John 10:1-10 What’s Next?

What’s next?

That’s the question many of us are asking these days. We’re in a state of uncertainty. As I speak, the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Nova Scotia, many of us are still in a state of shock or mourning after the recent mass shootings. Many of us are scared. Domestic violence and calls to mental health crisis lines are both on the increase.

The passage we just heard from John’s Gospel is known as the parable of the good shepherd. Jesus is our shepherd. People who truly belong to God listen to and believe in the words of Jesus. We must distinguish his voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives and follow Him in faith. He provides the security of an eternal kingdom, but people often look elsewhere for their spiritual and eternal security. No forces other than our own can snatch us out of His good care and keeping. There is no security in the law, only unbelief. Christianity is not about Christians behaving themselves. It is about hope for those who do not have any-including all of us. All we have in ourselves is doubt and fear-and nothing there is certain.

Life cannot be conquered, but it can be delayed, put on hold or made dormant. When we retreat to the safety and comfort of our own personal sheepfolds, we can’t fully enjoy the fullness of a life lived in God. Life is not the same as existence. Ease does not bring joy, and less demanding often means less fulfilling.

Jesus came to give us eternal life, offer us forgiveness, set us free from guilt and sin, and give us a fuller, meaningful life here on earth. We can live abundant lives because he can provide forgiveness from sin. In order to seek the gifts he offers us, we have to continually follow him and obey him without reservation. Don’t we all want to experience the joy of living and moving in grace-filled rhythm, in tune with something larger than ourselves? Don’t we all want the sense that we are living and moving in perfect rhythm to the song of the Christian life?

Fear is our new neighbour, just like it was for the people the apostle John wrote his Gospel for. We have nothing to fear if Jesus is our good shepherd. He loves us and cares for us like a shepherd cares for his sheep. This is the kind of love that is needed in our churches, schools, homes and communities. It is the type of love Jesus calls us to show.

Jesus is talking about real sheep. He is talking about us. He is speaking the word that will bring us from the places of comfort and safety that we have built around us. When we retreat to our safe places, we miss out on taking part in the fullness of life with God. Staying in the safe places is easy, but it is not life. Jesus calls us from our safe places to a life in Him-a life where He will walk with us and protect us.

Bibliography

  1. Craig Condon, “Jesus, the Good Shepherd.” Retrieved from the author’s sermon library.
  2. Rev. Ann Sutherland Howard, “How to Love Like a Mother.” Retrieved from www.huffpost.com/entry/love-like-a-mother_b_5266622
  3. The Rev. Adam Thomas, “The Young Leaders Series III: The Sheepfold.” Retrieved from www.day1.org

Exodus 32:21-34 The Consequences of Sin

This passage reveals how serious sin is to the Lord. Moses angrily broke the stone tablets to symbolize that Israel had broken the covenant. Although Aaron shifted the blame and made a feeble explanation, Moses was right to confront him before confronting the people.

The people knew God, but they refused to glorify Him. They devised a substitute for the praise, glory and worship that belong to God. They had to have a visible image, something they could see and touch. This mistake is not just made by primitive people. It is a common sin that most of us commit.

Part of leadership’s responsibility is to restrain their people from doing what will bring them harm or judgment. Aaron tried to shift the blame to something else. He wasn’t willing to face up to the truth.  Failure to do this brought shame on the Lord and His chosen people in front of their enemies.

This is a good example of comedian Flip Wilson’s famous line: “The devil made me do it.” When we try to shift the blame, we deceive ourselves. We shift between self-pity and self-blame. Either extreme is destructive. Self-pity can turn us into cringing nothings. Self-blame can drain us of power and make us impotent to live creatively and responsibly.

All sin is wrong. It doesn’t matter what the size of the sin is. All sins separate us from God. It is only when we accept personal responsibility that the process of repentance and restoration can begin to work in our lives.

Life is full of consequences. All of us must sit down and accept the consequences of our actions. Our capacity to follow the example of Aaron is almost infinite. We often choose to be in denial until we are far from reality.

God forgives sin and wickedness when we repent and come to Him in faith, but that does not mean that we will not suffer the consequences of our actions The Levites knew that when it comes to the conflict between good and evil, neutrality can’t exist. Submission to the Lord is hard to do, but His will is more important than family and national ties. Moses interceded for the people he loved so much, hoping he could atone for their sin. Of course, as a sinner himself, Moses could not so, but his words convey the picture of the sacrifice of Christ, which was able to make atonement for humanity.

Moses’ intercession on behalf of the Israelites is an overwhelming lesson in love and concern. He made it clear to God that he wanted to die with his people if they were not spared. He offered the greatest sacrifice he knew-his own relationship with God and his hope of eternal salvation.

There is a great difference between prayer and intercession. Prayer is what we do for ourselves. We pray for blessing, health, and protection. Intercession is when we stand in the gap for others.

Moses was Christ-like as he offered himself. We can never be the atonement for sin as Christ was, but we can play a Christ-like sacrificial role. When we intercede for others, they will be protected. In doing so we will be willing to take the blows.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 116-117)
  2. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 328-336)
  3. Stanley, C.F: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. “Moses.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Greg Laurie, “Are All Sins the Same?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Pastor Dick Woodward, “A Banquet of Consequences.” Retrieved from crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Dr. Paul Chappell, “Blaming the Fire.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org

John 10:1-10 Jesus the Good Shepherd

A mother was once asked by a census-taker how many children she had. She replied, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and…”. “Never mind the names,” the man interrupted, “Just give me the numbers”. The mother angrily replied, “They don’t have numbers, they all have names!”

This might be a funny story, but in our modern world this is oh so true. We are often reduced to numbers and statistics, especially by the government. Here in Canada, our governments- municipal, federal or provincial-know us by our Social Insurance Numbers, and that identity is included in almost all of our lifetime records and transactions. We are no longer identities to our governments, only our “number” is. Even our opinions are reflected by numbers in survey results. No wonder many people have an “identity crisis”.

Thankfully, our Saviour Jesus Christ is not like this. He knows each and every one of us by our names, just like a shepherd knows each and every one of the sheep in his flock. Personal names and identities are important to God, especially his own; therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus knows us by our names. After all, he is the Good Shepherd.

The parable of the good shepherd and his sheep is a reference to God’s intimate knowledge of all of us. A good shepherd looks after his flock and knows his sheep. Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world. They seek the security of the flock and blindly follow the lead of the shepherd. When several flocks are grazing together in a field, they are still able to distinguish the voice of their own shepherd and follow his movements, clap, voice, etc. Sheep need a leader not because they are dumb, but because they know they can’t go it alone. They need someone to lead and to guide them.

Jesus is our shepherd. People who truly belong to God listen to and believe in the words of Jesus. We must distinguish his voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives and follow Him in faith. He provides the security of an eternal kingdom, but people often look elsewhere for their spiritual and eternal security. No forces other than our own can snatch us out of His good care and keeping. There is no security in the law, only unbelief. Christianity is not about Christians behaving themselves. It is about hope for those who do not have any-including all of us. All we have in ourselves is doubt and fear-and nothing there is certain.

