Last week, in the first episode of A.D., we encountered the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Churches across the country celebrated this most significant event on the Christian calendar. For without the resurrection there is no victory over death, no salvation, and no hope. Christianity simply does not exist without the resurrection.
Yet news of the resurrection was bad news for the High Priest Caiaphas. And he knows that he must act quickly to halt the spread of this news, so he bribes the guards to keep quiet about what they saw. He sends his right hand man on a hunt for the body hoping that once the corpse is discovered, all talk of a resurrection will be put to death. Meanwhile Mary had ran to tell Peter and John that the tomb was empty as Caiaphas and his crew tried to conceal the whole incident. However, it wasn’t long before the Governor, Pilate, discovers from his soldiers that the tomb had been ransacked by a supernatural force. The body couldn’t be found and so now Pilate takes things into his own hands. He demands that Caiaphas hand over all information about Jesus followers so that he can deal with them once and for all. And then just to be sure that news of Jesus’ empty tomb doesn’t spread any further he has all the guards from that night executed.
We pick up the story in John’s Gospel, which tells us in chapter 20:19-29:
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." NIV
Can you imagine the intensity of that moment, the emotion that must have filled that room as Jesus appeared to his disciples? They had spent days in hiding. They were afraid for their lives. They were mourning over their loss when suddenly they are stunned to see him standing before them in a locked room. And if the shock of his appearance wasn’t enough, think of their reaction to the statement he made, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Even after years of hearing Jesus talk about his divine purpose, having seen it fulfilled on the cross, now the disciples find themselves given the same mission, and yet they didn’t get it. I imagine the weight of those words must have been overwhelming; they had to feel powerless, I mean, now Jesus was sending them into the world to spread the Gospel, to heal the sick, to serve the needy, and to “do even greater things than these, because” he says, “I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Yet we find them gathered together “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.”
Now for us today, we might let out a sigh of relief that we weren’t in that room, that we didn’t receive those marching orders, but in a sense you were. You see, this directive wasn’t just given to those 11 remaining apostles. Luke chapter 24:33 reveals that many other followers were “with them”. So when Jesus said, in John chapter 20:21, “I also send you,” he was talking to the whole body of believers. So it’s a call for every believer, in every country, and every generation to accept God’s call. Jesus Christ is sending you somewhere for a purpose, for his mission, whether in your backyard or halfway around the globe.
And like Peter, you may be tempted to flee, to even deny Christ. But you see, Jesus knew that that was part of their training, for his disciples to understand that their weakness was actually their strength. As the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” You see it’s our fear and our failure that allows us to experience God’s incredible grace. For these disciples it would be their failure that would became their greatest motivation for service.
You may remember, on the fateful night of Christ’s trial, the apostle Peter denied Christ three times (Luke 22:61-62). Yet Jesus comes to his disciples on the beach one morning as where they were fishing. They weren’t having much luck, but Jesus had plenty, and He prepares breakfast for them. John’s gospel tells us, at chapter 21 and verse 15, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes Lord” he said “You know that I love you.” Three times Jesus asked him. Three times painfully reminiscent of those three denials, and three times Jesus re-commissions him. First he says “Feed my lambs.” Then he says, “Take care of my sheep.” And lastly, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” It was God’s grace that would transform Peter and the others into fearless missionaries and evangelists.
The Lord restored Peter, reigniting his zeal, and reinstates him as leader of the disciples. And He does the same for all who seek forgiveness and turn away from their sin. You see, there is no sin or failure on our part that exceeds the scope of God’s absolute forgiveness. The resurrection is not only power for eternal life, but for everyday life. The moment that Thomas saw Jesus with his own eyes he said: “My Lord and my God!” In that very moment Thomas declared what he had never seen before. And I believe the reason Jesus confronted Thomas and his unbelief is because Thomas desperately needed to understand the reality of the resurrection for himself. And he was totally transformed.
Jesus wants his death and resurrection to mean something in our lives. Jesus didn’t die so that Thomas would live out the rest of his life in doubt. He died and was resurrected so that we and Thomas could believe and live free from doubt. And today no matter how dead or hopeless your situation is; no matter how powerless you feel; it is no match for the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. A life of purpose is still a very real possibility…. if you believe.
There is no doubt that all the disciples were changed after seeing Jesus resurrected. They were totally transformed. It was what drove them, what woke them every morning, and what motivated them for the rest their lives. Scripture after Scripture attests to the power of the resurrection story in the lives of the disciples. In Acts chapter 4, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, “Were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). They commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Even after being imprisoned, the Bible tells us in verse 33, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
In probably one of the most encouraging passages of Scripture for me, the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 describes the transformational power of the Gospel. He says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . . We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. . . . Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 10, 14, 16).
