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Sermon: Christ In The Midst Of Us: John 20:24-29


Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 31:1–14

“‘At that time’, declares the Lord, ‘I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.’ Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:1–14, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 20:24-29

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’ Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:24–29, ESV)

Introduction

Friends, we are rapidly approaching the end of our study of the Gospel of John. I’m a little sad about that. I’ve really enjoyed this book and there is a part of me that wishes we could linger in it longer. We will probably only be here for two or three more weeks.

Do you remember the Leon Morris quote that I shared with you in the introductory sermon to this series? I’m sure it’s fresh on your minds! Morris, in the introduction to his commentary on John noted that “John’s Gospel [is like] a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound. It is for the veriest beginner in the faith and for the mature Christian. Its appeal is immediate and never failing.” (Morris, 3) That has proven true, I think. John’s Gospel is encouraging to those young in Christ, and those mature, both in it’s simplicity and depth.

There is much that can be said about chapters 20 and 21 of John’s Gospel. It is here that we are introduced to the risen Lord. We see him in a state of glory. He is alive, but not in the same way that he was alive before. He, through his obedient life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection has earned a higher form of life than you and I experience. In fact, he has earned a higher form of life than Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden paradise of God. They enjoyed a perfect life, but theirs was mutable. Sin was a possibility. Death threatened. Not so with Christ who is the second Adam. He rose, not to a fallen state like ours. He rose, not to a perfect but mutable state like pre-fall Adam. No, he rose from the grave to a state of glory.  What the first Adam was offered but forfeited, the second Adam has earned.

We should pay careful attention to what we see here. This forty day period where the risen Lord appeared to his disciples in the flesh of his resurrection was utterly unique in this history of the world. Steven would see the risen Lord after his ascension to the Father, but by way of heavenly vision. “He said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:56, ESV) Paul also saw the risen Lord after the ascension, but it too was a bit different from the resurrection appearances contained within this forty day period. “As [Paul, who was then called Saul] went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” (Acts 9:3–6, ESV) These resemble heavenly visions. They differ a bit from the appearances of the risen Lord which preceded his ascension to the Father. For forty days the risen Lord presented himself alive in the flesh to his disciples before ascending to the right hand of God.

I’ve labored to demonstrate the significance of these appearances.

Christ appeared to his his disciples to prove that he was, in fact, alive.

He also appeared to show what kind of life he had risen to. It was a physical existence that he enjoyed – one that corresponded somehow to his previous life. But it was a glorified existence – one that far surpassed the natural order of things in regard to glory. Remember how Paul explains all of this in 1 Corinthians 15 with the illustration of a seed and the plant that comes from it. The seed represents the natural man, the plant represents the glorified man. The seed and the plant correspond to one another – they are not altogether different – they are made up of the same stuff. But the plant far surpasses the seed in regard to glory. So it is with the relationship between Christ’s natural body and his resurrection body. So it will be for those who are united to Christ by faith. This is one thing that Jesus sought to demonstrate to his disciples in that forty day period as he walked among them in his resurrection – he showed what kind of life he had been raised to.

And remember that he also appeared to them in order to encourage them, teach them, and commission them so that they would be well prepared for the journey ahead. Christ rose from the grave and would ascend, but his disciples would continue in this fallen world. They were to continue his work. They needed instruction. Christ provided it.

The Risen Christ Walks In The Midst Of His People

Today I would like to step back from these detailed observations concerning the significance of Christ’s post-resurrection and pre-ascension appearances to make a general observation.

Notice this simple fact: The risen Christ walks in the midst of his people. He meets with them. He communes with them. He instructs and encourages them. He is present with them in this world. That is the general truth which binds all of these post resurrection appearance together. The glorified Christ walks in the midst of his people.

You say, well that must have been nice for them! Those original disciples enjoyed three or so years with Christ in his earthly ministry, and they also enjoyed forty days with him in his resurrection. Nice for them!

