Sermon for Sunday 28th April 2019.
Acts 5.27-32, Revelation 1. 4-8, John 20.19-end.
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The scriptures this morning seem to me to be a little out of sequence, so forgive me if I turn them around! I think the Gospel needs to be looked at first and then Acts and then the wonderful Revelation of Jesus Himself, if we are to see how we are involved in this amazing unfolding story. The scriptures are so relevant for us today and in each of these readings, we see more of Jesus and the transformation He brings, not just to the disciples, the historical church and to us, but also in His own journey. Today is about dispelling doubt and transformation.
So the Gospel. A lovely continuation of the story from Easter Sunday. The tomb has been found to be empty, Mary Magdalene has actually seen Jesus and shared this with the others, but they still find it hard to accept. They are still imprisoned by fear and doubt, disbelief and, I should imagine, horrible feelings of guilt at letting Jesus down. Peter had denied him, the others had gone home to rest, John was there throughout but powerless to stop the rollercoaster of events. So they had locked themselves away.
But Jesus enters the room. He now has His glorified body: still a man, He bears the scars of His death and can eat, He is no ghost or Spirit, He is what God has longed for us all to be and it seems Jesus’ journey is almost back to where He started, the Word through whom creation came into being in Genesis, He is now the Way to reach heaven and fulfil God’s dearest longest if, through His Word, we believe. And we see His glory declared in Revelation.
His first words are “Peace be with you”. This is Shalom, the Hebrew word which means so much more than peace as an absence of conflict or worry. It speaks of completeness, the type of wholeness that encourages people to give back, to generously repay something in some way. In the Bible, shalom refers to an inner completeness and tranquillity which comes from knowing God and from being in fellowship with Him so that your wholeness spills over to others, so great is your feeling of inner peace. Jesus spread shalom and He wants His disciples to do the same, and that includes us! Our peace and joy in Jesus should be visible to and shared by those around us, like an overflowing cup.
Jesus knows how they are feeling and He does a beautiful thing, He breathes His Spirit into them. This isn’t a first Pentecost because He tells them to wait before going out to preach. This is Jesus’ shalom, His peace overflowing into His beloved friends, helping them to accept their mission which will include the forgiving of sins. But first Jesus wants to enable them to accept their own forgiveness, which they so badly need. He tells them that the sin they let go is forgiven but unforgiven sin will still bind, they will remain bound. A very important message for all of us and maybe we need to take Jesus’ words to heart, as we are encouraged by His Spirit. We are forgiven through Jesus but we sometimes can’t forgive ourselves for things we have done. And that binds us captive, it is for us to release what Jesus has already borne for us. Not always easy and I think that is why Jesus breathed His Spirit into these friends, who had so badly let their Master down; their own personal exodus and freedom from slavery to fear and doubt. To free others, they must first be free.
But then the mystery of the resurrection goes much deeper thanks to Thomas’s incredulity and rather unpleasant demand for verification. Jesus grants Thomas His wish and we are not told whether he actually poked his fingers into the wounds, but his response was immediate, “My Lord and my God”. Thomas’s response was that of all who recognise Jesus but Jesus has something more to share with His friends. “You have believed because you have seen but blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. And Jesus is referring to us! It is like those lovely books where you can put your child’s name in a story to make it personal to them, Jesus reaches out and makes this statement personal to each one of us who believes. And “Blessed” as we know in Hebrew means so much more than happy; it means one who kneels before the Lord in thanksgiving and praise, acknowledging God’s total provision in his life. To be blessed is a wonderful thing for Jesus to say, and reminds us of the blessings of the Beatitudes. It also reminds us of Jesus’ prayer for us in John where He consecrates Himself to meet our needs for growth in truth and holiness and that we will be of one mind.
These readings give us a glimpse of the wonder of belonging to Jesus. How transformations occur and we become ones who share in the power of the work of the Holy Spirit. This is so personal to Jesus and those He loves. He breathes into us to equip and free us and we must do our part in accepting and moving forward in that freedom.
And it is this transformation we see in the disciples, now apostles, in Acts. These are brave, courageous men, speaking for God without fear of men. They use the scriptures like Jesus did to bring the good news, or bad, if you refuse to accept it as the Sanhedrin did! They were bound up in miraculous deeds, freed from prison by an angel, people being healed even by standing in Peter’s shadow! What a transformation! These happenings fulfil God’s words through both Joel and Isaiah’s prophecies. The Bible interprets itself!
And then we read the beginning of the Revelation of Jesus Himself. If there were any doubts about who Jesus is, this squashes them completely. Although John is the author of this incredible book of visions and prophecy, it a message from God and given by Jesus to His people, the churches in what is now Turkey.
These 4 verses contain so much that Jesus wanted His followers to understand. It is a compelling passage and there are profound emotions in these verses which give the Book of Revelation its power. In this we see where the church gets its transforming power and who it serves, and nothing is left to doubt. There is no need to see wounds, Jesus is absolutely clear about who He is. John offers grace and shalom to those reading the revelation, indeed blessings are attached to this amazing book, by reading it aloud in church and by keeping its contents safe and ready for what we call “the end times”.
Look how Jesus describes Himself. He puts Himself back where He began, within the Trinity! God is eternal, in the present now, in the past, yesterday and forever, just as Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The seven fold Spirit before the throne is most likely to be the Holy Spirit, 7 being symbolic of God’s completeness. But we check this out in the Old Testament if there is doubt, because there are also 7 Angels around the throne elsewhere in Revelation who go out at God’s bidding. These Angels take out the judgement plagues of the end times. But if we look at Isaiah 11.2 we read, “The Spirit of God is upon Him; the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord’ His delight will be obedience to God.” 7 characteristics which identify the Holy Spirit. And in Zechariah there are also similar visions. So here we have Jesus with God and the Holy Spirit, Jesus being one who faithfully reveals all truth, He is reliable, and we can trust Him.
He is the first born of many. The Hebrew means, “to die no more.” Because in the scriptures, others have been raised from the dead, both Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead and of course Jesus Himself gave new life to Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s only son. But they would all die again. Only Jesus has experienced this transformation to a glorified body which will never die, and that is what He promises to us.
Jesus is then described as the King of Kings, the one who saves from sins, a redeemer, and also a High Priest. He has gathered us into His kingdom and made us priests to give glory to God forever.
And if that isn’t enough proof, look, He is arriving in the clouds and every eye will see Him, including those who killed Him. Clouds are another Old Testament description for the presence of God. He led the Israelites as a cloud by day in the Exodus, from slavery to freedom, clouds covered the mountain top as He gave the Laws to Moses, clouds filled the Holiest of Holies in the tabernacle and also the Temple and God spoke from a cloud when Jesus rose from His baptism in the Jordan and was transfigured with Moses and Elijah on the mountain top. I am sure there are many other references to God’s presence in a cloud, but that will do for now, you see how the scriptures explain themselves? When Jesus returns, there is no doubt, He returns as God.
And as if to underline His divinity, He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all things, Lord of all, who in time, will come again. Here we see in just 4 verses, such an incredible description of Jesus, so powerful and emotive, that these letters to the churches must be taken very seriously. But we also have descriptions which not only show the uniqueness and individuality of Jesus but also that He is, without doubt, one and the same with God. The mystery of the Trinity before the Creeds were ever written!
Wonderful readings, and a wonderful message. Loving Jesus and believing in Him gives us the opportunity for such transformation, now today and forever. It also gives the “shalom” of Jesus, which he wants to overflow into the lives of others. Jesus was faithful to His mission and He wants us to be faithful to ours.