24.5.20 – The King Returns Victorious – Peter Cheyne

Read Luke 24:50-51; Ephesians 1:15-23

I am not very good at maths. I worked out that 40 days after Easter Sunday took us to last Friday but I saw in my calendar that last Thursday was Ascension Day.

Jesus appeared to the disciples for forty days after His resurrection. Then one day, on the Mount of Olives, near Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them and was taken up into heaven.

There is a church on the Mount of Olives that celebrates the ascension. Inside is a slab of stone that has an impression in it that is said to be the footprint of Jesus, made at the moment of His ascension into heaven. The Bible does not say anything about Him leaving a footprint so I am a little sceptical.

Actually, the Bible say remarkably little about the ascension. There are only three descriptions – in Mark, Luke and Acts – and they are very brief. It must have been an amazing experience for the disciples. Imagine seeing Jesus rising off the ground like a rocket (although maybe with less fire and noise) and disappearing into the clouds. What sort of person does that? It must have been amazing but they do not dwell on it – although, apparently, eleven other New Testament books do refer to it.

In Acts, Luke says He was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They stood looking intently into the sky – possibly shocked and confused; possibly wondering if He was going to come down again. I don’t know. While they were staring, two men in white (presumably angels) stood beside them. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

In other places, we read that Jesus sits enthroned at the right hand side of God. We read from Ephesians that the power of God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God, in heaven, far above every other power and authority. God places everything under Jesus’ feet. And God appointed Him head over everything – for the church.

It is an absolutely wonderful event. The King returned home, victorious. It is a celebration and a vindication that Jesus had fulfilled His earthly ministry. It was an enthronement – a coronation. I wonder what it was like when Jesus re-entered heaven. Do you think there were crowds of angels lining the way cheering and worshipping with all their might?

He had done it! He had died and saved the world. He had defeated Satan. Ephesians 4 says that when He ascended He took many captives. His re-entry into heaven was a victory parade.

What is the significance of this event?

  1. Jesus’ earthly ministry was over. This was the end.

For forty days, Jesus appeared to the disciples. He appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared. Imagine if He disappeared one time and the disciples didn’t know if He was going to appear again. They would be hoping but uncertain and possibly disappointed if He didn’t. This event left them in no doubt. This was the end.

Jesus had come from heaven in an extraordinary way – born to a virgin. He spent 33 years on earth. But that was only going to last so long. At the end, He left in an extraordinary way. It was over. He had done everything asked of Him. Now, as He had made abundantly clear, it was up to them.

2. It was a massive vindication

Imagine if, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had decided not to go to the cross. He didn’t want to. He prayed for permission not to: “Take this cup from me”. What if He had said, “I cannot do it!” What would have happened if He had opted out of His mission? Would He have lived a boring, irrelevant life somewhere and died of old age? There would have been no victorious entry into heaven.

Or imagine if God had said, “OK, come back home.” Imagine if God had taken Him back to heaven but as a failure. Do you think Jesus might have slunk back in by a backdoor somewhere to avoid the embarrassment. Would He had had to stay out of sight for the rest of eternity because He had failed?

It was precisely because He had walked the path of obedience all the way to death that He was exalted.

Phil 2:5-11          Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

He was obedient to death, therefore God exalted Him to the highest place. Because of His obedience, God exalted Him. His exaltation is His vindication. He did it!

Those verses speak of a great descent. Jesus started having the very nature of God but he gave it up and became a human, a servant. He humbled Himself and descended to the horror of the cross and death. But because of His complete obedience, God lifted Him up again, took Him into heaven; seated Him in the highest place with the name that is above every other name. Every knee will bow before Jesus. Every tongue will confess that he is Lord.

He has returned to His rightful place and to the glory and honour that are rightfully His, because He did all that was asked of Him.

3. It reveals who Jesus is

He is Lord. He sits on a throne. He rules of all of creation. He is a King – King of all kings.

He is not only the King; He is God. He had said that He was God. Of course. He was accused of blaspheme for making such a claim. That was partly what got Him killed. But, you know what? Here He is enthroned in heaven alongside His Father receiving the worship of all creation.

“While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They worshipped Him. It is fundamental to Judaism that you worship God alone. The disciples immediate response to seeing Jesus taken into heaven was to worship Him, acknowledging Him to be God.

There are many pictures in the Bible of Jesus, in heaven, being worshipped – most notably in Revelation.

Revelation 5:11-14     11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honour and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

When Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” it was true. “Therefore, go and make disciples.”

Ephesians 1:22 said that God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. It does not say that He reigns over the church, although that is true. But He reigns for the church. I don’t know what that means but Jesus reigns for our sake.

We know that Jesus is still active. We are told that He is interceding for us; He is praying for us (Rom 8:34). Isn’t that wonderful? We are told that He is advocating before God for us (1 Jn 2:1). Amazing!

4. It signals the believer’s future

All of those who have trusted and served Jesus will also be taken into heaven. Jesus has gone before us. He is preparing a place for us (John 14:2).

5. The disciples were on their own

This was the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was over. Jesus had left. It was up to them. All of this time, they had been the apprentices. Jesus was the Master. Now they were to take over. He would not be there.

Do you think they might have been scared, despite all of the training they would had had? Do you think they might have felt completely inadequate and helpless?

6. Jesus’ ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come.

John 16:7            But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

How could life without Jesus possibly be better than life with Jesus? But, according to Jesus, they would be better off accompanied and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They might have felt abandoned but their abandonment would soon end and they be even better off. (See also John 7:39)

God had promised the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said they would receive Him in a few days. But there was also the waiting. There was also the next ten-day period between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

7. Jesus’ ascension signals His return

He will return in the same way you have seen Him go. This phase will also end. Jesus will return and will establish His Kingdom.

How do we respond?

A very obvious response in the scriptures is worship. Jesus is the Lamb upon the throne – the Lamb who died, now exalted. The disciples worshipped. All of heaven worships.

The other response of the disciples was obedience. They started the mission they had been given. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit. They could not do it without Him. But, after Pentecost, they immediately got on with talking about Jesus and making disciples. May we also be obedient to the King.

