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Believe

Date: Apr. 22, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

John 20:1-31

Key Verse: John 20:31

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

In early March of this year, the BBC surveyed more than 2000 British Christians and found that fewer than half of them think Jesus actually died and rose again for the forgiveness of their sins. Only 46% of Christians believe a “key tenet of the Christian faith,” which is that Jesus physically died and rose from the dead as the Bible describes it. On top of that, only 26% of the UK’s general population believes in Jesus’ resurrection. However, the poll also found that 82% of those who attend church at least once a month actually do believe Jesus has risen. The poll raised the question “how much of the Easter story does one have to believe to be a Christian?”

An Anglican Priest told the BBC the reason a lot of people don’t believe in the physical death and resurrection of Jesus is that it “just doesn’t make sense.” The idea that it took Jesus’ brutal death on the cross to bring all of humanity back to God “makes God out to be some kind of weird monster, really,” he said. He pointed to the fact that many believers are struggling with this idea, including a growing number in the evangelical tradition. So, the BBC brought in two subject matter experts to weigh in on the subject, one of which was a Anglican priest who actually holds the belief that a person can be a Christian without believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and another who believes Jesus’ resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. And since it’s Easter Sunday today, I thought that we could hold our own quick survey.

Prior to his death, Jesus told his disciples they would all be scattered and leave him alone. And sure enough, on the night Jesus was arrested, his disciples abandoned him as the soldiers bound him and took him alone to the high priest. Then in a secret rushed farce of a trial Jesus was condemned to death by the Jewish religious leaders. They sent him to Pilate for the sentence to be carried out. Then on a Friday, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus, an innocent man, was brutally beaten, tortured and savagely nailed to a cross. All the while those who put him there, hurled insults at him, humiliating him and mocking him. Then before sundown, Jesus knowing that all would be complete and that Scripture was fulfilled said, “It is finished,” and with that he gave up his spirit and died. His body was taken down, washed and prepared for burial by those who loved him. Joseph gave up his own personal tomb and Nicodemus brought 75lbs of spices as they wrapped Jesus’ body with linens in accordance with Jewish burial customs. When they finished, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb. Jesus’ enemies celebrated the Passover as usual while his followers mourned in sorrow for two days straight until Sunday morning which is where our passage begins.

I’ve divided up this passage into two sections, the encounters that happen at the tomb and the encounters in the locked room. So let’s get started and take a look at verses 1-2, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”” The first encounter at the tomb involves Mary and several other women. They had been mourning for the past two days and they wanted to say goodbye to Jesus one last time. Mary had a very personal relationship with Jesus, for he had freed her of her demon possession and she loved him. As they approached the tomb, something was wrong, the heavy stone was moved. This was odd, for there were roman guards posted to make sure nothing happened to the tomb. The Romans took grave robbing seriously, an archaeological dig discovered an inscription found at Nazareth records a decree by the emperor Claudius making it a capital offence to steal a body. And the Pharisees made it clear that they didn’t want anyone messing around with Jesus’ grave site, they were the ones to insist on having the tomb guarded. However, when Mary got there, she found the tomb empty. Mary was distraught and speculated someone stole Jesus’ body. So, she ran to get help, presumably to try and find Jesus’ body. At this point Mary still thinks Jesus is dead, Jesus’ resurrection was the farthest thing from her mind.

The second encounter at the tomb involved Peter and John. Let’s see what happened with them in verses 3-7. “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. ” As soon as Peter and John hear the news from Mary, they both ran to the tomb. John got there first, but hesitates on going in. We’re not told why, maybe he didn’t want to see a dead body? Peter, although slower, finally arrives and he goes right in. He was bolder than John and didn’t have a problem of rushing in. (Peter did have a bit of a habit of acting without thinking…) When he entered the tomb, he saw what Jesus’ body was wrapped in, but he didn’t find his body. And he’s not sure what to make of it. The place wasn’t in shambles, as if it had been robbed. Exactly the opposite, things looked very neat. The 1974 NIV translation stated that the head cloth was set apart and folded up neatly. So, from the evidence, it doesn’t appear as if Jesus’ body has been stolen. I read this from a commentary as I was preparing this message: “It has been suggested, but cannot be proved, that Jesus’ resurrected body simply passed through the linen strips, leaving them still in the shape of his body, though somewhat collapsed. Perhaps attentive readers of John are meant to note the difference between Lazarus’ restoration to life and Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus emerged from the tomb still ‘wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face’ and he had to be released by others (11:44), whereas in the case of Jesus the linen strips and burial cloth were simply left behind when he rose from the dead.” The commenter makes an interesting point.

