“Peace be with you!”
Have you ever lost that which was most dear to you? That which filled your heart with joy and hope and love? That which gave your life a sense of purpose and significance?
That’s where Thomas found himself following the death of Jesus. For three years, Thomas had followed Jesus wholeheartedly. For three years, Jesus had been the focus and the center of Thomas’ life. Everything that made life worth living, he found in Jesus.
Suddenly, Jesus was gone. He had been executed in horrible fashion. Nails had been driven through His wrists, impaling Him to a wooden cross. For six hours, Jesus hung upon that cross until, at last, a soldier drove a spear through Jesus’ side to guarantee that Jesus was dead.
What do you do in the midst of overwhelming loss and grief? What do you do when your world comes crashing down?
Some people find solace in the company of others. They turn to those who can share their grief. Others run away from the company of others. They feel a need to be alone in their despair.
Thomas seems to have been one who needed to be alone. The other disciples sought each other out. They found solace in each other’s company. But Thomas went off by himself.
While Thomas was away, though, something incredible happened. As the other disciples were huddled together in a locked house, Jesus suddenly appeared with them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Though Jesus had been crucified, He was alive again! He had risen from the dead! They saw Him, and their hearts were filled again with joy and hope and faith.
They found Thomas and told him the good news. But Thomas was too overcome with despair to receive their good news. The floor had been pulled out from under him when Jesus died upon the cross. Thomas was not about to get his hopes up again if their story couldn’t be proven to be true.
He asks for evidence. He knows what happened to Jesus. He knows about the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet. He knows about the spear driven into Jesus’ heart. If he is going to believe in some report of Jesus’ resurrection, he needs to know that anyone who presents himself as one risen from the dead is truly the one who died upon the cross. That is a natural response from one who has been crushed by despair.
I am struck by what transpires from here. We do not find a report of Thomas taking the initiative to search for evidence to prove or dispel his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas is too full of despair to do that.
It is Jesus who takes the initiative.
Seven days later, the disciples are together again. This time Thomas is with them. (I wonder whether it took a full week before Thomas felt ready to hang out with friends whose grief had turned to joy.) Though the doors are shut, Jesus appears in their midst and announces to them, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus extends to them a peace that comes from the presence of a Savior whom death cannot hold down and who will always be with us. Because we are loved by a Savior who overcame death, we can live in the hope and the peace of Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” And because we are loved by a Savior who overcame death we can live in the love and peace of Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Then Jesus addresses Thomas in particular. The initiative He takes toward Thomas is loving. He does not cross His arms, with His fists buried in His armpits in petulant anger, preventing Thomas from seeing the marks in His hands. He does not take away Thomas’ voice for expressing doubt, or remove his sight for wanting to see proof. He doesn’t scold or ridicule Thomas. He graciously holds out His hands and reveals His side, saying 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.”
Jesus took the initiative not just in showing Himself to Thomas but also in drawing Thomas to Him. It’s what He keeps doing. In His love for us, Jesus keeps reaching out, revealing His closeness to us, and drawing people to the love and to the peace of God.