The third appropriate response is expectation. He will come back in the same way that they saw Him going. We can have every expectation that Jesus will return and those who have worshipped and served will spend eternity with Him. Worship, obedience and hope.

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17.5.20 – How To Be An Infectious Church – Peter Cheyne

Read Matthew 28:16-20

Do you remember Easter this year? I barely do. It feels like a long time ago. It was actually 35 days ago. By Friday it will be 40 days – the period during which Jesus kept appearing to the disciples proving that He was alive and teaching them about the Kingdom.

Last week, we read from Acts 1. Jesus said to the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” We talked about how one of the foundation stones of the church is its mission, that that mission is specific – bearing witness to Jesus – and that they were firmly told not to worry about when Jesus would return but to get on with the mission. The rest of the book of Acts, of course, tells the story of that mission.

That instruction to the church has become known as the Great Commission – the great sending out. It also occurs at the end of each of the gospels. Obviously, the climax of each gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus but the conclusion of each of the gospels is the Great Commission. Each of the gospels leads to the commissioning of the church and that commissioning launches the story of Acts.

If we look at those five versions of the Great Commission we see that they are all different in the wording but they are all the same in terms of their content. They all send the disciples out to all of the world, to preach the gospel of the forgiveness of sin so that people might be saved. That whole message centres around Jesus and they are promised the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

So, Acts 1:8: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Luke simply talks about being Jesus’ witnesses. But, his Gospel says that the disciples were to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

The best-known version is Matthew’s which we read. There are four verbs there: go, make disciples, baptise and teach to obey. One of them is an imperative – a command: “make disciples”. That is the mission: make disciples. The other three verbs are participles that tell us how to make disciples:  by going, baptising (which assumes that the gospel has been peached and people have come to faith in Jesus) and by teaching to obey all that Jesus commanded. Part of disciple-making is evangelism (sharing the good news of forgiveness) and part of it is training Christians to live in accordance with Jesus’ teaching.

Most of us have heard umpteen sermons on the Great Commission. Most of us know full well that Christians have been commanded to evangelise – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, encouraging people to put their faith in Him and be saved. In Mark’s version Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Most of us know that people’s salvation depends on us telling them about Jesus.

Most of us also know that we are not doing it. I do not know how accurate the figures are but it is estimated that 2% of Christians in New Zealand share their faith with non-Christians. Can I be blunt for two minutes then, hopefully, redeem myself by being less blunt? Some people are being faithful and are taking the opportunities God gives to share their faith with not-yet-Christians, but most of us are not. That is true of most Christians in the western world. It is certainly not limited to us. Most churches in New Zealand are weak when it comes to our mission. We have abandoned the very task that we have been given. There is no other word for it than disobedience. This is absolutely something that the church needs to repent of. We need to be on our faces before God, acknowledging that we are not doing what we have been commissioned to do, asking for His forgiveness and saying we will do it. Repentance is not just sorrow. Repentance changing what we are doing.

Do you remember when we talked about Peter’s restoration after failing Jesus? Jesus asked him one question. Do you love me? He then issued one command: Follow Me.

We need to answer that question: Do we love Jesus?

Because Peter had been thinking about himself and his own safety, he had denied knowing Jesus. He was scared. For many of us that is exactly the reason why we also have decided not to talk about Jesus. We are scared. We are concerned about our own discomfort and what people might think of us. Do we love Jesus or are we focused on ourselves?

Peter knew that, despite his failure, deep down he did love Jesus: Lord, you know all things. You know I love you. Is that also true for us? Do we love Jesus? Enough to obey Him?

If the answer is yes, then Jesus calls us again to follow Him. Following Him means imitating Him. Doing what He did. Being involved in His mission. Following His instructions. Obedience. Repentance means we change our ways and we do what we have been commanded to do. Peter had said he wasn’t a follower of Jesus. Jesus called him to follow. That is repentance. Are we ready to do that?

Personally, I feel much more comfortable with the second part of the Great Commission (helping Christians grow) than I do with the first part (evangelism). But I still have a responsibility to tell non-Christians about Jesus. There are some situations where I am quite bold but there are others where I am a coward. I fear what people are going to think of me – especially in a culture that is becoming much more anti-Christian. But our situation is no worse than what the original disciples faced. It is not an excuse. Putting my comfort ahead of obedience to Jesus is still something I need to repent of.

Before we leave the story of Peter, let’s remember that Jesus restored Him. He was not cast aside because of his failure but was allowed to start again. And let’s also remember the 153 large fish. The fishermen who had laboured with no result suddenly had a miraculous catch. We have laboured for a long time with precious little result. Could we cast the net over the other side of the boat and be part of a miracle?

The most exciting thing for any Christian or any church is seeing people come to faith in Jesus, growing in that faith and becoming fruitful disciples.

A few weeks ago, when Covid-19 was all over the news, but before the lock-down, Annie-Kate, Gabe, Linda and I were meeting in our study. Gabe spotted a book on my bookcase: Becoming A Contagious Church. That was ironically funny. It seemed completely inappropriate in the context of Covid-19. Then he spotted another one: Building A Contagious Church. Then another one: Epidemic Of Life.

There is a reason I own those books. The spread of the gospel is meant to be very similar to the spread of a virus. You might remember this graphic put together by Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris. It shows how a virus spreads exponentially as each person infects two or three other people. It just multiplies rapidly. That is exactly what Jesus had in mind for the growth of His Kingdom – each disciple making disciples with the same sort of exponential growth. The rapid spread of a virus is a negative example of what can be positive – the spread of the gospel.

But the point of the graphic is to show how the spread can be contained when individuals make good choices. See how the numbers fall away when some people do not pass it on. That, unfortunately, is also true when some people choose not to share the gospel. We want to stop Covid-19 spreading but we do not want to stop the gospel spreading. That diagram shows the potential but it also shows the impact when we do not do what we have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield talks about the R-value – the average number of people that each infected person infects. If R is greater than 1 the spread of the virus is accelerating. If R is less than one the spread is being contained. What is the R-value when we think of the good news of Jesus? On average, how many disciples is each Christian making? If it is less than 1, the church is declining. It is way less than 1. Most Christians do not lead anyone else to Jesus. But it can be different. That is what the “Or” in the middle of Siouxsie Wiles video means. Which will it be? The R-value in a church can be greater than 1. A church can look like the first half of that video – rapid expansion.

