Personal, Pointed, at the Point of Need
This resurrection Sunday we will both be deviating from our sermon series while at the same time remaining within. We have been studying the Book of John since the beginning of the year but today we will jump foreword in the book to chapter twenty and the story of Jesus’ resurrection where we will be looking at three of His eleven post-resurrection encounters that are recorded in Scriptures. Something that all of us should realize is that when Jesus appeared to people after His resurrection, He always appeared to believers – His elect. Sometimes the believer’s faith was weak such as we will see this morning, but they were believers nonetheless. For some of you who are sitting before me this morning this may be the only week out of the year that you come to church. For you, this morning’s message may seem simplistic, mythical, or even foolishness. The story of Christ, and furthermore the Bible as a whole, will either drive you to faith and hope, or cause you to stumble. Jesus only shows Himself to those who are able to hear His voice, those whom the Father has given Him. Jesus never showed Himself after His resurrection to the Pharisees and Scribes, the religious people who placed greater faith in their ability to be religious, or the masses that were still present in Jerusalem after the Passover. For you who have joined us this one week out of the year, we are glad that you are here this morning and you are always welcome to join us. Here at GCF Batangas the coffee is free-flowing, so please help yourselves.
For those of you who are visiting us but are indeed interested in knowing the risen Lord, and for you the Greenhills Batangas church body, what we will discover this morning is how our Lord and Savior will show Himself to you; He will comfort you, He will empower you to be bold in ministry, and He will meet with you at your point of doubt to give you the strength to press on in your personal callings in life.
One of the greatest benefits to us as Christians regarding the resurrection of our Lord, and His subsequent ascension, is how the truth builds hope into the lives of believers. God, in His wisdom, has deemed that we must live lives in a sinful body and fallen world. This life can rob us of all joy and meaning, yet that is not what God has intended for His children. Several weeks ago, Deaconess Ann [Mayo], Alvin [Angles] and his wife, Brother Ariel, and I were at a Feeding Program in Calicanto. At the site there were two small boys no older than six years old. They were not washed and it appeared that they were not intending to join the program even though they did appear to be undernourished. I asked if they were going to join us and I was told that they had not been present at the initial weigh-in and deworming. We as a team decided that if there was excessive food at the end of the feeding that they could have some and that we will have the Barangay Health officials weigh them. As Alvin was interacting with them it was discovered that their parents are gone [I’m not sure where] and that they just sleep at different homes throughout the community. The older boy, who was only six years old, told Alvin that he no longer cares to live. Six years old and already forming a mindset of having no hope in life. We need to always be looking forward to the day that we unite with the Lord. For the disciples of Jesus, they had their faith tested when Jesus was arrested and crucified. They were left in despair as evidenced by the fact that they remained huddled together too fearful to be Christ’s leaders on whom He will build His Church. Yet the Lord rectified this situation by showing Himself to them. Let me share with you that story so that we may see together how it all unfolds.
In the first nine verses of John chapter twenty we discover that Jesus was indeed resurrected. Mary Magdalene discovered the stone rolled away and that the body of Jesus was missing; after which she reported her findings to Peter and John. The two disciples investigated the claim and found it to be so. Prior to His crucifixion Jesus taught the disciples that He would indeed resurrect. This they knew! Not long before His arrest Jesus taught of the resurrection when He resurrected Lazarus. Now on the morning of His resurrection they discovered evidence that collaborated His claims. They saw the large stone, which had been sealed by the Romans, rolled away – no easy task in and of its self. Then they also saw the linen wrappings present and still folded in a manner consistent with Him passing through the garments. Grave robbers would not have taken the time to unwrap the body, and if they, for some unknown reason, did so, they would have piled them the same way we pile our dirty clothes. Notice if you will that in John 20:8 the evidence was adequate enough to cause John to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, as presented in John 20:9. At this time the two disciples left the scene and Mary was alone, sobbing.
As Mary wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels who asked her rhetorically why does she weep? As Mary was the only person present, and in view of the fact that John recorded in his gospel that the two beings inside were indeed angels, this knowledge must have come from Mary. Thus Mary did indeed realize that she was seeing angels, and this astonishing event should have caused her to realize that something out of the ordinary was taking place. Let’s now read a portion of text to glean the first resurrection encounter that we will reflect on this morning:
John 20:14–16 (NASB95) — 14 “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” 15 “Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”” 16 “Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).”
