Sunday, March 24, 2013

We have Seen The Lord

Doubting Thomas

John 20:24-25
“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 

Today, in the Christian Calendar is the Palm Sunday, it is the day Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem. It is just five days before He was crucified. It is the day people cried Hosanna, Hosanna to the son of David. (See Luke 19:28-44). The same people who on Sunday shouted Hosanna were the same people who on Friday shouted crucify Him; Crucify Him. How fickle?

On a certain Friday, a group of people saw the leader to whom they had committed their lives crucified on a Cross. Bewildered, heart-broken they had watched Him die and late that afternoon saw His body placed in a tomb. When the heavy stone thudded across the door of the tomb and was secured by the seal of the Roman Empire; it also crashed through the corridors of their minds, demolishing forever all their hopes and dreams. In black despair, blind confusion, and shattering disillusionment they scattered furtively across the country, determined to resume the vocations they had left abruptly over three years before.

Within a few weeks all of this was changed. The scattered followers of Jesus came together again, filled with confidence, joy, and purpose. In the very city where Jesus had been publicly executed they launched the most powerful and dynamic crusade in history. Something obviously had happened! The Cross of defeat suddenly became the symbol of victory. The message became not what Jesus of Nazareth taught but the person of Jesus Himself. And the Christian Church began its unprecedented and unpredictable course through history. Something obviously happened; what was it?

The event of the Easter day provides the answer. The followers and friends of Jesus believed without question that while He had died on Friday afternoon, He was now alive. How did they know? It certainly was not because any of them had seen Jesus burst through the stone door in a blaze of glory. It was not because His body had disappeared. True, it had vanished but there could be several logical explanations for that. And it was not simply because the tomb was empty, for; after all, there is no power in a vacuum. These people knew that Jesus was alive because they saw Him and talked with Him. For almost six weeks Jesus appeared to a person here, two disciples there, to a group, and to a crowd. He was seen in several different locations - in a room, in the open, along a country road, by the Sea of Galilee. At least as far as the written record is concerned He was always seen during the day, never at night except on the Emmaus Road. And every encounter radiated a tremendous self-authenticating power. Now, as then, the miracle of Easter is discovered through personal encounters with the living Christ. This is what makes the difference. And this is what produces Easter people. It is all built on the simple testimony recorded in John 20:25: “We have seen the Lord”

New Belief: It was from those early encounters with the risen Christ that a new belief emerged – the historic faith which soon became known as Christianity. And the foundation for that faith is that “God raised Jesus from the dead” even though the resurrection of Jesus was neither expected nor inevitable. Certainly Jesus was raised from the dead. A Christian believes that God, by raising Jesus from the dead, accepted, endorsed, verified everything He was and did! God by this mighty act showed where He stood. He took the side of Jesus, declaring His truth was abiding, while the attitude and actions of His enemies were wrong. Now we can be sure Jesus was God’s revealer. The words of Jesus are the words of God. The acts of Jesus are the acts of God. The suffering of Jesus reflects the suffering of God and the victory of Jesus became the victory of God. From the vindication of Jesus comes the abiding authority. In the first century Christians declared a simple creed: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” It became the truth for which men and women both lived and died. The words and actions of Jesus became for His followers the representation of eternal authority.  

Out of the encounter with the risen Jesus Christ came a New Community called the Church. With amazing speed a new community with its own belief, its own life style, its own fellowship, its own purpose came into being. So distinctive was it that it quickly became identifiable. It was given a new name – the Way. The primitive title given to Christians appears six times in the Acts of the Apostles. The followers of Jesus were called People of the Way. Dr. Leslie Newbigin says: “Jesus left behind Him not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community.” But what a community, the Church proved to be! For three hundred years it existed without owning any property, having no visible presence except in the lives of Christians, yet it spread like a forest fire across the world of that day. Since that time it has survived vast social and historic changes. It has outlived empires, and it has persisted through upheavals like the Renaissance, the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the French and the Communist revolutions.

Today the new Community called the Church is a global reality. It has become the only universal faith of history, and still it grows. In Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and Africa it is advancing at unprecedented speed. For example, in 1875 there were 500, 000 Christians on the African continent. By 1925 the Church numbered 5, 000, 000 people. By 1975 there were 100, 000, 000 Christians in Africa and now it is believed by some Christian leaders that the strength of Christianity is centred in Africa.
How can a miracle of this magnitude be explained? Only by seeing the risen Christ at its heart; the energy of the Resurrection which brought Jesus from the dead continues to throb through the Church. The risen Christ created a new Community, the Church.

