John 20:19-31

Jesus appears to the disciples

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.


Thoughts on the passage:

The other day, Marianne asked me to remember to do something. I told her I would try and remember. Even as I said it I was thinking about the possibility I might forget to do it and so I couched my response with “I will try” rather than making a bolder and declarative statement that I would remember. (Full disclosure, I forgot) Maybe it was good self-awareness that caused me to not make a promise I could not keep. I think instead it was just one way that I was hedging my bets.

I love to play games. I also love to win when I play games. One of my secrets to winning is to do everything to hedge against risks. The more you can control things the more you can ensure you win. The more you can limit luck and control the circumstances the easier it is to make sure you come out on top. This is true if you are playing a purely strategic game like chess where the goal is to control against what your opponent might do. It is also true when it comes to games with more luck involved. Often, limiting the effect of luck means playing more cautiously. It means hedging your bets.

Hedging your bets can be a good thing. When it comes to investments, it is a good idea. The insurance industry is built around the idea of hedging your bets against disasters and unforeseen events. It is a way we protect ourselves against the things that could go wrong. The reality is that hedging our bets also means limiting our potential. Usually limiting our exposure to negative risks means that we also limit our ability to be wildly successful.

Let’s go back to my initial statement about trying to remember to do something. If my goal is to try, then there is a low bar for what I need to do to succeed, all I need to do is try. Success however is also meaningless. The reason Marianne asked me to do something was not so I could succeed at trying, but so I could succeed at doing. Setting small, realistic goals can be good at times, but it can also limit how we succeed.

In the business world, there is something called BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. I have never liked the acronym. The name makes me feel uncomfortable but that is actually the point. For a goal to be appropriately, big, hairy, and audacious it should make us feel uncomfortable. It is something that is meant to stretch us, challenge us, and make us wonder if it is possible. Failure should be a very real possibility.

When Jesus visits the disciples, he is getting them ready for the great commission. He is getting them ready for the big hairy audacious goal that God has in store for them. In order to get them ready he does two things: first he helps them believe in the power of the resurrection and second he gives them a the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows that the disciples are being given great responsibility. They are not being asked just to try. They are being asked to do.

Jesus knows that believing in the resurrection takes a great deal of faith. When the disciples struggle to believe that he is really risen he lets them reach out and touch him so that they can know he is real. At the same time, he reminds them that believing is an act of great faith. We cannot always touch and know something before we need to act on it. We cannot always hedge our bets and limit our risks.

After he gives them the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives the disciples an important command. He tells them that whatever sins they forgive will be forgiven. At the same time, whatever sins they do not forgive will not be forgiven. Jesus is asking the disciples to spread God’s grace into the world. He is not even asking them to try and spread God’s grace, he is telling them that if they don’t do it, it won’t happen.

Being entrusted to forgiven, or not forgive all sins is a pretty big responsibility. So too is the command to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus is not thinking in terms of small and manageable goals. God has some big hairy audacious goals for the world and Jesus is expecting the disciples to make them happen.

God has the same big hairy audacious goals for us too. We are also disciples of Christ. God has promised to bless us with the same Holy Spirit that was given to those first disciples. We are also charged to make disciples of all the world. We are also charged to be agents of God’s forgiving love and grace.

It can be tempting to put some limits around God’s goals. When I think of goals I tend to think small and manageable. I think it would be a great goal to have more new members in a year than we have die. If on average maybe we have 12 members die a year so that would mean we need 13 new members. This is the sort of goal we could call a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented)

The thing is that God does not give us SMART goals, instead we are given a BHAG. My nice SMART goal would never have us reaching God’s goal. God’s goal is to make disciples of ALL nations.  It is certainly specific and measurable but it is hardly attainable or realistic. This is the work we are commissioned into. When we follow Christ we don’t take on the small, limited goals that we might have in mind. Instead we are given the Holy Spirit and told to dream big.

With the resurrection we are reminded that anything and everything is possible. We are called to believe in a God who can do all things. Why would we want to limit the power of the Holy Spirit? Why would we want to hedge our bets? Instead, we need to embrace the message of Easter, that God is with us and that not even death can stop us. Let us cast off our fear, receive the Holy Spirit, and go out into the world to spread God’s peace and love.

Questions to Ponder:

Do you like to hedge your bests and be cautious or be bold and risky?

What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit to you?

What is God’s BHAG for you? For our church?


God of resurrection and new life, help us to believe in you even when we cannot touch you. Bless us with the breath of your Spirit that we might be agents of your love and peace in the world. Help us to dream big and bold dreams and to live into your audacious goals.  Walk with us on this Easter journey as we seek to be a church of