Unlocking The Doors Of Fear

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam

John 20:19–31
Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Absent)

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Present)

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Have you ever been paralyzed by fear?  The disciples certainly were after the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s easy to understand.  They surely felt the terror of a similar fate for themselves, but they also must have felt orphaned and alone.  It’s powerful to understand how His return to them vanquished their fear.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

It’s precisely in such a context that we hear Jesus’ words to his disciples. God will not allow fear to have the last word. In fear the disciples try to hide themselves from a world that resists all the implications of the life-changing, liberating power of resurrection. But fear can’t hinder the new life Jesus extends to us! Resurrection life acknowledges the fear, but does not allow the fear to divert or destroy what God is doing through Jesus and through us. We’re given a truly remarkable image here. I love the way the resurrected Jesus appears within the locked room and stands among them there; he stands within the confines of their fear; he appears and stands in their place of greatest fear and says, “Peace be with you.” Even locked doors can’t keep him out. Christ’s boldness overcomes every barrier we try to erect in fear. We’re not meant to live behind locked doors. Within the confines of all our fears, Jesus continues to stand among us, unlocking our prisons of fear, and saying, “Peace be with you.”

The place of fear can become the place of presence, the place of peace, the place of resurrection. The text tells us that their fear was replaced with rejoicing at the sight of his presence. That’s what resurrection can do. That’s what the resurrected Lord continues to do.

How is fear the opposite of love?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/



D I G  D E E P E R

 Peace Which Passes Understanding

St. Paul exhorts the Philippians (4:6-7) not to be anxious about anything but to make all their concerns a subject of thankful prayer to God, promising that if they do so “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” will keep (lit. “stand guard over”) their hearts and minds. The thought echoes Isa. 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee,” and takes up Jesus’ exhortation to have no concern over practical needs because “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:24-34). The peace Paul speaks of passes all understanding both in the sense that it is inconceivably great, beyond human capacity to comprehend (cf. Eph. 3:19, 20), and also in that it is far better than any “peace” which human “understanding” could bring. Notably, it is a peace which is found in the midst of trouble, not by escaping from it.

Commenting on Job 9:4 (Vg) in which Job observes that God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has resisted him, and had peace?” Wyclif says that “we are to see by this description of peace that it is achieved by conformity of [one’s] will to that of God.” He goes on to say that peace is not, as one might expect, a matter of temporal quietude free from attack or hostility; rather, it is just when the battle is raging most fiercely that one is most likely to experience the benefits of being at peace with God (Sermones, 4.25). A later Wycliffite writer takes up the theme, “þer be trew pees and fals pees, and thai be ful diverse”—true peace being grounded in God, false peace grounded in “rest with our enemies” when “we assent to þem withoute aʒen-standyng” (Arnold, ed., Selected English Works of John Wyclif [1871], 1.321).

In George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” the O Vos Omnes hymn is developed with Christ drawing a contrast between himself and Barabbas: “And a seditious murderer he was: / But I the Prince of Peace; peace that doth passe / All understanding, more than heav’n doth glasse” (117-19; cf. Ruskin, Unto This Last, chap. 3). Herbert’s poem “Peace” makes the point that the “Prince of Peace” himself had no peace: “He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save / His life from foes” (25-26), and that he won peace for others at the expense of his own struggle and death (cf. A Priest to the Temple, chap. 34). In Vaughan’s “Peace” the poet speaks of a peace which is not to be found in this life, but in “a Countrie / Far beyond the stars,” sentiments echoed in an early 20th-cent. American sonnet by Joyce Kilmer, written while the author was soldiering in France during World War I (“The Peacemaker”). Aldous Huxley thinks hints of such peace can be derived from art: “Even from the perfection of minor masterpieces—certain sonnets of Mallarmé, for instance, certain Chinese ceramics—we can derive illuminating hints about the ‘something far more deeply interfused,’ about ‘the peace of God that passeth understanding’“ (Ends and Means, chap. 14; cf. Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 96). In Black Boy Richard Wright tells of an unsuccessful application of the traditional interpretation in the home of his grandmother: “Granny bore the standard for God, but she was always fighting. The peace that passes understanding never dwelt with us.” Recalling the prophetic promise that in the days of the Messiah peace shall flow “as a river” (Isa. 48:18; 53:5), Margaret Avison writes that “Word has arrived that / peace will brim up, will come / ‘like a river and the / glory … like a flowing stream’“—an unprecedented, unimagined grace (“Stone’s Secret,” 20-22).

