Blog Archives

Sunday Easter 2 @BBP 11 April 2011 – Life in His name for Believing Thomas

READING: John 20:19-31

MESSAGE

Joh 20:30  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

It’s been a good Easter. I don’t even know what that means – but people say it’s been good. A friend of mine in the US who is a pastor said is was good because they had record attendances. Well Post CovId – posts lockdown – for some just getting together was good.

For pastors and minister types, you know it’s been good when you are pretty worn out for a few weeks afterwards. Maybe that’s why hey call this Sunday low Sunday.

Was it good for those first followers?

Peter – yes, we saw that he got special mention after his failure. Tell the disciples and Peter, says the angel. He appeared to Peter, says Paul. Jesus the forgiver.

For Mary his mother – well we don’t hear from her but we can assume she was less heart broken than before. And even if he wasn’t going to be around for a long time – he’d organized John his friend to look after her in the long term. Jesus the pastoral planner.

For Mary Magdalene, well she thinks he’s the gardener. He calls her by her name – and that makes the connection. She then calls him Raboni –  which means teacher. It makes her a real woman disciple in a context where women general were left out. Jesus the kind and compassionate one.

And then there’s Thomas. Poor bloke. All those questions he asked. And just his luck he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to them I that locked room. I have no  idea where we went. Maybe he was catching up with his twin – if his twin was Lydia or maybe another unknown person. So when he hears their story, you can’t help but sympathise when he is less than convinced.

A week later there’s this lovely detail from Jesus – just as he meets with others where they are, he connects with Thomas. For each demand, one writer puts it, there’s a command from Jesus. The order isn’t perfect, but it’s all there – “precisely and fully” (Hendrikson Baker NT Commentary on John).

The commentary suggests this: “In order to see how precisely and fully the demands of Thomas are met, we must place the words of Thomas and those of Jesus next to each other.”

Have a look:

The Demands of ThomasThe Commands of Jesus
  
1. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,
2. And put my finger into the place of the nails,
3. And put my hand into his side,
4. I definitely will not believe
2. See my hands
1. Bring here your finger.
3. And bring your hand, and put it into my side.
4. And no longer be unbelieving but believing.

Jesus’  response to Thomas brings about a confession of faith that is pretty powerful and complete:

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

And here John expands Jesus’ reach to us too:

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

And then he pretty much wraps up his gospel:

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the key passagaes we havea looked at. Look at the references to life and believing.

It starts in John 1:1:

Joh 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Joh 1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men. Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

Remember the conversation with Nathanael: Joh 1:48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Joh 1:49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Joh 1:50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” Joh 1:51  He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

And Nicodemus: Joh 3:14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God So Loved the World Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever  believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

And the woman at the well: Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Joh 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Joh 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (abundant life). (the good shepherd teaching).

Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; Joh 11:26  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (To Martha)

Joh 12:32  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men/people to myself.” (looking to the cross to find life and healing, like the snake in John 3:14).

Joh 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (In response to Thomas)

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (in prayer)

In John’s gospel what follows is the Easter story. If you missed it, read chapters 18-19 again.

Here we are in chapter 20. He is life – he is alive again. Speaking to these followers of his.

And to Thomas.

“Stop doubting and believe.”

Why? The whole point of this whole book John) is summed up:

Joh 20:30  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus – God saves. Believe in his name. He is everything. The I am. Remember Joh 8:58: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Thomas got the message – I am the man.

Just for a bit of fun – although this is serious – here’ a great song about Thomas “ I am the man Thomas”. by Ralph Stanley. Bob Dylan made it famous, singing it nearly 60 times.

It’s a great way to start guitar  – only needs two chords. Bluegrass is a great country style. Someone said: , “Bluegrass is to country what heavy metal is to rock and roll.”

Art and music capture various aspects of Thomas’ journey to faith.

Here is Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys – live:

And a younger version of the song and a faster tempo: The Petersens:  https://youtu.be/XVDs4N5Avdg

THE LYRICS INCLUDE:

Oh, I am the Man, Thomas, I am the Man

Look at these nail scars here in my hands

They pierced me in the side, Thomas, I am the Man

They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man

They laid me in the tomb, Thomas, I am the Man

In three days I arose, Thomas, I am the Man

They pierced me in the Side, Thomas, I am the Man

They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man.

Do you believe he is the man? The one? The “I am”.

It’s a great question.

Don’t be unbelieving, says Jesus. Believe.

Amen.

8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31

Message

I was talking to someone about how short this week was.

It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.

I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.

I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.

So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?

Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.

Which reminded me of this story.

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.

There are so many choices. Things we could look at.

  • Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
  • What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
  • Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
  • Is this the actual birth of the church?
  • Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
  • Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
  • Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
  • What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
  • Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?

(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV –  “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)

SOME THOUGHTS THEN

Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.

This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.

In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.

This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.

It follows their commissioning –  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.

And empowers them.

If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.

From chapter 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Joh 14:26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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.

In chapter 15:

Joh 15:26  “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

And chapter 16:

Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.

You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.

I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.

TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:

Firstly:

  1. “Doubting” Thomas.

Was he really a doubter?

Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life

Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:

It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.

And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.

It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.

Secondly:

     2.  Peace be with you.

Do you need His peace?

We’ve talked before about the power of grief.

Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.

Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.

You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.

They needed some assurance.  And so do we.

He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.

Here – let my peace uphold you.

And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.

And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.

W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.

And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.

It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.

We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.

He says to you too today:

Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).  

Peace be with you.

Amen.

 

Sunday Message 3 April 2016, Easter 2 – Peace, Power, Purpose and Pardon

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”

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.

  1. 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!”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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?

Amen.

Easter reflection – the Jesus we present

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

 Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

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 Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

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!”

Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching (using their minds) but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!

  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  1. Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.

 Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard:

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

  1. Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

 So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

 Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

 I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peaceinto our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

 We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

 I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit.

 So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others.

There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

 “Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

 If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

 Hide me now

Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

 The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works (Someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  • IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

 What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

 Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

 And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

 What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

 So that I can be free!

 When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

 When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

 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 Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

(Republished from 15 April 2012)