Back in college, I studied the Gospel of John with Jim Woodroof, an fantastic speaker and an even better man. In that course, we read a book he had written about the Fourth Gospel called Between the Rock and A Hard Place. The basic premise of the book, as I recall, was that Jesus is consistently portrayed in John as one who places people “between a rock and a hard place” so as produce a decision of faith in their life. Jesus desired to bring people to rock solid faith in him but first they had to have reason to believe.
As was discussed in the introduction to John, one of John’s greatest goals with his book was to help people come to believe in Jesus. This is the “gospel of belief,” as our other textbook called John. We see a statement of this goal at the end of our chapter today, in what for many is the purpose statement of this gospel:
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which aren’t written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that the Messiah, the son of God is none other than Jesus; and that, with this faith, you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)
Belief, though, is easily squashed by doubt and alternate explanation. As long as one can explain the deeds of Jesus in some other way, faith can be deferred.
My professor’s point was that over and over again we see Jesus doing things that could only be explained by him being divine. He can tell the Samaritan woman details about her love-life. He can heal a man born blind. Jesus walks up and paralysis is gone. Thousands of people eat a full meal from five loaves and two fish. This was the “hard place.” There people stood between the hard place of trying to explain away the inexplicable or the rock solid faith that can come through a belief in Jesus. Either Jesus is divine as he says or there is some naturalistic explanation for what has just happened, but what that could be? Could it be that Jesus is God is the easiest explanation?
I see this dynamic happening three times in John 20.
- It all comes to a head for the “other disciple” — who most people think is John — when he runs into the empty tomb and sees the grave cloths all neatly folded up. This can’t be explained away, and it made everything else make sense for him (20:8-9)
- Mary sees a man she thinks is the gardener, a stranger to her. But when he can call her by name, she realizes Jesus was more than just a man. (20:16)
- Thomas can’t believe that Jesus could be back from the dead. That is until he puts his fingers in Jesus’ wounds and can’t deny the facts. (20:25-28)
The best ending to this post would be these words of Jesus from today’s reading:
Is it because you’ve seen me that you believe? God’s blessing on people who don’t see, and yet believe. (20:29)