Scholars estimate[1] that by the end of the first century there were fewer than 10,000 Christians – in 70 years, 10,000 Christians (0.0017% 0f the population of the Roman Empire). By the end of the second century, there were a little over 200,000 Christians (0.36% of the population). One hundred years later, there were approximately 6,000,000 Christians (a full 10% of the total population). Put another way, the number of Christians grew by 40% every year. What was their R-value? If you have seen how the graphs of the spread of Covid-19 just get steeper and steeper, the growth of Christianity looked just like that.

Acts 8:1               On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

The Apostles stayed in Jerusalem but ordinary, everyday Christians were scattered because of persecution. Then look at…

Acts 8:4               Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

The church grew because ordinary Christians shared the good news of Jesus. That is what we have lost. Can we regain it? Can ordinary Christians bring several other people to faith in Jesus?

All five versions of the Great Commission stress one thing: the Holy Spirit makes the mission possible. The mission is possible because God promises to be involved. In Matthew, Jesus said, “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” Jesus promised to be present – not physically but in the person of the Holy Spirit. The promise of His presence lasts until the end of the age. And that is even more wonderful when we remember His words at the beginning of the Great Commission: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me (My 28:18). The One who has all authority in heaven and on earth promises to be with us.

Mark says that miraculous signs will accompany those who believe. Miraculous signs. That clearly indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Luke, Jesus said not to leave Jerusalem before the disciples had received the Holy Spirit. John says that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. In Acts, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

Most of us feel inadequate. Most of us question whether the gospel still works. Some of us have persuaded ourselves that the Great Commission does not apply to us. But others of us know that it does and we feel guilty. I honestly believe it can be different. Instead of feeling guilty, we can have the joy of knowing we are being obedient and the joy of seeing people saved. God wants everyone to be saved. I believe God is desperate for churches that say, “We will do it”. And He will pour out His Spirit.

The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples. Ten days after Jesus left them, the Holy Spirit came, Peter preached and 3,000 people were converted – by the power of the Holy Spirit, an R-value of 3,000!

Who would like to be obedient to Jesus’ last command? Who would like to be free of the guilt? Imagine the rejoicing of the disciples at Pentecost. This was their first foray into the mission Jesus had given them. They had waited for the Holy Spirit. They had prayed. They had spoken out and the Spirit of God convicted 3,000 people so that they cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

“Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

How can a church be effective in mission in our context? There’s a lot to learn but could a group of us learn together, pray together and be obedient in sharing the gospel? Could we have a team of people who are committed to this mission? What might God do with people who say yes to Him?

I really want to know if some of us do want to work together on this. If you do, or even if it is maybe but you are not yet sure, could you please click on the button in the chat, or send me or Annie-Kate or Gabe an email, or ring us. Let’s help each other. Who wants to be infectious with the gospel?

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/early-church-growth/

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10.5.20 – Foundations Stones Of The Church – Peter Cheyne

Read Acts 1:1-11

Since Easter we have been looking at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – to the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, to Thomas, to the disciples on the beach, to Peter. The first few verses of Acts talk about the 40 day period during which Jesus appeared again and again to the Apostles.

“In my former book, Theophilus”. The Gospel of Luke was also written to Theophilus. Luke and Acts go together. The Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ life and ministry and death and resurrection. Acts tells of the mission of the church and the spread of the Gospel when Jesus was no longer present but the church was empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is about “all that Jesus began to do and teach”; Acts is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach through the church.

The eleven verses we read give an overview of Jesus’ ministry from His birth right through to the Second Coming. It is a 10,000 metre overview. It is like a tour of Jesus’ life touching ever so briefly on the key aspects. The first part of the tour is achieved simply by referencing Luke’s former book. By saying “all that Jesus began to do and say” he calls to mind:

  1. Jesus’ ministry to people in need.
  2. His call to them to believe and to follow Him.
  3. His training of the disciples to be “fishers of people”
  4. His death for the sins of the world and His resurrection.
  5. His teaching about God and His Kingdom.

In Acts 2, the church will be established. In Acts 1, Jesus puts the finishing touches on the foundations of the church. In these 40 days, Jesus was readying the Apostles to be the church. Some things are mentioned only in passing but they are still part of this laying of the foundations. The global Covid-19 pandemic and the lock-down have caused us to reassess just about everything – international travel, our economy, our education system, health care, what it means to be a community when we cannot meet people, caring for each other, the importance of sport… everything, including what God wants of His church. What is God saying to us through this? What is not important? What is important? What are the indispensable foundations stones?

Let’s look at what is absolutely obvious and then we might dig further for the things that are present but not so obvious. These 40 days were a pivotal time when the mission of Jesus was moving from Him to the church and Jesus was preparing the Apostles. So, what did He do?

The first thing that is really obvious is that Jesus “presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive” (v.3). For forty days, Jesus kept turning up. He did two things. He repeatedly proved that he was alive and He spoke about the Kingdom of God.

Over time the Apostles might have wondered if they had merely imagined that Jesus was alive. Had it been real? Jesus reinforced it and reinforced it and reinforced it with many convincing proofs. There are certain truths that are indispensable. The resurrection is a fundamentally important one but there are many others. The disciples needed to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. One of the foundation stones of a church is belief in what God says – faith.

But it is not just facts. We can know something because we have been told it and we can know it because we have experienced it. The disciples needed to know that Jesus was alive (the truth) and they needed to know the living Jesus (the experience). By repeatedly appearing to them, Jesus made sure this was personal experience. We have talked about how both Thomas and the two people on the road to Emmaus had heard other people say that Jesus was alive but that really made no difference to them.  They needed the personal experience as well.

A church is not a church unless the members know that Jesus is alive and know Him.