It is interesting to note that when Jesus did appear to Mary, He revealed Himself in a manner that portrayed Him as being a common man. The timeline of this event is after the work of the cross had been completed. He was clothed, and this was not the case when He was suspended on the cross. After His death, He was wrapped in burial cloths, but those were shown to still be in the grave. Somehow, unknown to us, He now appears clothed. He had full right at this time to be donned in His kingly robes, which I suspect will be a common site we’ll see after we are united with Him. Yet here He was ordinary, He was approachable. Jesus asked Mary the same question that the angels asked; “why are you weeping.” Yet He expands the query to also ask her whom does she seek specifically. Mary did not recognize Jesus, and this is understandable as the last time she saw Him not only was He dead, but likely looked like He should have been dead, after enduring His beatings. Yet here was Jesus, appearing common, approachable, and asking the questions ‘why weep’ and ‘whom do you seek?’
For all of us who are children of God, at some point in time, Jesus likely approached us and asked us why we were weeping. For some of us we were weeping over some vice or addiction such as alcohol and drunkenness, drug abuse or gambling. For others we were weeping over the fact that our false religion or false god has failed us. The love of money has failed many of us, or the love of material possessions, or our education and degrees that have not satisfied; for others we are left with a hollowness after engaging in our religious works. We have just passed through a season where the homes to the right of my home have hired a religion to chant the gospels in a mournful fashion, yet the next night the homes to the left of us hired those same chanters. Yet at this very moment those who engaged in such religious activities, so as to uphold their self-righteousness, are left hollow as they, the religious activities, provide no merit in appeasing the anger of God, anger spurned on by those very sins of self-justifying religious activities.
Jesus also asked each of us at some time “whom do you seek?” For many of us we have found Him; but for some of you He still asks “whom do you seek?” As Jesus was willing to reveal Himself to Mary, He is willing to reveal Himself to you as well. Jesus called out her name, and she recognized the Lord. Jesus maybe calling out your name, are you too willing to recognize Him?
In John 20:17 we see a very interesting encounter: “Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” When I first read this passage I was left wondering why Jesus seemed so cold to Mary; it appeared to me that He was pushing her away. But that is not what is actually taking place here. For Mary, she actually knew Jesus the man. She was Galilean as was Jesus. Jesus cast seven demons from her. She had a real personal and interactive relationship with Jesus, as did all those who followed Him while He was in His earthly flesh. Yet Jesus is seen here in John twenty reminding her of His teaching that He will indeed leave them and ascend back to heaven to be with the Father. What none of the disciples of Jesus were able to comprehend prior to the resurrection was that it was not the will of the Father for the Son to remain; Jesus had to return. Here in John 20:17 Jesus was simply reminding her of what He previously taught. Though she wanted to be with Him, He had to return. This now brings us to the second post-resurrection encounter recorded by John the Beloved.
In John 20:19-23 we find the disciples locked inside a room because of their fears. They abandoned Jesus while He was in His greatest time of suffering and now they feared the same torment for themselves. Yet Jesus comes to them and the first thing He offers are words of comfort; “Peace be with you.” After Jesus offered them His words of comfort He then offers them proof that He was indeed Him. The disciples did not need proof that He was resurrected as He was standing before them. Yet what they did need was proof that it was indeed Jesus that was in their midst, thus He shows them His scars from being nailed to the cross and the puncture from the sword piercing. Once the evidence proved that it was indeed Jesus, the disciples rejoiced for His predictions regarding His resurrection were unfolding before their eyes. Let’s take a greater look into the story:
John 20:21–23 (NASB95) — 21 “So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”” 22 “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.””
In verse 21 Jesus gives the disciples an overview of their upcoming marching orders and that is they are going to be sent out. They have been told previously that they were going to be instrumental in founding the Church. They were not completely clear as to what the Church was going to be, but they did at the very least hear the term. But then Jesus does something noteworthy in verse 22 and that is He breathed on them and then stated “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He blew on them, like blowing on a candle. Then He told them to receive the Holy Spirit. This was an illustrative prophetic act pointing to the soon coming day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church. We surmise that the Holy Spirit did not come at this time for we will soon discover that eight days later they were still locked inside due to fear. When the Holy Spirit came, fear departed! But for now, the disciples were still in the grips of fear. I’m sure that during those brief moments when Jesus was with them their fears were calmed, but Jesus did not remain with them long. After Jesus blew on them, an illustration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, He then brought clarity to what they were to do. Jesus tells them “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” This body of truth Jesus already taught and instilled in them. What Jesus did here was tie together the marching orders of going with the presence of the Holy Spirit furthermore having the objective of bringing forgiveness of sins to all who will believe [later in the Great Commission to what extent they will need to go will be fully revealed – to the ends of the earth]. In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells them to preach repentance, which is our proof of faith.