In Biblical times, sheep were often placed in a fenced-in area at night for their protection. If the sheep pen had a gate, the shepherd could close and lock it and go home; however, many sheep pens did not have a gate. Instead, there was an opening. A shepherd would then lie across the opening to keep predators out. Just as the shepherd controlled the entrance to the sheep pen, Jesus controls our entrance to heaven. In fact, Jesus is the only way to heaven. As Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me”. Our comings and goings are through Jesus.

This might seem narrow-minded to some people, but it was Jesus who in his perfect mind and perfect planning paved the way for us to be reconciled to God. He did this by giving himself to us. For us he emptied himself of his deity and took on human form and became a lowly, humble servant-just like a shepherd is a lowly, humble servant. We can have all of the world’s goods, but we would still be empty inside. The only person who can truly satisfy us is Jesus. If we allow Christ to live in us, we will have an abundant life. His love encourages us and empowers us so that we will obey him out of joy and thankfulness.

As a gate-keeper, Jesus provides both protection and freedom. He gives us helpful boundaries and keeps the enemy at bay. We can trust him more than we can trust the world around us. Jesus warns us about those who would lead people far from the truth, especially false teachers and some TV evangelists. These false prophets are like junk food. They look so appealing, but a steady diet of their “spiritual junk food” will hurt us in the long run. Jesus loved people and cared for them just like a shepherd cares for his sheep.

Those of you who have ever held a yard sale might have been in a situation where a customer found an item that he or she wanted, but did not want to pay the price you were charging. Well, our spiritual life is the same. There are people who are looking for joy, peace and love in their lives. When someone tells them that they can have all of that and more just by believing in what Jesus did for them on the cross, they do not want to pay the price.

Sheep can’t spend their entire lives in the sheepfold. After all, there’s no food in the sheepfold. The sheep might be comfortable and safe in the sheepfold, but the sheep must follow the shepherd out of the fold in order to find sustenance, in order to live. In the same way, Jesus calls out to us. He speaks the word that will bring us out of the places of comfort and safety that we have built around us.

Life cannot be conquered, but it can be delayed, put on hold or made dormant. When we retreat to the safety and comfort of our own personal sheepfolds, we can’t fully enjoy the fullness of a life lived in God. Life is not the same as existence. Ease does not bring joy, and less demanding often means less fulfilling.

A good shepherd is also willing to lay down his life in order to protect his flock. He will use any weapons he has at his disposal (including his staff) to fight off predators. Jesus as our shepherd willingly laid down his life so that those who believe in him would be protected from both sin and the wrath of God’s punishment. Those who love, follow and obey God will be in the devil’s sights. His eye will be on us when we take the battle to him. He also gave us the armour of God that Paul refers to in Ephesians chapter 6 so that we might be better able to protect ourselves as we fight the temptations of Satan and the world.

Satan has no power to stop us from walking with God. He can never own us because we have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection and we are forever in him. Our greatest challenges often come after our greatest victories. The devil will always be there to challenge whatever God has done. He is always looking for our vulnerabilities. Jesus became the door to salvation for us. He gave his life for the great flock of humanity so that anyone who believes in him can become part of God’s flock.

Jesus came to give us eternal life, offer us forgiveness, set us free from guilt and sin, and give us a fuller, meaningful life here on earth. We can live abundant lives because he can provide forgiveness from sin. In order to seek the gifts he offers us, we have to continually follow him and obey him without reservation. Don’t we all want to experience the joy of living and moving in grace-filled rhythm, in tune with something larger than ourselves? Don’t we all want the sense that we are living and moving in perfect rhythm to the song of the Christian life?

The world tells us to measure our lives by the limited time we have here on earth, but the life we have in Christ is so much better than that, because the life we have in him is eternal life. We disrespect Christ when we do not live up to the potential and possibilities Jesus has made available to us. When we settle for a listless and lackluster life of going through the motions and pursuing meaningless plans, we tell Jesus that his work has no effect in our lives.

We as sheep are unambiguous people who are to be cared for. We can’t enter Jesus’ flock by deeds, philosophy or ritual. We have to come through Jesus. The voice of the good shepherd helps us when we have to make difficult choices-choices about who we are, what we believe, and what really matters to us. He whispers his love for us. He calls us into an ongoing relationship with him. All we have to do are three things:

  1. Confess our sins and admit that we need a saviour.
  2. Trust Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
  3. Believe that our sins are forgiven and that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

We must be careful not to let our zeal for God fade. We were created to live a full and abundant life that was paid for by Jesus so that we can enjoy God’s full blessings. Are we living the abundant life, or are we just getting by? How do we leave time in our lives for these blessings? We have to make time for the joys of the abundant life. We have to stay close to the one who makes the abundant life possible-Jesus.

When we come to Jesus that does not mean that our life will be perfect and carefree. In fact, the storms of life might become stronger because of the devil. Jesus does not protect those he loves from bad things happening but uses bad things to fulfill his plans for our lives. When we suffer, he is glad not because we are suffering, but because through suffering we have the chance to grow in faith and display his glory-and that is the very purpose of our existence.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. ESV Study Bible
  3. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study, Winter 2011
  4. Kenny Luck, “Become an Effective Warrior for Christ”. Retrieved from www.EveryManMinistries.com
  5. Sheila Schuller Coleman, “Wake-up Call Number One”. Retrieved from www.hourofpower.cc
  6. Dr. Jack Graham, “Living an Abundant Life”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  7. Christopher Harris, “The Ultimate Disrespect”. Retrieved from www.streamingfaith.com
  8. Rebecca Barlow Jordan, “Gate”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  9. Phil Ware, “Heartlight Daily Verse”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  10. Glynnis Whitwer, “Would I Know Him?” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  11. Bill Bright, “Why Jesus Came”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  12. John Eldredge, “Christ’s Abundance”. Retrieved from www.newlife.com
  13. Bill Bright, “An Identity Crisis?” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  14. Walt Larimore, “The Spiritual Wheel”. Retrieved from www.christianitytoday.com
  15. Neil Anderson, “Your Journey toward Christ”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  16. Greg Laurie, “After the Dove”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  17. Selwyn Hughes, “The Last Word is Life”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  18. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “The Lord, Our Shepherd”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  19. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “Jesus: The Only Way to Heaven”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  20. Sharon Jaynes, “Just What You’ve Always Wanted”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  21. Kelly McFadden, “The Truth versus the Lie”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  22. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “Rekindling the Fire”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  23. Mike DeVries, “Living in Rhythm”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  24. Mary Southerland, “First Class Living”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  25. Dr. Jack Graham, “How You Can Experience Abundant Life in Christ”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  26. Steve Arterburn, “Called by Name”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  27. Joel Osteen, “Thriving Every Day”. Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
  28. Anne Graham Lotz, “More to Life”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  29. Rev. Billy Strayhorn, “The Voice of the Shepherd”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  30. William Loader, “Easter 4”. Retrieved from www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MtEaster4.htm
  31. Jerry Goebel, “I am the Door”. Retrieved from http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/John/jn_10_01-10.htm
  32. Craig Condon, “Shepherd to Lost Sheep-Do you Read Me? Over”. Sermon preached in 2008
  33. Rev. Adam Thomas, “The Sheepfold”. Retrieved from www.day1.org

Acts 2:42-47 The Example of the Early Church

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Acts 2:42-47 offers us a glimpse of heaven here on earth. The early believers joined together in faith, hope and love in the best ways possible. The reading from Acts is a picture of the early church. It suggests what the Holy Spirit can do. The Holy Spirit gives Christians the power to provide mutual service that reflects God’s justice, mercy, love and compassion. The Christian community exists not for our sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be the means by which God’s gift of salvation is extended to others.