John’s encounter with the empty tomb would be next. Take a look at verses 8-10. ““Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.”” John finally follows Peter into the tomb and as soon as he sees he believes. I find the reaction of these two disciples somewhat puzzling. Peter doesn’t seem to understand the significance of what he had just seen, but John does, and yet for some reason John keeps it to himself. Even though John believes, he does nothing with his belief. They simply go back to their homes. However, it says that they didn’t understand from Scripture that Jesus HAD to rise from the dead. They went back to hiding, their old lives, fishing. Their faith had to grow and actually it wasn’t until Pentecost did, they begin to be active in their faith and do anything. Why did Jesus HAVE to rise from the dead? To prove that he was who he claimed to be, the Son of God. According to Luke, the risen Jesus himself, after he was raised, opened the eyes of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, i.e. what was written about him starting with the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’ (Luke 24:25–27, 44–46).

Now let’s take a look at Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in verses 11-18. ““11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.””

Mary was still devastated, crying, losing hope. Maybe she wondered, “why would they do this, haven’t they done enough to him?” However, this time when she looked in, she saw two angels. Interestingly, this doesn’t surprise her. Didn’t she wonder where they came from? Anyway, the angels asked her why she was crying. They didn’t understand why she was sad, because they knew that Jesus was not dead, he was alive. She thought grave robbers had hit the tomb and took Jesus’ body. Then next Jesus asked her why she was crying, but she thought Jesus was the gardener. (I think that is funny). As soon as Jesus said her name, she recognized who he was. The Bible says, the shepherd calls his sheep by name and the sheep recognized their shepherd’s voice (v10:3–4). This implies that Jesus was Mary’s shepherd. What Jesus tells her was so personal, calling God, my God and your God, my Father and your Father. They share the same relation. Mary was so happy that she wanted to hug Jesus but he didn’t want her to touch him because he must have just risen from the dead (maybe he was still hot out of the oven), because he hadn’t gone to see his father yet. Then Jesus gives her a task, and tells her to go tell the disciples, so she ran off and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord.

The next section takes place in the locked room as the disciples have their first encounter with the risen Jesus. Take a look at verses 19-23. ““19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, 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’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.””” It has been about 15 or so hours since Jesus had appeared to Mary and now the disciples had locked themselves in a room because they thought the Pharisees were going to kill them next. When Jesus suddenly appeared with them and wished them peace. The disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him three times, would have felt deeply ashamed that they had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. When Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors, his greeting of ‘Peace be with you!’ (maybe he said shalom) showed he was not holding their failures against them; rather, he was offering a restored relationship. Then Jesus showed them his wounds from the crucifixion. By showing them the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side Jesus removed any doubt they had that the one who stood before them in that locked room was Jesus crucified but now risen from the dead. I find it interesting that he still had his wounds on his hands and side, but his face and head were ok.

Then Jesus wished them peace a second time. As Jesus repeated his greeting Peace be with you! This time it came with a commission for his disciples. Instead of reproaching them for their failures, he recommissioned them as his emissaries. In the end, they were over joyed when they saw the Lord. Jesus actually predicted that the disciples’ sorrow at his death would be turned to joy following his resurrection (16:20–22), and now the disciples were overjoyed when they saw him. Then Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit, just as he said he would do.

The disciples then have their second encounter (Thomas’ first) with the risen Jesus in verses 24-29, ““24 Now Thomas (also known as 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.” 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.””” Thomas missed out on seeing Jesus the first time and when the others told him about their encounter, he was adamant about not believing them. When you first read it, it looks like Thomas was more unbelieving than the other disciples, but this wasn’t necessarily the case. The other disciples didn’t seem to believe Mary Magdalene when she said she had seen the Lord—it was not until Jesus appeared to them that they believed it was him and then they were filled with joy. Thomas said he would only believe it if he saw and put his finger in Jesus’ nail pierced hands, and put his hand into Jesus’ side. Thomas was a pretty freaky guy.

