Monday, February 17, 2014

Jesus Appears to Thomas (John 20:24-21:3)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 12 January 2014 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 20:24-21:4

When Thomas was gathered with the other disciples for the second time, Jesus appeared again – not because of Thomas, but because God had mercy on him. When you don’t come for gatherings, you’re not aware that you have lost the grace of God. Perhaps God will give you another opportunity – not because you deserve it, but because of God’s mercy, so as to give you another chance.

The Lord knew Thomas had said he had to touch the marks of the nails and the side of his ribs, otherwise he would not believe. The evening of the second Sunday, as the disciples gathered, Thomas was present. Jesus came among them and said: “Peace be with you!” Then he came before Thomas and said: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

This is a message directed at the individual. Sometimes we think our Lord doesn’t know we doubt him. We mix among many people and think God can see the body but not the individual. The Psalmist says: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (Psalm 147:4) Surely God will know what you are thinking in your heart and understand how much you doubt Him and believe Him.

The gospel is directed at the individual. The relationship between God and us must be individual. You cannot think because the Lord loves the church and you are in the church, so He must love you. The Lord loves the church because He loves every individual. He is certain of your heart – every single one of you. Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” Then he especially said to Thomas: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” If it were you, when Jesus said that, and you realised He knew what you were thinking about, will you be afraid? I would.

Thomas spoke behind the back of Jesus, but was confronted by him. Thomas said: “My Lord and my God!” This is the only place in the Bible where the words “Lord” and “God” come out from the same mouth. Thomas was the first person who linked lordship with divinity. The Bible did not record that Thomas touched Jesus, because Thomas did not need to touch Jesus. The reality was before him. The fact is better than the argument. This is our Lord’s method. He manifested the truth. Your faith will compel you to speak words of faith. What did Jesus do to him? He said: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Here is a great truth: Faith is not by sight. Faith gives you sight in your spirit. The Apostle Paul says: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) What we see is temporal. What we cannot see is eternal. What we receive are temporal sufferings, in exchange for the ultimate goal. This passage tells us faith itself is sight. When you see it, it is too late, for you have equated physical sight with spiritual sight. A true man of faith will see first what his eyes cannot see. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Today we want evidence and seek it. But the Bible says no: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” A photographer looking at the negative already knows the picture that is to come. Why do we call to the Lord: “Show me and then I’ll believe?” Because we first assume that faith is the result of seeing. This is a problem of sinners: “If I know, surely I believe. If I see, surely I believe. If you give me the evidence, I believe. If I experience this, I believe.” These four pre-suppositions do not follow the Bible and they come from the fallen nature. Jesus Christ did not say see and believe. Jesus said: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” (John 11:40b) Faith comes before seeing. Faith in itself is a form of seeing.

Jesus came to Thomas and told him: “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” You see first, then you believe. This is wrong. You need to believe, then you will see. With faith you can see what others cannot. With faith you enjoy the grace of God. Thomas learnt a great lesson. This is the fundamental concept of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul and Peter said it, so did the entire Bible. Because of faith, we can see glory. Because of faith, we can see the future. Because Jesus saw the joy before him, he despised the suffering he had.

The Apostle John talked about the most important purpose of Jesus’ coming. “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” The gospel of John is not a complete record. John knew and saw much more than he wrote. Why did he select this and not that? He wanted to write things for a purpose.  Miracles are signs of God. Miracles are performed to show God is here. He is doing His work with this sign. These are not recorded. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

There are thousands of ways to know Jesus Christ. Why are these two most important - Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God? Because these two identities are the central focus and basis of Christology. The Christ you know is the Christ, the anointed one of God, the Son of God. These two alone are sufficient for you to receive eternal life.

The first understanding of Christology came from Peter. Before Peter, at least two people recognised Jesus as the Son of God. Nathanael proclaimed Jesus is the Son of God. (John 1:49) Jesus said: “I saw you while you were sitting under the fig tree.” (John 1:48b) He said: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  (John 1:47) Jesus appreciated Nathanael’s integrity. He was an intelligent man. Among all the prophecies of thousands of years, he knew immediately that Jesus was the Son of God. He was fast in recognising the truth. Only people who can identify things accurately can properly testify to God.