The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ’s life, and they taught what they knew about Jesus and the Old Testament witness about Him. The apostles were likely in awe of the power they now had. They knew that it was not their power but God’s power. They knew that they had a responsibility to use that power wisely.  

The early church was a healthy church. It was devoted to teaching, fellowship and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was a growing church. It was a joyously united church. It was a worshipping church. A healthy church today shows the same characteristics.

The early church believed in fellowship or holding things in common or sharing things together. The early church also continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread and in prayers. When these believers assembled, they prayed both spontaneous and memorized prayers from their Jewish roots. God demonstrated the authority of the apostles through the miracles they performed, confirming the Gospel they preached and inspiring awe and reverence of Him. In the days following Christ’s ascension into heaven, this amazing power was moving into the church, and God was adding to their number every day. Every day, people were thinking, “I want some of that.”

Our worship is a witness to people both inside and outside the church. For example, when nonbelievers go to church, they are checking everything out. They are taking everything in. What kind of witness are we to the people sitting near to us? Non-believers will form an opinion about God and Christianity largely based on what they see. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The early believers also opened their hearts to each other. They saw the best and worst of themselves, but they still loved one another, and they shared that love by sharing what they owned with one another. The early believers shared what they owned because they were generous and committed to one another, not because they were required to do so. The fellowship of the early church expressed itself in open hearts, open hands and open homes.

Fellowship means that all Christians have the same hope of heaven-the same joys, the same hatred of sin and the same enemies. They have the same subjects of conversation, of feeling and of prayer. Revival leads to fellowship. It unites us with fellow Christians, and it unites those who were separated by sin with us when they repent and turn to God in faith. God’s grace unites us in seriousness and solemnity.

The passage from Acts depicts the life of the early Christian community as a model for Christian life today. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t follow this model. Our individual and communal lives should reflect our experiences of God’s grace and action in and among us. The early Christians realized that devotion to Jesus involved a commitment to a new way of thinking and living. A Christian lifestyle that appreciates the study of Scripture, generosity and caring doesn’t happen easily or automatically. It requires intention, effort and choice.

The early church is an example of what happens when the living Christ sets us free to fulfill His purpose for His people-that they become one with Him and with each other. If we as Christians want to be one with Christ, we must take time to be together to listen to each other, care for each other and be there for each other. Christians are partners with Jesus and other believers, so it is our spiritual duty to encourage one another in faith, righteousness and obedience. If we want to grow in faith and fulfill the mission Jesus has given us, we must regularly gather together for teaching, worship, encouragement and prayer.

Opening our hearts to one another means sharing our lives with them, and that’s what the early believers did. Christian lives can’t be lived in isolation. They are connected and work together just like all of the parts of a human body work together. Our churches can often be described as a group of people sitting in a circle with their chairs facing in. Paul and Luke want us to turn our chairs back to back and face out in a fellowship of the gospel. When we face out and reach out we have an outlet that fills our church with the young life of new believers.

God uses life’s circumstances to prepare people to receive the Good News. We can target people and take them to dinner and testify to the truth of Jesus through our words and the example of our Christian lives, but they will remain green to the Gospel. Only when God Himself moves in their hearts to ripen them through a circumstance or condition that is beyond their own ability to solve will they receive the Gospel.

The early believers also opened their homes to each other as places of worship, and in doing so followed Paul’s commands as written in Hebrews 13:2 and Titus 1:8. A well-known minister made the following comment:

“Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In an church auditorium, you see the backs of heads. Around the table, you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium, one person speaks; around the table, everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time for talk.”

In some ways, the church today carries on this tradition.  For example, members often meet in one another’s homes in small groups for Bible study or informal gatherings.

An essential part of worship, the Lord’s Supper-also referred to as breaking bread or Communion-causes believers to look back to the cross, forward to the coming of Christ, and inward to the condition of their heart.

The early believers were passionate believers. They were so excited about their faith that they couldn’t wait to go to church. They loved being with fellow believers, sharing their faith and the Lord’s Supper and being encouraged by other believers. They were so eager that they met together every day! If only people today were that eager!

The result of these activities was the growth of the church. Everyone who observed the lives and prayers of the early church experienced a sense of awe of God and his presence. The church grew and found favour with people both inside and outside of the church. The love of the people was a testimony, especially to those who did not agree with the apostles’ teachings. Oh, how we need this today.

The early church turned its world upside-down for Christ. They taught the doctrine of Christ, their fellowship centered on Christ, they remembered Him in communion, they communicated with Him in prayer, and they exalted Christ in worship. As the 21st century church focuses on Christ in this way, the Spirit will turn its world upside-down as well.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1490-1491)
  2. Jeremiah, David: A.D.: The Revolution that Changed the World (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers; 2015; pp. 49-56)
  3. Jeremiah, David: Acts: The Church in Action, Vol. 1 (San Diego, CA: Turning Point for God;2006,2015; pp. 70-73)
  4. Pastor Mark Jeske, “Devoted to Worshipping Together.” Retrieved from www.TimeofGrace.org
  5. Barnes’ Nots on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  6. Pastor Bobbly Schuller, “The Early Days.” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.cc
  7. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983, pp. 71-74)
  8. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  9. Stanley, C.F., The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  10. Pastor Dick Woodward, “A Fellowship in the Gospel.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@corsswalkmail.com
  11. Pastor Greg Laurie, “You Are Being Watched.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  12. Dr. Lanie LeBlanc, “2nd Sunday of Eater/Divine Mercy Sunday.” Retrieved from volume2@lists.opsouth.org
  13. Richard Neill Donovan, “Exegesis for Acts 2:42-47.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  14. Pastor James MacDonald, “Picking Apples.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Johnathan Kever, “A Healthy Church.” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
  16. Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Acts 2:42-47.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  17. Scott Schauff, “Commentary on Acts 2:42-47.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  18. Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Apostolic Devotion: The Actual Historic Tradition.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.org

Luke 24:13-35 Jesus Gives Us Spiritual Eyesight

There was once a little boy named Emmet who couldn’t see very well. The funny thing about it was that he didn’t know it. In fact, no one knew it — not his mother or father, his grandmother or grandfather, not even his closest friends knew that Emmet couldn’t see very well.