The second thing Jesus did was speak about the Kingdom of God. I suspect that most people, if they were asked to summarise Jesus’ teaching would say “love” but that is not what the Bible says. Reputedly, we are told that Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God. He went around “proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 4:17, 23; Luke 8:1; 9:11). The disciples were also told to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Lk 9:2). The central message of the Apostles was the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 28:31). But, ask most Christians, including Christian leaders, what the Kingdom of God is and they struggle to answer. Somehow, the message of the Kingdom has got lost. Am I right? Tell me what you think in the chat. But it was what Jesus taught the Apostles. It was a foundation stone.

The next obvious thing in this passage is the importance of the Holy Spirit. Even though this is a high-speed overview, Luke takes several verses to talk about the Holy Spirit. Clearly, He is important. The fact that Jesus told the Apostles not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit tells us that the Holy Spirit is indispensable. They knew they were to be fishers of people but they were not to attempt that without the Holy Spirit. It will not work. We cannot do the work of God by ourselves. The power to do anything for God comes from the Holy Spirit. Do not even try until you have received the Holy Spirit.

But Jesus did not leave it there. He promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit. God had promised this gift. Jesus had spoken about the Spirit before. When would it happen? “For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” In a few days. Again, they had teaching about the Holy Spirit, which was really important, but they were dependent on also having the personal experience. A church without the Holy Spirit is not a church.

The next obvious thing is that Jesus gave them a mission. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit come on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The mission is being passed from Jesus to the church. The mission given to the church is specific. It is not what a church decides to do. The Commission comes from God. Our mission is to bear witness to Jesus. That is it. Nothing more; nothing less. Tell people about Jesus. The whole world is to hear about Jesus from the mouth of the church.

But note the close link between the mission and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were not to try this mission without the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit is to enable the church for mission. The task might seem daunting. It is! Most of us feel inadequate for it, don’t we? The Apostles probably felt inadequate for it. But God promises to give us the power we need. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they did it. So can we.

Telling people about Jesus brings us right back to the beginning. Luke reminded us of his former book and all that Jesus began to do and teach. Telling people about Jesus means telling them about:

  1. His ministry to people in need.
  2. His calling them to believe and to follow Him.
  3. His training of the disciples to be “fishers of people”
  4. His death for the sins of the world and His resurrection.
  5. His teaching about God and His Kingdom.

But it also means telling them about our own experience of the risen Jesus. This is the Jesus revealed in the scriptures. This is how He has changed my life. This is how I know this same Jesus.

To do that, we need to know the scriptures – not just the Gospels but what the Old Testament says about Jesus and what the rest of the NT says about Jesus. Knowledge of the scriptures is another essential for any church. No church can really be a church without knowing and loving the scriptures. We see Luke alluding to that simply by the passing reference to his former book.

Just prior to giving them their mission, the disciples had asked if Jesus was about to restore the Kingdom to Israel. In part, that indicates that they didn’t really understand what He had been saying about the Kingdom. But also, Jesus chastised them. “That is not your problem. That is God’s business. Don’t you worry about that. Don’t get distracted. Your job is to get on with the mission.”

There are people today, are there not, who are consumed by end time events and trying to figure out the timeline and whether Covid-19 is a sign of the end of the world. Jesus did say to watch and pray but, to a large extent, we are simply to leave it in God’s hands. Our task is to get on with the mission in the meantime. This reveals another essential for a church; Obedience. Churches too can put all their time into other things and not the mission but Jesus says here, “Just get on with what you have been told to get on with.” The Jesus we see here has authority. He gave instruction. He is to be obeyed.

Then Jesus rose up into the air before their eyes and was taken into heaven. He now sits enthroned at the right hand of God. He is King Jesus. He is Lord of all and head of the church. The ascended Jesus is the King who rules over the Kingdom. Every real church submits to Jesus as its Head.

As they gazed into the sky, two angels told them that this same Jesus would return in the same way. One day, Jesus will come back and will fully establish His Kingdom. All that is evil will be destroyed. In God’s Kingdom there will be no crying or pain or death or injustice. This is the Christian’s hope. We long for that day when everything is perfect and God receives the glory and honour that are rightfully His. Hope and an expectation of God’s Kingdom are also indispensable in a church.

There is one thing that is only mentioned in passing but is indispensable. Luke referred to all that Jesus had done which includes His death. He mentions it again just by referring to His suffer (v.3). The Cross stands at the centre of the Christ faith and the life of the church. We preach Christ crucified.

There are other things just mentioned in passing. If, as followers of Jesus, we imitate Jesus then we too serve people in need, make disciples, teach about God and His Kingdom and invite people to put their faith in Him and follow Him (evangelism). Jesus’ ministry becomes our ministry.

Community/fellowship: “while He was eating with them” (v.4); “when they met together” (v.6).

The grace of God is apparent in the giving of the scriptures, the giving of Jesus to die, His appearances and His ministry to the disciples at this crucial time, the giving of the Holy Spirit, the teaching, calling them and us to be part of His mission, the promise of Jesus’ return and the coming of the Kingdom. The grace of God runs all through this.

What about prayer? Surely prayer is a foundation stone of the church. Prayer isn’t mentioned, is it? Except that the disciples talked to Jesus. That’s prayer. And just 3 verses later, we read:

Acts 1:14             They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Prayer is absolutely one of those indispensable foundation stones of the church.

What do you think? Are some things on that list not essential? What is God saying to us as a church?

Jesus spent those 40 days strengthening the foundation of the church. If He spent 40 days with us as a church, what would He want to strengthen? I’d be interested in your response. Can you put some thoughts into the chat? If Jesus spent 40 days with us, as a church, what would He focus on? And how would He strengthen us?

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3.5.20 – I Have One Question For You – Peter Cheyne

Read John 21:15-25

This story is the sequel to Peter’s having denied Jesus three times. Three time, while Jesus was on trial, Peter was afraid to be associated with Him and so he said that he did not know Jesus. On the beach, Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him as if to erase those three denials. Note that Jesus addressed him as “Simon” – his old name; his pre-Christian name. Jesus is frank about his failure. Was he Peter, the rock? No. he wasn’t.

