Peace–Peace Comes Through the Presence of the Resurrected Jesus: a Reflection on John 20:19-31
In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson argues for the rights of those on Death Row in Alabama in that he believes many were wrongly convicted due to the color of their skin. A defense attorney himself, who has represented many on their appeal, makes this observation about the disdain some attorneys have for such cases. Stevenson writes that many attorneys become disillusioned and angry in that they fundamentally believe that “…mad dogs ought to die.” With this racist tone informing an attorney’s willingness to represent the unjustly convicted, Stevenson continues with citing judicial prejudice against death row inmates:
We wrote a letter to the governor of Alabama, Guy Hunt, asking him to stop the Lindsey execution on the grounds that the jury, empowered to pass judgment on him, had decided against putting him to death. Governor Hunt quickly denied our request for clemency, declaring that he would not “go against the wishes of the community expressed by the jury that Mr. Lindsey be put to death,” even though we stressed that the community’s representatives—the jury—had done the opposite; it clearly elected to spare Lindsey’s life. It didn’t matter. As peculiar as the practice is, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld judicial override in an earlier Florida case, which left us with no constitutional basis to block Michael Lindsey’s execution. He was electrocuted on May 26, 1989.
Jesus was sentenced to death and placed on death row. He had represented himself. The religious leaders bullied Jesus and Pilate was complicit in his politeness, although that too is a form of bullying. A bully is one who intimidates, harasses, or commits violence against those who are smaller, weaker, or more vulnerable because of their ‘outsider’ status. Jesus was crucified. That was Friday. But Sunday came. Love won and death lost.
Thomas A. Miller is a surgeon and researcher. In his book, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead, he examines the miracle of Christ’s resurrection from a medical perspective. According to Miller, the body contains trillions of cells. Each one of these cells carries out thousands of different chemical reactions. Thus a bodily resurrection would require “some phenomenal power to energize life into all these individual cells, but it would have to do so in such a way that specialized nerve cells could resume their unique function, heart cells perform theirs, blood cells and bone cells do theirs, and so on.” Dr. Miller continues:
And at the moment we die, all these processes came to a screeching halt…A bodily resurrection implies that thousands of processes in trillions of cells must be restarted with the unique intricacy and inter-coordination that existed before death. Even the latest science has not unraveled the complete mystery of each of the cells of our bodies, and how they interact and “talk” with one another …. But for the resurrection of Jesus to occur, all of that information had to be known in its completeness and totality, and known some two thousand years ago.
Some of the disciples had seen the empty tomb. Jesus intimated that he would be with them always. And so, the disciples huddled in the Upper Room where they had last been with Jesus and locked the doors for fear of being found and bullied for their faith; their beliefs.
Faith leads to understanding. The 4th century Church Father Augustine asserted the maxim that faith leads to understanding. Aquinas, the 13th century philosopher argued that understanding leads to faith. That faith (belief) leads to understanding (experience) is demonstrated in John 20:19-31. The setting was Easter evening. The fear of being bullied consumed the disciples. They believed Jesus’ teachings. Would their beliefs sustain them when others confronted them about their relationship with Jesus? And Jesus appeared in the Upper room. Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” It was the risen Jesus, the Jesus with nail holes in his hands and feet. The Greek word for peace, ειρήνη, denotes God providing.
The resurrected Jesus matters today. Despite Jesus’ appearance, Thomas had a crisis of putting his belief that Jesus was raised from the dead into action. Thomas said, “Unless I see…I will not believe.” Here, Thomas moves from belief to knowledge. Believing and knowing are two different things. Believing, πιστευω, is intellectual assent. Knowing, οιδα, is belief that is actively engaged in life through attitudinal, ethical, and behavioral change. Belief makes no difference until one uses it in real life situations.
Implications. Reformed theology has it right in this case that faith leads to understanding. As followers of Jesus Christ, should not our Christian beliefs provide some modicum of peace amid life’s challenges? Reflect upon basic Christian beliefs such as God being Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of life; that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; and that God is sovereign and nothing happens in life by accident, but with purpose in conjunction with the current unrest in our world: for example, the immigration crisis; the homeless and hungry; terrorist attacks; sexual harassment; hate; and LGBTQ marginalization. Does the Christian faith make any difference in everyday life? Yes it does. And because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, I bank my hope upon the living God that suffering, hate, fear, and death do not have the last word. And so can you.
What you believe informs the way you live. Jesus, because of his resurrection and by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, makes a real difference in real people, who live in a real world, who have real needs. Bullying attacks the outsider, oppressed, outcast, loner, sickly and marginalized and pushes these folks further to the edges. Reject the bullying that transpires against others. Act on your beliefs. Any group or community that is routinely a target of harassment and hate necessitates Christians standing with them and for them as the front line of defense.
Until your beliefs as a follower of Jesus inform your daily actions, you really are not living in the presence of the resurrected Jesus.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 65.
Adapted from Jim Wallis, On God’s Side (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2013), 126.
Idea gleaned from Jim Wallis, On God’s Side, 127.