Emmet thought that everything in the world had fuzzy edges because that is the way things looked to him.  He thought that all of the other children saw things just as he saw them. As he got older his mother began to wonder why Emmet always sat so close to the TV.  His grandfather noticed that when he looked at a book, he held it very close to his face.  When Emmet began school, he complained to the teacher that he couldn’t see the words on the chalk board clearly.  Finally, everyone began to realize that Emmet needed glasses. 

Emmet’s parents took him to an eye doctor and the doctor told them, “Emmet needs glasses.” In a few days, Emmet had a brand new pair of glasses.  At first, he was afraid that the other kids would make fun of him because he had to wear glasses, but when he put the glasses on, he put his worries behind him. WOW! The world looked so different. Suddenly, Emmet discovered that everything in the world didn’t have fuzzy edges. He realized that a tree had leaves.  He could read a book without holding it right up to his face.  He could see his mother’s face clearly, even when she was all the way across the room.  It was great.

We may not have trouble with our eyesight, but all of us have difficulty seeing and understanding things at times. The events in Luke 24:13-35 took place just three days after Jesus was crucified. They show how some of Jesus’ disciples had trouble understanding what they had seen.

When Jesus died, his followers thought that he was gone forever.  They didn’t know what to do.  They were very sad.  They couldn’t see things clearly because they were so mixed up and upset.  Two of Jesus’ friends were sadly walking back to their home in the village of Emmaus when another traveler joined them on the road.  They didn’t recognize who it was, but they began to talk to him and tell him all about what had happened to Jesus and how sad they were. The two men revealed they still did not understand who Jesus was. They saw Him as a mighty prophet, not as the Messiah and Son of God. Luke carefully notes the difference in attitude toward Jesus between the people and the chief priests and rulers-a constant theme in Luke’s Gospel.

When it was evening they arrived at their home and invited the stranger to stay with them and have supper. They sat down to eat and when the traveler broke the bread and blessed it, something happened. It was as if they had put on little Emmet’s glasses.  Suddenly they saw clearly what they hadn’t seen before even though they had been looking right at it most of the day. They realized that the stranger who had joined them on the road was really Jesus – alive and well.  After Jesus left them, they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.

These two men were disciples of Jesus, perhaps among the seventy that Jesus sent out. They had heard the message of Christ’s resurrection, but their hearts were broken, believing it was a fraud.

Sometimes we feel confused and don’t see things clearly.  When that happens, we need help understanding our lives more clearly.  Jesus is with us to help us to do that.  He helps us to understand that God loves us and that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Many of us hope that there is a force out there that is trying to encourage us to improve our lives, and there is. It is the Christian faith. This might be the last place most of us think of finding this power. Christianity might seem to be very dull and boring, but that is because we’ve forgotten that the most powerful force in the universe is within us. That is the message of the Emmaus Road story. We must always remember that we have the ultimate source of power and love within us as we travel on our own Emmaus Roads.

For these two men, when Jesus died on the cross, all their hopes of rescue from Roman opposition had died with Him. Because their hope was gone, they discounted the testimony of the women at the empty tomb. They still saw Him as a prophet. The resurrected Jesus challenges our false assumptions. Without the resurrection, Jesus is just a martyr, a moral teacher, a dead hero, or even a liar. The resurrection of Jesus challenges the common false beliefs of our culture-that all religions are true, all truths are equal, and any attempt at morality will earn you a seat in heaven.

There is a sense of disappointment in this story. We tend to gloss over it. We tend to move too quickly toward some kind of resolution. We flee from the cross-like experiences of life for the promise of resurrection. This happens in both the church and in real life. We want to meet Jesus on the road of life. We want Him to help us make sense of everything that is going on in our world. We want to see Him around the Communion table and in the breaking of bread.

Jesus answered their doubts as He talked to them. Some people have the same doubts today, but Jesus can answer their doubts if they spend time with Him and study His Word. When He sees sincere seekers with confused hearts, He will do whatever it takes to help them see His will. That’s what He was doing on the road to Emmaus. Jesus gave the two disciples and us a new way of seeing the Scriptures we know with new eyes that were opened. We see the Scriptures from a completely different point of view.

Even if we have never walked a road to Emmaus, we have all walked with both men. Who among us does not carry the burden of grief, loss and guilt at the death of someone we love? Who does not feel some sense of sadness and bewilderment when we are confronted by death of any sort, whether it be the death of a spouse, lover, child or parent; the death of a marriage or a relationship; the death of a job or sense of self?

The words the disciples spoke on the road to Emmaus were words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment and yearning. They are the same words we say when we come to the end of our hopes, when our expectations have not been met, when our dreams are dead, when there is nothing left to do but leave, defeated and done.

When death comes to us, it comes in a haze of defeat, sadness and bewilderment. It comes to us in the midst of grief, guilt and loss; it comes to us in darkness and despair as night is approaching not just out there but in our hearts. The two men saw before them not a ghost or a vision but the reality of larger life that is possible in Jesus. We see that the grave and death are not the end but the gate and door to something much larger. Christ’s resurrection is a life of victory and joy and wonder. It is a life of hope that tells us that death in any form is not the end but the gate and door or something new.

Jesus’ rebuke to correct His followers’ misunderstanding in this instance is a good word to believers in every era to pay attention to all the Scriptures. While the Bible certainly portrays the Messiah as a ruling king, it also presents Him as a suffering servant. Both parts of the Scripture must be honoured and believed. Perhaps He expounded on the Messianic psalms or spoke of Abraham and Isaac, explaining that although God had spared Isaac, He had not spared His own Son. Or perhaps He quoted Isaiah 53:6, saying “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The events of Easter are not part of a creed or philosophy. We are asked to meet the Jesus who was raised from the dead. We move in faith from belief in the Resurrection to knowledge of a person. In His resurrection, Jesus moves our faith to the present tense from the past tense. In return, we are to be part of what He is doing in our world.

As the men drew near their destination, Christ did not force Himself into their home. He waited until they invited Him in, and then He became a crucial part of their lives.  Jesus the guest quickly became Jesus the host. In an Eastern setting, bread was not sliced but came as an entire loaf. To serve the bread, the person broke off a piece and gave it to another. Apparently Jesus’ distinct way of doing this revealed His identity. Instantly Jesus vanished from their sight, having previously promised in Luke 22:16 that He would not eat with His disciples again until He was in the kingdom. Now the Kingdom had come!

Jesus comes and walks with us where we are. He walks with us amid challenges and grief, amid darkness and despair. He comes to us where we are, walking among us amid questions about death and darkness, loss and limits, questions about pain and wounds, fear and imperfection, questions about what just happened and how we will continue.

Jesus has come to open our eyes, ears and hearts so that we can truly see Him. How do we recognize Jesus? First, we recognize Him by knowing the Bible and spending time with Him. Second, we recognize Him when we spend time with fellow believers. Third, we need to have a heightened awareness. We need to expect that Jesus will reveal Himself to us.