The second was John the Baptist. John said: “The one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33) This is a command. Many people were baptised by John the Baptist. Baptism was a mark of repentance. God did not tell him which one, except on the one whom the Spirit comes down. Jesus said: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34) To believe Jesus is the Christ and He is the Son of God is the most important foundation of truth.

Peter joined the two together. Jesus asked: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27) “Some people say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28) Jesus didn’t care about these things. He said: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 1:29) When Jesus sought after what people knew of him, what they claimed about their faith in Jesus Christ, Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:16) Jesus said: “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17a) The genuine Christology is by revelation. Our understanding of Christ does not come from our study of theology. It comes about when we recognise that He is revealed by God. If your knowledge is not based on revealed truth from God, if your theological research and conclusion is not from the revelation of God, if your cognitive understanding of theology is not based on the revelation of God in the Bible, you will never understand that Jesus is the Christ.

When you know the Christ based on the Holy Spirit’s revelation in the Bible, then you can have true faith and you will proclaim that Lord, you are the Christ, the Son of God. For Jesus to be the Christ, is it because you recognise Him? No. Jesus is the Christ because He is. Christ means “the anointed one”. When God anointed him, God selected and affirmed him, and with the Holy Spirit anointed him, so he is called the Christ.

“The anointed one” is most clearly recorded in Psalm 2. “He said to me: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” (Psalm 2:7b) God anointed his Son to tell the whole world that Christ is sent by God and is begotten of God. In Jewish tradition, there are three anointed offices: a king, a priest and a prophet. All kings and priests are anointed. But there is only one case of a prophet being anointed. God told Elijah to look for Elisha and anoint him as prophet to continue Elijah’s work. You can’t anoint a person with all three types of anointing. If you are anointed as king, you have to be in the tribe of Judah. If you are anointed as priest, you must be a Levite.

But the Bible tells us there is a king who is also a priest. Before David and Moses and Aaron, in the era of Abraham, Melchizedek was both king and priest. He was the king of Salem and the priest of God Most High. (Genesis 14:18) No one knows where he started and when he died: He had no father, no mother, no beginning, no end, no genealogy. Other than Adam, everyone has a father. Adam and Eve had no mother. This person is not Adam or Eve. Who can anoint him? Why anoint him as king and priest? Abraham lived way before David and Aaron. Abraham was the father of Isaac.  Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes. Melchizedek did not need the tribes because he existed before the tribes. He is bigger than Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. Abraham gave him a tithe of the loot, for he is the priest of God. The Bible says in Hebrews that Jesus Christ is priest not by the order of Aaron, but by the priestly order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 7:11) Jesus Christ is the one that is anointed by God. He is king, priest and prophet. Because He is king, He has the kingdom of God. Because He is priest, his sacrifice enabled all of us sinners to be forgiven by God. Because He is prophet, He preached the word of God so we hear it. This is Christ. When Peter confessed Him as Christ, he proclaimed a very profound title. Jesus was most pleased.

If you do not believe Jesus as Christ and Son of God, your Christology will be in error. Who do we know Jesus as? A philanthropist who did good things to help people?  A moralist who lived a moral and holy life? A revolutionary who overturned the Roman empire to build the kingdom of God on earth? A religious leader who established Christianity after Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucius? Not only was Jesus a moralist and taught morality, He saved those who had no morals. Who is the Christ? The Bible says Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The Son of God was revealed to remove the work of Satan. He far surpasses the moralist or the politician. Peter said: “You are the Christ”, the anointed One, “the Son of God” who manifested His divinity. Jesus said: “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.” (John 12:44-45)

John understood that when a person has such faith in Jesus, through the name of Jesus, he gets eternal life. God sent His Son to the world not to cause people to have morality, but to have eternal life. Christ is Christ not because of the recognition of the masses, but because it is set in the eternal will of God and anointed by God on the throne of Mount Zion. There is only one Christ. Christ was not created. He is the eternal Christ and came as a historical Christ taking on flesh.