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

ART:  For a deep dive on The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2), see HERE


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2)


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio,


RickAre you a Doubting Thomas?  The phrase has come to be associated (like the good folks from Missouri) with people who have to see something with their own eyes before they will believe it.  We have the Apostle John to thank for this frank description of Thomas.  The other gospel writers simply list him by name.  Writing near the end of his life, John was already seeing signs of fracture in the young church among intellectuals claiming that Jesus was too spiritual to have actually been fully human as well.  John wrote “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1 emphasis mine).

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

The startling painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is almost shocking in its blunt physicality—a religious painting with nary a hint of sentimentality or devotional piety. In it, Caravaggio explores the moment when Thomas, not present when Jesus appeared to the other disciples and therefore in a state of skepticism regarding the resurrection, finally gets the proof he has required. As two other apostles look on, Jesus guides the probing finger of Thomas into the gaping open wound in his side. The face of Thomas registers disbelief as Jesus steers Thomas’s finger (with dirt still under the fingernails) into the place where his side had been pierced. Can we not all identify with Thomas, the man full of doubts and questions, who wants evidence that what he believes is not just wish fulfillment? He is, in a sense, the stand-in cynic for all of us, and Jesus honors the bravery he shows in asking the hard questions.

The answer to the question Thomas has posed is that Jesus indeed has risen, though the resurrection in this painting does not receive its usual treatment by picturing a ghostly, spiritual Christ. Instead, this is a testimony to a physical, bodily resurrection. The risen Savior is real flesh and blood that can be seen, felt, and even probed. Through this picture we see a miracle made real, which was the great talent of Caravaggio.

Does it trouble you to think of Jesus as fully human?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio


Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio

(1571–1610) Italian artist. His earliest religious work was Flight into Egypt (1595/7), painted for Cardinal del Monte, who obtained for him his commission for his first major work, a series of three pictures in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, depicting the Calling of St. Matthew, Martyrdom of the Saint, and Saint Inspired by an Angel. These works introduced his vivid realism and his down-to-earth portrayal of his subjects in common settings, quite unlike the artificial grandiloquence of religious art. The same realism appears in Madonna di Loreto (1604/5), Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605), Death of the Virgin (1606), and the Entombment of Christ (1602/4). His brief stay in Malta produced the Decollation of St. John the Baptist (1607/8). Caravaggio’s influence was immense, mainly outside Italy.

George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

Review these important steps in Thomas’s journey from doubt to faith, and try to summarize some basic principles for addressing doubt from them:

  • Thomas apparently isolated himself from others after the death of Jesus (John 20:24).
  • Time passed between Thomas’s demand for evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and his being given such evidence (John 20:25, 26).
  • Jesus challenged Thomas to examine evidence and to take a stand one way or another (John 20:27).
  • Written testimony of the Bible is given to succeeding generations who struggle with the same doubts Thomas had (John 20:29–31).

It was, perhaps, in pursuit of truth rather than traditional notions of beauty that Caravaggio broke with the conventions of his time and place, early seventeenth-century Italy, to paint some of the most direct, unvarnished representations of the gospel that the West had seen. Such is Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ (1602–1604),22 in which the Virgin Mary could be any grieving mother, and Mary Magdalene a girl of the street, while Joseph of Arimathea has been given the sun-baked face of a peasant. Caravaggio’s image broke with all decorum but, in so doing, made the grief of Christ’s followers palpable and deeply moving. In turn the viewer is drawn into their emotion and their world, thus bringing Christ that much nearer. It was from such works that Rembrandt took his cue, as a current exhibition in Amsterdam makes clear.23

Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 100.

see also

Guasti, Alessandro and Francesca Niri. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. (Barnes and Noble, 2007).


Lambert, Gilles. Caravaggio, 1571–1610. Taschen Basic Art Series. (Taschen, 2000).

Wilson-Smith, Timothy. Caravaggio: Colour Library (Phaidon Press, 1998).

The Passion of the Christ (2004, Icon Productions). Mel Gibson and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel studied the paintings of Caravaggio as inspiration for the composition and lighting for the film.

“316,” Episode 6, Season 5, of Lost. Beginning at 14:30 minutes into the episode and ending at 17:00 minutes into the episode is a scene relevant to this study. Two characters are in a church in which Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is displayed. The biblical account of Thomas is summarized in a brief discussion about faith and doubt.


Joe Garland, Cindy Garland, and Jim Eichenberger, God’s Word on Canvas, Through Artists’ Eyes: An Exploration of Bible-Inspired Art, 6 Studies (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 2010), 31–32.

König, Eberhard. Caravaggio. Potsdam: H. F. Ullmann, 2013.

Lambert, Giles. Caravaggio. Köln: Taschen, 2000.

Prose, Francine. Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.