Be A Believer
1. The scripture says, "When the risen Christ appeared to the disciples, it was [on] that day, that is, the evening of the first day of the week. "The first day of the week" is the day we call "Sunday." Next, the day the Lord appeared is expressed as "after eight days," (verse twenty-six). We [could] also translate this as "the eighth day"; in other words, it was "after one week." Finally then, it was a Sunday.
2. There is a great deal of meaning in the expression "after eight days (the eighth day)" appearing in the text as it does. As you know, the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday. It is the seventh day of the week. This derives from the story of how God rested on the seventh day when he completed the work of creation as per the narrative of the creation of the universe. But, from the earliest of times, Christians came to assemble not on the seventh day of the Sabbath but on that day of the first day of the week, which they called "The Lord's Day." [Christians] even in modern times do that. Today is that day.
3. Also, as the first day of the week, the primitive Christians started to deliberately call the Lord's Day, not "the first day" but "the eighth day." [I think] it's interesting. Do you know why [they called it] "the eighth day?" Since God's first creation was expressed through the first day through to the seventh day, it is saying that the eighth day is a day that does not belong within it. It is saying it is the day which belongs to a new creation, to a new world. In other words, it is saying that though [still] in this world, it is the day that [we] experience the world that is to come, it is the day [we] experience the new world. That's the kind of meaning "the eighth day" [has to it].
4. May I call to your attention this point then? - The passage of scripture we read today is speaking about "the first day of the week" and "after eight days (the eighth day)." It is clear that the assembling on "The Lord's Day," which is the first day of the week and the eighth day, is being placed before us for consideration. In other words, what the scripture for today is trying to relate to us is not just a simple "Here's what [happened] that day." [It is trying to tell us] "what really happens on the Lord's Day, [the day] we come together and meet.
5. So, from this day forward and each week thereafter, I am just starting out to hold worship services with all of you. For the foreseeable future, I would like for us to select [each week's] scriptural passage according to "The Revised Common Lectionary," which many churches around the world are making use of. And what is assigned to us as the next holy day's passage after Easter is today's portion of scripture. I feel like there is a great deal of significance in that this portion of scripture has been allotted to us as the first text in the inauguration of my ministry [here at Shoei Church]. I repeat. This passage of scripture is telling us what happens on "The Lord's Day," the day you and I will be worshipping together each and every week. We ought to affirm this point and we ought to hold this grace gift in common; I think it will be a good start to our church life together, both for you and for me. Then from here on out, each week, we want to experience that grace and know it for ourselves for real.
The Assembling Of Those Who Fled Away
6. With that then, let's listen to the words from the scriptures together. To begin, I would like for us to take note of how "the assembling of the disciples" is initially described. It is written as follows: "The disciples were afraid of the Jews and locked the door of the home they were in," (verse nineteen). This is the first image of the assembling of the disciples. It is an image of an "assembling of people who have fled because of fear." That place was a place to flee from a frightening world. It was a place where they locked the door and shut it tight.
7. It is possible for the assembling of Christ's disciples to turn out like that. It is possible for the church to end up becoming a place like that. They had been wide open to the hostility of the Jews. To be exposed to hostility is frightening. Therefore, they assembled with only those who had no hostility towards one another. Towards anyone with hostility, they decided to lock up and not let [anyone like that] come in.
8. Things like this can [still] happen today. Much of the stress that modern people have on them comes from relationships with others. Interacting with other persons is a bothersome chore. Therefore, we look for a safe circle of good friends. We are probably not actually locking the church door on Sundays. But, that we absolutely don't desire some types of people to visit our churches may be happening. It can turn out that a church desires to be a comfortable and snug safe circle of familiar friends.
9. Back to [the disciples], there was something that the disciples who were assembling there had in common. They had all forsaken Jesus and fled away. They all brought out and exposed the same weakness. They brought out their weakness, but good thing for them that not one [of them] was alone. They felt some security in that there were others just like them besides. They felt there was meaning in that they were assembling even in just that way. "I'm certainly weak. But so are you." "I'm certainly a sinner. But so are you." As they looked at the other person's weakness and saw the other person's sinfulness, [it was] an assembly where they just licked their wounds, and felt secure in that. Don't you think it can happen to a church, that it turns into that kind of an assembly?
10. If the first half of verse nineteen is all there was, I'd suppose the church might have only been that kind of assembly from the beginning. But, the Bible has more to say on it. At that point in time, the assembly of the disciples did not end with the first half of verse nineteen. Yes, they may have been afraid. They may have been weak as well. All together they may have been sinners. But, it did not end with that. What does the scripture say? "There Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said, 'Peace be to you [all].'," (verse nineteen). That's right, the risen Jesus came into the assembly of the disciples. That is what happens on the Lord's Day.
Peace Be To You All
11. What happens when the Lord comes? Please look at verse twenty. "After he said that, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples looked at the Lord and were glad," (verse twenty). The scripture has something surprising written here at this point. It's not that Jesus rose again from the dead and made an appearance to them. Something more surprising is written. It's that "The disciples looked at the Lord and were glad." Really, I find this incredible. The Lord showed them his hands and side. He had huge scars there. They are the scars [he has] because of the death penalty by crucifixion that the Lord endured through. Would you be glad if someone who had suffered and died all of a sudden appears and at the same time shows you the marks from the wounds of his suffering? Wouldn't that be dreadful? What's worse, the disciples had betrayed and forsaken Jesus. Wouldn't the showing of his hands and side to them actually point out their betrayal and their past sins? The conditions were not very joyous, I don't think.
