The gift of the Holy Spirit, given at this time. It is seen as the birth of the church.
The passage which we read from the gospel of John tells us of Jesus appearing to his disciples, after his resurrection.
Imagine the scene: The disciples, except for Thomas, were gathered in a house with the doors locked. Thomas has been labelled ‘Doubting Thomas’, but you wonder about the doubts, and fears, of the others, if they felt they had to meet in secret. When Jesus showed them his wounds, they were thrilled and their doubts and fears were removed.
*Jesus had identified himself with his Father.* He was telling the disciples by whose authority he did his work, when he said: ‘As the Father sent me, I now send you’. In saying this, he was also passing on to his disciples the job of spreading the good news of salvation around the world, and this applies to us. Whatever God has asked us to do, we must remember that our authority for doing it comes from God, and that Jesus has demonstrated by words and actions how to accomplish the job he has given us. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends his followers …and us.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit by the disciples was a foretaste of what all believers would experience from the time of Pentecost and forever after. To do God’s work, we need the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may be through consulting the Bible or by prayerful thought, or worshipping with other Christians. We must avoid trying to do his work in our own strength.
Jesus was giving the disciples their Spirit-powered and Spirit-guided mission – to preach the Good News about Jesus’ resurrection, so that peoples’ sins might be forgiven. The disciples did not have the power to forgive sins (only God can forgive sins), but Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message. All believers have this same privilege. We can only truly announce forgiveness of sins when we ourselves have found repentance and faith.
Thomas wouldn’t take anyone’s word for it; he had to see and touch! This attitude contributes to the advancement of our scientific knowledge; if there is hard evidence for, say, the effect of some drug to relieve pain, then we can at least begin to believe in the drug’s power. Paradoxically though, a ‘seeing is believing’ attitude isn’t enough – there has to be a belief in unseen factors – a faith.
Have we ever wished that we could actually see and touch Jesus, and hear his words? Are there times when we want to sit down with him and get his advice? That’s like Thomas: Thomas wanted Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is wiser. He hasn’t limited himself to one physical body; he wants to be present with us at all times. Even now he is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. We can talk to him, and we can find his words for us in the Bible. He can be as real to us as he was to Thomas.
Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his scepticism, Thomas was still loyal to Jesus and to the believers. Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, and questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted and well thought through, the doubting has been worthwhile; people can be convinced in this way. I wish that this could be applied to politicians… But perhaps that’s going a bit too far!
Problems arise when doubt becomes a lifestyle in any sphere; that is, when ‘I don’t believe’ becomes ‘I won’t believe’.
When we doubt, we shouldn’t stop there. We should let our doubt deepen our faith as we continue to search for the answer.
Jesus’ resurrected body was unique. It wasn’t the same kind of flesh and blood Lazarus had when he came back to life. Jesus’ body was no longer subject to the same laws of nature as before his death. He could appear in a locked room, yet he wasn’t a ghost because he could be touched and he could eat. Jesus’ resurrection was physical and literal – he wasn’t a disembodied spirit. This is very difficult to understand, and certainly it’s not possible to do so on purely scientific principles. I think this is where we must say that something must have happened so that we might be aware of God’s presence with us, and willing to be guided by it. We don’t need to understand the way it works or came about, to observe and understand the effects (think of dropping the sheets of paper), and this where faith comes in.
Jesus then said to Thomas, ‘You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly happy’. Some people think they would believe in Jesus if they could see a definite sign or miracle, but Jesus says we are blessed if we can believe without seeing. We have all the proof we need in the words of the Bible and the testimony of believers. A physical appearance wouldn’t make Jesus any more real to us than he is now; not in the long term.
John’s gospel was written close to the end of the first century and the message is for second and third generation Christians, and for the rest of us. This Good News includes everything we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we receive eternal life.
It goes without saying our world today needs change. We are asked to change from spectators to active disciples, from watching other people do things to be those leading the change.
On our own we cannot do it; following our own agenda we will fail. We need first to acknowledge and accept the power of the Holy Spirit and move by its prompting and guiding. Remember Jesus tells the disciples that they need the power of the Holy Spirit.
Even spending three years in His presence was not enough to equip then for the work that lay ahead.
The gift of the Holy Spirit means action. This gift is not given to us so that we might feel good but so that we are equipped for a task. Not so that we can be better spiritually but so that we can carry out that great commission and witness in our lives.
Let us pray –
Risen Lord, you entered into the lives of the disciples despite locked doors and fearful minds. You brought them wholeness and peace, to set their frightened minds at rest, and to make them ready for the task you had for them.
We pray that you would make us ready in our lives, to allow you to walk through the closed minds that we so often have, and the barriers that we create. Take away our fears and open our hearts that your Holy Spirit may come again to dwell within us, and that we, your people, may be ready to hear your words and respond to your call, for only in you do we find true peace. Amen.