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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

Jesus Appears to His Disciples
            Sunday was the second Sunday of Easter.  Most people know Easter marks the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But not everyone knows there is a whole season of Easter that continues for several weeks after Easter Sunday.  Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter, but he also appeared many times in bodily form over the next few weeks.  So for the next few weeks, we will study some of those stories.  And the main idea I want us to consider is does Christ still appear to people today?  Have you ever seen Jesus?  Have you ever  touched his scars and how? 
            I want to read a story from John 20:19-29, which details two separate times Jesus appeared to his disciples.  I will make some comments as we read through the passage.

John 20:19-20
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!
 
            First of all, I want you to notice Jesus came in peace.  Maybe you would be afraid to see Jesus.  I mean, if he really were alive and going to pay us a visit, we might be ashamed because of something we weren't doing right in life.  Or maybe we would be afraid he would be angry with us or would want to punish us.  The disciples were afraid.  They locked the doors to the upper room because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  But they might also have wondered if Jesus would be angry with them for the ways they had failed him.  Would he come to scold them or punish them? 
            But Jesus reassures the disciples saying , "I come in peace."  And Jesus' visit was a good thing. It filled the disciples with joy when they saw the risen Lord.  He was glad to see them and they were glad he came.  We don't have to be afraid to see Jesus either.  If he were to come pay a visit, he would come in peace.  He loves you and wants to reassure you.  It would be a good thing and would fill you with joy.  So don't be afraid to look for the risen Lord.
 
John 20:21-23
21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
 
            In Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit does not come until the Day of Pentecost.  The Gospel of John seem to indicate the Holy Spirit was given in when Jesus met with the Disciples and Thomas (although some have said it this was just a symbolic act from Jesus to show the Holy Spirit would be given).  Whether the Holy Spirit came at this time or at another time or at multiple times, the main point of this passage is the Holy Spirit will always be with us.  That will be an important idea we will address again in a moment.  But first, let's go on with the passage.
 
John 20:24-25
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

            This was the first appearance of Jesus.  It happened on the first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But the disciple Thomas was not with them.  We don't know where he was, but he wasn't there. (Maybe he was off having the oil changed in his camel.  We don't know...) 

John 20:26
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.

            Here we have a second appearance of the risen Christ.  This one was one week later.  Again, it was on a Sunday.  So, notice, that both of these appearances happened on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  It is known as "the Lord's Day."  Technically, Saturday is the Sabbath (the seventh day) because that is the day God rested after 6 days of creation work.  But here we see that right after Jesus rose, the Disciples are meeting together on Sundays.  And it became the custom for Christians to meet for worship on Sundays, which they called "The Lord's Day" because he rose on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  And it would seem Sundays are a day when we can encounter the risen Christ in a special way when we gather in the church with other believers.  If you want to see the risen Christ, I recommend you start by going to church on Sunday.
 
John 20:26-27
The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
 
            Again, we see that Jesus comes in peace.  He is not angry or upset with Thomas or the other disciples.  Some have looked down on Thomas for needing proof.  The other disciples told him Jesus was alive and they had seen him, but Thomas said he wouldn't believe unless he saw it with his own eyes.  But there's no need to look down on Thomas.  He wasn't asking for anything the other Disciples hadn't already received.  And Jesus is not upset with him.  He wanted Thomas to believe, so he gave Thomas what he needed.  He wanted Thomas' faith to be secure.  And Thomas was convinced.  He said,
 
John 20:28-29
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

            Right here at the end of the passage, we see that Jesus has made a distinction between the Disciples (who saw Jesus and believed) and us (who have not seen Jesus and yet still believe).  And Jesus said we are more blessed because we believe without seeing.

            The Disciples—including Thomas—were able to witness for Christ in an exceptional way because they saw the resurrected Christ.  In 1 John 1:1, the beloved disciple said, "We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life."  They had seen Jesus while he was alive.  They had seen him on the cross.  They saw him in the grave.  They saw him, heard him, and touched him after he rose from the grave.  Thus, they were absolutely convinced Jesus was alive and that he was their Lord and God (as Thomas put it).
            It had to be that way for the very first disciples.  There had to be a firm foundation.  I believe that is why the resurrected Christ appeared in bodily form to the 11 disciples and so many of the first Christians in the days immediately following Easter.  Jesus wanted to absolutely convince them so they could build a firm foundation for the church.  We needed them to see Jesus so we can be assured our faith is built on something solid.  And yet, Jesus also said we are more blessed because we have not seen. 

