I am grateful for the opportunity again to open the Word of God and to be with you under it. As we turn to the gospel according to John, we’re reading a portion of the twentieth chapter. If you are using the pew Bibles, which are in the racks before you, you may find the Scripture printed beginning on page 906 and continuing to page 907. The late Ray Bradbury, in his short story, A Sound of Thunder, tells the story of a man by the name, Echols. Echols is a hunter who is going on an expedition. But it’s the year 2055 and human beings have discovered time travel, so this will be no ordinary hunting expedition. He is going to get a T-Rex. He enters the time machine, he’s given very explicit instructions - what to do and what not to do - but in the course of his time in the past, he steps off the path and unwittingly kills a butterfly. He sees what he has done, he hastens back to the time machine and comes back to the present. Stepping out he discovers that all things have changed. The English language is different, politics is different. And the question Bradbury is posing is, “What difference does it make that a little butterfly has died in the lives of men and women thousands of years later?”
Well I suppose as we step out of the realm of imagination to the world outside our minds, as we turn from something trivial to something monumental, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I’ll ask that very question of our Scripture. What difference does it make that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? We who live a continent away, we who live two thousand years later - what difference does it make to us today, February 9, 2014, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? And it’s that question that the apostle John will answer for us in our Scripture. So before we read, join with me in asking the Lord’s blessing on its reading and preaching as we take it up. Shall we pray?
Our great God and heavenly Father, we do thank You for Your Word because it is Your Word - You have spoken it, every syllable of it. Give us grace that we would sit under it in reverence and humility. Let us listen carefully. Help us to believe all that we hear from Your Word and to respond with the obedience that is the fruit of faith and brings glory to our Savior, in whose name we now pray. Amen.
And now the Word of God. Beginning at John chapter 20 verse 19. We’ll read to the end of the chapter:
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Thus far God’s holy, infallible, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He be pleased to add His blessing to it.
What difference does the Resurrection of Jesus Christ make?
John takes us in verse 19 to the period of time only twelve hours after Jesus emerged from the tomb, risen. It is the evening of that day, the first day of the week, when He rose gloriously from the dead. And the disciples are together in a room. There are ten of them. Judas is gone. Thomas is somewhere else. And they have locked themselves in, into this room, perhaps the Upper Room but certainly in Jerusalem. And the Scripture tells us why it is that they have locked the doors, why they have locked themselves within - they are afraid of the Jews. It’s only been seventy-two hours and they had seen Roman soldiers drag Jesus off and they had seen Him beaten and tormented and hung on a cross to die. And they naturally ask themselves the question, “Are we next?” and so they barricade themselves in. But they can’t barricade themselves from Jesus. He miraculously enters the room. And then John takes us, a week later, and in that week the disciples have met Thomas and they tell Thomas, “Thomas, you will never believe who we saw! We have seen the Lord!” And he won’t believe it. And then the next Sunday, there they all are with Thomas, locked in that room, and Jesus miraculously appears. And He summons from Thomas one of the greatest exclamations of faith in the whole of the New Testament, “My Lord and my God!”
And now John has brought us to the very height of this gospel and he steps out on stage as the director steps out at the close of a play and he begins to talk directly to you and me. He says, “Dear reader, do you know why I wrote this book? I gave you all these signs that fill the first half of this gospel that you may know that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the promised Prophet, Priest, and King whom we have long awaited and He has come in the flesh. And He is the Son of God, the eternal Son of God, in the bosom of the Father, who took on human flesh, sent by the Father, has come up into this world to save sinners.” And he says, “Reader, if you believe in Him, this Christ, then you will have life, eternal life, abundant life, life of the age to come, the life that the risen Jesus gives His own.” So how is it that the resurrection makes a difference? And it is just here that the apostle John says, “Let me show you in two ways the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes.”
I. A New Body
And the first is that there is a new body. There is a new body. The Scripture is training its light on the body of Jesus Christ, the risen body of Jesus Christ. And John says, “I want you to look at this, here on the pages of Scripture, and I want you to understand what it means that Jesus is raised from the dead. And he says there are three things you need to know about His risen humanity and the first is that it is the same body. It is the very same body in which He lived and suffered and died. You see that in verse 20. Jesus comes, He speaks to them, He shows Him His hands and His side and the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. “It’s Jesus! We recognize Him!” And so too with Thomas in verse 27. Now what does it mean that Jesus is raised from the dead? It’s not molting; a snake shedding its skin. Jesus isn’t sloughing off the humanity that He bore for some thirty-odd years, relieved to be free of the burden that He appears and is and shall be in His body. Nor did Jesus assume a new body - having put off the old, He puts on a brand new one entirely. This is His own body. It is, our catechism says, the same body, “the very same body in which He suffered and bled and died, with the essential properties thereof.” You see, those wounds and those scars prove that it’s Jesus. As Ryle notes, “After a great victory, the scars of a conqueror are marks of honor and it is no shame to Jesus Christ to bear these wounds, to identify Him as Jesus Christ.”