Finally, we need to make time for Him in our lives. Jesus said in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in.” We must allow Him to enter into our lives. A good suggestion is to take a few minutes each day just to say, “Lord, I’m setting this time aside. I want you to come in and spend time with me.” If we don’t, He goes on without bothering us, for He does not intrude.

In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey wrote about a time when he was on a subway at the end of the day. He was tired. A man boarded the train with his two rambunctious boys. They were inconsiderate of other passengers. Stephen Covey was so bothered that he reached a boiling point and had to say something to the man. “Sir, aren’t you going to do something about these boys? They are bothering everyone.”

The man, almost as if he had awakened from a stupor, said, “Yes, I’m sorry. I’m not thinking straight. We’ve just left a hospital. Their mother died this morning and I just do not know what I am doing.” This changed Stephen Covey’s entire outlook. Suddenly he could honestly say, “They aren’t bothering me. I’m sorry. What can I do for you?” Seeing clearly made him feel totally different about the situation.

Are we like Jesus on the Emmaus Road? Do we look for opportunities to encourage and help others understand God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for them? Do we look for opportunities to come alongside other Christians to encourage, support and help them understand and apply God’s Word? We often look for things in the wrong places. The right place is one where a deep, intimate, loving, caring, long term relationship can be found. This story gives us clues as to where to find the Risen Christ. We can find the Risen Christ in the Word, the Sacraments, and the friendship that Christ offers to us.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1434-1435)
  2. “Seeing Clearly.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.ccsend.com
  3. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol.26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 347-352)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  6. Bro. James Koester, “Believe in It? I’ve Seen It!” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
  7. “Helping Opportunities.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Bro. Luke Dietwig, “Walk with Me.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
  9. Alan Wright, “How the Spirit Heightens the Intellect (Part 2).” Retrieved from www.sharingthelight.org
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Truth Confirmed.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  11. Fr. Lawrence Lew, “Broken Before Burning.” Retrieved form www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3188
  12. “The Economy of Resurrection.” Retrieved from www.onemansweb.org/theology/life-on-the-beach-matthew-24-36-44/the-economy-of-resurrection.html
  13. The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Looking in the Wrong Places.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_looking_in_the_wrong_places.htm
  14. The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Walking Towards Emmaus, Waling Towards Home…” Retrieved from http://dancingwiththeword.com/walking-towards-emmaus-walking-towards-home/
  15. Debi Thomas, “But We Had Hoped.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  16. Fritz Wendt, “The Politics of Burning Hearts.” Retrieved from https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-burning-hearts.html

1 Peter 1:3-9 God’s Survival Guide for Times of Trial

Have you ever had problems or trials in your lives? We often have times of trial and difficulty in life. Sometimes they are the result of things we have done, and other times they are caused by God. All of us know what it is like to be hurt. It is part of all cultures, and it can only be cured by a powerful potion. In the case of believers, that potion is faith. Christian hope is grounded on the reality of Christ and his resurrection. Christ will protect us from persecution. He will protect our souls while allowing our trials to strengthen our faith. Trials humble us and prove the genuineness of our faith, but we can rejoice in suffering because of our faith.

All of our trials are temporary, because our life on earth is like a snap of our fingers-over in a flash. Our sufferings pale in comparison to the glory we will receive in heaven. We do not have to wait to catch a glimpse of God, because Jesus has told us about God. If we have faith in Jesus, we have faith in God. Faith makes us certain of the realities we can’t see, including God. When all seems hopeless, faith gives us the strength we need to keep going. Faith gives us hope.

God tests our faith so that we can experience his love.  God will be with us as we face life’s challenges. We must not let our trials take away our joy. In fact, a good sense of humour can help us cope with life’s challenges. We can receive joy in the midst of our trials because God is with us. The power of God keeps us strong through faith and will continue to do so until the Second Coming. Our faith might be weak, but God is strong.  This joy is unspeakable and full of glory because it comes from the Holy Spirit within us. This knowledge comforts us along with the knowledge that our trials are temporary. Our hope is in Christ alone. Hardships can strengthen our faith, and suffering can strengthen our character. Suffering can make us more sensitive to others. All of these refinements cause us to be more like Christ.

No matter how bad things get, we are to keep trusting in God, because God keeps his promises. He promised to be with us always, and he is with us always. We who trust Christ must praise God for keeping his promise of salvation. We must also live out that salvation in our daily lives. Salvation is a gift from God, and he gives believers this gift because of his mercy, grace and sovereignty. The world puts its hope in things that decay but Peter reminds us that our sure, secure hope is in Jesus. This hope allows us to face life’s challenges. Having hope does not mean that we won’t have problems, but it does mean that our sorrow will not last and that joy is central to our hope. Suffering leads to praise, honour and glory.

Peter wrote his first letter at a time when early Christians were being persecuted. The early Jews gave a living testimony to Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. Thousands came to Christ, but the early Jews were under a lot of heat. Christians are still being persecuted today, especially in the developing world. Like the early Jews, they can take hope in the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection. When we are asked why we have hope, we can say that it is because of Christ’s resurrection experience in our lives as we are born again in the Spirit. The rebirth gives us a heavenly inheritance that will never perish, will never be polluted and will always be bright. That living hope is also our shield against the perils of our sin-filled world.

When we face trials, it’s only natural for us to grieve, but we have the best comforter of all-Jesus. He has promised to be our Comforter and Encourager. He will be there so that our faith may be proved genuine. He will be with us so that we can gain praise, honour and glory at the Revelation of Christ. When we turn to Christ, especially in times of trial, we get to know God, we get a new life in Christ and we get a future in heaven.

Bibliography

  1. Rebecca Barlow Jordan, “Refiner.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  2. Bayless Conley, “Keep Laughing.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  3. Bayless Conley, “Keep Trusting.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  4. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  5. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  6. Cedar, P.A. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34: James/1&2 Peter/Jude (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984)
  7. Bayless Conley, “For Just a Little While.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Reasons!” Retrieved from www.joniandfriends.org
  9. Pastor Rick Warren, “Anybody Needs a Fresh Start.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  10. Dr. Keith Wagner, “A Living Hope.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  11. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on James, 1&2 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)

Acts 2:14, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9 Faith, Hope and the Resurrection

The reading from Acts 2:14, 22-32 is part of the first sermon ever preached. It was in response to the disciples’ speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost. When the disciples spoke in tongues, some people in the crowd thought that they were drunk. Peter stated that this was not true because it was 9:00 in the morning.

If Peter was drunk with anything, he was drunk with the Holy Spirit. It allowed Peter to preach with conviction and faith. It allowed him to preach with the same boldness, courage and urgency that Jesus did. Peter preached Christ. He explained God’s gift of salvation, what people did to refuse it, what God did in spite of their refusal to accept his gift, and what would happen to those who would accept the gift.

Peter declared that God wants his people to live in Christ. Christ’s life, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan for his people, and they are still part of his plan for us today. God’s plan could not be stopped then, and it can’t be stopped now. The crucifixion was predetermined by God, but it did not absolve the guilt of the people who put Jesus to death. They thought that they had ended Jesus’ ministry, but death could not keep Jesus in the grave, and it could not stop his ministry.

