“… Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 37 They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
38 He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” 40 As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of baked fish. 43 Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
44 Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. 46 He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.” 49 Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”
How do we know something is real? That is a question we started to sak from a very young age. We learned quickly that something is real if we can see it, or touch it, or hear it. As a kid it was often of we could taste it – almost everything went into the mouth! But then there were those things we had a hard time understanding.
Another way we determine if something is real is by observing it. I remember planting beans on a dixie cup in school. I watched everyday to see if anything was growing. Then one day a plant broke through the soil. It was the miracle of the seed. You plant it, water it, and wait for evidence of germination. The it grows. And finally, the “fruit” appears. We aren’t exactly sure how, but it reliably does.
Another test is what we learn from trusted sources. Parents, teachers, … many people become a part of our learning network. Learning about space travel captured my imagination. We’ll never do it ourselves, but we trust that it is possible and real. We’ve seen the evidence. WE trust the source. In interesting experience of trust came just this week. I use the Revised Common Lectionary to guide my preaching. It is a listing of scriptures for each week that keeps my preaching balanced. I read the several scriptures for the week and then “listen” to the texts for where God wants me to go in that particular week. I trust that the scope of the particular passage makes sense. In the passage for today I discovered that they left out a crucial verse, verse 49. That is the last verse of the paragraph and holds the promise that is so essential for the meaning of the passage. Does it mean I no longer believe in the Revised Common Lectionary? No. One mistake doesn’t negate the truth or value. Something like that just keeps me aware.
The disciples needed “real.” I’ve talked in the past couple of seeks about the dawning belief that the disciples were experiencing. But they needed more. When Jesus appears to them, their first reaction was fear! Is this a ghost? What? Knowing their fear, Jesus invites them to see, touch the evidence of his crucifixion. But even then they were not really convinced that this was actually Jesus. In their “disbelieved for joy” – that is their dawning belief - he asks for food. Essentially, he was saying, ‘See, I’m real! I’m the same Jesus who suffered and died for you, and who now lives for you.’ For the disciples, reality is established by a preponderance of evidence. For the disciples, it was a growing reality, “Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, … .” Jesus knew they had to grow rather quickly in order to be ready to take on the mission that had to be done. There were fifty days between the resurrection and Pentecost to get them ready.
What is beautiful is that we see evidence of their moving from fear to faithful in the Book of Acts. We see Peter and other Disciples in jail, standing firm for their beliefs. We see an amazing confidence and boldness emerge. A little later, we see Paul (aka Saul) and his conversion. After discovering the “real” Jesus, he was bold for the Lord!
Ask yourself this question: “How have I experienced Jesus as real?” For me it was much like John Wesley. It was a “heart strangely warmed” when I experienced a group of young people my age discovering faith. It was in Young Life, a high school youth ministry, that I had my conversion. Jesus was a concept before that, but now he was real. Another way I have experienced the real Jesus was through feeling the tangible presence Jesus in the most difficult of times of my life. I remember the trauma of being offered a teaching job at my preferred school, only to have it offered to someone with more tenure. I truly felt the guidance of God to stay the course, do what I could, and trust that it would all work out. It did! I ended up with the very job originally offered when the other teacher refused it. I experience the reality of Jesus every week – every day – as I receive ongoing guidance through prayer and study of the Word. How about you?
Our passage this morning is divided into two sections. First, there is Jesus’ appearance to the disciples gathered in the locked room. Then, there is the instruction, commission and promise to the disciples. (This was the promise that was missing in Lectionary selection for this Sunday). The pattern seems to be “establish reality and then describe next steps.” Next steps for Jesus were of paramount importance. The disciples were to be the first to carry the torch of God’s emerging Kingdom into the rest of the world.
John’s gospel gets at the heart of this growing reality. In John 20:29, which is the encounter with Thomas, Jesus says, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Jesus knew that in a very short time he would no longer be physically present. All believers yet to come would have to come to belief through other means.
I believe the challenge to Thomas, and to us, is to translate the disciple’s experience to ours. We don’t have the advantage of vv. 38-43 – the physical Jesus. We have not been privileged to “touch” his hands and feet, to watch him eat. Yet, we are to be introducing people to the “live” Jesus not a dead one – not a concept or idea. We do that by putting our experiences into words and actions that relate to those around us. “Happy are those who don’t see yet believe!” Again, Jesus says that we are his witnesses. Our credentials as witnesses are what Jesus gives to us. “You are witnesses of these things.” 49 Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” (verses 48-49). It is important to notice that Jesus roots this commission in himself and in the faith as presented by Moses and the prophets. ‘These are my words’ … , and “everything written about me.”
I said earlier that this second section ends with this promise – the Holy Spirit, that we would be “furnished with heavenly power.” It is that very Spirit that opens our minds and hearts to the scriptures. To study with only our own intellect will leave us short every time. It is the Spirit who brings us the scripture new every time we read it. Further, it is the Spirit who gives us power to witness for Him. Through the “heavenly power” we are able to translate our experiences in such a way that others may find a dawning belief for themselves.
So, a second question: “How do we present Jesus as real and relevant to our world today?” I believe it is through our first-hand experience – our experiences, our “change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins.” (v. 47). When people see the faith alive in someone and see the effects of that faith in their everyday life, they will experience a wonderful introduction to the Risen Christ. The relevance for today and for others will be the proof that it has changed our lives for the better, and therefore it can change their life for the better. Be a living testament to the power and wonder of our risen Savior!
Pastor Paul Grossman