Out of the encounter with the Living Christ came a New Cause: the Kingdom of God on Earth.  The appearances of the risen Christ before the Ascension provide the call to go forward, proclaiming the Christian message to all people. “You shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”, said Jesus in Acts 1;8. By placing together the recorded words of Jesus in the last chapter of Mark and Matthew we hear His double Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation ... and make disciples of all nations ...” The Christian task is an unfinished task. Because of the population explosion, there are in the world today more people who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ than ever before in history. Therefore the risen Christ commands obedience in mission as always. He points to a world yet to become the Kingdom of God. The risen Christ directs every person who accepts His authority to the social and international evils of our time.

Out of the Experience of the risen Christ comes a New Future. The happenings of the first Good Friday, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant that the early disciples have a past but no future. It seemed that Jesus had finished His story. There is a terrible finality about death. At the moment of death everything seems frozen. No more words can be spoken, no new acts can be performed, and no further relationships can be established. There is only yesterday, no tomorrow. All that little cadre of disciples could do was to say brokenly: “We had hoped He was the One to redeem Israel ...” We had hoped! Now it was all over. Death is so final.

But suddenly, with the resurrection of Jesus, there was a future. Hope was born anew. “Go tell My disciples, and Peter, I shall meet them in Galilee.” New words were spoken, new and strange events shook the credibility of His friends, and a new love, the love of the risen Christ, flooded the hearts of the followers.

That future – what was started then, has never ended. We are still on the receiving end of new revelations, new directions, and new power from the risen Christ to handle the complexities of life in these last and fast-moving years of the 20th Century. Today His living mind and heart direct the life of the Church and we can commune with Jesus as friend with friend – the only difference being that we cannot see Him with our physical eyes. The risen Christ gives us a future when we are battered by sin and despair and feelings of alienation. John Wesley once said: “It takes as great a miracle to bring a man or woman from the sepulchre of sin as to bring Christ’s body from the tomb.” By the ever present grace of God, that miracle occurs day after day in the lives of people as they discover new meaning and wholeness in the Good News through commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. 

Let me tell you the story of an Australian girl named Vicki. At sixteen years of age she attended Church regularly and sang in the choir. But it was not long before she got mixed up with a group of girls and boys who were experimenting with alcohol and drugs. She gave every appearance of being “stoned” much of the time – eyes glazed, voice thick, skin discoloured. In spite of the concern of her many friends Vicki continued on her tragic way. Everybody knew that if something drastic didn’t happen, Vicki could be dead by the time she was twenty-five years of age.
Recently she stood before the Television Cameras in a worship service televised from Sydney, Australia and quietly told her story. 
I knew the Christian message, but for years I rejected Christ. Then one day in desperation I said ‘God, why don’t you come close to me?’ He replied: “Vicki, I cannot come any closer to you. I am with you now” Suddenly I was overcome with the thought of His infinite patience and presence. Even though I had rejected Him a hundred times yet He was still with me.  And at that moment I accepted Jesus Christ. Look, I am free!” 
And indeed she was. Now her eyes are clear, her voice strong and her skin clear. Vicki now has a future.
At the heart of the Easter message is an encounter with the living Christ. And it is this encounter which daily, as our lives are open to Him, gives a vibrant new faith, the richness of a new relationship, the excitement of a new cause, and the fulfilment of a new future. “We have seen the Lord!”

Have you seen the Lord?  Has your image of Him grown dim? When was the last time you had a personal meaningful dialogue with the risen Lord? Sometimes we need to be reminded of the message to the Church in Ephesus: “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp’s stand from its place – unless you repent.” (Revelation 3:4-5) Where have you deviated from the first line and first course? Where did you lose sight of the living Lord? The time to retrace your locus and return to the path of rectitude, the path of vibrant new faith, path of new relationship, excitement of fulfilment, of a new future – is now, this Easter time. Will you do that? May the Lord help us all as we re-examine ourselves and our relationship with the living Christ; not our methods nor even our relationship with organisation or people. “We have seen the Lord!” makes all the difference.

God bless you all. 

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