(read Invitation first)
What do you do when your life hasn’t turned out the way you thought, the way you hoped? What do you do when you find yourself in circumstances, day-after-day, that you would not have chosen, that you did not think you had signed-up for? What do you do when life is...death?
That would be the place we find Jesus’ first disciples in John 20; and not only when Jesus was dead, but also when the risen Jesus appears to them and sends them into the world as – in the same manner, the same pattern, the same mission - the Father sent him. That would be the place anyone who sets out to be a disciple finds themselves, sooner or later.
In just these circumstances, Jesus extends invitation and challenge to his disciples.
Alongside invitation, Jesus extends challenge.
The challenge to go, to be sent after the model of Jesus (v21): to be sent to die to self, to take up our cross and follow him, in order that God might bring life to others.
That life we didn’t think we had signed-up for...we had.
The challenge to forgive...and to not forgive sins (v23)? What is that about? I don’t think it is about withholding forgiveness, but about God’s forgiveness being exercised through Jesus’ disciples; about God’s commitment to partnership with his people; about our responsibility to set people free, because if we don’t, they remain bound.
Sometimes we are wounded simply by circumstances, and sometimes our wounds are self-inflicted, but often we are wounded by other people – or come to believe that we have been wounded by other people, even if we were wounded by circumstances or by ourselves. Because wounds are inevitable, exercising forgiveness is essential: to loose the chains on others (rather than add to them), and to free ourselves from our own chains.
Finally, the challenge to stop doubting and believe (v27). By ‘stop doubting,’ Jesus isn’t saying we can’t ask questions, isn’t saying we should suppress unanswered questions with denial. Denial is never healthy: that is why Jesus does not hide the wounds that have been inflicted on him. That which we struggle to believe, we need to bring out into the open – again, in a safe place, with trustworthy people – in order that doubt might die and belief have life breathed into it. It is doubt that is denial: the whispering voice of the accuser telling us that death is the final word, that God will not bring new life out of our present circumstances.
In the hard times, we need those who will hold out hope. Not candy-floss and kittens, but flesh-and-blood bearing-the-scars Jesus-in-our-midst changing our whole perspective. Because we do not see him in the physical sense he was seen between his resurrection and ascension, we need to help one another observe his presence, which may not be immediately recognised; to reflect on his woundedness, and discuss the implications for our own wounded lives. We need to help one another to ‘have life in his name’ (v31), forming a plan to live out that (resurrection) life in our present circumstances, however bleak; and holding one another to account in our response, so that we act in a way consistent to our confession.
What do you do when your life hasn’t turned out the way you thought, the way you hoped? Whatever you do, don’t try to live it on your own...