A Transformed Body
But you see, that brings us to the second thing. It’s not only a real body, the same body, it is a transformed body. That’s what those wounds say. He’s no longer subject to death because He has conquered death. You see, John has labored to show us that Jesus in fact died on the cross, He really died on the cross in our nature, and He was buried, He was laid in the tomb, and now He has arisen gloriously from the dead and His pierced side and His nail-scarred hands, they prove that He has conquered the grave. He will never die again - immortal, incorruptible. It’s a transformed body. Now why is it that the Scripture wants you and me to know this? Why is it that they want us to know about Jesus’ resurrection body? Because, Christian, Jesus’ resurrection body is the pattern for your resurrection body. Some of you have built homes and you speak with the architect, you talk with the builder, and sometimes they take you to a model home. “Let me show you what your new house is going to look like.” And that’s what the New Testament does for every Christian. “Let me show you what your resurrection body is going to look like.” And that’s what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “Let me tell you about this body that Jesus Christ has won for you and He’s going to give you.” He says it’s a spiritual body. It is transformed and made new by the Holy Spirit. It’s an imperishable body, never to die again. It’s a glorious body, not dishonorable. It’s a powerful body, not weak.
Our Bodies Here and Now
Why do we need to know that? And there are at least two reasons. This Scripture tells you that God cares very much about your body and He cares very much about what you’re doing with your bodies in the here and now. One of my tasks or responsibilities on Christmas morning is, as we gather around the tree, is to sit with the garbage bag. And you know the transformation that takes place. These gifts that are lovingly wrapped in paper and bows and ribbons, off it comes and into the bag it goes and out to the street. And you know, many Christians have been tempted to think, throughout the church’s history, “Well, that’s our body. It’s a place for us to live for a while but then it just gets discarded.” And Jesus is saying here, “No, no. Dear Christian, I came to redeem you, not a part of you but all of you.”
Now why do we need to know that? Because Christ, you understand, Christian, He has redeemed you, all of you, and the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in all of you and that means that Christ has claims on what you do with your body. I wonder if you ever think about things like eating and drinking and exercise and sleep and medicine as things that God cares about. You know Paul has to labor with the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6 to tell them, “Jesus Christ cares very much what you do with your bodies. He cares what you see and what you don’t see. He cares about what you hear and what you don’t hear. He cares about the things that you handle and touch and the things that you don’t handle and touch. Jesus Christ cares very much about this. Do you care about this also?”
An Encouragement: Hope of a Resurrection Body
But there’s something else for us here as well. I told eight-thirty and I tell you, I was thrilled when Billy introduced me as “young.” There was a spark of energy coursing through my person because I’m not feeling that as much as I used to, mostly from people younger than I am. I’m getting older and you’re getting older too. I want you to do a little thought experiment with me. Supposing you’re going out to the parking lot and you find a bottle on the ground and you pick it up and “poof” out comes the genie - anything you want! Tell me you wouldn’t be tempted to ask to live forever. Well it’s in this connection that Gilbert Mylander tells the Greek myth of Tithonus. Tithonus was a Greek mortal man who fell in love with the goddess, Aurora, and she fell in love with him. But you see, there was one problem - he was mortal and she was immortal. And so Tithonus asked her as Tennyson tells it in his poem, “Make me to live forever.” And she grants the request. But he forgets to ask one thing. “Keep me from aging.” And Tithonusis imprisoned in a body that will never die and will always age. And he pleads, in Tennyson’s words, “Take back thy gift!”
I know many of you can relate. You’ve begun to experience that slow breakdown of your bodies. Your senses aren’t as keen as they once were. You don’t hear or see the way you used to. You’ve got chronic pains and the doctor says, “We can help but we’re never going to get rid of them.” Your energies and your strength flags. You’ve got marks of disease and injury in your bodies and your minds aren’t as quick and nimble as they once were. That can be a very hard thing to undergo. That can be a very hard thing to see in the people that you love and care about. And you see here, Christian, Jesus Christ comes alongside you and He says, “For you who trust in Me and for all who trust in Me, this is not the last word because I have conquered death. I have won. And you have the hope, the certain hope, of the resurrection body because of what I have done for you.” That’s why the Puritans used to counsel, meditating each day, on the hope of the resurrection body. That’s not a bad idea.
