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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
April 12, 2009
From Doubt to Faith
The Road to Jerusalem
Pity the disciples. It is the day after Passover and morning is approaching. Though Jesus had given them many clues and even spoken directly about what was going to happen and what would follow, at this point in time they were confused . . . and scarred. They had been with Jesus for about three years and had learned so much from His teaching about God and what it meant to truly love Him. They had seen Him perform all sorts of countless miracles. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, make the lame walk, give sight to the blind and make the dumb to speak. They had been with Him when He cast out all sorts of demons including the especially nasty ones from the two men in the country of Gadarenes that referred to themselves as legion that Jesus had cast into the swine. They had seen His power over nature in turning the water into wine, multiplying the fish and bread to feed the 5,000 and the 4,000, walking on the water out to their boat, and then that frightening night on the Sea of Galilee when the storm was about to swamp them and then Jesus command the wind and sea to be still and the obeyed Him immediately. They were present when he brought Jarius’ daughter back to life and then later when He called Lazarus out from the grave. They had thought that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God, but now, Jesus was dead and they were afraid the Jewish religious leaders would come after them next.
Jesus had been telling them for along time that bad things were going to happen in Jerusalem. From the time that John the Baptist had been murdered, He had periodically warned them that “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22). The closer they got to Jerusalem, the more Jesus had been warning them about this. He had told them only two days earlier that He would be delivered up for crucifixion, but now that it had happened, they could hardly believe it was true. Pity the disciples.
The source of the confusion of the disciples and its related fear was the variations in the many prophecies concerning the Messiah. There were prophecies such as Isaiah 53, which I spoke about on Good Friday that did speak about Messiah coming as a suffering servant to take upon Himself man’s iniquity and redeem him, but the majority of the Old Testament prophecies spoke about Israel being restored and Messiah reigning on King David’s throne (Isaiah 9:7). This was the same reason that the religious leaders had rejected Jesus. They could not understand the Messiah coming in such a humble manner.
The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17)
Their confusion was so great that they did not even understand all that Jesus had told them after the Passover meal they had just a few days before. Jesus had told them that God was going to be glorified in Him and that He was going where they could not go now, but would follow later (John 13:31-36). After rebuking Peter for his boasting, He comforted them saying, 1 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going” (John 14:1-4). Thomas did not understand, so Jesus clarified saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. 7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7). Jesus had told them that He would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, after He departed who would abide in them and even bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them (John 14:16-26). He encouraged them to not let their heart be troubled or fearful for though He was going away, He would come again to them. In fact, Jesus told them to rejoice for Him since He was going to the Father (John 14:27-31).
Jesus had explained to them the necessity that they abide in Him just as a branch abides in the vine for that is what would enable them to bear fruit. He wanted them to be joyful and demonstrate His love by their love for one another (John 15:1-17). He also warned them that the world would hate them because it hated Him and the Father, but He would send the comforter, the Spirit of truth, that would enable them to bear witness of Him (John 15:18-27). Jesus told them these things so that they would not stumble even in the midst of suffering (John 16:1-4). Though this was the cause of sorrow to them at present, Jesus also told them that this would be to their advantage because the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would not come upon them unless He did go to the Father. The Helper would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. He would also guide them into all truth and reveal to them what the Father would disclose is to come and glorify Christ (John 16:5-15).
Jesus warned them yet again that He would go away in a little while, but again also reminded them that they would see Him again in a little while. They did not understand all that Jesus was saying, so He explained it again. They would be sorrowful and lament while the world rejoiced, but in a short time they would see Him again and their sorrow would be turned to joy (John 16:16-22). But at present, this promise seemed very distant to them just as the promises to them concerning praying in His name (John 16:23-28). Jesus had spoken all these things so that they would have peace even in the midst of the tribulation they would experience from the world, because Jesus said He had overcome the world (John 16:33). Jesus prayer in John 17 would be fulfilled, but at the present moment all of it seemed too distant for the disciples. They were confused, scarred and full of doubt.
The Morning Comes
It had been three nights and two days of sorrow for them. There was the arrest of Jesus in the Garden resulting in them scattering, and there was the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and that long night after His death. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had told them how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had buried Jesus in the garden tomb. Then came the long Sabbath day when there would not have been much movement by anyone because of keeping Sabbath travel restrictions. That night had been quite, but the day was approaching. What would it bring? Would the religious leaders now seek them out to persecute them and squash any possibility of the followers of Jesus creating a movement in memory of Him?
