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The Appearance of Christ to Thomas

April 27th, 2017

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NIV)

The weight of Thomas’ words have echoed through the centuries. Though we call him “doubting Thomas” his true legacy is one of faith and profession, not one of doubt. According to tradition, Thomas became a missionary to India and remains the patron saint of the nation. He was said to have been martyred there in about A.D. 72, and though there are many other legends and stories about Thomas, the true impact of his life and ministry is only known to God.

His initial doubt about the resurrection: This was Christ’s sixth appearance. Thomas was already a disciple of Jesus. He had followed him faithfully for three years. He also expressed his commitment to Christ when Christ began His final journey to Jerusalem, according to John 11:16, he said, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”  Though there is a definite hint of pessimism in these words, it is only a hint and not enough for a full character assessment. For some reason he was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them a week earlier.

We might simply say that Thomas was a realist, and when the disciples were excited about the resurrection, he thought they were overcome with some sort of mania. He told them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25 NIV). This reveals a plain-spoken-ness about him. He was not one to be carried away with emotion, certainly not enthusiasm, rather he wanted the facts. He told them exactly where he stood on the matter.

The appearance of Christ: The next Sunday evening, one week after the resurrection Sunday, Christ appeared to the disciples, this time including Thomas. Christ knew what he had said earlier and spoke to him directly inviting him to “put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). The word “faithless” is also translated “doubting.” Literally it means to have no faith – apistos in Greek – or to be unbelieving. Jesus description was not one of over-contemplation or over-thinking the resurrection, rather it was one of unbelief. What some people call doubting God calls unbelief. In everyone’s life there comes a time when we must believe. Though these matters are left in the hands of God, from the record of God’s dealing with people we can say that a time does eventually come when, if faith is not exercised, the door is shut by God and the inner witness of the Spirit is silent.

Thomas’ faith: The change took place immediately. He saw and believed and professed. Christ was both Lord and God. These titles were said “to him” or to Christ. Some false cults that deny the Trinity try to explain away this verse by saying that Thomas said, “My Lord” to Jesus and then looked up in the heavens and said, “My God.” This is utter nonsense and an irresponsible handling of the Word of God. The passage is clear. He called Jesus both Lord and God.

Thomas’ strong confession of the deity of Christ has held through the ages. Jesus said that Thomas was blessed because he had seen and believed, but then He added, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed” (John 20:29). Again we see the nature of Jesus’ communication was one of encouragement and promise. He chided Thomas for his lack of faith only briefly and then when faith was present He affirmed him and spoke of the blessing he had received through his faith.

Faith always goes one step further than sight, and Thomas said that Christ was not only resurrected but that He was Lord and God – a profession that came only on the inner conviction of the soul as the Spirit of God bore witness (1 Cor. 12:3 and Matt. 16:17). At Peter’s confession of Christ, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Christ said that His Father had revealed that truth to Peter.

Salvation must always come from an inner witness, from a personal visitation by the Spirit of God. We call this special revelation. General revelation is the witness of creation to the existence of God, or even the proclamation of the gospel that all may hear. But special revelation is the personal voice of the Spirit in each person’s heart that leads them to faith.

This story of Thomas speaks to us because we, too, have had our questions, our doubts, our moments or years of unbelief. Faith embraces the truth and lives by it and dispels doubts and fears. Faith liberates us to live in the power and life of God. We should heed these words of Christ to Thomas and hear His Spirit say them to us, “Be not faithless, but believing.”

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The Emmaus Road

April 21st, 2017

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32 NIV)

Two disciples, and they were apparently not included among “the Twelve” also called Apostles, were walking on the road to a little town called Emmaus. Luke tells us that Emmaus sat about ten kilometers from Jerusalem, though the exact location has been lost in history.

Only one of the disciples is named, Cleopas, and though there has been some suspicion that he was also known as Clopas (John 19:25) or as Alphaeus, which was the name of two aposltes, Matthew and James, the son of Alpaeus (Mark 2:14 and 3:18). There is a more reliable tradition, handed down from the second century, that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, the husband of Mary and stepfather of our Lord. The family of Jesus was very involved in the early church in the first few Christian centuries, with James his half brother serving as the initial leader in Jerusalem. Cleopas, also spelled Cleophas, for what it may be worth, is the masculine form of the Greek name which means “glory of the father,” cleo-pas, and the feminine form is “Cleopatra.”

The Resurrection Day conversation: This was still Easter Sunday, though later in the day. The news has spread among believers and followers of Christ that His body was missing, and the two were discussing the events, what they could mean, etc. Jesus came alongside of these two disciples and joined into the conversation. The response of the men revealed how the rumor mill was operating on that Easter day.

Their conversation had taken a notably sad shape. Depression, confusion, bewilderment, and consternation had supplanted faith and anticipation. They were troubled by what they had not understood and had not expected – the crucifixion and the resurrection, though at that point it was only the missing body that they knew of. The very heart of the work of Christ to die for our sins and rise from the grave was not understood by the disciples, despite the many teachings of Christ on the matter.

The Ever Joyful Christ: Christ asked, “What kind of conversation is this?” (Luke 24:17). The word translated “conversation” was logos in the Greek, which meant an idea, concept, statement, or speech. It was a penetrating question that went beyond “what are you talking about.” It went to the nature of the conversation, the sadness, concerns, and absence of faith of their discussion. Christians ought always to lift one another up, and never to cause discouragement or sadness.

He rebuked them for their lack of faith and explained to them the scripture. When there is confusion in the Christian family, there is a need for clarity that comes from God’s Word.  We find knowledge, understanding, assurance, direction, and practical help in the Bible.

The teaching method of Jesus included the scope of the 39 books we call the Old Testament. The words “Moses and the Prophets” described two of the three sections the Jews divided the Old Testament into. The third section began with the Psalms and was mentioned by Christ later in this chapter of Luke when He said:

This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scripture. (Luke 24:44-45)

The first book of a section could be used to describe the whole section.

Their eyes were opened when He blessed the bread and broke it in their presence. He had been invited by them to share a meal with them, but He took the position of head of the house, and He pronounced the blessed and disbursed the bread. This would have surprised them, for it was not the culturally appropriate action. But Christ is always to be the Lord among His followers.

In that moment they suddenly saw who He was – the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. Why they had not seen it earlier is unclear, but faith is absent among many men, and the only reason we can say is that it is not there because it is not there. But then instantly they believed. Was it because of the way that He blessed the bread, a certain idiosyncrasy? What it something divine and spiritual? If there was any physical reason to suddenly recognize Him, it was overshadowed by the spiritual. “No man can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

The afterglow of their hearts: Their hearts burned within them as He explained the Scriptures. This still happens today, that the Scriptures are taken by the Holy Spirit of Christ and made alive to our hearts. The true life of mankind is not dependent upon bread alone, but by what proceeds from the mouth of God. Our hearts truly long for an authoritative clear word from God’s Word. And just as Christ led them to understand it in his physical presence then, today His Spiritual presence enables us to understand His Word. Whenever we read the Word we should realize that God is with us and He will make the Word come alive in our hearts.

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