Let’s remember the back story. Peter had been called to follow Jesus three years earlier and he had left everything to do that. He had walked with Jesus, been taught by Jesus, been loved by Jesus, for three years. He had declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and been congratulated on that insight. He had been part of Jesus’ inner circle: Peter, James and John. In other words, he had been particularly close to Jesus and in a privileged position. At the Last Supper, he had pledged undying devotion to Jesus: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will!” (Matt 26:33; Mark 14:29).

And then, within a few hours, he faltered and failed. People said they thought he was a follower of Jesus and Peter denied knowing Him. We get an insight into the seriousness of that from:

Luke 9:26            Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Would Peter be rejected by Jesus on the Day of Judgement because he had been ashamed of Jesus? Had he lost his salvation? But, also, Jesus had been training Peter to a role in His mission. He had given Peter the keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16:19). Could Peter still do that or had he forfeited his inistry?

What happens when someone who has walked with Jesus, fails so badly? What happens when a Christian, does something shameful? Is that the end? Even if there is forgiveness, can there be any ongoing Christian ministry or impact? Or is that Christian now powerless and useless?

Psalm 51 is a cry for God’s mercy and forgiveness. In it, David prays:

Psalm 51:11        11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

It is frightening, is it not, to think that we might be banished from Gods’ presence? And frightening to think that God might take His Holy Spirit from us. God had taken away the kingship from Saul because of his sin. Might David suffer the same fate because of his sin? Might Peter? Would Jesus still se him, or not? Do you ever fear that God might take away His Holy Spirit? Do you know that feeling of failure and fear that God might no longer use you?

On Easter Sunday morning, the angel had said to the women, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

“His disciples and Peter”. Why was Peter mentioned separately from the disciples? Was it because he was no longer a disciple? Or did Jesus know that Peter, having failed so badly, needed reassurance now.

This meeting on the beach was Jesus’ third appearance to the disciples. On the previous two, had either Peter or Jesus spoken about Peter’s failure? Or did everybody avoid that elephant in the room?

I cannot imagine Jesus not addressing the issue, especially when He knew that Peter needed to hear from Jesus’ mouth that he had been forgiven – unless, of course, Jesus was waiting for Peter to acknowledge it. It is possible that Peter had already received some forgiveness on those earlier occasions but maybe not. In any case, the question of his role remains (if he has any role at all now).

Jesus took the initiative, seemingly publicly. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“More than these” is very ambiguous. Does it mean, “Do you love me more than these other disciples do”? Peter had declared that he would not desert Jesus even if everyone else did. Was Jesus reminding him of that boast? Maybe, although it also seems unlikely that it is about comparisons.

Does it mean, “Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?” Peter had abandoned Jesus but had remained with the others. Where was Peter’s ultimate loyalty?

Does it mean, “Do you love me more than these other things, for example, his fishing gear and career”?

Whatever it meant, the question was: Do you love me? Do you love me above everything else?

Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus seemed to accept that and said, “Feed my lambs”.

But then Jesus asked again: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered in exactly the same way: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And, again, Jesus gave him a task although in slightly different words: “Take care of (shepherd) my sheep”.

Then, for a third time, Jesus asked the question: Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter was hurt. Did Jesus not believe him? “I have told you already. Why do you keep asking me?”

Why did Jesus keep asking? Was He trying to hurt Peter? Was it about cancelling out the three denials? I am sure that was part of it but surely Jesus would only need to say once that Peter was restored and that would cancel out the three denials. Was Jesus wanting Peter to really think and not just answer too quickly and too superficially? Was Jesus saying, “Are you sure?” Was He deliberately rattling Peter so that the inner reality would come out, not just the outer mask?

Peter was rattled; “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” In fact, all three times, Peter had said, “You know that I love you.” We could put the emphasis on just about any one of those words. You know that I love you. You know that I love you. You know that I love you. You know that I love you. You know that I love You – not any of these other things.

Peter could have just said, “Yes, Lord, I love you” but words are cheap. He knew that Jesus could see his heart. Jesus knew the reality. He could not fool Jesus with words. Peter was confident that, deep down, the reality was that he loved Jesus. He knew that his failure suggested otherwise but He appealed to Jesus’ knowledge. He did love Jesus and, despite what the failure indicated, he loved Jesus more than anything.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” and did not ask again.

Sometimes we fail very badly. At least, I do. We might fear Jesus’ rejection. The key question then is: Do you love me? Are you sure? Is it more than words? Do you love Jesus more than anything else? We fail because, at least momentarily, we love something else more than we love Jesus. Our love will be tested. Do we really love Jesus more than anything else? And we might fail that test. But then we are forced to answer that one question again: Do we love Jesus? Really? Are we passionate about Jesus? Do we love Jesus to the exclusion of everything else?

Peter was hurt by the repeated questioning but he was able to say, “Lord, You know my heart. You know that I love you.”

Jesus did know and He gave Peter back his ministry. He would be a pastor, a shepherd, to Jesus flock – both the lambs and the sheep – both the new Christians and the mature Christians. Peter would be the leader of the early church, despite his failure. And God did not take away the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, He poured out His Spirit and Peter preached to the crowd with such Holy Spirit power that 3,000 people were converted.

The one question Peter had to answer, and we have to answer, is “Do you love me?” In some ways, it is a simple question but Jesus did not allow for any superficiality. “Now, think about it. Do you really love me? More than your reputation? More than your possessions? More than pleasure or comfort? Really?” It is a simple question but it is not an easy question. Jesus might ask us multiple time. Jesus might test it with temptations. “Do you love me more than these?”

And it has multiple implications. Love means serving. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Love for God will mean loving people. The two great commandments are bound together here. Supremely, do we love God? And then, if we say we love God, we will also love people. It is very easy for us to sing of our love for God on Sunday but is it deep enough to cause us to go out and love people and serve people? What does it mean for us as a church? We say we love God. Is it more than words? Returning from Covid-19, will our community see that we love them?