The sun had only just risen when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, and Mary the mother of James came to the disciples and reported a story to them that seemed too incredible to be true. Mary said that when they arrived at the tomb at daybreak, they found that the stone that covered the mouth of the tomb had been rolled away. They went inside but did not find the body of Jesus there. While they were inside the tomb wondering what had happened, two angels suddenly appeared standing next to them in dazzling apparel. They were terrified, but one of the angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day would rise again.” (Luke 24:1-8).
The women did remember Jesus saying that, but most of the disciples thought the story was nonsense and would not believe them. The exception was Peter and John. They went out to the tomb with John running ahead of Peter and arriving at the tomb first. John stopped at the entrance and stooped down to look inside and he could see the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go inside. When Peter arrived he went inside the tomb and found the linen wrappings lying there with the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. John then went inside the tomb as well, and then believed. Until then he had not understood the Scripture that Jesus must rise again from the dead. Peter and John then returned to their own homes. (John 20:2-10).
Peter apparently was still perplexed about what he had seen. Later that day he went with Cleopas to Emmaus, a small village about 8 miles northwest of Jerusalem. While on their way, a stranger joined them and started talking with them. They recounted to the man the recent events that had happened in Jerusalem starting with the chief priests condemnation of Jesus and His crucifixion. They said that they were hoping that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel, but it was now the third day since His crucifixion. They then added “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. “And some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see” (Luke 24:22-24).
At this the stranger rebuked them saying, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27). When they arrived in Emmaus, they got the stranger to stay with them since it was already toward evening. As they reclined to eat their meal, the man took bread, blessed it and broke it, and as he started giving it to them their eyes were opened and they recognized that it was Jesus. He then vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:29-31). Peter and Cleopas then returned that very hour to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered together and they reported to them, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.” They then reported what had happened that afternoon (Luke 24:33-35).
To this point the disciples were still afraid of the Jews and had gathered together and locked the doors (John 20:19). It was right then while Peter and Cleopas were telling their story that Jesus Himself suddenly appeared in their midst saying, “Peace be with you.” They were frightened thinking it was a spirit, but Jesus said, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 [And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.] 41 And while they still could not believe [it] for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate [it] before them” (Luke 24:38-43).
Those present finally believed, but Thomas was not with them, and when he heard the story he responded, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” This response has earned him the nickname, “doubting Thomas,” but before anyone thinks ill of Thomas, remember that the other disciples had a similar reaction to the report the women gave that Jesus was alive. They were just as doubting. The only one that seems not to have needed to see Jesus physically alive was John, and even he had to see the empty tomb for himself before he believed.
Eight days later they were again gathered together, and this time Thomas was with them when Jesus again suddenly appeared among them even though the doors had been shut. He again announced His presence saying, “Peace be with you.” He then focused His attention on Thomas saying, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27). There is no record that Thomas actually did touch Jesus, John only reports that Thomas responded saying, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas also now believed.
As incredible as it sounded from when the women first reported it, all the evidence was in front of him. The witness of four or more women, the witness of Peter and Cleopas, then the 10 disciples all together, and now Jesus was physically standing in front of him. Thomas had to believe. The grave could not hold on to Jesus. He had risen from the dead just as He had said that He would.
The Scriptures inform us that Jesus remained on the earth for forty days following His resurrection. During that period of time He physically appeared many times to many different people. There were the appearances on the day of His resurrection to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18), Peter and Cleopas (Luke 24:13-32), along with the ten disciples gathered together that night (Luke 24:33-42). The next week He appeared to all eleven of the disciples including Thomas (John 20:26-28). In the weeks to follow He appeared in Galilee to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael of Cana, James & John, and two other disciples (John 21:1-24), and then again to all eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee that Jesus had designated (Matthew 28:16), and then during that period He also appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
During this time Jesus demonstrated that He was more than a spirit. His resurrected body had abilities beyond our own including being able to vanish (Luke 24:31), or appear suddenly in a room which had its doors shut (John 20:19, 26). At the same time, it was a physical body demonstrated by Jesus asking for food and eating that first evening (Luke 24:41-43), and then in Galilee Jesus even cooked breakfast for the disciples present (John 21:10-14). In addition, Jesus invited Thomas to touch the scars on His hands and side (John 20:27).
We also know that during these forty days Jesus was speaking to them of the things concerning the kingdom of God and giving them instructions in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:3-8). Jesus’ final appearance to the disciples was on the Mount of Olives where He was lifted up while they were looking on and received into a cloud. While they were still gazing intently into the sky, two angels appeared and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). This was essentially a reminder that Jesus would keep His many promises to them that He would return. The only new information concerned the precise manner of the return which would be in the same way as He departed.
