Monthly Archives: December 2017

A happy new life (John 20.24-31)

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Walking along our local river, I observed one of the many long-boats moored along its banks. It bore the name “Adanuff”. I chuckled to myself, but my smile was mixed with sadness – and a living hope. So many people in our nation today have ‘had enough’ with a real sense of loneliness, boredom and dissatisfaction with life. How relevant the message of John’s Gospel is in our context! John’s heart-beat stands out with his emphasis on new life through faith in Jesus.
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John therefore carefully notes that the disciples met on Sunday, the first day of the week (20.19 and 26). In spite of their fear and discouragement, they evidently still believed that Jesus had come to bring new life. Saturday, the Sabbath, brings to mind God’s first creation, but Jesus has come as the author of a new creation with abundant new life (10.10). May the occupant of ‘Adanuff’ come to faith in the resurrected Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and thus find new life! John affirms that this is the ultimate purpose why he has written his Gospel (20.31). If we believe in Jesus, he will transform our lives. Happy/blessed indeed are all who (present tense) do not physically see Jesus in his resurrection, but did believe (Aorist, past tense). Unlike the other evangelists who wrote soon after the resurrection, John writes much later in the first century. By his time almost no-one remained who had physically seen the resurrected Jesus. He is concerned therefore for people who do not have the opportunity physically to see, touch and hear Jesus – and yet have believed (20.29). Such faith does indeed lead to new life and blessing.
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Thomas and his confession (20.24-28)

On that first Sunday when the risen Jesus had suddenly come and stood among the disciples despite the doors being locked, Thomas had not been with them. But they had excitedly told him, “We have seen the Lord”. Previously Thomas had led the other disciples in the suggestion that they should follow Jesus to Jerusalem and even die with him (11.16). He had also led them in asking Jesus where he was ultimately going and how they could know the way there (14.5). This had led to Jesus’ wonderful declaration “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me” (14.6). But there was a limit to Thomas’ faith. His eyes were blinded by the harsh reality of the crucifixion. His response now is therefore vivid and a bit coarse – “Unless I see the nail mark in his hands and put (a strong word literally meaning ‘throw’) my finger into the mark of the nails and put (literally ‘throw’) my hand into his side, I shall not believe” (20.25).
Thomas must have blushed with embarrassment when Jesus appears to him and actually uses his own strong word ‘throw’. Jesus starts with the more polite ‘put’, but then quotes Thomas’ over-strong word in saying to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. And put your hand and ‘throw’ it into my side” (20.27). Jesus then admonishes Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (20.27) – a fitting word for us all.
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This whole event leads on to the major confession, (20.28). This is a major step forward from Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matt.16.16), for the Jewish understanding of Messiah does not necessarily include divinity. And Israel was called to be the children of God, so the expression ‘Son of God’ also did not need to signify divinity. But Thomas’ confession is very clear. Both “my Lord” and “my God” reveal that Jesus is indeed truly God, one with the Father. In his Gospel John is constantly emphasizing that Jesus is one with the Father, was sent by the Father and came to this world to bring his life to all who will believe in him and follow him. He then returns to the Father and will open the way for all believers to be united with him in his ascension to the glory of the Father. What a life-changing message for those who have ‘adanuff’!
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Happy/blessed indeed are all who have put their faith in Jesus and believed in him! It is with these words in mind that I wish all who read these blogs a very happy/blessed New Year! Let the joy of the resurrected Jesus fill our hearts – and show on our faces!
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Peace be with you (John 20.19-23)

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What a spine-tingling Sunday! The disciples’ first gathering together after the crucifixion. The doors were locked. Fear gripped their hearts with the very real possibility that they would follow Jesus to crucifixion. There must have been such an atmosphere of despondency and despair. The Master they loved and followed was now dead and buried. Had their faith been misplaced? What should they now do? Disaster had struck and there seemed to be no viable future.
It was Sunday, but I don’t think there was any praise or worship at that stage. And then it happened. Suddenly Jesus “stood among them”. Some times when I am preaching somewhere, I try to relive the disciples’ feelings. I picture Jesus suddenly standing next to me physically and saying, “Martin, may I listen in to your sermon?”. Or during the time of worship Jesus coming and standing next to the person leading: “Thank you for worshipping me. May I listen to your singing and prayer?”, he might say. My preaching and our worship might change quite radically!
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John notes how Jesus greeted the disciples with the traditional ‘Shalom’ (20.19, 21 and 26). In their fear they desperately needed that reassurance of God’s peace. Jesus’ use of ‘Shalom’ may have been traditional, but it was also deeply meaningful. The experience of Jesus’ resurrection brings peace to his followers. There is hope and true life despite even the worst circumstances. No wonder John says that “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”! As his disciples today we too need to experience the reality of the resurrection, so that we too may have his peace and be filled with his joy.
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Jesus’ gift of peace leads on to a new missionary commission. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (20.21). God’s gifts are never meant just for our selfish enjoyment. “As . . . so”: Jesus sends us out into the world in just the same way as the Father sent him. We are bound therefore to ask: in what ways was Jesus sent to the world? One short blog is quite inadequate for such a huge question. But at least we can say that Jesus was sent in such a way that he identified closely with the Jewish culture and society of those days – and yet he remained entirely holy and perfect. What a model for us and our churches as we live and witness in the society and culture of our day! He was also sent as the Suffering Servant. We too are called to serve in humility whatever suffering and humiliation this may lead to. In Christian mission paternalistic pride and superiority are totally out of place. Jesus brought new life to the world through his suffering on the cross. We are to take the message of that salvation to our world whatever the cost. Jesus even says that we now have the authority of forgiving people’s sins and even to retain them if faith in Jesus is rejected (20.23).
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For such witness we very much need the Holy Spirit. So Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (20.22). Without the Holy Spirit we shall run into extreme frustration and weakness. In Acts 1.8 too the key word “and” inseparably links the call to mission with the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit. If we receive the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit without moving into witness and mission “to the ends of the earth”, we shall be in danger of spiritual pride and stagnation. We must keep the gift of the Holy Spirit together with the calling to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sin to the world.
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