Thomas. As Bugs Bunny would say, what a maroon! I know plenty of people, mostly atheists, whose minds are just as stubbornly closed as his. I could make this a big deal out of this, and it is what most people (preachers and teachers) talk about in this passage. We end by encouraging all our listeners to believe even though we haven’t seen. That is where the blessing is, we say. But when we talk about this, we miss the most important part of this passage:
21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV).
What happened when Thomas was not there was not just a set-up for the Thomas episode. It was the KEY to the crucifixion and resurrection. It was the whole point.
Oh, some preachers and teachers might gloss over this part in their time, but please… This giving of the Holy Spirit is the whole ball of wax.
Without getting into a fruitless discussion about within or upon, let me just say that the Holy Spirit was no stranger to the people of Israel. The Holy Spirit worked in the nation, empowered Moses and the prophets, “inspired” the Judges, King David and all of the people who knew before Jesus that this was the case. They also knew that the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual life was temporary—temporarily restricted. Why? Because a Holy God despised our unholy nature.
Now, though, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples, not as a temporary thing, but as one to take up residence in each person, forever. How is this possible considering the fact that we remain such unholy sinners? Because Jesus not only took our sins in his body on the cross, he took everything about us that was unholy and killed it. So now God, the Holy Spirit, can dwell with us and us with God and without God gagging and wanting to throw up…
Don’t you get it? That is how forgiven we are.
We are now empowered to be sent: to be like and live like Christ. True, none of us is very good at that, but that isn’t God’s fault. He has done all that is necessary, and from the inside-out he is working his purposes: to transform us until we are good at it. This is all new. This is the New Testament. This is the Good News.
So having forgiven us everything (and I mean everything), Jesus reminds us that if we don’t forgive others, they will not be forgiven. There is a passage to make the wise tremble and the foolish think they have power over others. Wrong. Paul said it plainly: “As we have been forgiven so we ought to forgive others” and by that he meant utterly and completely.
So when your friend betrays you, does that mean you put yourself back into the circumstances to be betrayed over and over? No. But it does mean you hold no animosity, you let go of all anger and bitterness, and you pray for them and (perhaps mostly) for yourself, that you may truly forgive and get it right. Don’t worry. The Holy Spirit, now resident in your heart, will help.
Go with God…though if you are a Christian, now I suppose you cannot do otherwise.