Yet what exactly was Jesus saying when He says “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained?” Is Jesus granting power to the disciples to actually forgive sins, or, to narrow it down, just to the Apostles, or to narrow it further, to Peter and his successors? In verse 22 we detect that what Jesus was illustrating is that all who were present would receive the Holy Spirit, and following, those who receive the Holy Spirit would have some type of authority. Thus it is not just Peter and the Popes that Jesus is speaking to but rather the Church. So does the Church have authority to forgive sins? That is, because we proclaim to someone that their sins are forgiven are their sins forgiven as a result of our proclamation? No! Nowhere in scriptures do we see this. Only God can forgive sins, and He does so based on the completed work of Christ. We preach the gospel, yes! Those who hear repent and believe, yes! But it is God who declares that the penalty has been paid at which time forgiveness takes place. So what, if any, authority has Jesus given us in verse 22? Jesus is not giving us authority to impute the forgiveness of sins, He is giving us the Holy Spirit who will give us the wisdom needed to discern if someone actually believes the gospel by which their sins can be forgiven.
My daughter has a friend, who she constantly invites to church, but the friend always has an excuse for not wanting to come. She needs to study, or she needs to do her laundry, etcetera. Yet my daughter’s friend will tell Timi Louise that she does believe in God. When Timi asks me why the friend does not want to go to church, I then explain to Timi Louise the process of salvation; if we truly believe that God has forgiven us because of what Christ paid for on the cross, and if we are willing to turn from our sins, then God will declare that we are forgiven, and give us His Holy Spirit who will help us turn away from our sin, and who will give us a desire to go to church. If a person does not want to go to church, then they likely do not have the Holy Spirit, and thus their sins have not been forgiven. We as Christians can declare that. At times we are told that we are being arrogant or prideful if we say we “know” that our sins are forgiven. Yet this critique, in reality, undermines faith and gives room for doubt. One of the main themes of the gospel of John is that we must believe, believe that we are saved by faith; we believe the gospel and then we sustain that same belief throughout the duration of our lifetime, and this is faith! To say, at any time, that we are unsure if we are forgiven is doubt, and doubt opposes faith.
Now to take our understanding of faith one step further, to be able to, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, evaluate what another person says regarding their concept of salvation, and to be able to make a judgment call (without being judgmental), is what Jesus is indicating everyone who receives the Holy Spirit will be able to achieve. The purpose that we receive the ability to discern one’s faith is to help them understand where they stand before God. They need to understand that they are still in their sins, especially if they may be confused morally and religiously. If a person never understands that they are still guilty of sin then they will be lost, and that is not the desire of God. The devil wants to confuse the issue thus he tells the Church that we can’t know another person’s faith, and that its a personal matter between them and God. Yet Jesus tells us “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” You can discern, help them understand.
There is a third post-resurrection encounter recorded in the gospel of John, and this one helps us understand that Jesus is willing to meet a person at the point of their personal crisis of faith. When Jesus visited His disciples in John’s second encounter we found them hiding due to fear of being associated with Jesus and thus possibly having to endure the same treatment that Jesus suffered. Yet during that encounter Thomas was not amongst them. Now just over a week has past and Thomas has heard the stories of how Jesus has been resurrected and has been appearing to select disciples. Yet this was insufficient evidence to sway Thomas’ faltering faith. Thus Jesus reappears again to the concealed band of disciples, this time with Thomas present, so as to offer proof of His resurrection and strengthen the faith of those who are weak. During this encounter, Jesus turns purposely towards Thomas and offers the physical evidence that proved that He – Jesus – the person standing before him, was indeed the Jesus whom he knew was crucified. This evidence was enough to stabilize the faith of Thomas and in turn Thomas declared that Jesus was his Lord and God. Thomas’ declaration is the actual end goal of all evangelism; bringing people to understand that the savior is indeed our Lord and God. What is of particular interest is John 20:29, which states: “Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When Jesus informed Mary Magdalene that He was to ascend back to the Father, this meant that not only was He to be absent from her presence, but also that all of humanity would not be able to see the physically resurrected Lord until the time of His return. His absence is necessary for God to develop people of faith; for a requirement of ultimate faith is for us as people to be convinced of something we cannot see. That is, all believers from the time of the ascension of Christ until His second advent, will be believing the gospel message that places hope in the resurrected Savior whom we cannot actually see. This is to demonstrate the wisdom of God! Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul goes on to explain in first Corinthians chapter one that the doctrine of resurrection will be seen as foolishness to the self-proclaimed wise-people of this world. Yet with Jesus, who is now in His “spiritual/human” body, being in heaven rather than here on earth, the greatest evidence of Him being resurrected – Himself – is not available for us to witness. Thus we who hear the gospel and come to a point that we can state as Thomas has done – that Jesus is Lord and God – are exercising a greater degree of faith. That not only exalts the wisdom of God to a greater degree, but also results in God pronouncing a blessing on those who believe.
