Sunday, April 8, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 148
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.

We know about the twelve days of Christmas, but few even realize that Easter continues for eight days. It is called the Octave of Easter and ends this Sunday. Though the holy day is over and our lives are getting back to normal, it would do us well to remember that the disciples were still confused and uncertain about what was happening for them. Jesus had appeared before them, but were they ready to truly believe? Were they ready to go forth into the world telling others about Jesus? We do not hear a true confession of faith until the eighth day when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” The eggs may be found, the chocolate eaten and the lilies fading, but Easter continues.

According to the scriptures, Jesus made twelve appearances after the Resurrection. He appeared to Mary (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18), the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13), Peter in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), His disciples except Thomas in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23), Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room (John 20:24-29), seven of His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24), five hundred believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6), James (1 Corinthians 15:7), eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:18-20), along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives before He ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53), and Paul on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8). We also know that in the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus spent time with the disciples, augmenting the knowledge He had given them before His death. It is worthwhile reading these texts to see that the witness of these disciples and followers is true. They were witnesses, not only of the great work Jesus did before His death, but of the reality that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is alive, and those hundreds of people saw it for themselves.

Jesus appeared to these witnesses and showed them the reality of His crucifixion and resurrection. He was not an apparition. He was real and everything they experienced in the days, weeks and years was real. The cross and Jesus’ death were very real as was seen in His wounds. The resurrection was very real, as was seen in His flesh standing before them. They saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him. Jesus even ate some fish. He was not a spirit.

Jesus was alive. But it didn’t make sense to them right away. They were afraid because what they saw could not be real. Jesus answered their fear and gave them the proof they needed to know that what they were seeing was true. He was alive! Unfortunately, Thomas was not with them when Jesus first appeared. He was separated from the body of Christ that day. He missed the appearance; he missed the giving of the Spirit. He missed the words of peace given by Jesus so that the disciples would let go of their fear and grief. He was apart from the body and he could not believe until he had an encounter with the living Christ. Thomas could not believe until he received the same proof as the other disciples.

We give Thomas the critical name “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe without seeing Jesus for himself. We forget, however, that the other disciples had the same reaction on that first Resurrection Day. Despite the times Jesus told His disciples that He had to die so that He could be raised again, and despite the fact that Mary (in John’s version of the story) told them what she had seen and heard at the tomb, the disciples were frightened when Jesus appeared. They doubted, just like Thomas. It took the proof of Jesus standing before them for them to believe. Even then they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them His hands and His side. Only after seeing the wounds were the disciples glad to see the Lord. They got their proof, and yet we call Thomas the doubting one.

“Doubting Thomas” was not willing to believe until he had physical proof, but we can also call him “Confessing Thomas” because as soon as he saw Jesus he cried, “My Lord and my God.” At that moment he believed the testimony that Jesus was alive, but he also believed that Jesus was who and what He said He was. Jesus was not only their friend and teacher. He was not simply a man who lived and died like all other men. He was Lord and God. Man and God. Human and Divine. This is an important confession of faith and the foundation of all we believe as Christians.

When Jesus saw Thomas during the appearance a week later He said, “Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” But Jesus gave him what he needed and what He had given the others a week earlier: He showed Thomas His hands and side. Jesus understands our doubts and He reaches out to us so that we might see the truth. Thomas did see the truth and said so. In the end Thomas made the most complete affirmation of faith. He called Jesus “my Lord and my God.” In those five words, Thomas defined fully the dual nature of Jesus, both man and God. It is on this point that the community of Christians of which John was a leader found division.

Some Christians did not believe that Jesus was actually human. They thought that He appeared as a man, but was not really flesh and blood. This meant that Jesus never really died and that He was never really raised. It also means that the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ was spiritual, not physical. John addressed the issue of Jesus’ humanity in today’s epistle. He wrote, “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us.”

If Jesus was merely spirit, or just an apparition, then perhaps He may have been heard, even seen. But John says that He was touched and felt with human hands. He was not only God, He was also man. Certainly God as God could have brought about salvation in whatever form or way that He thought appropriate. He chose to do so through the flesh and blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross was very real. Jesus’ death was very real. The resurrection was very real. It was experienced by the disciples with their entire beings.

We are at a disadvantage; we can’t hear or see or touch our Lord Jesus as they did. But we tend to be like Thomas, don’t we? We want to have the proof for ourselves.

We don’t have a physical Jesus who can come into our homes or walk with us on our path. It is no wonder, then, if there are those in our world today who doubt. Jesus says, “Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.”

Those first disciples were given the opportunity to touch Him, to feel His wounds, to share in the reality of the resurrection. We are not blessed in that way, but Jesus tells us that we are blessed even more than those who saw and believed. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” We walk in faith, continuing the work Jesus began on that first Resurrection Day. We have the greatest advantage: we have the Holy Spirit.

