Teaching series from John

2 Encounters and 2 Lessons

John 20-21

Teaching t05641


The crucifixion of Jesus is crucial (as we have seen the last two weeks)--but without his resurrection three days later it is only a tragedy. The resurrection vindicates Jesus' claim to be the Messiah (Matt. 12:39) and it demonstrates that his payment for sin was acceptable (Rom. 4:23).

This morning we will look at two post-resurrection encounters between Jesus and two of his disciples. These two encounters teach us two important spiritual lessons.

Jesus & Thomas: "How much evidence do I need to believe in Jesus?"

Reed vs 24-29. This issue here is clearly what constitutes a sufficient basis for faith in Jesus. Thomas claims that the disciples' word is not sufficient for him. For him, only "seeing is believing"--he has to see Jesus in the flesh and examine the wounds. Jesus grants him this opportunity, but he also gently rebukes him for being unwilling to "believe without seeing."

What does it mean to "believe without seeing?" How much evidence do we need to believe in Jesus as our Messiah? Different people give different answers to this question?

Some say we should be willing to believe without any evidence. This is what I would call blind faith--but it is not biblical faith. It is rather a form of gullibility that the Bible condemns (Isa. 40:19,20; 41:22-24). As we shall soon see, the God of the Bible (unlike other religions) both anticipates and answers our need for evidence-based faith.

Others say that only absolute proof will suffice (PHYSICAL APPEARANCE; HEALING; AUDIBLE VOICE; etc.). But this is precisely what Jesus is countering in Thomas. Throughout John's gospel, Jesus criticizes and denies this demand because it usually masks an unwillingness to believe.

John answers this question for us in vs 30,31 (read). We should be willing to believe that Jesus is the risen Messiah based on the apostles' testimony. God says their testimony is sufficient for a rational, informed, and intelligent decision to personally entrust ourselves to Jesus to receive forgiveness and spiritual life from God.

Isn't this a lot to ask? Let's consider the quality of their testimony concerning the most important issue--Jesus' resurrection.

They were not naive. Thomas (like the rest of the disciples) was not inclined to believe in Jesus' resurrection, in spite of Jesus' repeated predictions of it and his many miracles. They were "common sense" men who knew that once people died, they stayed dead. Luke says that when the women reported the angels' testimony that Jesus had risen, " . . . these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe in them." (Lk. 24:11).

They provide eye-witness accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Next to empirical proof, eye-witness testimony is the strongest kind of evidence there is. Consider some of their account.

Read 20:1-8. What was it about the grave-clothes that led John to believe Jesus was resurrected? Explain Palestinian 2-part burial wrappings. The body-wrappings were "lying in place" and the head-wrapping was lying separate from the body-wrappings. John concluded that the body had not been stolen because the wrappings were undisturbed. He further concluded that the body must have somehow vacated the wrappings. He concluded that the best explanation was Jesus' prediction that he would be resurrected.

NOTE: This is one of many passages which make it clear that Jesus' resurrected body had different properties than before he died. He wasn't merely revived--he wouldn't have been able to get out of the body-wrappings. He was resurrected, and his body now possessed the ability to pass right through physical barriers (see also 20:19).

Jesus appeared personally to all of them except Thomas (read vs 19,20) and then including Thomas. Then, over the next forty days, Jesus appeared to them (and 500 others) many times and provided additional empirical proof of his resurrection (Acts 1:3; 1 Jn. 1:1). Some of these additional eye-witnesses vouch for John's testimony in 21:24.

They were willing to suffer and die rather than deny this testimony. If they were involved in a cover-up, how can you explain why none of them cracked when threatened with beating and death (COLSON'S AFORTIORI IN LOVING GOD)? None of them profited in a worldly sense for standing by this claim. All of them experienced persecution for the rest of their lives because of their insistence that Jesus confirmed by his resurrection to be the Messiah. All of them (except perhaps John) were executed for their testimony. This makes their testimony all the more compelling because it removes any self-centered motive for lying.

The Christian movement began in a hostile setting and in the city of Jesus' tomb on the basis of this claim. The Romans and Jews wanted Jesus to "stay dead"--that's why they guarded his tomb with crack Roman soldiers and threatened the death penalty to anyone who disturbed his grave. Yet the apostles called people to believe in him as the Messiah based on the fact of his resurrection (Acts 2:24,32; 3:13,26). Why didn't their enemies exhume the body? It is impossible to explain how the church ever got out of the starting gate apart from the empty tomb.

When you consider the quality of their testimony, the nature of the offer (vs 31b), and the additional testimony of people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus, this is a reasonable request.

We don't require better evidence than this to trust others for important things we desire or need. When I buy a used car, I don't just take the word of the seller. I take it to an independent mechanic and have him check it out. I know there is an element of risk--but I am willing to take the word of the mechanic if the price is right and the car is desirable. If you need a serious surgery, you get a second opinion, check references, etc.--but then, based on their testimony, you choose to entrust your life to the surgeon.

