Tuesday, April 22, 2014

God Strengthens Faith!



IN OUR scripture study for this week we read from the Gospel According to Saint John. For your perusal here, I offer my edited thoughts previously written on the subject. In this text, I find that we encounter a wondrous event wherein Jesus appeared to the disciples. To set the historical stage written, know that the disciples had already been informed by the women about the empty tomb. One of the women, named Mary, had even encountered the Risen Jesus amid the garden. Here, we join the account that now stressed to first century readers concerning the Resurrected Christ Jesus. It boldly states that he was physically raised from the dead, and was not an apparition simply conjured by grief-stricken minds…

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut 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 send 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 
 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 print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." 
 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but 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 be faithless, but believing." 
 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 believe." 
 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
                                                                             (John 20:19-31)

Know the Truth!
The disciples were gathered in the upper room on an evening after the Resurrection. It was a secret place to hide; a tomb of their selection. After the Lord’s grave was found to be empty, Christians throughout the city were being hunted by those in power. The empty tomb and its possible repercussions fostered a very turbulent time after the Passover festival. The upper room hid the shocked group, secured from the Jewish temple leaders.
 Historically, Passover celebrations had marked the prophetic sacrifice of lambs killed to save those whom God chose to spare from death and lead through Sinai’s desert wilderness. With that celebration over, crowds of people had begun to leave the city. The disciples still fearfully hidden, cowered in like nature to those of the past… historic Jews who were once imprisoned in Egypt.
 The men who had been called by Christ during his ministry were very afraid. Just as Moses had called to the children of Israel... those Jews that marched out of Egypt in times of old were afraid. You see, the disciples knew that Moses did not die in Egypt. He had been with them. Jesus our Lord, however, had died. He was was not standing in their midst telling them to go with him across the sea.
 But then Jesus suddenly appeared. The Word spoke to those in hiding. He spoke with calming words. A traditional “Peace be with you” (“eirene umin” in the Greek) was given. The greeting must have echoed in some respect like the messenger at the tomb that had told Mary… “Do not be afraid”. The words came out as asking for a peace that existed beyond all understanding. But the words fell on fearful ears.
 It may seem now to us that resurrection faith was insufficiently held within them. But, lest we sinfully consider the words spoken in that upper room, let us not judge our predecessors. Can we intellectually imagine the impact of hearing the voice of one believed to be dead? They suddenly heard Jesus’ voice!
 I think that we certainly cannot imagine the shock that came upon the men. Bedlam resulted. I venture that fear, crying, yelling and even more... began to shake the men who hid in that room even though they had been told by the women that he had risen.
 After the din quieted somewhat, a first daring soul moved beyond initial shock and doubt. Then, one by one, all were amazed by bodily proof about the Lord’s identity. John revealed to his churches that as the tumult lessened, Jesus’ aim was to empower them. Jesus reminded them that what had happened had been prophetically promised. Let us take due note that here at this point in the telling... is where John quickly changes our focus. John revealed to his hearers that not all were there.
 John told that Thomas was not present. As readers and hearers today who arrive untimely, we are also brought now into the scene. Those who hear the news of an empty tomb join across the centuries to understand the report. John told his readers that the message of the empty tomb was difficult for Thomas. I think that many who receive this gospel report today can surely identify with this. Many persons I know struggle today with intellectually gripping the Resurrection report. It is a hard thing indeed. We seek evidence!
 But today, as over centuries of witness, the Truth of the miracle comes to us as a gift. It is a gift wrapped in faith provided by the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, thus rewarded we are called to accept what John’s churches came to understand. Know this! Faith to believe in this miracle only comes from God’s Word as provided through the Holy Spirit. For this reason we search the Word, comprehending that scripture surely declares scripture! And faith comes by the receiving of this spiritual knowledge. As Saint Paul echoed..,

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
 
The stage was thus described as set wonderfully by John’s writing. The writer brought Thomas face-to-face with the Risen Lord, and we as readers now become witnesses to the scene as well. The Truth is revealed to all! Immediately, the normative declaration was made, "My Lord and my God!" Thus with exclamatory zeal kingdom building was furthered.

Tell This Truth!
Examine the words of John looking for lessons in our own day. We need only look to the history of the Christian church the latter years of the first century. John’s gospel was likely written c.85-95, as a highly symbolic telling. It included rather sophisticated symbols of double entendre. In this gospel, many forms of storytelling which are found in classical Greek texts are used. Therefore, we collectively assume that John wrote primarily to Greek or dispersed and highly educated Hebrews that gathered within the heart of the Roman Empire. His symbolic writing style points out a witness subtly meant to attract upper, educated classes, as well as the lesser learned.
 Were educated and moneyed persons confronted by the gospel witness? If the answer affirms, we modern persons may then liken ourselves to those of the world who had arrived in finance and education. Are we then not challenged also by this gospel reading?
 Some biblical authorities say that the original gospel text ended here. It is taught that the following chapter was applied by a later editor. Therefore, if these scholars are correct, the initial telling ends with a rather appropriate phrase. The text tells us why this gospel writing even exists. Blessed John stated that he wrote this enchanting storytelling, so… “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
 Therefore, holding to this scriptural appraisal, we in modern society are now invited to highly recommend the Gospel of John. I especially contend that it be placed on the “must read” list for those who like a good book. When they say to us after reading, “How is this thing... this Resurrection possible…?”, surely we are invited to witness about the faith given to us. We may say with certainty that the Spirit answers… “With God all things are possible!”
 Therefore it is for us who are made wealthy in the knowledge of our redemption, those who have been granted faith without our seeing the tomb… to be empowered by the Spirit. In the modern world we are called to tell the great story concerning the saving grace of Almighty God.

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