Peter said that death did not have the power to hold Jesus because Jesus was no ordinary man. He was God’s designated Messiah. Peter backs up this claim by referring to Psalm 16:8-11, which speaks of one who will not be abandoned to hell or experience corruption. King David wrote that particular psalm, and since his body died and decayed, the Holy One mentioned in the psalm refers to someone other than the speaker. David saw Jesus as the one who would not be abandoned to hell and whose flesh would not experience decay. In other words, David knew that Jesus would rise from the dead.

All was not lost when Jesus died on the cross. On the contrary, things were just beginning. God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus will return one day to judge everyone. No one is beyond salvation, no matter how bad their lives are.

Everything that happened in Jesus’ ministry was part of God’s plan to reveal Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. God worked through Jesus. Jesus himself said that he could do nothing by himself. All of his teachings and miracles were the result of God the Father working through him.

The Holy Spirit fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Joel. Jesus could not have sent the Holy Spirit if he was dead; therefore, Jesus is alive! Jesus could not have send the Holy Spirit unless he had ascended to heaven as the Lord. Therefore, we can know for certain that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ. If we believe in Christ, we must repent of our sins, believe in the Gospel and give ourselves to a life of following Jesus. We have received God’s grace, and therefore we have to give grace in our relationships with other people.

Jesus’ ongoing presence casts a light on depression, despondency, death and damnation. Jesus is the light that shines in our dark, sin-filled world. When we obey God, we know what the outcome of our lives will be. We know what will happen to us when we die. We can rest in the hope of eternal salvation.

If we are to believe in Jesus, we must do so by faith, including the confession of faith by those whose lives have been shaped by Christ. Peter’s sermon is a good example, because he and the other disciples were eyewitnesses to Christ’s teachings and miracles. Faith-both ours and the faith of others-invites us to enter into a relationship with Christ. Faith is an invitation to expand our memories and our lives to include him. Faith invites us to live in him.

The Holy Spirit is the unseen force that gives us our power. It guides us. For example, the Holy Spirit combined with the teaching of other learned pastors and scholars guides me when I prepare and deliver homilies. Hopefully the Holy Spirit works in each and every one of you as you listen to them. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to cope when life throws us challenges because the result will be eternal life with Jesus in heaven. Our adversities purify and strengthen us if they are met by faith.

The Holy Spirit also comforts us, especially when we travel through the dark times of our lives. It counteracts the pressures of our everyday lives. All we have to do is to know where the flow of the power is going and follow it. If we do, we can walk with courage and confidence. We would be like the elderly lady who was confined to a wheelchair and lived in a nursing home. One day she was visited by a very dignified pastor. As he stood to leave, she asked him to have a word of prayer. He gently took her hand and prayed that God would be with her to bring her comfort, strength and healing.

When he finished praying, her face began to glow. Something amazing was happening in her heart and in her body. She asked the minister to help her to her feet. At first she took a few uncertain steps, and then she began to jump up and down, dance and shout with joy and happiness until the whole nursing home was aroused.

After she quieted down, the minister hurried out to his car, closed the door, grabbed hold of the steering wheel and prayed a little prayer, “Lord, don’t you ever do that to me again!”

We can’t separate the death, resurrection and exultation of Jesus. Each of these events gives meaning to the others. Each is an important piece of how God establishes and confirms Jesus’ messiahship and lordship, which results in the sending of the Holy Spirit. They fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They show us that Jesus came to heal broken people-those who are broken physically, mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks for it. People who receive the Holy Spirit are changed. They are healed. They are put back together. They are not the same people they were before.

The Holy Spirit allows us to see visions and dream dreams. As the old saying goes, if you can dream it, you can do it. The Holy Spirit motivates us and changes us because God’s hand is also upon us. The Holy Spirit lives in us just like it entered the lives of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus has been raised from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of God. Jesus is alive and praying for us. He is praying that everything we need to live faith-filled and faithful lives has been provided.

Peter’s speech tells us how we have access to salvation. Jesus gives us salvation, but only if we repent and are baptized in his name. Peter’s sermon is the core message of the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit gives power to God’s people, the end times are here, the Messiah has come and a message of salvation must be preached so that those who hear it may receive the new life Christ offers.

Bibliography

  1. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
  2. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  3. Radmacher, E.P.: Allen, R.B & House, H.W.: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1999)
  4. T.M. Moore, “Let?” Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  5. David McGee, “Grace for Life.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Pastor Ken Klaus, “The Darkness Has Been Overcome.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  7. Joel Osteen, “Rest in Hope.” Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
  8. Will Thomas, “Sunday Surprise.” Preaching Magazine, January/February 2014, pp. 35-36
  9. King Duncan, “The Coming of the Spirit.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  10. King Duncan, “Lightning Struck.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  11. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  12. Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Acts 2:14, 22-32.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  13. Mitzi J. Smith, “Commentary on Acts 2:14, 22-32.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  14. Pastor Jim Collins, “Do You Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?” Retrieved from www.beyondpositivethinking.org
  15. Exegesis for Acts 2:14, 22-32. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  16. Exegesis for 1 Peter 1:3-9. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org 

John 20:19-31 Seeing and Believing

Hello boys and girls!

Has anyone told you something that was so amazing that you could not believe it?

Sometimes people like to tell us things that we can’t believe. For example, some people might have told you that there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

Have any of you ever heard of a book called “Ripley’s Believe it or Not?” The man who wrote it enjoyed collecting stories that were unbelievable but true. For example, a young girl from California once swung 68 hula hoops on her body at the same time. A man once had a chicken that laid a square egg. The world’s largest hot dog was over 3000 feet long, weighed 885 pounds and took 103 butchers to carry it. As I mentioned a few moments ago, these stories are hard to believe, but they are true.

Even the Bible has stories in it that are true even though they are hard to believe. For example, Thomas the disciple refused to believe the other disciples when they told him that they had seen the Risen Saviour. He was not with the other disciples in the room when they saw Jesus on the first Easter night. He refused to believe them until he could see Jesus in person. One week later all of the disciples (including Thomas) were in the same room when they saw Jesus again. Jesus knew that Thomas needed proof of his resurrection, and that’s why he invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail holes in his hands and the spear hole in his side. Only then did Thomas believe.

Some people are like that today. They refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead because they have not seen him with their own eyes. They want concrete proof. On the other hand, all of us know that Jesus rose from the dead because we believe it in faith. We do not need to see it with our own eyes. We have faith in Jesus’ promise that he would rise from the dead.

