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Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Veil is Torn in Two - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Mark 15:37-39 – Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the  curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God

Can you imagine being a Jewish priest in the Temple on the day Jesus died on the cross?  I think it would make an interesting story told from their perspective.  One day, you’re tending the Holy Temple and the curtain separating the Holiest Place in the Temple—the place that was supposed to be the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—is torn in two, from top to bottom.  The curtain (also called a veil) symbolized how people were separated from God by sin.  Only the High Priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice for humanity’s sin.  Can you imagine being a priest in the Temple and seeing that sacred parament mysteriously torn completely in two before your eyes?

The significance is this.  Sin no longer has to separate us from God.  Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God and his sacrifice on the cross atoned completely for our sins.  Before Jesus, no one could go fully into the presence of God; only the high priest, once a year after very carefully spiritual preparation, could go in to make a sacrifice and beg God for mercy and forgiveness.  But then Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for our sins in full!  Now, there is absolutely no need for a curtain to separate us anymore! 

Everything has changed.  Gone are the days of spiritual elitism where only a select few are allowed access to God.  Everyone can come to Him now.  In fact, the Bible says everyone who trusts and follows Jesus is a holy priest.  We don’t have to tip toe around God, fearful that He may strike us dead for the least transgression.  Now, grace abounds and we can relate to God as Jesus did—as children with a gracious and loving father. 

There is power in the blood of Christ to forgive all our sins.  His Holy Spirit no longer resides in a temple behind a current.  Now His Spirit resides in us!  We are His Holy Temple and He empowers us to live holy lives where we love God and love our neighbor.  Isn’t that amazing?  I think it is and I think it changes everything!  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
Amen?  Amen!


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Jesus Cooks Breakfast

Caution Fish Stories Ahead             One Sunday, a man woke up and told his wife, "I'm not going to church today." 
            His wife replied, "But you have to go.  You always go to church on Sunday." 
            "Well I'm not going today!  I'm going fishing!" 
            "You can't go fishing.  You have to go to church!  It's the Lord's Day!"  She said, very irritated.
            "I don't care.  I don't like those church people.  They're a bunch of hypocrites.  They're mean.  They're judgmental and rude.  I don't like them and I'm not going to church!  I'm going fishing!"
            "But you have to go to church!  You're the preacher!"

            So a preacher was fishing one morning when a drunk came stumbling by carrying a fishing pole.  He looked up and nodded to the preacher as he stumbled by.  The preacher just shook his head in disgust.  The preacher fished all day long and didn't catch a thing.  The drunk came back by that evening lugging a full stringer of fish. He looked up at the preacher and ask, "Preacher, you catch anything?" 
            "Nope," said the preacher.
            The drunk just shook his head in disgust and said, "You ain't livin' right."

            Some people have said Easter is just a fish story.  You know how fishermen tell exaggerated tales about the "biggest fish I ever saw."  Well, I'm here to tell you, the Easter story is true!  Jesus really did rise from the grave.  He is not dead.  He is alive and we can still see him if we have faith to see.
            Jesus appeared many times to people in many places the days immediately following his
resurrection.  He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and other women.  He also appeared to Simeon Peter, Cleopas and his friend, to the Twleve Disciples (minus Thomas) and then again to the Twelve when Thomas was there.  (By the way, the term Twelve became a term used to describe any collection of the original twelve disciples, even if it was only a partial group.)  Jesus also appeared to the disciples and a large crowd of followers on a mountain, to his half-brother James (who started out as a skeptic, but became a believer after seeing the risen Christ), and to the Disciples when he ascended back to Heaven.  Jesus also appeared to Stephen (who was the first Christian martyr) and Paul who had a hand in Stephen's murder.  And Jesus has shown himself in many ways over the centuries since.  We can still see the risen Christ today if we have faith to see.
            The Easter story says that Jesus rose.  He is alive, not dead.  Easter is not a fish story.  But Easter does have a fishing story.