You see, the resurrection does what nothing else can do; it proves that Jesus is the Son of God; it proves that he secured forgiveness for us who believe, and the disciples’ faith was strengthened in a way that totally transformed their lives; for the rest of their lives. And history tells us that all of the disciples lived the rest of their lives spreading the news that Jesus was alive. All of them, except the apostle John who wrote Revelation, died a martyr’s death. The resurrection was such a personal reality of something much greater that they gave up their lives for it.
In this series as we study the history of the early church, were not just looking at what God used to do, but what God still wants to do, Amen? And so this morning, where invited to be a part of the most important mission in the history of the world. God has assembled us together and invited us to be a part of a great story. It’s the story of the Bible; that God has an enemy who has taken into captivity those who wandered away from Jesus: their hearts are hard, their eyes are closed, and their lives are destined toward destruction. And yet you and I have this great news, we have this great news to tell: Jesus Christ conquers sin, Jesus Christ conquers death, and Jesus Christ is alive and well. And so therefore, He has sent us on a mission into the world to tell others about his great victory over sin and death. And he promises to come alongside of us, giving us the power to persevere.
Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 1, if you’re following along, look with me in Acts chapter 1 at verse 3. It all begins right here in Acts chapter 1. If you’ve ever wondered how the Church started? It began on Easter, right here, we read it in the beginning of the book of Acts.
“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
“After his suffering” after his substitutionary death in our place, for our sins; after his burial in the grave, after his suffering, Jesus was powerfully and supernaturally raised from the dead and triumphantly victorious over sin and death. He died and was buried and he rose. “He showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” For 40 days he gave many convincing proofs. This includes having breakfast with people, giving people hugs, and letting guys like Thomas touch the wounds.
And in verse 4 it tells us, “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Then, down in Acts 1:8 he clarifies himself and says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Now how many of you have looked at Jesus’ life and thought, “That’s an amazing life?” You know, He said no to sin and yes to his Father. He never took advantage of anyone, never stole anything, never was inappropriate with a woman. He was always generous, always told the truth, and suffered graciously. How many of you have looked at the life of Jesus and admired it? That’s good, but that’s not enough; Jesus doesn’t want you to just admire his life, he wants you to experience his life through the person, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
You see, Jesus lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He lives without sin, he dies for our sin, he rises for our sin, he gives evidence of it for forty days, and he tells his people, “Don’t go do ministry yet. Just Wait! You need power. The Holy Spirit’s coming to empower you to be like me.” But not just so that you can be a better person. This is not a self-help guide to achieve your potential, to obtain your objectives, or to showcase your goodness. This is exclusively for the mission and the purpose of glorifying Jesus Christ.
Just wait…. because that is the power behind our purpose. Jesus told us what to do, he said that we would be his witnesses, and our mission is simply to do what he told us to do. The command was given to “go and make disciples” to 120 disciples, followers of Jesus, at one time (Matthew 28:19). The goal is always reproducing ourselves. The goal is more people meeting Jesus. And those who know Jesus growing to become more like him. So, we’re talking about more Christians and better Christians… more churches and better churches… that’s the mission. That’s our mission… that’s Jesus’ mission… and the more we work together, the more we pray together, the more we walk in unity and in humility and in generosity the more disciples are made, the more Jesus’ kingdom advances, the more the Holy Spirit pours out grace and blessing. The Holy Spirit wants you and me to become like Jesus; continuing the ministry of Jesus.
So, how’s it going? Jesus says, “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” and what he means is, “Start locally, regionally, then go nationally and globally.” It’s like throwing a rock in a pond and rings ripple outward. You see our mission does not start across the world, our mission starts across the street. This is where “Connecting God and Community” begins. We start in our neighborhoods and then expand. We’re willing to go anywhere… we’re willing to help those in other nations… but we can’t forget to reach out to the ones next door. And so we want to do both by God’s grace.
I long for the day that Jesus returns, but today I’m excited that there is still a mission to be completed. There are people to be reached, there are churches to be planted, and there are nations to be healed. Today the Holy Spirit wants to empower us to persevere like Jesus persevered. To continue forward with the mission of Jesus, praying, giving, and serving, because we don’t know when he’s coming back. Only God knows and there’s no room for speculation. Today the church needs to be far more concerned about our going than his coming. So doesn’t matter whether he comes tomorrow or in a 1000 years, if were still on mission, then we won’t have anything to be ashamed of.
So were going to continue pressing forward together by the Holy Spirit’s power. We’re going to continue being witnesses, like his first disciples. We’re going to talk about Jesus even if we die. There is no fear in death, because the Bible says, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). We are his witnesses, praying for people, loving people, serving people, but also speaking to people about Jesus. It’s talking to your coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, and even your enemies about Jesus. It’s to this that we’ve been called… to be witnesses in our community and in our neighborhoods of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
April 12, 2015