Quite some time elapsed before Thomas’ doubts were dealt with: A week later, Jesus appeared to them again through a locked door. Jesus graciously addressed everyone one of Thomas’ doubts. But then he challenged Thomas to stop doubting and to believe. Immediately Thomas believed. Thomas’ confession is not only the last, but maybe also the most climactic confession in John’s Gospel. Not only did he confess Jesus as his Lord, but also his God. It was a strongly personal confession. By recording it John brings his readers back to the opening verse of his book, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ When Thomas came to believe, because he saw the risen Lord, Jesus didn’t praise him, rather, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon those who have not seen the risen Jesus yet have believed in him. The Jews normally worshipped on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, but the early Christians after meeting the risen Jesus, started worshipping on Sunday because that is when Jesus rose from the dead.

And as we come to the end of our passage John gives us the reason, he wrote this book. Take a look at verses 30-31. “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This is John’s own personal testimony as to who Jesus is. He was a key eye witness with a unique vantage point into Jesus’ life. John may have not done much when he first saw the empty tomb, but he changed that when he wrote this book with us in mind, for those who seek to know the truth about Jesus. So that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God. And by believing this, we may have eternal life. This is the crux of the whole Bible.

The scripture explains why Jesus had to die and rise again. St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 extensively on the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Jesus died, he paid the price that sin demanded. It was through his death that we have been freed. It was through his resurrection that Jesus proved he was who he claimed to be. Thus, giving us a living hope and opening the way for us to enter the kingdom of God. If Jesus didn’t rise, then the dead are not raised and our faith would be futile. But in a twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet those who believe in Christ will be raised with an imperishable body giving us victory over death.

Believing is both simple and difficult. Simple in that it doesn’t require vast wealth, physical effort, years of pursuit and dedication, all we have to do is just believe. And difficult because we are surrounded by unbelief. Now-a-days people say that you have to be an idiot to believe in God. Richard Dawkins (an outspoken atheist) said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” Is this true? Does God want us to turn our brains off and have blind faith? On the contrary, he wants us to pursue wisdom and think about what we believe. The Bible tells us “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Prov 4:7) God doesn’t want people walking around like zombies with no thoughts of our own. He wants us to think deeply and seek understanding and gain wisdom.

Let’s take a listen to one person’s search for wisdom. Lee earned his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri and his Master of Studies in Law at Yale Law School. He was a journalist for fourteen years at The Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, winning Illinois' highest honor for public service journalism from United Press International. He also led a team that won UPI's top award for investigative reporting in Illinois. He became well known when he wrote a series of articles exposing the Ford Pinto's propensity to explode after a collision. (Bernard Judge, vice president and editor of the Law Bulletin Publishing Co., was Strobel's boss during his Tribune years. "He was outstanding in his job," remembers Judge, noting in particular a series exposing the Ford Pinto's propensity to explode after a collision. The Pinto case, and Strobel's coverage of the trial, grew into a book called "Reckless Homicide," which has been used as a supplementary text in some law schools. "He was always a gentleman and was never short with anyone," Judge added. "He was the genuine article.") 

To believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection is a gift from God. At a time when the Pharisees and Sadducees were demanding a sign, Jesus said none will be given except the sign of Jonah, and then Jesus asked them who he was… “15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:15-17) Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question was a sign to them given by God, but the Pharisees would not get such a sign because they refused to believe. It is one thing to not know who Jesus is, but it is quite another to reject who he is.

Ever since the beginning God has been concern about our belief. When Abram believed God, he was credited with righteousness. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) When his people didn’t believe God lamented. “The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” (Nu 14:11) God told the prophet Isaiah. ““You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” (Isa 43:10) The word believe is mentioned almost 300 times in the Bible. So why is God so concerned with belief in Jesus? Because it’s a matter of life and death. “16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”” (Mk 16:14,16) And John that’s why John wrote this book so that we might believe and have life in Jesus’ name. That’s why Paul passed it out to us as of first importance.

So now let’s come back to the survey question, “How much of the Easter story do we have to believe to be a Christian?” How do you answer this question? We must believe that Jesus lived and walked the earth, that he died, that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That he is the Son of God and our Messiah. When we do, our lives are changed. Before John Newton wrote Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, he was a slave trader. But when he met Jesus personally, he life was impacted and he became a new person. Likewise, when we meet Jesus personally our lives should change as well.

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I Will Spare Them No Longer

Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

  “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
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