John 21:1-14 1 Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore.
The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus Cooks Breakfast
            This was the third time Jesus appeared to his Disciples; not the third time he appeared, but the third time to the Twelve (remember, the Twelve was a title that indicated a group of the original twelve Disciples even if some were missing).
            In this story, five of the disciples are named and two are unnamed.  I kind of feel bad for those two who were not named and wonder why John didn't name them.  I guess it wasn't important.  However, God knows who they were.  Do you ever feel like you are forgotten or unrecognized?  Don't feel bad.  It happened in the Bible too.  But God knows who you are and He will recognize you in the end.  Count it a blessing, like these two unnamed disciples who got to see the risen Christ.
            Now the disciples couldn't see Jesus.  Perhaps it was still to dark or there was some morning fog or they were too far from shore.  They didn't know it was Jesus at first.  But then John realized it was Christ when they caught so many fish.  It reminded him of another time they had caught so many fish because of Jesus.  Once John's faith kicked in, he knew it was Jesus directing them from the shore.  Faith helps us see the risen Christ.  Peter had faith too.  When John told him, "That's Jesus!"  Peter was convinced enough to leap in the water and swim to Jesus to say hello.
            There on the shore, they found Jesus cooking breakfast and they all gathered around to share the meal.  Some have speculated Jesus was just a ghost or spirit.  But ghosts and spirits don't cook or eat.  Clearly, Jesus wanted everyone to know he was real flesh and blood and very much alive and healthy and walking around in a real body. 
            Food is always held up as a central element of God's Kingdom.  Jesus taught stories using food.  He described the Kingdom of God as a grand banquet.  Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion to remember him with bread and wine.  And here in this story, we find Jesus cooking and eating with his disciples.
Fish for Breakfast
            Where I live, we are not accustomed to eating fish for breakfast.  I was in Jerusalem a few years ago and they had a breakfast buffet for guests of the hotel.  I expected to find the usual fare--pancakes, fruit, cereal, etc.  I did find those, but also there was plenty of fish to choose from.  Fish is a big part of the Mediterranean diet--even for breakfast.  And it was so for the Disciples as well.
            Fish are an important element in the story of Christian faith.  Half the disciples were fishermen.  Jesus performed several miracles using fish and also used elements from the fishing industry to make his points.  And Jesus said the disciples would become fishers of men. 
            Early Christians adopted the fish as a secret symbol of their faith.  Even today, Christians often attach a fish symbol to the back of their car.  Why is that?  The Greek word for fish is ΙΧΘΥΣ and is the acronym for "Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr", which translates to "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."  Sometimes, when a Christian met a stranger and wanted to find out if they were a Christian too, the Christian would draw one half of the fish symbol on the ground.  If the other person drew the other half of the symbol, it confirmed that they were also Christian and they could talk openly about their faith without fear of persecution.
Luke 5 vs. John 21             Our fish story from John 21 resembles another fish story from Luke 5.  Comparing the two stories is enlightening.  They both took place on the Sea of Galilee, but the one from Luke was at the beginning of Jesus' ministry where the one from John is near the end.
            In both cases, the Disciples fished all night long without success.  And in both cases, Jesus brought a miraculous catch.  From this we can see that Jesus is the source of the Christian's success.  If we are struggling and toiling and don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps we should pause and look for the risen Christ.  Perhaps we should listen more closely for his instruction and try something different and then we will find a great catch.  And just like the Disciples, our faith can be renewed.
            Peter responds very differently in the two stories.  In Luke, Peter is convicted of his sin and says to Jesus, “Please leave me--I’m such a sinful man.”  But look how far Peter has grown since the beginning.  In this story (after three years with Jesus), Peter leaps into the water and swims to be the first to greet Jesus. Peter knows he is still a sinful man, but he also knows that is why he must swim toward Jesus and not away from him and that Jesus will accept him unconditionally.  Do you realize Jesus accepts you unconditionally?  Are you swimming toward the risen Lord with hope or running away in fear?
            In Luke's story, the net starts to break because it has so many fish.  In the resurrection story from John, there are just as many fish but the nets don't break.  I think this is a symbol of what Christ's resurrection has done.  On the cross, Christ accomplished everything that needed to be done.  Now his “fishers of men” can fish with strong, unbreakable nets.  We can drag in the catch with perfect confidence.  Because of Christ's resurrection, we can live and serve unhindered and with full strength and purpose.
            John’s story is very specific.  153 large fish were caught.  That's so specific, it stands out like the smell of fresh fish cooking in a kitchen.  John did that on purpose because he had a secret, symbolic meaning to share.  Unfortunately, we have lost that meaning over the centuries.  Many have speculated what it could be.  Some came up with interesting ideas, but the we don't know of sure.
            One thing we can say is that a fishing net is indiscriminate.  You don't pick which fish you catch.  The net just drags everything up all the same.  But John says all 153 fish were large fish.  They were all "keepers" in modern fishing lingo.  And so it is in the Kingdom of God.  We are not called to discriminate about who comes into the Kingdom.  We are called to cast the net.  And whoever believes and swims into our Gospel net, we are to drag ashore.  Some will be slimy and smelly (all of us really are), but we are called to love them just the same.  Besides, it is Jesus' job to receive them, clean them, and prepare them for breakfast.  And he will make each one who is willing perfect in God's sight.
Breakfast is Served
            I want to leave you with three practical ideas to take home from this story.  First of all, have you been dragging up empty nets?  Look for Jesus.  Listen for his voice.  Maybe he’s telling you to try something different. 
            Second, have you had a miraculous catch?  Then, look for the risen Christ.  A miraculous success is often a sign he is near.  In those times, be thankful, and seek to swim even closer to him.
            And last, this story reminds you that you count.  The only way the Disciples could know the exact number of fish in the net is if they counted them.  Each one was numbered.  And so it is with each of us.  Jesus picks each one of us up, looks us over, and records us in the Book of Life.  He knows us by name.  He knows everything about us.  And he loves us.  We are all keepers in his sight.
            You are one of the 153 fish the Disciples caught.  You may be a little smelly and slimy.  But Jesus loves you.    And he loves that guy over there too--the one who has piercings and tattoos, the one who is gay, the one who uses vulgar language, and everyone else too.  It is not our job to decide who makes it in.  Our job is just to cast the Gospel net and let God decide who gets caught up in the Kingdom.

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?