We watched “Risen” this week. Some of our home group managed to go along to the movies together.
I was quite intrigued and moved all at once.
The story is told from the point of view of a Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes. His job is to find the body of Jesus which they are told has been stolen.
Ultimately he sees Jesus with the disciples – and realises that this is the same man he saw dead and buried.
It did make the idea of resurrection very real. Startling. Unnerving. And exciting.
You have to have some sympathy for Thomas who for some reason or another wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to most of them.
That Sunday night Jesus shows up – and Thomas is invited to check out those wounds.
He is response is a profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas’ life changes radically. We have it on good authority that he eventually takes the Gospel of Christ to India. Like the others (apart from John) he eventually gives his life as a martyr and witness to the gospel.
What’s more intriguing is Thomas’s name. He is called Didymus – the twin.
There’s a good chance his actual name is Judas Thomas (meaning Judas the twin). He can be forgiven for changing his name or sticking with Thomas. I had a conversation with someone this week who is changing their name for the sake of English speaking people who can’t pronounce a foreign name.
At breakfast this week we will be asking the question “what’s in a flag?”.
So what’s in a name then?
Not too many are given new names by Jesus. Simon the reed becomes Peter the solid rock.
Most keep their names.
But they become known by the name that is eventually given to followers of Christ.
Christian names traditionally given at Baptism are also symbolic of a new identity in Christ.
Scripture bears this out. These are key verse we should know:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (new creation)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinn for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
John 3 (born of God – from above)
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent,n nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’
Ephesians (old self are replaced with new self)
21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
THESE ARE KEY QUESTIONS AT HIS EASTER TIME:
- What are we known by?
- How do people see us?
- How are we really changed?
- Are we really different?
TODAY’S READING FROM JOHN TELLS US MORE ABOUT THIS NEW LIFE.
- We receive His peace. (PEACE)
Paul tells us this too: We are justified by faith – we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The peace with God is foundational – and relational. And then there is inner peace:
We have a peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4)
Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
He spoke about peace before his departure in John 14:27 and 16:33:
Joh_14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Joh_16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
He speaks peace to them at each resurrection event. (I am sure he would have as when dead people show up it is very troubling).
Joh _20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Joh_20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Joh_20:26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
- He gives us his Spirit (POWER)
This word for breath – like the word for gardener last week – is very unique. It appears in Genesis when God breathes into Adam – and Ezekiel 37 – where life is breathed into the dry bones (dem bones dem bones…) ἐμφυσάω – emphusaō – means a puff literally. For those who have asthma – you will understand how vital that puff is. I don’t have too much trouble with my asthma. I did have a serious attack last year. Without being over-dramatic – it was one of those Psalm 31 moments – “my times are in your hands”.
Without that life – we are dry bones indeed. Dead. Without that power – we have no confidence or boldness to go out – which is what happens next. The power is immediately given for the task. The peace, the commission, and the power all belong together as we see in verses 21-22:
Joh 20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Joh 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
- He sends us out (PURPOSE)
This is a Trinitarian mission statement. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (v21).
We still have some streets to cover in our task of handing out the “Hope” booklets. Have a look at the map in the foyer.
It’s easy to leave it to the pastor or elders. Or to support missionaries who go across borders.
The thing is – we are all sent.
That’s why we talk about “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic (sent) church.
Matthew 28’s great commission is just another way of looking at the passage today. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…”
Mat 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- He makes us a forgiving people (PARDON). We take on the Father’s nature, and the son’s (father forgive them – his words on the cross).
It fits with Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer: Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Or in the traditional Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do we? Often we don’t because we are angry or offended.
This is probably our weakest point. Christians have to be careful. Gossip and scandal are both unhelpful. We are often the ones who shoot our wounded.
Fortunately, we have a wonderfully merciful and loving God.
If only we could be more like Him. Actually we can – with his peace, power, purpose and pardon!
Forgiveness is not only our weakest point – it’s also a most misunderstood point. Listen again to this passage:
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)
What do you make of that? Listen to it in this translation: John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSV).
The church is God’s family – and some things just are not ok. You can’t tolerate evil. Or rebellion. Or deliberate or wilful sins. The health of the family is at stake. (Matthew 18 has a process for that reason – first confront the person, then take a couple of witnesses to confront them – and if that doesn’t work tell it to the whole church. Exclude them because some things are just not on.)
Tom Wright helps us here as he writes about this passage: They are to pronounce, in God’s name and by his spirit, the message of forgiveness to all who believe in Jesus. They are also to ‘retain sins’: to warn the world that sin is a serious, deadly disease, and that to remain in it will bring death. They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world. Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2436-2439). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
When there is genuine sorrow for sin and repentance and restitution – then you don’t have to retain those sins. Simple hey. It’s all about the body – the family – and the harm people can do. It’s not about our being unforgiving for personal wrongs people have committed to us. (And we always add this point – that forgiveness is a process – especially when there has been abuse. It may take a long time to reach there. And it does not mean we forget what people have done, or that we should not put up boundaries when people are toxic.)
Listen again to what Wright says of the commission to the apostles: They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world
What a challenge to be people of the resurrection and the cross.
Christ did not die for nothing. He died because the wages of sin is death. He died. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. We live.
How can we not be changed?
Readings: Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32
I don’t really like it when preachers quote long definitions but I couldn’t help it today:
Prodigal ˈprɒdɪɡ(ə)l/ adjective – spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. “prodigal habits die hard” synonyms: wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton
In some interesting research, Mark Powell asks the question of certain contexts. North America, Russia, and Africa: why did the Prodigal Son end up where he did?
- The answer from Russia? Famine.
- The opinion from Africa? Nobody helped him.
- And North America? He squandered his living.
(Perspective matter. Mark Allan Powel, What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew.)
If you insist on calling this lost son “prodigal” then it may well be that you are more American than you think.
Like the titles in the NIV pew bible (which I’d rather you not read out by the way – because they were never there) – when we label something we pre-determine meaning.
Yes – this son spent his money on the wrong things. But extravagance is actually a characteristic of God. In creation, in salvation, in grace and love for us.
In case you think I’m losing the plot here – think back on last week, Isaiah 55.
I know I didn’t say anything about it, but it really was the backdrop to the repentance we were talking about. It’s not just what we turn away from when we change direction. Or like this son when we come to our senses. It’s whom we turn back to.
This son turns back to a generous father who throws a banquet and blesses him beyond what he deserved.Next week we will look at more extravagance in the passionate expression of a woman’s gratitude to Jesus.
So back to Isaiah 55. Listen again:
Isa 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Isa 55:2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
The gospel in the Old Testament. Grace. And doesn’t your heart sing for joy when you hear these words:
Isa 55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, Isa 55:11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isa 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The younger brother could have wasted his money in generosity to others. Instead he went on a quest to find himself and life’s purpose. He only found both when he had nothing.
Like our idea about survivor’s arrogance last week – we are in danger when we think that we have been successful (not unemployed, sick or in prison) because we are better or more deserving. We often only get it when we have lost it all – when we are empty-handed.
The older brother in the meantime had everything. And saw none of it. He focused only on being grumpy. There was no attitude of gratitude. After ranting and raving because of the extravagance of his dad towards his brother, dad simply says this:
Luk 15:31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. Luk 15:32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
We had to celebrate. It’s what I call the party imperative.
- He was lost and is found.
- He came home, basically. Like that little girl in the paper this week.
And as a last thought? I wonder if the older brother eventually came home too?