He gives us the faith to believe based on their witness and His Word rather than on proof. Though we cannot experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, we can believe their words. The Resurrection was real, physical and according to the scriptures. To reduce it to something less diminishes the witness of Peter and the others. It also diminishes Jesus because He fulfilled everything that was promised by God through the Old Testament prophets. It all may seem ridiculous and impossible, but the story of Jesus’ ministry, Good Friday, Easter, and Eternity is as God intended. Jesus lived, died and rose again by God’s hand and for God’s plan so that we will live in joy forever.

It is very important to John that we understand his reason for writing. John was there. He saw the risen Lord, he heard His voice. He listened as Jesus reminded them of everything that He taught throughout the three years. John was there when Jesus appeared out of nowhere and breathed on the disciples. He was there to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus fulfilled all His promises. The joy he felt on that first day was a joy that needed to be shared. We don’t believe in Jesus for a personal, private faith, we believe in Jesus with an active, public faith so that the light of God will shine to the world. John wrote so that others would believe and would join in the fellowship of the faithful. We are sent into the world to continue this work. This is the life that God has promised us. This is the life that begins today.

Have you ever wondered why the four Gospels do not line up perfectly? I have a wonderful resource that shows the Gospel parallels, but no matter how many texts agree, there are many things that each of the evangelists thought was important enough to add to the story that the others did not. John’s Gospel is the most different, but he writes from distinct point of view. While it seems to be entirely different, you still find enough the same to see that they are really telling the same story. Matthew and Mark are the closest, but even they have unique passages.

You have to remember that the four Evangelists were each unique people. Matthew was a tax collector, a Hebrew and his purpose was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah for which they were waiting. Mark was not one of the twelve, but it is likely that his Gospel is from Peter’s point of view. Luke was a doctor and a Gentile; he tells us that he is putting forth an accurate record of Jesus’ life and ministry. John was the youngest of the Apostles and writes so that we will see that Jesus is the Son of God. Despite these different points of view, experts insist that there is just the right amount of agreement between the four Gospels to prove that they tell one true and real story.

John tells us, “Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” There was no way for one man to record the whole life and ministry of Jesus. There was no way for all the disciples to write down everything Jesus did. By their words, however, we know that we’ve been given just a glimmer of His life. We encounter Him through their words and we believe because His Word fills us with faith. They have given us enough to know Jesus and to believe that He died and lives for us.

Sunday, April 8th is the eighth day; it is the first day of the rest of our lives. By faith we dwell in the eighth day always. While the earth still turns and the sun still rises, we no longer live in darkness. We live in the light because the Light is Christ. He lives so that we might have life. He shines through us to overcome the darkness. We no longer need to fear sin and death because Jesus overcame them both for our sake. We dwell in eternity in the here and now even while we wait for eternity in the future.

This life does not come to us by physical proofs, but from the faith that God is faithful to His promises. As we dwell in this reality, we are called to continue sharing our faith with others in word and in deed. We are called together to be the body of Christ in the here and now as we wait until the day when we will all be joined in eternal praise and thanksgiving to the God who is victorious over even our sin.

What does that look like? Christians have been trying to figure that out for two thousand years. We all have our idea of the perfect church, but we haven’t found it because the Church is filled with imperfect people. We are saints, but we are still sinners and will continue to sin while we are still in the flesh. We will make mistakes. We will fail our neighbors. We will hurt those we love. We are fallen people. Even so, we are saved by Christ who died. Doing so appeased God and fulfilled the requirements necessary for reconciliation not only for us but for the whole world. Sometimes it is hardest to remember that when we are hurt by a brother or sister in Christ. It is sometimes easier to believe that Christ died for our non-believing neighbor than for the sins of our Christian brethren. They should know better, right? We also forget that we continue to need Jesus just as much today as the day we first believed. As John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We all have sins that need confessing; we all need Jesus. However, we can live in the joy of the eighth day for the rest of our lives. We are Easter people, and every day is a day of joy. The psalmist knows that even the most terrifying things of the earth and the most mundane aspects of life here, we have reason to praise God and given Him thanks. “He has lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near to him. Praise Yah!”

Easter this year was on April Fool’s Day, but the eighth day of the Octave is often called Holy Humor Sunday. The Greeks saw the humor of the resurrection; they saw that Jesus played a practical joke on the devil. The devil thought he won, but Christ rose from the dead. The Octave of Easter were the “days of joy and laughter.” They held parties and played practical jokes on one another. The Octave culminated in “Holy Humor Sunday” the second Sunday of Easter.

The devil didn’t see the joke coming. It was outrageous and preposterous. It was unexpected. Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday gives us a way to laugh at ourselves, as perhaps Peter and Thomas and all the disciples must have laughed after they realized everything that was happening was real. Holy Humor Sunday gives us the opportunity to look at this beloved story in a new way, with new eyes, without taking ourselves so seriously. We’ve heard it all before, but can we still hear it with fresh ears? Can we tell jokes about ourselves, about our fear and our doubts and laugh in the joy of God’s forgiveness? Can we trust that God is merciful and that we can experience His grace in laughter and merriment? We can be glad and rejoice because what God has done is really a great joke that has brought salvation to the world.

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