Sunday, April 27, 2003

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!

John is certainly an evangelist. His whole purpose in writing the Gospel account is summed up in the final verse of today's lesson. "But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name."

For just a moment in this story, Thomas is an outsider. He was not there when Jesus appeared before the disciples on the first evening after the resurrection. He did not see him and refused to believe until he too had the experience of being in His presence. We have long referred to this disciple as "Doubting Thomas" because of this passage and Jesus' words to him, "Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing."

Yet, did any of them believe? When Mary reported that the tomb was empty, Peter and John did not believe until they saw it with their own eyes. In Luke's account, when the women reported to the disciples that Jesus was alive, they did not believe them because it seemed like nonsense. Mark also reports that they did not believe Mary when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen Him. It took an appearance from Jesus for every one of these faithful followers to know that what had been spoken was true.

When Jesus appeared before them that first night, He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit. It was at that moment they could truly stop doubting and begin doing the work Jesus was calling them to do. Without God's Holy Spirit, it is impossible to believe and share the Gospel with anyone. When Jesus spoke those words, "be not faithless, but believing" Thomas received the greatest gift in the world - faith. It was then, and only then, that he could say, "My Lord and my God!" Instead of Doubting Thomas, we should perhaps call him "Believing Thomas" because he made a bold proclamation of faith in Jesus as Lord and God.

The following words were addressed to Thomas, and yet they were addressed to all the disciples. "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." These words were not spoken to denigrate Thomas but rather for those in the future who would have to believe without seeing. After all, Jesus would not be with them for very long, and there would be many who would come to faith based on their word and witness without ever seeing Him themselves. This is the great blessing of our age. The disciples were lucky to live in the presence of our Lord Jesus for those years of ministry and to see His resurrected body. But we are blessed to live now in this age because we believe by faith, not sight. What an incredible comfort!

Once Thomas saw Jesus like the rest of the disciples, he was once again in fellowship with them. Together they walked in the light of Christ, witnessed His marvelous works and heard all His words. They learned how to be apostles together, so that when He left to go to the Father, they could carry on His work. Their work was to share the words of Christ that many would believe, so that the fellowship of Christ would grow. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full." They found joy in drawing others into the same fellowship they had that day when Jesus came to them through locked doors.

Even the message John has to share is about fellowship. "And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin." The Gospel is meant to draw men together, and together we can do anything.

How incredible it must have been to live in the days of the early Church. In today's first lesson, we see that the believers were truly unified in every way. "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." The apostles spoke with power and there were none who were hungry. The believers were willing to give up their own property to ensure the well being of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Would this work in today's world? How sweet it would be to have such fellowship with one another. Yet, I doubt we could pull it off - divisions were already appearing between the Christians in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas went separate ways. Thomas went East and Peter went to Rome. Paul and Peter had their own disagreements. By the time Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth, they were not living in that kind of fellowship. Over the years the Church has spread to the four corners of the world. Each time and place has received her in unique ways and yet the message of Christ has never failed to bring people into faith. That message is simply this, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Christ died that through His blood we might be forgiven and be reconciled to God our Father and our Creator and live in fellowship with Him and each other for eternity.

In today's world it is difficult to know with whom we are to have fellowship. Some churches will break bread with everyone; others will not consider fellowship unless there is complete agreement about every point of doctrine. There is no easy answer to this problem in today's Church. It is easy to see, however, that there is something wrong. We are not growing; we are not drawing people into fellowship with Christ. As a matter of fact, our arguing has turned many away from Christ into religious darkness. The world hungers for access into the spiritual realms, so they seek fulfillment in crystals, meditation or mantras. They try to access God by other routes, rejecting the only Way they can know Him.

If only we could sing with David his song of unity. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, That ran down upon the beard, Even Aaron's beard; That came down upon the skirt of his garments; Like the dew of Hermon, That cometh down upon the mountains of Zion: For there Jehovah commanded the blessing, Even life for evermore."

It is in fellowship with one another that we find the blessings of God. One by one in the days following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus joined into a unique fellowship - those who had seen the Lord. They joined together in unity, sharing everything from God's Word to their last penny so that none would be in need of anything. Those early Christians knew what it would be like to live forevermore. As the Church began to grow, human frailty entered into the picture and our fellowship became less visible. Yet, even today when things seem to be so messed up with so much division and misunderstanding between Christians of every flavor, the Church is still in fellowship with one another as we continue to share the witness of the apostles and introduce Christ to others by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that God will help us to find that unity and joy living together and sharing the Gospel to those who are still lost in the darkness of sin and death, so that all will be drawn into fellowship with God and us one day.

Thanks be to God. 

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