Yet the primary point that I want to draw is not that a greater degree of faith results in a greater degree of glory for our Savior, but rather Jesus was willing to meet Thomas at his great crisis of faith. What held true for Thomas holds true for us as well. Often a crisis of faith occurs in proximity to the time of our salvation. This was true for me when I was convicted of my sinful lifestyle by the words of a drunkard. This was true for my wife who experienced a crisis of faith caused by the loss of one of her brothers. If you think back to the time that you initially placed true faith in our Lord you may recall that you too were experiencing a crisis of faith. Yet to experience waning faith is a characteristic of all believers. We do get overwhelmed with the pressures of life and can be tempted to doubt. Yet we should respond as Deaconess Tess did, who testified to which in her story that she shared during the anniversary service a few weeks back, and respond in prayer. Jesus will do what it takes to strengthen us.
Let’s now review what we have been looking at thus far today and see if we can find the common denominator that helps us understand why John picked these three resurrection encounters to include in his gospel, and then draw out some applications. First we saw that Jesus was approachable and willing to meet Mary as an individual, calling her by name, and asking her two questions that directed her attention to what it was that she was seeking. Second, that Jesus illustrated a previous promise of the soon to come Holy Spirit who would aid the Church in helping others understand their sin as we share the Gospel with them. Third, Jesus was willing to meet the person at the point of their personal crisis of faith. The common denominator is Jesus indeed wants to draw sinful people unto Himself and that He will prove Himself, and the Gospel, to those who are willing to believe.
For many of us, Jesus has already called our names and we heard His voice. We have heard Him state “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” We have heard Him say ‘You can know Me, the truth, and I the truth will set you free.’ We have heard Him say ‘all who hunger or thirst for Me I will satisfy.’ For some of you, He is calling you right now. Like Mary, you know that it is His voice that you are hearing and that He is calling your name. What is it that causes you to weep such as Mary wept? Who is it that you search for such as Mary sought? Is He the risen Jesus Christ our Lord and God, or is He just a gardener to you?
For us the elect whom has received the Holy Spirit, have you sharpened your understanding of faith to recognize the difference between faith and doubt? Are you bold enough to call sin, sin, or are you allowing the world to conform you? Is a white lie not really a lie but more of a statement that is told jokingly, or is a white lie a lie? Do liars go to Hell? The Bible states that they will! But do we not all tell lies? Yes! Yet are we forgiven and declared free from the guilt of sin thus no longer considered a liar in a legal sense by the Father? I am! Can you say with me “I am,” or do you feel that we cannot know for sure and doubt? John tells us here in John 20:31 “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Are we as Christians able to say that homosexuality is a sin? Are we able to say that murder is a sin and life begins at conception thus abortion is a sin. Are you able to say that any radical ideology that promotes death outside of a judicial system is murder and not sanctioned by God? These are areas where the world system will tell you that you have no right to judge; but this is contrary to what Jesus told us: “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” As well, it is essential that we tell others that their sins are indeed sin and they remain guilty before a holy God. Without such knowledge the people are lost in their sins!
For some of you, you may still embrace the sins that you enjoy. Drinking sessions that lead to drunkenness, self-reliance, religious works that include idolatry, the physical gratification of your lustful desires. For you, Jesus is calling you by name. He wants you to understand that your sins are separating you from His love, love that He demonstrated to you two-thousand years ago by dying for the penalty of your sins. The world will tell us that the heart wants what it wants and no one can change that. Yes, the heart wants what it wants, and for all of us as sinful human beings that will mean rebellion and more sin. The young boy in Calicanto despaired of life! Recently, while I was teaching my daughter that to be responsible she needs to throw her trash in the trashcan, her comment was “I don’t like this life, why do I have to work?” I chuckled; but the heart wants what it wants. Yet the world is wrong when it tells us that no one change that. We cannot, but He can. HE can!!!
For some of you, you struggle with doubt. You are saying to yourself “I am not sure that I am saved.” “I struggle with disbelief.” He will meet you where you are. He will offer to you the proof that you need to strengthen your faith. Are you willing, as Mary was, to fall at His feet and grasp Him firmly?
Thomas is known as the “Doubter.” When Jesus said that He was going back to the vicinity of Jerusalem the other disciples warned that the Jews wanted to kill Him, and Thomas, well, Thomas just sighed and basically said “let’s get this over with.” Yet Jesus offered him the evidence that he needed to bring him to a point where he could say that Jesus was indeed Lord and God.
Back in 2003 or 2004 I was in India assisting in the training of evangelists when I heard a story that truly blessed my heart. A young man that we were training was from the southwest section of India and his church descended directly from ministry efforts conducted by “Good Ole Doubting Thomas.” Thomas eventually left Jerusalem and made his way to a Jewish community that formed after the dispersal we read about in the Old Testament. There, amongst the Jews who were buyers and exporters of spice, Thomas evangelized both those buyers and sellers. Some churches were formed, and some of those churches remain until today.
To God be the glory.