Recall that Jesus told them after that final Passover meal, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also” (John 14:1-3). They also now understood how all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah could be harmonized. He came as the humble and submissive Servant of the Lord the first time in order to become the sacrifice for the sin of mankind. He would come in the future as the conquering king that would restore David’s throne and rule with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9; Isaiah 60:12; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 14:16-21).
But one big questioned remained about what the disciples would do? Remember that the Lord had told them in advance many times that He would go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the chief priests, be crucified, and then rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus had spent quite a bit of time preparing them for what was about to happen only hours before He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, the disciples were filled with fear and were hiding after Jesus was crucified. It is understandable that they would do well while Jesus was with them again, but what would happen now that Jesus had departed again? Would they return to their former ways and give into fear? Would they be impatient and do things their own way, as Peter did when He said he was going back to fishing (John 21:3) resulting in six men following his example? Would they believe God’s promises this time? Would they be faithful to be Jesus’ witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world?
The answer is given in the book of Acts. This time they did believe Jesus’ promises instead of just acknowledge them. This time they did follow His instructions instead of doing whatever seemed right to them at the moment. They waited in Jerusalem as instructed for the coming of the Holy Spirit, which occurred ten days after Jesus’ ascension. They had spent that time in prayer and in choosing a replacement for Judas who had turned aside from Jesus to betray Him. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit did come upon them and empowered them for the ministry that Jesus had commissioned them to perform. The rest of the book of Acts is a selective historical record of the apostles being bold witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.
The same men that had been so afraid of the Jewish religious leaders became bold even toward the very men that had orchestrated Jesus to be crucified. In Acts 4 we find that Peter and John have been arrested for healing a man and preaching in the Temple and they are brought before the same Sanhedrin and the same high priest and chief priests that had condemned Jesus only two months earlier. Acts 4:8-12 records, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this [name] this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, [but] which became the very corner [stone.] 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Notice that Peter did not even hesitate to place the responsibility of the crucifixion of Jesus on them, and he emphasized that God raised Him from the dead. The Council threatened them and told them not to preach in the name of Jesus, to which Peter responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” And they did not stop preaching.
Acts 5:17-32 records that a short time later all the apostles were arrested and placed in jail, but an angel of the Lord let them out that night with instructions to go to the Temple and preach, which is just what they did. There was quite a bit of turmoil at the jail and in the Sanhedrin the next morning when they found out they had escaped from jail, and then shock when they found out that they were at the Temple preaching again. They were again brought before the Sanhedrin which questioned them saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 8:24).
The response of the apostles proved they believed God’s promises and were no longer afraid regardless of the danger being faced. They answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 “And we are witnesses of these things; and [so is] the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:29-32). Again, there was no hesitancy in laying the responsibility for Jesus’ death on them, nor is there any hesitancy of proclaiming that God raised Jesus from the dead.
This boldness permeated the lives of the apostles even when facing martyrdom, and all of them except John were martyred. Something radical had changed within them. This group of men that had been so frightened after Jesus arrest and crucifixion became men so bold that their enemies claimed they were “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). It has been said that this radical change in the apostles is one of the greatest proofs that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is no other feasible explanation.
The resurrection of Jesus proved to the apostles that all of Jesus’ promises could be trusted resulting in a change in the focus of their lives from the temporal to the eternal; from surviving another day to impacting the world for Christ; from the things of this world to the kingdom of heaven. They knew their lives were secure in Christ. They believed His promise that He would return to take them to heaven to be with Him forever, but also that if they should die before His return it only meant a different door into His presence. Anyone that has a purpose beyond this life only and has an assurance of going to heaven can be bold in facing the things of this life.
What about you? What do you believe regarding Jesus Christ? Most non-Christians are either ignorant of Jesus or they reject Him outright. Some think He was an historical figure of some sort obscured by time, but nothing more than that. Many religious people consider Jesus a good man, an ethical teacher or good role model that became the head of a religion. Those are nice thoughts, but that is a different Jesus than the one of the Bible who is God in human flesh that will return to judge the earth in righteousness. A lessor Jesus cannot give any hope for the future based in Him, and those who have such a Jesus will face the future dependent upon themselves alone, which is a very rotten structure to stand on. Many people that claim to be Christians and believe the Bible don’t really live according to their claims. Much like the disciples prior to the resurrection, their lives are marked by fear and doubt because mere head knowledge is not faith and trust. Wishing upon Jesus is not the same thing as having a hope in Jesus because hope is certain and confident and a wish is an unknown.
Do you want to be bold like the apostles? Then you need to believe and trust like the apostles. You must have faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and step out in trust that He will keep all of His promises. The proof has already been given. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He will grant eternal life to all that believe in Him, and He will return just as He said.
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