Join us every sunday at 9:30 AM

”Shalom Aleichem”

April 16, 2023 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: John 20:19–31


19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus cames and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 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 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


There are quite a few themes we may explore within John’s gospel passage this morning.  Fear, doubt, belief, sorrow, rejoicing, peace, and proclamation.  It may be difficult to cover all of these in a single sermon, but I feel we ought to clarify one other point before we get too deep into our discussion this morning.  In the very first verse of our reading John writes that the disciples were behind locked doors, and this was because they were in fear of the “Jews”.  This verse, and similar ones in Scripture have been used for millennia as a pretext for antisemitism.  “The disciples were hiding from the Jews”; “the Jews killed Jesus”, and the like.  The reality is that everyone in the story was an Israelite, a Judean, and or course, this makes them all “Jews”.  Mary, the disciples, and Jesus himself were followers of the Hebrew faith; thus, they were all Jews.

So who is John telling us they were in fear of?  Well, while it might not be obvious to us, when John was writing his gospel those reading it would have immediately understood that the disciples were hiding from the Pharisees, the chief priest, and the rest of the temple authorities.  It would have been these “Jews” that Peter and the others feared; let’s not forget that they were the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified.  If we were among those early followers we would surely have been in fear as well; would Jesus’ fate await us, also?  So, it was the Jews who were the religious authorities that the disciples locked themselves away from.  Well, with this clarification out of the way, perhaps we should now examine some of the more strictly theological substance of today’s gospel lesson.

The story is set on two different days and we initially encounter the disciples in  the evening of the first Easter.  Jesus had been crucified three days earlier and Mary had gone to the tomb to prepare his body for the ritual Jewish burial ceremony.  The resurrected Jesus has appeared to her; she has told the disciples this and Peter and John raced to find the tomb empty.  We don’t know what they had all been doing since Mary announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; all we do know is that they have all gathered together in a room with locked doors, ostensibly fearing for their own safety.  Again, it’s important to remember that this is later on the same day that Mary and the others visited the empty tomb.  The memory of Jesus’ crucifixion was still raw in their minds.

The atmosphere in that room would have been a mixture of grief, disbelief, fear, disappointment, and confusion.  This Jesus whom they had been following for three years has turned out not to be the victorious Messiah promised to the Jewish people; instead, he has been hung upon a cross to die the humiliating death of a common criminal.  And these followers of his now find themselves cowering in fear, trying to make sense of what had taken place just a few days ago.  All the talk about “I will rise again in three days” has apparently been forgotten.  Mary might have held on to the risen Jesus, but none of the others have witnessed anything other than a vacant tomb. 

And, in the midst of all the fear and confusion Jesus suddenly appears in the room, the locked doors notwithstanding, and offers the familiar Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you”; Shalom” in Hebrew.  After seeing Jesus’ pierced hands and side, John tells us that the disciples “rejoiced”.  Ya think?  Seconds earlier, they had forgotten all about the promise of the resurrection and now the risen Christ is standing there among them.  Rejoiced, indeed!  Like Mary, the disciples, except for the absent Thomas have been witnesses to the physically resurrected Jesus.  And, it's still Easter, just later in the day.  Alleluia, Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed, alleluia!). 

The Scriptures don’t tell us why Thomas wasn’t with the others that evening of the first Easter; surely he was experiencing the same emotions as the rest of them.  Perhaps he was also in hiding, in a different house.  Or, maybe he was off by himself, overcome with sorrow and grief, and needing to be alone, perhaps some distance from the city.  He might have returned to the garden in Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas and given over to the authorities.  It’s clear we will never know where Thomas was or why he wasn’t with the other disciples that resurrection evening.  But this absence resulted in him not being present when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples that very first time.

Thomas announces that he will not believe Christ has been resurrected unless he sees physical proof, just as the others did.  And for this, the absent disciple has been long burdened with the title of “Doubting Thomas”.

