Peace be with you. (John 20:19,20,26)
When the resurrected Christ appeared to the Apostles in a “locked” room on two separate occasions, He spoke three times with the words, Peace be with you. On Easter Sunday, with Thomas absent from the locked room, Jesus twice spoke these words to the disciples. Then a week later, with Thomas present in the locked room, He echoed this statement of peace for a third time.
When the Prince of Peace spoke those wondrous resurrection-related words, Peace be with you, how could the Apostles “see” this peace; it is invisible, isn’t it? The words themselves have the power of the Holy Spirit to create peace in the hearts and minds of the Apostles, but Jesus knows they want (need?) physical proof. Thus Jesus immediately presents the visible proof of His assured peace: When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side [v 20]. Jesus had predicted that He had to give His life as a ransom for the many (Mt 20:28). Now, from the marks in His hands and side, the Apostles could see with their eyes the visible evidence that Jesus indeed gave His life. This is where they and we find peace, in the fact that He gave His life to ransom us; we are forgiven; our sins were carried in His body on the cross. Additionally, the dead Redeemer is now standing before the Apostles…alive! From the marks in His hands and side they know it is the same man who died, but now He is alive, He is risen! This then stands as the second assurance of peace, for because He lives we shall live also. Forgiveness, resurrection and eternal life now belong to the Apostles. But are they the only recipients of this peace?
After our Lord speaks His promise of peace for a second time, He explains, As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you [v 21]. The Church of Jesus would be built upon His Apostles, and from them the distribution of peace would proceed. As the Father sent His Son, so now the Son sends the Apostles, and from them come two words of peace. The first word of peace is the literal pronouncement of forgiveness: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them [v 23]. The Apostles henceforth are endowed with the gift of absolution, and from this powerful word believers would know both temporal and eternal peace; for where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. They (and pastors who would continue to distribute the gifts entrusted to the Apostles) would give forgiveness through Baptism, through literally forgiving God’s people in the name of Jesus, and through distributing Christ’s forgiving body and blood in the Eucharist. Connected to the peace given by the absolution, Jesus adds another Word of His peace: …if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. Out of love, the Apostles (and later, pastors) would withhold forgiveness from those who publicly lived in unrepentant sin. What is the goal of such withholding of forgiveness? It is to get those living in unrepentant sin to realize their sin, so they can again in faith hear the absolution. The ultimate goal of withholding forgiveness is to bring the peace of forgiveness. Without the withholding of forgiveness, the unrepentant would die without Christ’s peace; with it, they are again enabled to realize His peace.
The resurrected Jesus gives His third promise of peace uniquely in the presence of “doubting” Thomas. Every Christian has times of doubt. Thus Jesus directs Thomas—and each of us—Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe [v 27]. How then do we doubters get to believe by thrusting our fingers and hands into the crucifixion marks of the resurrected Jesus? We have something that Thomas did not have. We have the inspired Word of Christ’s commissioned Apostles. Thus the Apostle John explains to those reading/hearing His inspired written record: …these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name [v 31]. Truly we get to “touch” our crucified and risen Savior whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, and thus “touching” Him, our doubts are vanquished and we are empowered to believe, and, reinvigorated in our faith, our peace in Jesus is renewed.