Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 1 2013 - John 20:1-31 – Seeing and believing

Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the evening of that first Easter day. He just could not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw it for himself. The following week, when Jesus again appeared to them, Thomas was present and immediately confessed, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responds by saying, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29).

It’s tempting to take this last phrase of the Lord Jesus as a definition of true faith – faith believes without evidence. This certainly is what many would affirm concerning our faith – Mark Twain famously quipped that faith is believing what you know is not true! But such a view of faith fails to pay attention to how John’s Gospel continues. Immediately after this pronouncement of blessing by Jesus upon those who have not seen yet believe, John adds his own comment to the effect that the risen Jesus appeared on other occasions among the disciples and performed signs among them that are not recorded in his book. Nevertheless, “These things are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through faith you may have eternal life in his name” (20:30-31). John does not expect us to believe without evidence. He records the things that the first disciples and eyewitnesses had seen and heard so that we, through their testimony, might believe in Jesus and share in his resurrection life.

But this is no bookish faith – like believing that Henry the eighth had six wives because we have done the necessary historical research (or at least read books by, or seen programmes written by, those who have done such research). Christian faith is not less than that kind of believing, but it is far more. It is a passionate conviction that Jesus is the Christ; he is the Saviour of the world and Lord of all. It is a passionate commitment to him.

That passionate commitment springs from the fact that we know him. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene on that first resurrection morning she wanted to cling on to him so that he would never be taken away from her again. But Jesus tells her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’" (20:17).

The relationship which Jesus, the Son, enjoyed with the Father from all eternity, has become an open relationship – one that we enjoy with him. By the presence and testimony of the Spirit we have intimations of this reality now; we shall know it in all its fullness hereafter.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of that first Easter day, John records that he told them, “Just as the Father sent me, so I am now sending you.” Then he breathed on the disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:21-22). They are to continue Jesus’ work, testifying to him and to his kingdom and calling people to repentance and faith. But they do not do this work alone, for the Spirit works in them, through them and with them. He also bears testimony to who Jesus is, what he has done and to his resurrection power and the arrival of his kingdom. It is the Spirit, not the disciples, who will bring people to faith.

And so it continues, generation after generation: word and Spirit together bear witness to Jesus, and the followers of Jesus continue his work as they bear testimony to him in word and through the power of transformed lives. We speak of what we know and we speak that others also may believe and know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Risen Saviour, empower me by your Spirit to bear witness to you in word and in how I live. May my faith be more than mere words. May it be the fire of your Spirit within me, consuming me and energising me in the work of your kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook