Sunday, May 4, 2003

Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48 

Thou hast put gladness in my heart, More than they have when their grain and their new wine are increased.  In peace will I both lay me down and sleep; For thou, Jehovah, alone makest me dwell in safety.

I almost wish that we had these texts last week and heard the story of Thomas after this experience of the disciples with Jesus. Here we see the disciples in their doubt, fear and their need for physical proof from Jesus. The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem listening to the two disciples who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They came in with the awesome news that they had seen the Lord and broke bread with Him. They couldn't understand their unbelieving hearts. "Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?" There, in that room behind locked doors, they tried to convince the disciples that all of it was true. They were still discussing the matter when Jesus appeared before them.

Jesus entered into their presence with the words "Peace be unto you." Though this was a traditional greeting at this time, it has deeper meaning for those who heard it from the Resurrected Lord's lips. He had promised them peace but the past three days were anything but peaceful. They were in mourning and afraid of the consequences of a relationship with Jesus. Now, this ghost of a man they knew and loved had appeared out of nowhere and spoken to them! Peace would be the last thing on my mind.

Yet, what Christ was about to teach them would not be well received by a heart filled with fear and doubt. They needed to know that He intended to fulfill His promises, that He would be with them so that they could be content even in the most horrifying experiences. Things were not going to get any easier for them. As a matter of fact, now that word was spreading that Jesus was raised from the dead, they were in more danger than they ever had been. The Jews paid the guards at the tomb to lie about what they witnessed that morning of the resurrection. While the believers shared the stories of their encounters with the living Christ, the unbelievers were spreading lies about how the disciples stole the body and were deceiving the Jews.

Though Jesus had spent three years teaching the disciples about the Kingdom of God, now was the time to bring everything together. Yet, they still were not ready. Jesus asked for something to eat and they gave Him a piece of boiled fish. In this way Jesus showed them that He was real, resurrected. This was not simply a spiritual experience. Jesus was alive in flesh.

In the story last week, John recorded that Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Luke tells us that Jesus opened the scriptures for the disciples and explained from the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms how He was the fulfillment of all the promises. No matter how many times He had told them these things, it could not make sense until they could look at it from this side of the resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that He opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.  This was the plan of God, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Because they were witnesses to all these things, they will be sent into the whole world to share the Good News. Yet, they were to wait until the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would be spilled out onto all flesh. Then, and only then, could the message they bore be spoken and understood. So, they stayed in Jerusalem, praising God in the Temple with great joy.

I wonder what that was like for the chief priests and temple officers. After all, they had done everything they could to stop this madness, and now there was not just one but many. The story in our first lesson this weeks looks at an incident at the Temple after Pentecost. Peter and John were on their way into the Temple courts when a beggar called out to them for money. He wasn't even paying attention to those who were walking by. His family or friends had dumped him by the gate to beg while they went to worship in the Temple. The only hope he had was that someone might give him some spare change.

Peter said, "Look on us," and the beggar looked up expecting to receive something from the encounter. Peter told him that he had nothing like silver or gold to share, but he had the power of God in the name of Jesus Christ. He commanded the man to walk, then helped him up. The man's feet were healed and he began jumping around and praising God. He followed Peter and John into the Temple and all the people saw that he was healed. They were amazed.

In today's lesson the people came running at Peter and John. When he saw them, he said, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?" Then he witnessed to them the truth of what happened - that it was faith in the Lord Jesus whom they crucified and it was by His name that healing came into the man's life. Many of these same men were probably in the crowd that hollered "Crucify Him" just weeks before, and they probably believed the lies told about the body of Jesus.

Peter said to them, "And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.  But the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus."

The people who approached Peter and John in the Temple wanted to how it could be that the man walked again. It is as if they asked the same question we find in the Psalm. "Many there are that say, Who will show us any good?'" We can't answer by our own power, it is only by the power of God that we can bring healing and forgiveness to the world. So, we cry out to God, "Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." Jesus came to show us good.

Isn't it amazing that the promise is even for those who sent Jesus to the cross? They did not know what they were doing, and Jesus offered that forgiveness even as He died before them when He said to His Father, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do." Yet, the disciples have been sent to call the people to repentance, that they might benefit from that forgiveness in their lives. The disciples are witnesses to all that happened with Jesus, but each person is invited to experience a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus even now because He lives. In that relationship we can sing like the Psalmist, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart, More than they have when their grain and their new wine are increased.  In peace will I both lay me down and sleep; For thou, Jehovah, alone makest me dwell in safety."

We can't know what it was like to be a disciple like Peter and John. They walked with Jesus, ate with Him and heard His teaching face to face. Yet, we are also made children of God. Now, two thousand years after the resurrection, we are just beginning our relationship with God. We are individually just getting to know Him, one step at a time. The day will come when everything will be made perfect. He will come again and we will truly know what it means to be like Him. We are called to Him through the witness of the disciples who share the promises of Christ as He shared with them and we come to Him in repentance. He cleanses us of our sin and gives us the Holy Spirit that we might walk in the truth. John writes, "My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous."

We are righteous not by what we do, but by being in a right relationship with God. This comes through faith in the One who shines His face on us. In that light, we walk according to His ways as we are made more and more like Him each step of our journey of life.

As we look back on the scriptures for this week, I still wish that we'd seen these last week. Thomas was no different than the rest of us. We all doubt, we all fear the unknown, we all need to hear how Jesus fulfilled everything said in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms say about Jesus and our relationship with Him. We all need Him to breathe the Holy Spirit upon us that we might see and understand the whole story. Then we become righteous by His power, cleansed of our sin and filled with hope. Thanks be to God. 

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