A Warning: Some Bodies will be raised to Condemnation
But you know there’s one more thing here before we leave this point. Because Jesus has taught in this gospel that all people will be raised but not all people will be raised in conformity to His glorious body. Some will be raised in their bodies to the judgment of condemnation to what the prophet Daniel calls, “shame and everlasting contempt,” and they will be brought before the judgment seat of Christ in their risen bodies and have the just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them and cast away from His presence to be punished, soul and body forever. Now that raises the question, this may be the most important question you can ask, “How can you escape the second death and share in this glorious hope that Jesus Christ is speaking of with His disciples?”
II. A New Commission
And that brings us to the second thing. If there is a new body there is also a new commission. And you see that beginning in verse 19. Jesus comes and He commissions the Twelve. And there are two parts to this commission. First, there is the pronouncement of peace. Look at verse 19. “Peace be with you,” and again verse 21, “Peace be with you.” Then again verse 26, “Peace be with you.” What is Jesus doing? This isn’t just pleasantry, “Hi, how are you?” This is the most wonderful word that could have rung in these disciples’ ears because as much as they were afraid of the Jews, what do you think ran through their minds when they saw Jesus in that room, Jesus whom they had fled and abandoned in His hour of need? I’ll bet their fear increased like you wouldn’t believe. And Jesus says to them, “Peace.”
The Peace of God
Now what is this peace? It is the peace of God. He is saying to them, “Your sins are forgiven. That load of guilt that burdens your conscience, it’s gone. You are accepted with My Father and I am ushering you in as those who have been given this peace as sons and daughters of the living God to a life of fellowship and communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that not even death itself can destroy.” And then He shows them the cost, because after proclaiming peace in verse 19 look at what He does in verse 20. He shows them His hands and His side. “Here, My disciples, is how you know this is no empty greeting because My blood has purchased this peace for you.” But then He tells them, “I want you to go and I want you to declare peace in My name.” Verse 21, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” And as the Father has sent Jesus into the world He is going to send His disciples into the world and to proclaim this message of peace in Jesus Christ and calling men and women to repent and believe in His name. And then verse 23. “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” This is no ecclesiastical or clerical tyranny which the apostles or ministers are to wield over laity. This is the glorious promise that to any soul who puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, this one who proclaims peace may say in His name, “Jesus Christ says, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” But if they scoff and refuse and turn away in unbelief, they are left in their sins.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
But if there’s the pronouncement of peace there is a second thing - the power of the Holy Spirit - and that’s in verse 22. Jesus says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and then He breathed on them. Now what are we supposed to make of this? Some commentators say, “Well this is Pentecost.” The problem, though, is that Pentecost is a full six weeks away, and if you scan ahead eight days later it doesn’t seem that much has changed. There are the disciples; they’re locked in the room. No, Jesus is doing something that you and I are all familiar with. You walk to your mailbox, you open a card, and you see your niece, your grandson, your friend - they’re getting married and they’re going to get married a year from now. “Save the Date!” And you see, that’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s saying to His disciples, “You save the date,” because when He returns to His Father in heaven and receives the promise of the Spirit from His Father in heaven, He will pour out the Spirit in fullness on His people - that Spirit who will bring the life that Jesus died and rose again to win for them. How is it that the Gospel is going to triumph? How is it that it’s going to have any hope of success beyond the locked doors of this room? And Jesus says, “Here’s the answer. It is by My Holy Spirit.”
The church that I grew up in, we had the lectern that would have been, still is as far as I know, right over there. And as the Scripture was read each Sunday there was a little banner that hung underneath - “Spiritus Gladius.” And I looked at that not really knowing what it meant. I thought it was saying something like, “The Holy Spirit is happy.” I didn’t know why that had to be put on the banner! But then I took Latin, as good boys do, and I discovered the meaning of the phrase. It’s the translation of Ephesians 6:17 - “Spiritus Gladius - the Sword of the Spirit” - and that’s what the Word of God is in the hands of the Spirit, to accomplish all of God’s purposes, and there is no force in this world that can stop God from accomplishing what He has purposed to do by His Spirit.