12. But, it is written that they "saw the Lord and were glad." Why [were they glad]? The little phrase from verse twenty of "After he said that" is important. The Lord said "Peace be to you [all]." The one who could have confronted them with their sin and held them guilty said, "Peace be to you [all]." There is forgiveness from sin in that. They were forgiven by the Lord of the resurrection.
13. This is what happens on the Lord's Day. When we gather on the Lord's Day, the Lord of the resurrection comes. At that moment our sins come out into the open first, we are confronted with the reality of our sin. Meeting with the Lord is like that. He shows us his hands and side. But, then Jesus speaks to us with "Let there be peace. Peace. Be at ease!" That is, forgiveness of [our] sin happens as a fact of reality.
He Appears To Thomas Too
14. Like [we've had] so far in the text, [the focus] has been on what the text has been saying about the disciples, but going a step further, it will speak with the spotlight on one single character [from among the disciples], it is the episode from verses twenty-four on down.
15. The man Thomas appears on the scene here. When the other disciples told him "We have seen the Lord," he said, "Unless I see the nail scars on his hands and put my fingers onto his scars, and unless I put my hand on his side, I will never believe." As we read this, we mustn't think of Thomas merely as a man who required a rational explanation and actual proof. He isn't saying this out of being a pure rationalist. After the other disciples had said, "[We've] seen the Lord," he was just saying, at the least, that "I won't believe until I see the Lord." But, he is quite particular about "the nail prints" and "the wound on his side." We need to give careful thought as to why.
16. To begin with, what kind of person was he? Actually, Thomas had intended to die with Jesus. When Jesus was about to come face to face with the dangerous Jews, this was the man who said, "We will go too and shall we not die together?," (11:16). That's right, those were his intentions. But, he was unable to ... He ended up running away. Only Jesus died. He was crucified and died.
17. Thomas came face to face with the facts and the truth. If Thomas was no pure rationalist, neither was he a skeptic either. He was a man who tried to be as true and loyal as he possibly could. He was a man who looked directly at his own past. He was not one who [could] forget Jesus' nail prints and side wounds. There are many people in this world who think as if once forgotten, their past sins will also disappear. There are many people who think if I forget, then the past will [soon] be no more. I think this person named Thomas was a human being who was much much more honest and true than other people like the [forgetful] type. He must have lived never willing to forget that he himself had left the Lord to die abandoned. For the rest of his days he was willing to live always bearing the responsibility for his guiltiness.
18. Consider, if you will, how the image of the other disciples, who forsook the Lord just as Thomas did but were rejoicing and celebrating, had looked in the eyes of Thomas. It must have been a figure hard to forgive. The words "[We've] seen the Lord" sounded like absolute nonsense [to him]. Therefore, he said, "I will never believe."
19. But, Jesus did appear to Thomas [though] like he was. The way Thomas was going to live certainly might have been sincere. However, Jesus did not desire that Thomas live his whole life continuously carrying the heavy burden of his sin. Just like Thomas was thinking [there might be], there indeed were scars of nails on [Jesus'] hands. The past would never go away and be forgotten like water under the bridge. The fact of his sin would not fade away. However, Jesus said to Thomas as well, "May you have peace." Then, the Lord said, "Put your finger right here, and look at my hands. Also, put out your hands and put them into my sides. Be a believer, not an unbeliever."
20. "Be a believer, not an unbeliever." This message was not [for the purpose of] censuring Thomas. It was a complete and total call out [to him] from Jesus. -- You shouldn't insist on saying, "I'll never believe." Instead, you should believe. You should believe I have risen from the dead, I said "Be at ease," and I am here. -- Jesus meant it like that.
21. There was Thomas, a man forgiven by Jesus and granted peace. Thomas believed him. Therefore, Thomas fell before him in humility and worship, "My Lord and my God." He was no longer a man that will be living by carrying the burden of his sin. He will live from now on with Christ as his Lord and in obedience to God. This happened on the Lord's Day, which is the first and the eighth days.
22. And so I would like to finish up by saying one more thing. Please look at verse twenty-one. it isn't only the forgiveness of sin that took place on the first and the eighth days. Those who took part in the forgiveness of sin and who received peace from Jesus were also sent out into the world by the Lord. Exactly just as at the time of the first creation, just like [when] the Lord God fashioned the man out of the dust of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nose and the scripture says that "Man thus became a living being," so also on the eighth day which belongs to the new creation, Jesus blows the breath of life into us. Those who took part in the forgiveness of sin and who received peace from Jesus are filled by the Holy Spirit, filled with new life, truly become "living beings" and are sent out into the world.
23. Whenever the risen Christ comes the assembly of [his] disciples is no longer a place of simple flight out from the world. The church is no longer a place filled with fear and dead bolted shut. Through Christ's coming, the worship service on the Lord's Day when we assemble becomes [our] starting point for being sent out for service in the world. That's right. This is exactly what happens on the Lord's Day, the first and the eighth days.