Brothers and sisters, the point I am making is that Christ walked in the midst of his disciples in his resurrection, and he walks in the midst of us too! That forty day period was unique in that Christ appeared in the flesh before his ascension – we do not expect him to appear to us in the flesh (except for at the consummation) – but it was also prototypical. It was during those forty days that Christ demonstrated to his disciples that he would indeed be with them though he was glorified. He would still common with them. He would still be in the midst of them even though a new era had begun. The post resurrection appearance of Christ had the effect of ensuring his followers that he would indeed go with them, and remain with them, throughout their wilderness wanderings. Of course after the ascension, he would be with them, not in the flesh, but by the Spirit.

This was not the first time in the history of redemption that God offered special support and assurance to his people concerning his continued presences with them as a new era or dispensation was being ushered in.

Remember how God accomplished redemption for the people of Israel from Egypt. He brought them out with “great power and a mighty hand” (Ex. 32:11). They were freed from Egypt by the ten plagues and by passing through the Red Sea. God accomplished a kind of redemption of them. But they were fearful of going it alone. Moses spoke to God, saying, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15, ESV) It was in response to this request that God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19, ESV) God offered special support and assurance to Moses, and to the people of Israel through him, by showing Moses his glory and goodness. We might also mention the pillar of fire and the glory cloud, both of which were a manifestation of the glory of God and a kind of guarantee that the presence of God was with the people of God.

The appearances of Christ in his glory serve the same purpose. Christ had accomplished redemption by his death, burial, and resurrection, and then he appeared to disciples, manifesting his glory to them for forty days to assuring them that his presence would be with them as they wandered in this world as pilgrims and sojourners.

Brothers and sisters, the risen Christ walks in the midst of his people.

He is present with us by the agency of the Holy Spirit whom he has sent. Remember Jesus’ words:

“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” (John 14:15–23, ESV)

He is particularly present with his people as they gather together in local churches.

Remember the opening vision in the book of Revelation where John (The same John that wrote this Gospel)

“…turned to see the voice that was speaking to [him], and on turning… saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When [he] saw him, [he] fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on [him], saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:12–20, ESV)

This vision communicates the very thing that has already been stated – Christ walks in the midst of his people, and particularly in the midst of his churches, not in the flesh as he did in the days prior to the ascension, but by the agency of the Spirit whom he has sent.

Brothers and sisters, this ought to encourage you greatly. Christ has not left you alone in this world. And his appearance to the disciples in his resurrection body is an assurance of these things.

The Risen Christ Sustains The Faith Of His People

In particular I want you to notice how Christ drew near to those disciples of his who were struggling. Notice that he pursued “doubting Thomas”, and, as we will see, he pursued “denying Peter”. The important thing to see is that Jesus does not abandon those who belong to him. Though they my stumble, the risen Christ purses them, the end result being that he loses none of those given to him by the Father (see John 17:12). See how the risen Christ sustains the faith of his people.

Notice that everything comes to focus on Thomas in this passage. His fellow disciples had testified to him concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ. They had, with one voice, given testimony to the resurrection. Thomas should have believed on the basis of their word. He himself would go on to testify concerning the risen Christ. He would ask others to believe upon Jesus through his testimony, and the word of his fellow Apostles, but he himself did not believe their word. Instead he responded to them saying, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25, ESV) He was skeptical. In all fairness the others did have the advantage of seeing the risen Lord. They too were skeptical and confused.

But do you see that Thomas belonged to Christ? He was one of Jesus’ chosen one’s. He was one of those given to him by the Father. And so although Thomas was indeed skeptical, Christ pursued him and provided him with all that he needed to believe, and to go on believing.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:26, ESV) This was a repeat of what had happened on the previous Sunday. The disciples were gathered together again. Again they were meeting with the doors closed and locked, presumably for fear of the Jews. And again Christ appeared to them, urging them to be at peace. The difference is that Thomas was with them this time.