And then Jesus says, “Let me show you what I mean.” And we come to Thomas. Now Thomas is a loyal disciple, he’s shown that earlier in this gospel, and poor Thomas - how many ministers and commentators have laid him on the analyst's’ couch to diagnose his psychological maladies? Put that to the side and focus on what the Scripture says here. What is Thomas’ problem? He will not accept the evidence before him that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. And then he proceeds to lay down requirements - “I will only believe if such and so are the case.” And then Jesus comes and He repeats the very words to Thomas, words that Thomas uttered when Jesus in the flesh was not there with Him, and He invites him, “Come, put your hand in My wounds,” and Thomas is overcome. He says, “My Lord and my God! Now I believe! Now I see!” And this, Jesus Christ says, is what the Holy Spirit does, even in the lives of His own people overcoming citadels of unbelief. And you see, John goes on to say as he steps out from behind the curtain, “You know God’s still doing this today. Jesus hasn’t changed, His Spirit hasn’t changed, and faith hasn’t changed.”
Taking Hold of Christ by Faith
Now as we close, what does this mean for us, this new commission? Let me ask you first, do you have the peace of Jesus Christ? Do you have the peace of Jesus Christ? The great New England transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, was a man of great parts but he was not a Christian. He had a godly aunt who would plead with him, “Henry, make your peace with God!” And Thoreau said, “I did not know that we had ever quarreled.” And I wonder if there are some today who can sympathize and utter those words. And Jesus need only point you to His riven side and His pierced hands because He went to the cross to pay the price for sinner’s sins. He went to the cross to satisfy the justice of the Father and there was no other way, and there is no other Savior. And Jesus says to you, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And He invites you to come and lay hold of Him, turn your back to your sins, trust in Him, and stand clothed in that righteousness which He alone gives, received by faith alone, and know the peace of God that He pronounces.
A People of Busy Faith
But then if you know this peace, what for you? And two things. Did you notice if you read these two chapters every time that Jesus Christ appears to His disciples He gives them something to do. And you see, if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, God has placed you in His people and He puts you to work. “Faith is,” Martin Luther said, “a busy little thing.” And the church is not a slumbering, hibernating bear, waiting for spring to come. We are a beehive of activity. And our commission is to proclaim the peace of Jesus Christ to a world that is at war with God and it’s so easy for the church to lose the plot. And that is why, as the eminent theologian, Yogi Berra said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” You think about that during our Missions Conference. Oh, but you say, “I’m not a missionary. I’m not a minister.” There are many things you can be about; let me give you one. You can pray that God would send His Spirit in power. There is that glorious promise that God makes in Ezekiel 36, this prophecy of the upward Spirit and the next chapter, the valley of the dry bones resurrection. And God says to Israel, “This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them - to increase their people like a flock.” Do you see, Christian? God has said, “I will expand the borders of Zion of My people as My people plead with Me to do so.” You pray that God would send His Spirit and make effective the Word as it goes from place to place, from shore to shore, from one end of the globe to another.
Trusting in the Spirit; Strength to Press On
For some of you this morning, you can’t think about getting to work. It’s all you can do just to stand up. You are coming off an awful week or you are coming on to a week you’ve been dreading. Well you are walking in stygian darkness without so much a pin-prick of life. And you are wondering, “I am a Christian. How is it that I am supposed to put one foot before the next?” And your risen Savior says to you, “Look to the Spirit whom I’ve given you, because the Spirit of Jesus Christ makes the dead alive. The Spirit of Jesus Christ storms the citadels of unbelief even in His own people. And the Spirit of Jesus Christ will be with you all the way so you can stand firm to the end, more than conqueror through Him who loves you.” And you have that promise from the very lips of Jesus Christ. And Jesus says, “Trust Me and then walk with Me.” You see, that’s the power of the resurrection and it makes all the difference in the world because it’s not of this world; it’s out of this world and it’s turning the world upside-down, one person at a time.
Our great God and our heavenly Father, we praise You that Jesus Christ is risen. Help us to understand more and more what this means as we would live and serve and love Him and the callings that You’ve given to each, for we ask this in His name. Amen.
Now let’s rise together and respond using the words of hymn number 286, “Worship Christ, the Risen King!” Remember, we will sing the first four stanzas; after I pronounce the benediction, keep your bulletin nearby and we will sing in response stanza number 5 printed there. Let’s rise and sing.
Remain standing and receive the blessing of the Lord. Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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