Jesus used the image of youth versus old age. Youth is characterised by independence. You clothe yourself; you go where you want to. Old age is characterised by much greater dependence. Many of us can identify with this. Someone else dresses us. We have to go where we do not want to go. How would Peter have understood these words? They are a bit obscure. John says that Jesus was indicating the kind of death Peter would die. There is some evidence that “stretching out your hands” was a phrase that meant crucifixion but that is not entirely certain. Nevertheless, according to John, Jesus was indicating to Peter the type of death by which he would glorify God. Certainly the question about John’s future shows that they understood Jesus to be talking about their deaths.

Peter had proved a coward last time. He had failed to love Jesus above all else. But Jesus prophesied that he would prove faithful in the future. He would be faithful even to the point of a martyr’s death. I suspect, that Peter would have been encouraged by the knowledge that he would be faithful – even though it would mean death.

Three years earlier, Jesus had called Peter to follow Him. Now, again, the one thing Peter must do is follow Jesus. Following is about submission to Jesus. Jesus leads, Jesus commands. Jesus sets the standards and determines the next action. Peter had failed but here was another opportunity.

Having learnt something about his own future, Peter wanted to know about John’s future. Jesus told him to mind his own business. Don’t worry about John’s ministry or John’s future. Peter, the one thing you need to focus on is: you must follow me.

What happens when a Christian fails Jesus shamefully? We know that God is always willing to forgive. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

But, might God take away His Spirit? Might God render us powerless? This incident suggest that Jesus is willing to reinstate that person but there is a question that needs to be asked and answered: Do you love me above everything else? That one question has multiple implications. Love means serving. It is far more than words. And, there is one command for all of us, including those who have failed: Follow Jesus.

Maybe the requirements for resuming the Christian life are the same as the requirements for starting it. It seems God lets us start again. One question: Do you love me? One command: Follow me.

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12.4.20 – Easter Sunday: The Sign Of Jonah – Peter Cheyne

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26.4.20 – Breakfast On The Beach – Peter Cheyne

This passage seems very straightforward. Jesus appeared for a third time to the disciples. They were out fishing. They caught nothing. He appeared on the shore and told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat. They did so and caught many fish. They realised it was Jesus. Peter leapt into the water and swam to shore. The others followed. Jesus had a fire burning and fish and bread cooked for them and they shared breakfast.

I suspect that John’s main point is that Jesus repeatedly appeared to the disciples. The resurrection was real. Jesus was alive. They were being transformed by these encounters with the living Jesus. The resurrection became central to their lives and their teaching. In some ways, the details seem unimportant. It is just that this appearance happened in this way. They were out fishing etc.

Are the details incidental or are they quite important?

Is it significant that the disciples went fishing? Were they reverting to their old life? Were they avoiding fishing for people and going back to their pre-Jesus occupation or was it simply a natural thing in this strange time after the resurrection but still not knowing what they were to do? Should we read something into it or should we not?

We have surprising detail about Peter. Why on earth are we told that he had taken off his outer garment but put it on before jumping over the side of the boat? Am I missing something here? And what is the significance of Peter jumping into the water anyway. John doesn’t comment on that – just states it – and we have to speculate really about what was going through Peter’s mind.

If Jesus had this fire going already, with bread and fish on it, why did He tell them to bring some of their fish. Had He got His quantities wrong? Why are we told that there were 153 fish? Is it just an interesting fact or is it more significant than that? Again, we kind-of have to speculate about its significance because we do not know. Would that number have meant something to the original readers?

I am left wonder what I am to make of this beyond the fact that it was another appearance proving that Jesus was alive. Again, it has been good to talk about these things with Annie-Kate, Gabe and Linda.

I think one of the ways to understand this passage is to ask what sort of experience it would have been for these seven disciples. John was there; he experienced it; he recorded it; what impact did this have on him? Maybe the amount of detail simply tells us that this is an eyewitness account. John saw it and the details stuck in his mind. This is how it happened. He remembered Peter grabbing his outer garment before jumping into the lake. He remembered the number of fish.

When Jesus had appeared to the women and the disciples in Jerusalem He had said that He would meet them again in Galilee. Here they are in Galilee, back in their own home region. You would hope that they remembered his words and were expecting to see Jesus again. Maybe it was a time of waiting, not knowing quite what was going to happen next. Did they just want to fill in some time, do something physical, burn off some energy, do something familiar? Whatever their reason for going fishing, Jesus turned that moment into something unforgettable. What sort of experience was it for these disciples?

It was all very ordinary until a man, standing on the beach, called out and asked if they had caught anything. No. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

There is absolutely no logical difference between the right side of the boat and the left side! But when they did as He said, the result was utterly different. Where there had been no fish, suddenly there were fish. Not just that. There were so many fish that they could not haul the net in. Again, later we are told the net was full of large fish; 153 of them. To add to the miraculous nature of it, despite the number of fish, the net was not torn. It seems that John was impacted by that. This was so unusual!

This was not the first time that this had happened. Luke 5 tells a similar story but at the beginning of their relationship with Jesus. The disciples had been fishing and caught nothing. The next day Jesus said to try again. Peter objected: “Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” On that occasion, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets did begin to break. Peter was so overwhelmed that he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” James and John were also there and were equally astonished. But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will fish for people” and they left everything and followed Him.

When it happened again, they realised that the man on the shore was Jesus. John said, ‘It is the Lord!” Peter, hearing that, wrapped his clothes around him and leapt into the water. We are not told but we can only assume that he wanted to get to Jesus as quickly as he possibly could – despite the fact that he had so recently lied saying he didn’t even knowing Jesus– maybe because of that fact. Maybe he was desperate to apologise. Maybe he knew that he just needed Jesus at this time; he needed Jesus’ forgiveness.

The other disciples did not react with Peter’s typical impetuosity but they headed straight for shore too. When they got there, they found that Jesus had a fire burning and had cooked bread and fish. Where did He get fish from? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. He can do anything. That’s the point.