We Are More Blessed
            Jesus walked on the earth in bodily form after his resurrection for 40 days.  Then he ascended into heaven.  We recall this essential element of our faith every time we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say, “…He rose from the grave, He ascended into heaven…”  Perhaps we do not experience the resurrected Christ now in the same way the disciples did in the first 40 days after his resurrection, because Jesus has ascended.  We can still see Christ.  He is not dead; he is alive!  But we may see him in a different way because he has ascended, whereas he appeared to the disciples in bodily form.
            Most Christians overlook how important it is that Jesus ascended to heaven.  Because Jesus ascended, we now have the Holy Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be present everywhere at once.  You see, a body can only be in one place at a time--it is limited by time and space.  That is why Thomas missed out of Jesus' appearance that first Sunday.  Remember, he wasn't in the room with the other.  He was off getting the oil changed in his camel or something.  Why didn't Jesus appear to the 10 disciples in the upper room and to Thomas at the same time down at the camel service station?  Jesus couldn't, because he was a body and not a spirit.
            But we are more blessed because now Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit and is not limited by time and space.  So Jesus can be present right here with me as I type the words of this blog and he can be present with you wherever you are reading them.  As the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be everywhere at once.
            We are also more blessed because we believe Jesus rose based on faith.  Faith is very powerful.  Faith helps us see Jesus in more ways than the Disciples did at first.  They could only believe if they saw his nail scarred hands.  But we can believe and see Jesus when we gather together to serve in God's name.  If we believe, we can see Jesus there in that moment.  If we believe, we can see Jesus when a mother loves her child sacrificially.  Through faith, we can see Jesus in her actions.  Through faith, we can see Jesus when a father forgives his son.  Through faith, we can see the risen Christ is with us when we take our own father to the hospital for a critical surgery.  Because we believe, we know we are not alone.  We can see Jesus through our Christian friends who support us and pray for us and help us when we need it most.  Faith helps us see Jesus is more than just a man's body walking around with nail scars on his hands and a wounded side.
            Increasing faith is the mark of mature Christians.  Think of those Disciples in this story; think of Thomas.  They were only baby Christians--just born really.  And They needed to see Jesus.  When we see a child, maybe two-years-old, that child might cling to its mother's leg.  It might not ever want to let go.  And if Mama leaves the room, the child's whole world falls apart and it is afraid and may even cry uncontrollably until Mama comes back into the room.  That's normal for a two-year-old.  But eventually, the child grows up and matures and becomes a college student and may even move away to another town to attend school.  You wouldn't want that child to still be clinging to its mother's leg all the time.  No.  The child is grown up now and has faith that their mother is still there.  She is still alive.  She still loves them.  They will still see each other again.  And so it is with more mature Christians.  We don't need to see Jesus in bodily form all the time with us.  Through faith we trust he is there. 
            The Disciples would eventually mature in this way too.  At the beginning, like babies, they needed to see Jesus with them.  But they would eventually grow up and spread out to do amazing things because their faith matured.  Thomas' faith led him to travel all the way to India.  To this day, there is a community of Christians in India that trace the founding to the Disciple Thomas who brought the story of the risen Jesus to their community.  Faith is a powerful thing.

We Must See Jesus
            Jesus is alive.  He is not dead.  And we can see the risen Christ, through faith.  He still appears to us today.  He may not appear in bodily form as he did for the disciples and Thomas in our scripture reading, but he shows up in other ways.  Do you have faith to see him?
            It is not enough to just know Christ intellectually.  It is not enough to read and memorize the things he said or to know historical facts about him.  We must actually see him, in some sense, so we know he is alive and real and participating in our lives.  It is not enough to be a Christian because your parents or grandparents were.  It is not enough to be a religious person who follows the religious program of Jesus and his Church.  It is not enough to mumble an empty prayer into the air, not believing there is a living Savior listening.  No. You must see that Jesus is alive and he is here and he is listening to your prayer and will answer according to his great wisdom, power, and love.  We will probably see Jesus is different ways than the Disciples, but we can still see him.  We need to see him, through faith. 
            Jesus showed the Disciples and Thomas his scars to prove it was really him.  You see, he wanted them to believe.  He wanted Thomas to believe.  That's why he came back a second time when Thomas was there.  Thomas said he wouldn't believe in less he saw Jesus and his scars for himself.  So Jesus came, because Jesus wants all his followers to believe.  And if that's what it took for Thomas, that's what Jesus was willing to do.
            Which proof do you need in order to believe?  Jesus wants you to believe.  He is willing to help you.  Maybe you don't need to see the scars like Thomas, but you might need something.  What is it?  Why don't you ask Jesus to show you?  He wants you to be secure in your faith.  So why not ask him to help?