Author’s Note: The following sermon is based on John 20:19-23 and seeks to address trauma through the lens of Christ’s own wounds. The sermon is divided into two main parts. The first portion is a first-person narrative, recounting the story of John 20:19-23 from the perspective of a troubled Peter. Based on one’s addressees, it may be necessary to explain to one’s listeners upfront that the style will begin from this vantage point to prevent confusion. The second half of the sermon shifts away from the first-person narrative style to a traditional mode of preaching in the voice of the actual preacher.
First Person Narrative of John 20:19-23
It was a Sunday night I’ll never forget. An evening that started with terror but ended in gladness. A few hours after John and I had run to Jesus’ tomb, only to find it empty, we all gathered back at the house where most of us had been staying. Mary was right. Jesus’ body was gone! We were perplexed and confused. What in the world had happened to our Lord?
The fear quickly came over us like a sudden storm. We were all terrified about what would happen next. We knew that if they could arrest and kill our rabbi, none of us were safe as his disciples.
I remember bolting the doors and then shaking them furiously to make sure that nobody could get in. Then a few of us even placed tables and chairs in front of the doors to form a barricade. Nobody said it at the time, but we were all thinking the same thing: If we could somehow just secure the premises, maybe our fears and anxiety would lift for just a moment. Just long enough to breathe for a second. Just long enough to try and make sense of all that had happened.
Well, as evening came, we lit a few candles around the house. We hoped the light would somehow brighten our spirits. But for me, even the flicker of the flame caused me to fall into a panic. No matter how hard I tried to block out the memory—it almost felt like time travel—I kept envisioning the torches that surrounded us in the garden that one night when those angry men came to take away our Lord (John 18:3).
Whenever these memories flood in, my chest would tighten up so much that I could hardly breathe. I would slump over and try to force myself to sleep. But even to sleep was such a struggle. My body was screaming for rest. None of us had slept in days. But my whole being was on high alert. My mind kept pacing back and forth in case someone came to hurt us.
Sometime into the night, it was nothing short of a miracle given my restlessness, I finally fell asleep. Now, I have no idea how long I slept, but what I do remember is dreaming about my rabbi’s face. I could hear his voice speaking to me, “Peter, let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:27). It felt so good to hear his voice and yet, even in my dream, trouble was all that I could feel. I felt ashamed for denying my Lord—three times at that. And, at the very same time, I felt afraid to die at the hands of violent men.
Just then I was awakened by the sound of movement at the center of the house. My heart started pounding because I was sure they had come to arrest us. But, as I looked around, the barricades were still there. The doors were still locked. What could have caused this noise?
I quickly got up and made my way to the center of the room where the rest of my brothers had gathered. Just as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I heard the most familiar of voices: “Salom Alakem … Peace be with you” (John 20:19). I strained my eyes to see who it was, and, to my utter surprise, it was my Lord! The One who I had just been dreaming of. The One, whose presence, I missed so dearly. The One whose voice brought comfort to my soul.
I started running towards Jesus, but as I got within arm’s reach, I stopped. I was sure that he would turn me away, just as I had done to him (John 18:25-27). But in the next moment, I felt the warm touch of his hand on my shoulder. He told all of us to draw closer, and then he showed us his hands and his side. As I examined his body—in ways that I can’t explain—it almost felt like I was a nursing infant being nourished by his mother. For the first time in weeks, not only did I feel safe, I felt at home in the presence of my God.
Just then he spoke to us all again: “Salom Alakem … Peace be with you … As the Father has sent me … I am sending you” (John 20:21). Gladness began to fill my heart, and I knew that there was hope for tomorrow. There was no longer a reason to fear because my risen Lord had triumphed over the grave.
In his New York Times Bestseller, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk explains that when a person is traumatically wounded—whether it’s physically, emotionally, or verbally—the trauma literally reshapes a person’s body and brain. An imprint, in the form of a physical disruption, is left on the body. Hence, the title, The Body Keeps the Score. For this reason, the effects of trauma can last for years if not a lifetime.
In our passage, we gain insight into the state of Jesus’ resurrected body. What we discover is that Jesus’ body, even in its glorified state, kept the score. Jesus’ scars still remained after the trauma of the Cross. The heavenly father could have certainly rid his own Son of these marks, and yet Jesus appears to his fear-filled disciples and shows them his nail pierced hands and side.
The question we need to consider is: Why? Why did Jesus do this? Why did the risen Christ appear to his disciples and show them his wounds?
Jesus Shows His Scars to Dispel Our Fears
Our passage suggests to us that Jesus did this to rid his disciples of their fears. Notice the condition into which Jesus enters. Verse 19 tells us it was evening and that the disciples had locked the doors in the house because they were filled with “fear of the Jews.” The disciples witnessed their leader be executed. They encountered the terror of a violent mob. They observed the capabilities of a corrupt religious system. So, it was within reason for them to believe that they might be targeted next.