What sort of an experience was this for the disciples? Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.” It is a picture of very warm and gracious hospitality, isn’t it? It is very simple. It is very homely. It is just about a fire and some bread and fish but it is wonderful. It is just what cold and hungry fishermen need – a fire to gather around and some food to fill their stomachs. He had given Thomas just what he had needed in order to believe. He knew what these disciples needed and He graciously provided. And it had an impact. John remembered it along with all of the details. There was both the awe of the miraculous catch and the homeliness of the hospitality. Both were precious. Both said an awful lot about Jesus: the power and the servant-heartedness, the majesty and the gentleness, the love, the graciousness, the awareness of their needs and the very practical serving. What sort of experience was this for the disciples?

There are other little details. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Why did He need extra fish? Was He just giving them an opportunity to contribute as well – even though their contribution had been provided by His miracle anyway? Maybe it is just part of the graciousness of Jesus that He invited them to help.

V.12 is intriguing. None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

If they knew, why would they need to ask? Why was asking something that required daring and courage? It seems to me that there must have been something very different about Jesus. There was reason to ask if this really was Him. Even the fact that He had died raised that question. Could this possibly be Jesus? And yet they knew it was. The question was a natural question but there was also an awareness and a conviction. Can this be true? Yes, it is true!

What sort of an experience was this for the disciples? Do you think it changed their lives? Absolutely, it did. The undeniable fact that Jesus was alive completely changed their lives. Just as that first miraculous catch, in Luke 5, caused them to leave everything behind and follow Jesus, I suspect this one meant that they never went fishing again. They chose again to follow. They had met Jesus again.

Do you think, that they would have reflected on this experience saying, “I want to be like that. I want to be like Jesus. He was so thoughtful and kind to us; I want to be like that”? I am sure they did. Jesus was just so inspiring. Could you meet Him and not want to be like Him?

And, how would they have reflected on the left side f the bpat, right side of the boat thing? Was that a life-long lesson? “We did it our way and it was a waste of time. We listened to Jesus; we did it His way, despite not understanding why that would be any different, and we found ourselves in the middle of a miracle.” We can do things independently of Jesus or we can do virtually the same things when Jesus’ blessing is on them. Working without Jesus and working with Jesus might look exactly the same but they are as different and night and day.”

What about for us? Have we met the risen Jesus and has that changed our lives? Have we experienced the tender goodness of Jesus? Do we know that He cares about the practical things in our lives? Do we want to be like Jesus? Do we know what it is to work with Jesus as opposed to working independently of Jesus?

It is part of the goodness of Jesus that He will reveal Himself, He will show His love. He knows exactly what we need and He cares about that. He will meet us at our point of need – maybe not immediately but He will. “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your hearts” (Jeremiah 29:13) Jesus said that he would never turn away anyone who came to Him (John 6:37).

If this is a time for you to respond to Jesus; if you know that Jesus is reaching out to you; if this is a time to come to Jesus or to come back to Jesus, you can click on the “Raise your hand” button in the chat and that will initiate a private chat with one of the ministers. Don’t be scared. This could be a life-changing moment.

How can we be like Jesus? Can we have that Christ-like awareness of people’s needs and that desire to meet people at their point of need. The Covid-19 context means that people are in need – and will be for some time. How can we, right now, be like Christ to people who are anxious or lonely or have lost their income? The disciples remembered Jesus’ hospitality and practical thoughtfulness. How can we be Christ-like so that people see our love for them? Do we need to be praying for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus?

The temptation will be to do it our way. What if we did it Jesus’ way? What if we heard Jesus say, “Throw the net out the right side of the boat, not the left”? If we were Christ-like and responsive to His leading, what would our ministry to the community look like?

Let’s reflect on that. Write your thoughts in the chat. If Jesus lived in Mornington, how would he serve this community?

Keep your ideas coming. Or, maybe you want to write a prayer that we become more like Jesus.

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19.4.20 – Doubt: Catalyst or Catastrophe – Peter Cheyne

Read John 20:24-29

Last week I talked about the passage in which Jesus, when asked for a sign by the religious leaders, said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign. No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.” But here is Thomas asking for a sign! Was he wicked and adulterous? Or was it OK for him to ask?

Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday. They told him about it but he refused to believe unless he saw the nail marks and was able to put his finger in the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side where the sword had pierced Him. He refused to believe until He had visible evidence – a sign.

Jesus condemned the religious leaders and refused to give a sign (other than the sign of Easter itself) but He did give Thomas what he wanted. How come? Why was it wrong for the leaders but OK for Thomas?

Many of us might identify with Thomas. We struggle to believe some things too. Would I have believed that Jesus had risen from the dead without seeing Him? Can I believe the Bible? Was Jesus really born of a virgin? Does God really love us? And even if He loves others, does He really love me? Is it really possible to move mountains by faith? What does that even mean? If I pray for healing, will God heal? Have we prayed earnestly for someone to be healed and seen no healing? Have I sinned too many times, to the point that God will no longer forgive me? Something goes seriously wrong and we doubt God.

But Christians do not doubt, do they? Isn’t doubt the opposite of faith? Should I just hide my doubts?

Do we view “Doubting Thomas” positively or negatively? Did Jesus view Him positively or negatively?

The obvious thing is that Jesus did not chastise Thomas for his doubts. In fact, Jesus gave Thomas exactly the evidence he asked for. He had been quite specific and quite forceful. “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.”

Thomas had to wait eight days. I wonder what those eight days were like. The others had all met Jesus (or so they said). He hadn’t. Had he missed his only opportunity? They were rejoicing. He might have felt rejected. How come Jesus had left him out? Actually, why hadn’t he been with them on Easter Sunday? Had he been off doing his own thing or had he been too depressed to be with them? Was it his own fault that he had missed out on this incredible event? His doubts might have multiplied in that eight days.

And then, suddenly, without warning, Jesus came again. This time Thomas was with the others. Sometimes, when we feel sorry for ourselves, or we feel jealous of others or inadequate around them, we withdraw. Thomas was wise enough not to do that. If there was any hope, it was in being part of this group not in withdrawing from it.

