Outline for the sermon preached on April 15, 2007 in the 10 AM worship service at the Marbury Church of God.
Today’s text: John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, 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. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt 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 come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
We are talking today about the church’s power. In this passage we see that the infant church, consisting on that first Easter evening of a group of frightened disciples, began to be empowered by the risen Christ. This empowerment involved a process begun that night and continuing over many days. It was not to be manifest until the outpouring of Pentecost, but God’s miraculous working is seldom instantaneous with no preparation. So here we will see some aspects of the power the church was to receive. (ref. Acts 1:8).
The power of Presence
The church’s power begins with Christ’s presence. They had locked the doors in fear, but the risen Christ can penetrate the barriers of fear that arise in our hearts. Just when things seem to be at their worst, when all hope has been dashed, when the worst that could happen has happened, and there seems nothing for it but to cower and hide, try to disappear, forget about the grand hopes of former days and just figure out how to survive — there comes Jesus, ready to provide a Presence that will never leave. “I will never leave you or forsake you“ is his promise, and indeed later he tells this same group, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.“ It’s the same promise he had given long ago to Moses: “My Presence will go with you.” The first evidence to the world of the resurrection of Christ is disciples who have encountered him.
The power of Peace
The church’s power begins with peace. “Peace be with you“ is the first word of Jesus to his disciples. He says it not once but twice that night, and a third time a week later when he greets Thomas. Peace is the beginning-point of all Christian experience. It is the prerequisite for all ministry; and it is the fountainhead of the power of Christ. The church’s power begins with peace.
What a contrast this shows with the way power is thought of in the world, much of the time. For the world, peace is an end-point, an elusive goal, dependent on the exercise of power that has to be brought to bear in order to make peace possible. But for Jesus, who is called the Prince of Peace, and who pronounces a blessing on the peacemakers, peace is his first gift, the essential beginning point.
A church, a disciple who does not proceed from a standpoint of peace has no power in the things of God, but merely imitates the world. But those who rest and remain at peace in Christ, and who “seek peace and pursue it’ in obedience to God’s express desires, are equipped to be reconcilers and conflict-resolvers in a world that needs to hear from those whose “feet are shod with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
The power of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the vital force of God’s presence. At the center of every human being is the spirit of that human being, the thing which animates our deepest sense of self, our deepest desires. Scripture teaches us that the condition of sin in our lives has rendered that spirit dead, and the gift of God in Christ is now to breathe life into our spirit with God’s own life, just as at the beginning God gave life to a lump of clay: “the first Adam became a living soul, and the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)
The power of Forgiveness
The church’s power proceeds with forgiveness. The power to forgive is the only evidence Jesus provides at this point of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In an early encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus was severely questioned because he made forgiveness of sin such a centerpiece of his ministry, including the healing ministry. The Pharisees said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?“ Often we read that passage as just another evidence of the divinity of Christ, since he responds by demonstrating through an act of healing that “the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” We agree with the Pharisees that only God should have power to forgive sins, and we say, “well, that’s all right then, because it’s Jesus, and that just proves His divinity. Forgiveness of sin is obviously a job for God, not for the likes of us.” And into such a mind-set comes the risen Christ, giving to mere humans this awesome responsibility: “the sins of whoever you forgive are forgiven; the sins of whoever you do not for give are not forgiven.” We say i’s God’s job to forgive, and are glad to be rid of the responsibility; but Jesus gives this awesome responsibility to us, to humans, to the church. The church’s power is manifest in forgiveness.
The power of Faith
Faith is the “evidence of things not seen” according to Hebrews 11:1. When Thomas was absent from that first meeting, Jesus made sure to include him later, and did all he needed to do to evoke from Thomas the confession of faith; but his profound follow-up statement was both a warning for the future and a promise to those who reach out in faith, even a little faith, to him: “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Faith sees beforehand what God has yet to show. This promise is for us, who read: “these are written that you might believe….. and that believing you might have life through His name.“