Perhaps some of us today can relate to Jesus’ disciples. You’ve been hurt a great deal. You’ve endured some horrifying events. So, you’ve started telling yourself that if you can “secure the premises of your life”—then you’ll be safe. For that reason, you’ve started to isolate yourself. You’ve started screening text messages. Withdrawing from community. Yet the fear and anxiety remain. Perhaps for some of us today, life feels like one big game of fight or flight, always wondering to ourselves, Is it safe?
On a personal level, over the past year I’ve suffered from frequent panic attacks and anxiety after leaving a work environment where I was manipulated and demeaned for a very long time. It literally took me several months before I could even leave my house and go to Costco out of fear of who I would run into and what they might to do me. The wounds we experience in this life are real. The reasons to fear are many. Trauma runs deep.
But friends, notice how Jesus doesn’t shy away from his frightened disciples. Jesus sees the locked doors. Jesus senses all of their fear. And yet he says, “That’s exactly where I want to be.” So, he enters.
To be explicitly clear, Jesus doesn’t come as one who is ignorant of human suffering. He comes as one who understands and identifies with their pain. The very presence of his scars demonstrate that he had suffered what they had suffered and felt what they had felt.
In response, I love how John describes what happens to the disciples in verse 20. It says that as Jesus appears in front of them, scars, and all, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” The glorious scars of Christ dispelled the fears of man and brought gladness to their souls.
Beloved, in the midst of our fears today, may we do the same. May we be quick to remember the scars of our Savior. In doing so, may we experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit tending to our hearts. May our fears be calmed, and may gladness be brought to our souls.
But was that the only reason? As we move on in the story, we see yet another reason why Jesus appears to his disciples. He comes not only to dispel their fears, but also to bring them peace.
Jesus Shows His Scars to Bring Us Peace
Something we notice in our passage is that Jesus says, “Peace be with you” on two occasions to his disciples (vv. 19, 21). He says it once before showing them his scars. Then, he says it again immediately after.
Now, the phrase, “Peace be with you,” was a common greeting amongst the Jewish people at the time. It was similar to saying “hello” or “good day.” Yet, when Jesus says it here, he’s saying so much more. On one level, when Jesus says this, he’s declaring that peace with God had come. In many ways he’s reiterating his final words at the time of his death when he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The penalty for sin had been paid. Death had been conquered. Humanity could now be reconciled with God through the finished work of the Cross, for all who would believe.
However, at the very same time, he’s also referring to the peace of God. Jesus is seeking to instill the peace of God into their hearts. If you remember the context of the story, the disciples had all deserted Jesus days before (Mark 14:50). You can imagine the shame they must have felt for abandoning their Lord. You can imagine the guilt that must have weighed down their hearts. Yet, in this moment, instead of condemning them, what Jesus does is remind them of God’s abiding presence. He reminds them that “He [that conquered death] would be with them until the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The risen Christ was now their peace who would never leave them or forsake them. They had no reason to fear, peace had come.
As we reflect on this scene, the irony of this story is that the opposite often holds true for the church today. People are unwilling to show their scars to one another because rather than peace, it yields judgment and shame. It is lamentable how the church is not a safe place to share about one’s suffering. Rather, for many of us, it is a place where our hurts have been glossed over. A place where our fears have been dismissed. In fact, for some, the church is the very place where our wounds were first inflicted. If this has been your experience, we grieve with you in this moment.
Yet, what our passage is inviting us to do today is to change this narrative by becoming people of peace. First and foremost, we are called to stand firm in the hope of the gospel. As those who are united in faith to Christ, we stand forgiven, and nothing can change that. At the very same time, we are also called to extend the peace of Christ to one another. To be tangible expressions of Christ’s comfort as we heed the call to carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
Perhaps we could all take a moment right now and imagine the possibilities of what could be if we were to share our wounds and then extend the peace of Christ to one another, as we see our Savior doing here to his disciples. Lord, may it be so.
I want to share the beautiful words of a poem I stumbled across. It was written by a pastor from the early 1900s named Edward Shillito after the First World War. He gave it the title, “Jesus of the Scars.”
I was especially struck by one of the lines in this poem: “To our wounds only God’s wounds can speak.” Shortly after reading this line, I was convinced that it was true. Throughout the past year, I’ve sat with many good people who have listened to my hurts and sat with me in my pain. I have been deeply comforted by their love and care. Yet, even so, what I have quickly come to learn is that there is nobody in this life who will fully understand the depth of my pain. That is, aside from Christ. “To our wounds only God’s wounds can speak.” Brothers and sisters, how may the wounds of Christ be speaking to you in this moment?
As we prepare to leave this place, may the Lord impress the following truth on our hearts. Jesus’ body kept the score to dispel our fears and bring us peace. His life, death, and resurrection call out to us today: “Peace be with you.” He is present with us right now, extending his peace to even in the darkest trenches of our souls. Jesus’ body kept the score to dispel our fears and bring us peace. In his presence, there is hope and life. May the Holy Spirit continue to remind us of this promise as we look to our Savior’s great love for us. Jesus’ body kept the score to dispel our fears and bring us peace. Praise be to our God. Amen.
Timothy Y. Rhee is a PhD in Preaching student at Baylor University's Truett Seminary. Before moving to Texas, he pastored for nearly a decade, serving Asian North American congregations in Illinois.