So Jesus turned to Thomas, reached out his hands to him, and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27, ESV)

Thomas has said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” And what did Christ do except present Thomas with the marks in his hands and in his side.

Thank God that it is he who sustains us in the faith and not we who sustain ourselves.

That is not to say that we have no responsibility in the matter. We do indeed have obligations. The scriptures compel us to abide in Christ, to persevere in the means of grace that God has prescribed for us – the fellowship, the sacraments, the word of God, and prayer. We are warned to “Take care… lest there be in any of [us] an evil, unbelieving heart, leading [us] to fall away from the living God. But [we are to] exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none…may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12–13, ESV) Similarly we are warned, “not [to neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV)

Thomas was indeed negligent in these things. He failed to persevere. He allowed an evil, unbelieving heart to settle in. He neglected the fellowship. For this he was guilty. But do you see this wonderfully encouraging truth, that it is Christ who pursues us? He is the one who sustains the faith of those who belong to him, praise be to God.  Take courage, brothers and sisters, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

The Risen Christ Brings Glory To His Name Through His People

Thirdly, and lastly, notice that the risen Christ brings glory to his name through those who belong to him. Thankfully he manages to use us to bring glory to his name despite our weaknesses and our many blunders.

Thomas was doubting, it is true. And it was wrong from him to doubt. He should have persevered in the faith. But do you see how Christ turned this evil into good? For it was from the lips of “doubting Thomas” that Christ received the highest praise. It was from the lips of “doubting Thomas” that we encounter the pinnacle profession of faith. When “doubting Thomas” saw the pierces hands, and the pierced side of Christ, and when he heard his words, “‘Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27–28, ESV) Thomas was the first of Jesus’ disciples to explicitly confess that Jesus was divine – that he was indeed “God”. He confessed that he was both “Lord and God”.

Let’s analyze Thomas’ personality for a moment, and let’s say something positive about him.

He seems to be a straight shooter – a no nonsense kind of guy. We encountered him in John 11:16 were, in response to Jesus’ word that he would go up to see Lazarus, “said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:16, ESV) It was in 14:5 that Thomas responded to Jesus’ words abut knowing the way to where he was going that Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5, ESV) He seems to me to be a straight shooter. I like that. And when it came to the resurrection, it was too much for him to believe.

But our brother came to the right conclusion. He was skeptical at first, but upon seeing the risen Lord he could do nothing except confess that Jesus Christ was his Lord and his God.

His confession plays a very significant role in John’s Gospel. In the introduction we were told about who Jesus was. He was the eternal word of God – the one who was with God in the beginning, indeed the one who was God – who took on flesh ad dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). John wrote, we are told in 20:31, “that [we[ may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.” (John 20:31, ESV) And Thomas is the one who confesses these thinking with the greatest clarity as he responded to Jesus, saying “My Lord and my God!”

Notice that Jesus received Thomas’ confession. He did not rebuke him or deny it. If Jesus were not God, then he would have been wrong to accept such high praise. But he was God come in the flesh, therefore he received.

Notice also that Jesus rebuked Thomas slightly, saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, ESV) Thomas should had believed the testimony of his brothers. The day was rapidly approaching where those who would believe upon Christ would have to believe, not because they would see the risen Lord, but through the testimony of the Apostles of Christ. Blessed are those who “have not seen and yet have believed.” That refers to all who have believed ever since the ascension, including you and me.

Thomas was used by God to bring glory to his name. He glorified God through this pinnacle profession. And he would glorify God in the days to come through his faithful witness.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, Christ is in the midst of us when we gather.

Thanks be to God that he is the one who sustains us in the faith! Were it not for his gracious intervention we would not come to faith nor would we remain in it. But he has promised to keep those given to him by the Father, the end result being that he looses not one

Let us, therefore, bring glory to his name by giving him the praise he deserves and by testifying concerning his goodness. Some have allowed sins of the past to restrain that. We should repent of our sins, allow the Lord to restore us, and serve him faithfully to the glory of his name.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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