be empty? (See Revelation 20:14-15, 13)
Do you believe God is in Hell? (See Psalm 139:1-7,8)
Do you believe there will be a new Hell? (See Revelation 21:1)
What do you believe Jesus will do with the keys to Hell? (See Revelation 1:18)