Let us bow our heads and close our eyes for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Give us the faith we need to accept the Resurrection by faith.  We ask this in the Name of Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “Believe It or Not!” Retrieved from webservant@sermons4kids.ccsend.com

“Identification, Please.” Retrieved from webservant@sermons4kids.ccsend.com � �����B

John 20:19-31 O Ye of Little Faith

Picture for a moment the scene in today’s Gospel reading. All of the disciples (except Thomas) are gathered behind a locked door because of fear of the Jews. After all, their Lord and Saviour had just been crucified, and they were probably thinking to themselves, “Are we going to be crucified next?” Suddenly, Jesus appears as if by magic. Now the disciples are REALLY scared. They are probably thinking to themselves, “Uh oh, we’re in trouble now!!!!! Are we going to get scolded for abandoning Jesus in his hour of need?” Imagine their shock when, instead of scolding them, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them[1]. They were so happy and relieved that they had to tell everyone what happened, and one of the first people they spoke to was Thomas, the absent disciple.

So why was Thomas absent? Some scholars speculate that it might have been because of grief over the death of Jesus. Different people have different ways of dealing with grief. Some choose to share their grief publicly, while others share their grief with just a few close family members and friends. Still others choose to grieve alone and in silence. Some scholars believe that Thomas might have fallen into that third category.

In any event, Thomas refused to believe the news that Christ was alive. We are the same today. In many cases, we can’t believe everything we hear. That’s why agencies such as the police and Phone Busters always warn us about scams. We can’t trust everyone and everything. Trust in political figures is at an all-time low. Trust in the church and its leaders has also been eroded, especially by recent scandals[2].

It’s no wonder, therefore, that when someone tells us something so incredible, we don’t always believe what they say-gossip being a notable exception, particularly gossip about celebrities. In most cases, we demand concrete proof. In some cases, concrete proof or some other supporting evidence is required, such as in a court of law. We need to probe and test what others tell us. We need to judge it according to Jesus’ teaching. Specifically, we need to ask three questions:

  1. Is this loving?
  2. Does that harm anyone?
  3. Am I bringing peace as Jesus did?

Jesus knew that Thomas would need to see the concrete proof of his death and resurrection, just like we need to see it by reading all of the four major Gospels-Gospels that were written by reliable, independent eyewitnesses. That’s why he reappeared at a time and in a place where ALL of the disciples were gathered-INCLUDING THOMAS![3] When Thomas had an opportunity to see the evidence, he did not need it[4]. For him, Jesus was alive, and that’s all that mattered. People have differing needs and find various routes to faith, and seeing Jesus in the flesh was Thomas’s route to faith.

Believing without seeing is the essence of walking by faith and is something that Jesus appreciates, but there is a tension between seeing and believing. The apostle Peter acknowledged this tension when he wrote in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen [Christ], you love Him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. That should be true for every Christian. We believe in someone we have never seen and expect to spend eternity with him. The world says, “I’ll believe it when I see it”, but Christians say, “I’ll see it when I believe it”.[5] Christianity is the ability to see the light of Christ active in the world and to recognize it for what it is-the action and the goodness of God-even when it is present in ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things.

God can take skeptics and turn them into believers. In fact, some of the greatest preachers in both history and in modern times either started out as skeptics or had doubts at times on their faith journeys. For example, in his autobiography, “Just As I Am”, Billy Graham wrote of an incident that occurred just before his famous 1949 Los Angeles Crusade-the crusade that really launched his ministry. His heart was heavily burdened with his doubts about whether or not he could trust the Bible. He had his own version of Christ’s 40 days in the desert when he went into the San Bernardino Mountains, knelt before a tree stump and opened his Bible. He wrote the following paragraphs:

“The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions that…others are raising.

I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired Word.’”

“When I got up from my knees…that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.[6]

Just like Billy Graham’s faith was sustained by fellowship with God and with other believers, our faith is strengthened when we gather with fellow believers, especially at weekly worship services or in group Bible study. Those who do not go to church for reasons other than health or work schedules-reasons such as not liking the minister or the Order of Service or the music-may find it harder to have faith in Christ. They need to look at what they miss by not attending church, just like we also have to look at what Thomas missed by not being with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them for the first time after his resurrection. [7]

Even I have had my doubts about Christ and my faith in my life. Like many of you, I was born, raised, baptized and confirmed in the church, but when I went to university and for many years afterward, my faith was weakened (and to this day I honestly don’t know why). God did not lose patience with me, but instead used my father’s battle with terminal lung cancer along with the resulting support of the people and minister of this parish at the time to bring me back into the fold and lead me to the bigger and better things that he had in mind for me-namely, my lay ministry in this parish.

Like Billy Graham on that night in August 1949, we may want to believe, but struggle with hard questions and hard circumstances. Sometimes it is because we have been hurt, just like the faith of many Christians has been shaken by sex abuse scandals. Honest doubters are not close-minded people. They remain open to belief. They remain open to receiving the gift of faith, just like the disciples were open to receiving Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Doubt is a powerful weapon that the devil uses to attack our minds when our faith is weakened by daily struggles, distance from God, or by never truly knowing the Saviour[8]. Doubt can lead to faith. Only those who have had their faith shattered by the blows of pain and adversity can get to the other side of Calvary and experience the faith offered by the resurrection. [9]

Faith begins with honesty, and doubt is the foundation of honesty. Faith is the overcoming of doubt, NOT an absence of doubt. The most endearing things in life can’t be proven-they have to be accepted on faith. We must move beyond doubt to faith. There are those who say that because of the bad choices you have made in the past, you have sinned and fallen so far away from God that you can’t get back. Well, God says, “I doubt it!!!!!!!!” Doubt can lead to solutions and a better understanding. It doesn’t matter what the cause of our doubt is. Living beyond a doubt means living as encouragers through prayer concerns for others, preparing meals for those who are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one who has just passed away, or by sending notes and cards. Belief includes some sense of experience.

Sometimes our faith is shaken because our expectations of Christ are not fulfilled. For example, our faith might be shaken when we ask God to heal a loved one who is sick, and the loved one dies. At times like this, we might be tempted to give up on God, but we must keep on believing.  Jesus said in John 20:29, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”. When we feel that God has let us down, we must remember that he does what he does for us because it fits in with his plan for our lives. In his great wisdom, he is doing something that is even greater than what we asked him to do. We would do well to remember the old adage that “God works in mysterious ways”.

God can take a weakened faith and make it stronger. For example, tradition has it that the disciple Thomas went to India and founded a church there. Today, many Christians in India call themselves by his name. They are known as the St. Thomas Christians.[10] Thomas’ doubt was erased, and he went places[11]. Billy Graham’s doubts were erased on that summer night in 1949, and he went on to become one of the most famous and most successful evangelists of our time. If Thomas, Billy Graham and other men of God can have their doubts about their faith erased and go on to have successful ministries, God can erase our doubts and help us to be successful in our faith journeys.