The stakes are higher, but the way you decide is the same. You want to know God, you have needs you can't meet, you're going to die. You should evaluate the options and weigh the evidence--and then you need to make a decision to entrust your spiritual and eternal life to Jesus Christ. You need to humble yourself before him like Thomas did and personally say "My Lord and my God." If you take this step of faith, he will come into your life and confirm you decision!

Now let's look at another, very different encounter between Jesus and one of his disciples . . .

Jesus & Peter: "How can I be restored after failing Jesus?"

The setting of this encounter is crucial. Only days before, Peter boasted that he would sooner die than forsake Jesus. Within hours, however, he ran away at Jesus' arrest and then denied him three times (with cursing and the last time to his face). Now, after appearing again to the disciples, Jesus initiates a personal (but not private) conversation with Peter. Read 21:15-17.

What a strange dialogue! Yet we find in it the answer to another key spiritual issue: How can we be restored after failing Jesus? In spite of Peter's dramatic failure, Jesus fully restores him to fellowship and leadership. What were the elements of this restoration? This question is of personal importance to all of us who have received Christ. We are all like Peter in that we fail Christ often, and sometimes seriously. Yet, like Peter, the primary issue is not how badly we have failed the Lord--it is rather how we respond after such failures. This passage reveals three keys . . .

Acknowledge to him the failures he exposes. At first glance, Jesus almost seems cruel in the way he confronts Peter about his recent denial. In asking him "Do you love me more than these?" Jesus is not seeking information! Rather, he is exposing Peter's failure. He echoes Peter's boast in Mk. 15:29 ("Even though all these may fall away, yet I will not."). Three times Jesus asks Peter "Do you love me?"--purposefully reminding Peter of the three times he answered "No!" to that question by denying he even knew Jesus. Yet Jesus is not trying to rub Peter's nose in his failures. Rather, he is exposing Peter's failure so that it can be truly resolved.

How do you respond when Jesus exposes your failure to follow him (EXAMPLES: commission and omission)? Most of us respond in one of two ways: rationalizing, minimizing, blame-shifting, or self-denigration (like Judas). Though these responses may seem different, they are identical in the key area--they avoid dealing directly with Jesus. Therefore, the failure remains unresolved and damages our relationship with him. This is why Jesus seeks us out (directly through conviction or through other Christians) and calls on us to confess it to him for what it is. When we are willing to do this, we find our fellowship with him instantly restored (even though horizontal consequences may remain).

Learn the lesson of humility and self-mistrust. This was the main thing Jesus was trying to drive home with Peter through this encounter, but it has been obscured by the translation. When Jesus asks Peter "Do you love me?" the first two times, he uses the word agape. This word signifies sacrificial service and commitment, and this is what Peter was so confident about prior to Jesus' arrest. But Peter's reply in both cases is "You know that I phileo you." This word refers to affection for a friend, and is not as strong as agape. It's almost like Jesus is asking, "Are you still confident that you love me 100%?"--but Peter responds, "I was self-deceived about that, Lord. You know that I love you, but it's only 60%." The third time, Jesus switches to phileo. He does this probably to assure Peter that this honest evaluation, while imperfect, is acceptable to him. Peter's relationship with Jesus is far better off with him aware of his less-than-perfect commitment than when he self-confidently thought he was fully committed.

This is a crucial lesson for us as well. Spiritual failure is always preceded by the decision to trust self rather than Christ. How easy it is to think we know better than Christ what we need! How easy it is to begin to view ourselves as more committed to Jesus than we really are! How much of what we do for Christ is really just our own flesh operating for self-advancement! How easily we look at other Christians' weaknesses and failures and conclude: "That's the problem with this group--people aren't as committed as I am!" God has a remedy for this problem--he allows us to fall and fail. Then he asks us if we want to learn the lesson of humility and self-mistrust. This is why the most mature Christians are those who are most acutely aware of their imperfect commitment, and their need for God's mercy and sustaining grace.

Express your gratitude for his grace by serving others. Each time Peter confesses his love, Jesus calls on him to take care of his people. What an amazing display of grace! Even though Peter has failed miserably and is woefully imperfect in his love for Jesus, Jesus not only restores him to leadership but also expands his sphere of ministry. Prior to this time, Peter had been commissioned to "fishing" (winning people to Christ). Now, on the heels of this failure and Peter's new-found humility, he expands his role to "tending and shepherding" (leading and feeding Christians). What would it have meant if Peter said, "No thanks--I don't deserve it?" The proof that he had received Christ's grace, and the completion of his restoration, was resuming his ministry role in the Lord's work.

This is also the way the Lord deals with us. He does not require perfection in any area of our lives. If we can we say that we sincerely love him and want to follow him, he forgives us and accepts our imperfect love--and calls on us to serve others in his name. This is the way we say "thank you" for his mercy and grace--not by doing penance, but by giving his love to others in Christian ministry. We are not fully restored until we are serving others!