New Hope Alliance Sermon
Review of the resurrection account from the previous week.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The first half of this chapter concerned the empty tomb, and its impact upon three individuals. This second half concerns two appearances of the risen Lord to the gathered church, and includes John’s version of the great commission. It also contains the profession of faith of one of the more sceptical disciples.
It was the evening of the first day of the week: the day of the resurrection; the first day of the new creation. The disciples met together behind closed doors “for fear” (). Fear stifles faith: this is why the Lord and His messengers so often say, ‘Fear not.’
Suddenly, and inexplicably, Jesus stood in their midst! That Jesus was able to do this is informative of the nature of the resurrection body. Walls and locked doors are no barrier, but His was still a flesh and bone body (), with the wounds still open ().
We can hardly imagine how startled the disciples were! Jesus’ first words to them were both familiar and reassuring: “Peace be with you” (). Having proclaimed the Peace, Jesus displayed the marks of the Cross ().
Imagine the delight that the disciples now felt, that their crucified Lord had most surely risen from the dead! Think of their joy, also, at His presence! Jesus repeated His greeting, and commissioned His disciples as Apostles ().
Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (). Just as the LORD had breathed the life-giving spirit into Adam, so our Lord was symbolically infusing His Apostles with His own resurrection power, thereby anticipating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the whole church at Pentecost. (This text gives us grounds to believe - along with the creeds of the church - that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, as well as from the Father.)
The remission or retaining of sins () is declarative, and belongs to the task of preaching the gospel. Just as the high priest declared who was clean and who was unclean in cases of leprosy, so the Apostles were empowered to pronounce who would be forgiven (), and who would not be forgiven (). This is in keeping with prophetic language (). (Modern-day preachers share this authority only inasmuch as they faithfully proclaim what is taught in the Word of God.)
The absence of Thomas from the Easter gathering of the disciples () does not necessarily exclude him from the conferring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostolic band. Perhaps his position was similar to that of the two absentee elders who ‘prophesied in the camp’ in Moses’ day (). However, his absence did expose him to his own gloomy predisposition (; ).
We hear of no word of censure from the disciples, but they kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord” (). Thomas, for his part, would not believe it, except on his own terms. All week long Thomas was kept in limbo, struggling with his doubts.
“Eight days” () brings us back round to the first day of the week again. The embryo church was gathered once more, this time with Thomas also in attendance. Again the doors were shut; again the Lord “stood in the midst”; and again He pronounced the Peace.