And this is quite unfair; after all, what he asked for was only what the others had already witnessed, the risen Jesus standing among them.  Let’s not forget, the others weren’t any more willing to accept that Jesus had been raised without seeing him for themselves either.  Mary saw the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and no body lying inside.  Her first reaction wasn’t that Jesus had risen as he promised; she assumed his body had been stolen by grave robbers.  Peter and John peered into the empty tomb and they didn’t rejoice when they saw that Jesus wasn’t there.  Instead, as John tells us, “they went home”.  Not a great deal of belief in the resurrection was forthcoming from any of them, they only came to believe when Jesus appeared among them.  Yet Thomas, because he wasn’t there when Jesus showed up the first time, he is the one who is chastised for his doubt. 

And on the following Sunday when Jesus again appears and Thomas is now with the others, he is the one to proclaim Jesus as Lord and God.  John writes that Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounds and it isn’t noted whether Thomas did put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands or felt the spear wound in his side.  Only that once he sees Jesus, Thomas simply announces that he believes that Christ has risen and he is the first to declare him as God incarnate.  Thus, Thomas has been given the opportunity to look upon Jesus in the flesh, just as the others had done a week prior.  And upon observing Jesus standing before him, he too is among those who have seen the resurrected Christ, and with that all their doubts are dispelled. 

Imagine the abrupt reversal of the mood, the change in the emotional state of those present when the realization came to them that, since the resurrection promise has been kept, everything else Jesus taught them was also true.  And, it’s likely that the prevalent emotion among the disciples was in fact, their fear that they would next be targeted by those in power.  This fear was obviously allayed when Jesus simply bestowed his peace upon them.  “Shalom aleichem” are Jesus’ first words to the frightened disciples, when he appears to them both times in this morning’s reading.  “Peace be with you”; with this divine blessing their fears of the world are replaced by the peace of Christ.

And with the fear removed, the confusion is settled; the grief is replaced by joy; the disappointment, by fulfilment.  The peace of the risen Christ, bestowed upon a house filled with people terrified for their lives is enough to assure them that all their fears are nothing worth; Jesus’ peace conquers the world’s fear.  When paralyzed by fear all people must experience the peace of Christ to overcome the worry, anxiety, dread, or fear that binds them; for often, when fear overwhelms us, we can do little or nothing to defeat it on our own.

Many Christians today, who profess belief in Jesus, nonetheless sometimes mistakenly look to the world and not to Christ for the peace they seek for their lives.  Many of the challenges we face result in fear arising within us and we are tempted to try to overcome this through our own efforts.  In so many cases we find that this simply isn’t possible.  And it is during these times that we acknowledge that the answer to all our fears is found only in Christ Jesus.  There will be upheaval and discord in our lives, and we have options when faced with situations that cause us to experience fear.  These options are the very same ones that Mary and the disciples had to choose between.  We can give in to our fears and allow them to disrupt our lives or we can respond as Thomas did.  We can proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord and our God and rejoice, proclaiming that we believe.  And we, unlike Thomas may do so without seeing.  And we do this with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit has been breathed on us and that we too have been blessed with the peace of the risen Jesus. 

In a few moments we will share the peace of Christ with one another.  Let us do so with a renewed sense of what this truly means for us.  We will declare peace to each other; let us accept this peace from others and reflect it back to them.  For this is nothing less than the very same peace that Jesus blessed the disciples with on the first Easter.  And let us be assured that with this peace in our lives, that there is no fear, no worry, no anxiety, or dread that may exert power over us.  This peace of Jesus freed the disciples from the fear that bound them; it will do the same for us, if we acknowledge it for what it is.  It is the very peace that emanates from the One who rose from the empty tomb to secure salvation for the world.  And this knowledge should provide for us all the peace we would ever need.            

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, when the disciples huddled in fear, they were blessed with Jesus’ peace.  When they were in doubt, they were given proof.  When their hearts were heavy with sorrow, the presence of Jesus caused them to rejoice.  Bless us, we pray with this same peace, faith, and joy.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who stands in our midst and proclaims to us, “Peace be with you”.  “Shalom aleichem”.       

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.