At that time, many people were named Jesus. It was a common name. Bar-Jesus refers to the son of Jesus. But this Jesus is special. He is the holy one of God, the anointed one of God, completely different from anybody else. The Jews now know that when you talk about the Christ, you are referring to the unique anointed one. Before Jesus came to the world, within 200 years, many people were proclaiming themselves to be the Christ – about 200 people. People worshipped them but discovered they were not the Christ. This Christ was born in Bethlehem and died upon the cross. People did not recognise Him. When you believe Jesus is the Christ, you believe God has sent Him. When you believe Jesus is the Son of God, you believe in the manifestation of God, or Christ has manifested Himself.

John 21 is different from the other three gospels. Why was this chapter added? There were some issues to be resolved. It is for people who are called to serve God, when they are not focused, how do they resolve their relationship with God and how does the Lord treat these things?

Jesus appeared to seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee, in the north. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died at Golgotha, near Jerusalem. He was resurrected near Jerusalem. His ascension was on the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem. Twice it was recorded He appeared in Galilee. Once was by the sea, to reveal himself to these seven disciples. Another time was on a mountain when the Great Commission was given. The resurrected Jesus had to walk two days and one night from Jerusalem to Galilee, because the disciples had gone there first.

They did not believe Jesus would lead them anymore. While they had seen him resurrected, there was no guarantee or instruction on how they are to live. Jesus said: “Peace be with you.” It’s good to have peace, but you need food. He did not say how they were to sustain their life. Peter had a wife and a mother-in-law. He had a family to feed.  Jesus had told him to give up everything to be a fisher of man. He followed Jesus three and a half years without a worry because the women who gave offerings to Jesus. After three and a half years, Jesus was crucified and resurrected without giving out anything except to say: “Peace be with you.” These disciples believed Jesus was to establish the kingdom, re-establish the throne of David and the tent of Judah, get rid of the pagans and the glory of God will be manifested, so they followed Him. Yet He died and said: “Peace be with you.”

The thought came in to Peter to go back to Galilee to fish. He was a leader. If the leader is not following God, he has no qualification to ask people to follow him. If you are a gifted leader, your leadership skills could harm others. Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two other disciples followed him. Out of 11 disciples who were still living, seven left and went back to their old job, gave up their ministry and lost their position. Christianity would be lost. That’s why Chapter 21 must be written. It is crucial for the survival of Christianity.

There are two types of people who serve the Lord. One says he will serve full time and give up everything. Another one says he will do it part-time by working and preaching, as a lay preacher. For the past 20 years, the Chinese church has developed a trend of having lay preachers. Many people are not willing to do it full time, only part time and making money the rest of the time. Everybody will welcome this. Church deacons look down on preachers because they are paid staff. The Bible says “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14) and “do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” (1 Timothy 5:18) There is nothing wrong to pay your preacher. If you don’t like to be a preacher, you don’t have to be a preacher. But if you want to be a preacher, you need to be focused. Can Christians be lay preachers? Yes, if God did not call you to be a full-time preacher. But if God is clearly calling you to be a full-time preacher, you cannot be a lay preacher. If you are supposed to be a lay person, you cannot be full-time. But if you are called to be full-time, you cannot do it part-time.

Peter was called and he said he had given up everything to follow Jesus. Why did he go back to his own job? Because he faced difficulties. Was the Lord satisfied? Not so. In Chapter 21, He wanted to be clear: “Do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than your job, your partners, your salary? Dear brothers and sisters, you only live once. We want to live for the Lord and die for Him, then there is meaning for our life.

When the disciples went back to fish, Jesus had to walk two days and one night to meet them at the Sea of Tiberias to let these experienced fisherman miss their catch that night. You have already given your life to the Lord. Do you want to go back to the world? God may allow you to make a lot of money but abandon you forever. God may allow you to fail so that you may repent and return to Him. This is a crucial point of the church. In my almost 57 years of service, not a second have I thought of turning back. I only think of one thing: Have I done my best? Have I pleased the Lord?


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