Suddenly, Jesus was there. Locked doors could not keep Him out. Clearly, His resurrection body was different from His physical body. He could pass through locked doors or just appear or whatever happened. He greeted all of them, “Peace be with you” but then He turned to Thomas. He invited him to put his finger in the nail holes, to see His hands and to put his hand into His side.

Isn’t that good of Jesus? What Thomas needed, Jesus provided. In general, I do not think we have any right to tell God what He must do to satisfy our requirements but Jesus submitted to Thomas’ list of requirements. He didn’t have to. He could have had a stern talk to Thomas. But He didn’t. Thomas was struggling. He wasn’t in a good place. And Jesus met him right there.

How did Jesus view Thomas? Not as someone who needed to be chastised for doubting but as someone who was struggling and needed help – needed Jesus to be gracious.

We said last week that the two people on the road to Emmaus had heard other people say that they had met the risen Jesus but they were still downcast until they met Him themselves. We see exactly the same here. The disciples said they had met Jesus and, no doubt, they were very enthusiastic in their declarations. But that didn’t change Thomas’ life. He needed to meet Jesus himself.

Maybe Thomas was with the others that day because he was hungry to have the same experience. Maybe he was seeking. God had said, through Jeremiah (29:13) “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” God, in His grace, wants to be found. He will reveal Himself to those who seek Him with all their hearts.

I cannot guarantee that Thomas was seeking with all his heart. We are not told that. All we do know is that he was with the other disciples that day. It would have been easier for him to be off in a corner somewhere feeling sorry for himself and avoiding these annoying people who seemed so confident. But he was there. That suggests he wanted to believe; wanted the same experience.

Why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees but do what Thomas wanted? I think the situations were very different. In Matthew 12, just prior to asking for a sign, the Pharisees and teachers of the law had accused Jesus of being Satanic. Jesus had healed a man who, because of demon-possession, was blind and mute. The crowd was amazed and asked “Could this be the Son of David? Could this be the Messiah?” The Pharisees would not accept that Jesus was the Messiah and they did not want the people thinking that. So they said that He cast out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus was evil. He was a servant of Satan.

Jesus strongly rejected that, pointing out their lack of logic and their rejection of the Kingdom of God. He said, “Those who are not with me are against me.” He said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the only unforgivable sin. He said you can tell the quality of a tree by the type of fruit it bears. He called them a brood of vipers. That is when they said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” It is as if they are saying, “We say you are demonic! Prove to us that you are not!”

They did not want to know the truth. They were not genuine. Thomas, I think, was and that is a very different thing. Jesus did not condemn his doubts and his desire for a sign because Jesus knew that Thomas wanted to believe. Jesus responds to that.

But Jesus’ view of Thomas was not entirely positive, was it? He said, “Stop doubting and believe” (v.27). Doubt is not a good place to be. Doubt is real. There might be doubt along the way and we are not condemned for doubting but Jesus’ desire is that we move from doubt to faith. Doubt is real. We will go through times when we question what we have believed. Is it true? Or is this all a big myth?

I think we could argue that Jesus had doubts. Isn’t that what temptation is about? “You know what? I could rule over the whole world without going to the Cross. Satan could give me all this. All I would have to do is worship Him. Why do I not do that?”

Jesus doubted the rightness of God’s plan. Why do it God’s way? Why not side with evil? There are certain benefits of that. Is God’s plan the best way for me? Every temptation we face is a doubt – doubting what God says; doubting that He really knows best.

Certainly, John the Baptist doubted. He had declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” But, later, languishing in prison, He wasn’t at all sure. He sent people to ask Jesus if He really was the Messiah. Elijah had doubts. Jeremiah had doubts. Habakkuk had doubts.

It is neither unusual nor a sin to doubt. But it is a dangerous place to be. Doubts can prompt us to ask questions and to explore more and discover new truths. Doubt can be a catalyst. But doubt can also cause us to go in the opposite direction. Questioning can lead us to a stronger faith but doubts can also lead us away from faith. We might discover more of God or we might turn away from God. Satan caused Eve to doubt and she disobeyed God. Judas obviously began to doubt Jesus and look where that ended. Doubts are a testing time. Which way will we move? Jesus understands our doubts but He wants us to come to faith.

Jesus doubted but He didn’t stay there. When He was tempted, He moved from doubt to faith: “It is written: worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Jesus doubted in the Garden of Gethsemane but He worked it through until He could say, “OK, let’s go” and He walked out to meet Judas and the guards.

When John the Baptist doubted, Jesus said, “Go and tell him what you see. The lame walk, The blind see…” Jesus understood John’s doubts but He wanted Him to move from doubt to faith.

He said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas (as far as we know) did not even need to touch Jesus’ wounds. Thomas was not resistant to believing; he was hungry to believe. He just needed something. Jesus lovingly revealing Himself was enough. Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” It was a moment of revelation reminiscent of Peter’s earlier confession: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “My Lord and my God”. That is a huge statement of faith. And it was very personal for Thomas. It wasn’t just, “You are Lord and God!”. It was “You are my Lord and my God!” It was a huge statement of submission and worship and probably huge relief: “It is true! Jesus is alive!”

Finally, Jesus said to Thomas, “You believed because you saw me; blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” Thomas believed but there is an even greater type of faith – the faith of those who do not see but still believe. That is us, isn’t it? We have the scriptures; we have heaps of evidence; we have the presence of the Holy Spirit but we do not have the advantage of physically seeing Jesus. If we believe that is even greater faith than Thomas’. Blessed are those who believe. Blessed are those who have faith.

When the other disciples had told Thomas that Jesus was alive, he could have pretended to be excited – “O wow, that’s really cool!” – even though he didn’t believe it himself. He could have joined in their songs and prayers when it wasn’t real for him. And he could have stayed in that state forever. But he was honest about his unbelief. The other disciples didn’t reject him because of his unbelief and Jesus responded to his honesty. When we have doubts, it doesn’t help to pretend. We can be honest. We can say that we struggle with certain things. But may our honesty also include an honest desire to move from doubt to faith.

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