[1] Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Other Resurrections”. Retrieved April 5, 2010 from http://www.lectionary.org

[2] Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions 2nd Sunday of Easter-C-April 11, 2010” Received by email on April 3, 2010 from jboll@preacherexchange.org

[3] ESV Study Bible

[4] John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Second Sunday of Easter-April 11, 2010 Received by email from http://www.seemslikegod.org

[5] Robert A. Schuller, “Believing without Seeing” Received by email on June 28, 2008 from positiveminute@hourofpower.org

[6] Billy Graham, “Just As I Am”, (1997, Toronto, ON: HarperCollins), p. 139

[7] Donald Strobe, “Believing Thomas” Retrieved on April 4, 2010 from esermons.com

[8] Tracie Miles, “Believing is Seeing” Received by email on June 1, 2009 from Encouragement_for_Today@crosswalkmail.com

[9] Donald Strobe, “Believing Thomas” Retrieved on April 4, 2010 from esermons,com

[10] Selwyn Hughes, “Coming Back from Doubt” Received by email on September 22, 2009 from crosswalkmail.com

[11] Sermon Writer, “The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 11, 2010” Retrieved on April 5, 2010 from lectionary,org

John 20:19-31 Doubt

Picture the scene in John 20:19-31. All the disciples except Thomas are in a room behind locked doors at night. It was common for early Christians to meet at night. In times of persecution they were forbidden to meet during the day, so they had to meet at night. The disciples are scared. They saw their leader brutally killed, and they are afraid that they will also be killed. In more ways than one, the room and the situation are dark.

Suddenly, Jesus appears. He walks through the locked door. The first words Jesus says to the assembled disciples are, “Peace be with you.” They are terrified, first for fear of the Jews and because they thought they were seeing a ghost. But when Jesus shows them His wounds, they know this is their Lord. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come. Just as God created humanity with His breath in Genesis 2:7, He gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples by breathing on them. God is recreating humanity in Christ. The darkness of the room is dispelled by the light of Christ.

Jesus gave the disciples and us a mission, but we and they can’t begin this mission of healing and peace without the power and energy of Jesus’ risen life. Jesus breathed on these men. As God breathed His life into that first man and he became a living soul, Jesus shared the intimacy of His own life with His disciples that they may be a new humanity, recreated and empowered for their mission.

If Christianity seems to us to be having rather less than a remarkable impact on the world, it’s because too many people have the idea that we’re in a waiting game, that we are basically killing time until Jesus comes back and we all get to go to heaven. We’re sitting around like people waiting to catch a flight. That isn’t what Jesus told us to do. He didn’t say, “Now sit tight in those pews and twiddle your holy thumbs. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I send you.”

Part of Jesus’ mission, and hence part of the mission of the disciples and us is to deal with forgiveness. Specifically, we are to declare on what terms, to what people and to what temper of mind God will extend forgiveness. It is not the authority to forgive people. It establishes the terms and conditions on which people can be pardoned, with a promise that God will confirm all that they taught-that is, that all might have assurance of forgiveness if they comply with these terms.

In John’s Gospel, sin is a failure to see the truth-a refusal to accept the risen Christ. Jesus is sending the disciples and us into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the risen Christ. Some people will accept their testimony and ours, and others will reject it. Their response will determine whether they will find themselves among those whose sins are forgiven or among those whose sins are retained.

One of the sins that can be forgiven is unbelief-specifically, refusing to believe that Christ rose from the dead. Thomas was guilty of this sin. He refused to believe the disciples’ statement that they saw the risen Christ. He wanted concrete proof. Many people today are like Thomas. They refuse to believe because they do not see Jesus. The testimony of fellow believers, like that of the other disciples, should be enough proof that He rose from the dead.

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his unbelief. Rather than belittling Thomas for His doubts, Jesus welcomed his reach and touch, which moved Thomas from unbelieving to believing. Thomas saw and believed, and Jesus affirmed his belief. But then He added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Anyone today can have as much confidence believing without seeing as those who saw and believed. Jesus approved Thomas’ faith, but He more highly approves the faith of those who should believe without having seen the risen Saviour.

To Mary, Thomas and the disciples, sight of the risen Lord was granted. Faith doesn’t rest on sight or smell or touch, but on the word and call of the risen Lord! As the apostle John believed before he saw the risen Lord, so we believe and trust the witness of those who have seen and believed. We have seen His life revealed in the community of those on whom He has breathed and as we have heard Him speak our name and responded in trusting faith, we have been born into His family. The Spirit then confirms that we are the children of God, as blessed as those who have seen and believed.

Closely connected with the sin of unbelief is the sin of doubt. Doubt destroys faith if doubt is not resolved.  At times it serves as an excuse not to do God’s will. It can also be used as a cover to do evil. Doubt can’t remain without harming us. To cease doubting means that we must take action, to believe, to trust in the Lord, to surrender our lives to Him, to follow Him-and to confess Him as Thomas did: “My Lord and my God!”

Will we be more like the disciples during the first week after Easter, who claim to believe in the resurrection, but whose lives give no sign that it has made a difference for them? Or will we be like the kind of people whose words and actions proclaim the faith that has claimed our lives, graced us with peace, and has given us a sense of meaning and purpose?

The cause of Thomas’ defection was his own doubting and denying heart. Those who profess to be Christians and yet deliberately absent themselves from fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters are the ones who are usually most in need of Christian fellowship. There are certain things that we can only experience when we are part of Christian fellowship. The idea that we don’t have to go to church to be a Christian is a folly. We can only know God’s blessing when we are part of His body here on earth.

Amid the scandal of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, Jesus doesn’t hide. He reveals himself, makes himself known to those who love Him. When we go through the struggles and temptations of life we are sometimes tempted to hide from our trouble. During this time, we find ourselves only wanting to be with the selfish trinity of me, myself and I. We find ourselves no longer wanting to fellowship with friends and family and becoming most distant from those whom we love. It might be beneficial during times of trial to retreat, but we must do what Jesus did. We must make ourselves visible instead of hiding like Thomas did.

One way we can make ourselves visible is to tell our own stories of joy and pain, sunshine and rain. When we share our stories, we create the opportunity to become wounded healers. If we have a story of suffering, we must share it, because there is glory to be found in our story.

What will it take for us to believe? Our eternal destiny rests on our answer. Jesus lives and because He lives we can agree with a no-longer doubting Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God.” If we do, our lives will be eternally changed for the better.

Are we doubting Thomases? Do you doubt God could ever love someone like you? Maybe you’ve been ridiculed and bullied and struggled with your self-worth? Author Philip Yancey once said, “Grace does not depend on what we have done for God, but rather what God has done for us. Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, ‘Be good.’ Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, ‘Help!’”

When we embrace God’s love, it’s easier for us to let go of the need to please people, the need for validation. We choose to please God through obedience because we love Him and He loves us, unconditionally.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1478-1479)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 275-280)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Selwyn Hughes, “Missing from the Meeting.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. “Stop Doubting.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
  7. Pastor David J. Risendahl, “Doubting Apostles.” Retrieved from www.StPlC.org
  8. Rev. Ken Klaus, “What Will It Take?” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  9. The Rev. Billy Honor, “How to Handle a Scandal.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. “An Invasion.” Retrieved from dailyreadings@ransomedheart.com
  11. Rev. Gregory Seltz, “How is God Present in My Life?” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  12. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 20:19-31.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Carol Round, “Are You a Doubting Thomas?” Retrieved from noreply@assistnews.net

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