This week (Sunday, April 24, 2022) we are thinking about the disciples learning to live by faith in the risen Jesus, who had been put to death before their eyes and on the third day appeared to them very much alive and in His resurrection body.
• Watch this week’s 10-minute video Learning to Live by Faith
• For more detail, see The Living Word Bible Study for April 24
After the trauma of His arrest, a slanderous trial and brutal execution, this was another shock — but this time a joyful one!
And these words of praise from Psalm 150 set the scene for us, of a time when the whole world order had just changed. The world would never be the same again!
1 Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.
2 Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.
3-5 Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
The first part of our story of learning to live by faith is the story of Jesus’ appearance, on the evening of His resurrection day, to the disciples who have gathered in a secure place, sheltering from the spite of the authorities.
Locked door notwithstanding, Jesus enters and shows Himself to them, revealing His scarred hands and side. And without delay, He tells them He is sending them out and gives them the first instalment of the great empowering they were later to receive. Let’s hear the story from John’s Gospel chapter 20:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
20 After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.”
22-23 And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24-25 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to 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.”
26 A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30-31 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
Jesus makes another appearance for them exactly a week later — and this time Thomas is with them. He was absent the first time of Jesus came, and when the disciples excitedly told him that they had seen the Lord, he assumed that they had seen a ghost, a spiritual manifestation. This was no ghost. It was Jesus, real and alive, who stood among them and showed them the physical reality of His scarred body.
Thomas, the model for any of us who are cautious about believing the latest thing, didn’t need to touch Jesus, to declare, “My lord and my God!“
Jesus reminds them that many would subsequently come to faith in him _without_ having that experience.
And John, adding a comment to his gospel account, says that he has recorded the signs that Jesus performed to show His divine provenance. He has written his account so that those who read it might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and by believing, come into the experience of new life in His name. That, John is telling us, is his gospel, or good news, which is about anyone who believes in Jesus being set free from sin’s hold and spiritually enabled to life by faith in Him.
The disciples had experienced Jesus following His resurrection, in fellowship, in eating and drinking with them. These were ways that provided incontrovertible evidence that it really was Him risen to new life. But they will be tested on this belief. They will be challenged about the first-person witness story they were telling. The anger of the religious establishment is still a real threat.
Faith is not faith until it is tested. That test soon came, as the Jewish Supreme Court sought to exercise its control over these ‘unauthorised’ people who were spreading ‘unauthorised’ teaching.
But God has prepared the disciples for this test. We might say, they had prepared themselves prayerfully (Acts 4) — but God was very much present and active in the meeting. It seemed that the place shook with His presence, and these disciples who had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had a clear sense of being further filled with Him. This gave them a boldness and a confidence that was well beyond their human capability.
Here is Luke’s account in Acts 5:
27-28 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29-30 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead — whom you killed by hanging Him on a cross.
31 “God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Saviour that He might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
32 “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
The disciples are being prepared for their apostolic ministry which will take them far afield from Jerusalem, meeting both great favour and also bitter opposition.
The youngest of them, John, in his later years wrote a prophetic kind of account which became the closing book of the Bible — the book of Revelation. The beginning of this book opens with John recounting how he was worshipping and “in the Spirit” when he was overtaken by an awesome, majestic heavenly vision of Jesus, King of kings. Jesus then tells him to write a message of encouragement for each of the seven principal church centres of Asia Minor.
This passage is his introduction, rich in praise of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial act of salvation which spells freedom from sin for any who believe in him and confess him as Lord. He quotes Exodus 19, a passage that talks about the original covenant people being a kingdom of priests. Now, as he explains, _every_ believer in Jesus enjoys the blessings of His _new_ covenant, living in his kingdom rule and order, and sharing in a new kind of priesthood. This is not a priesthood of a separate order devoted to ritual and ceremony, but a badge of belonging for every believer in Jesus, all sharing the responsibility to represent the grace and love of God to people, and to intercede for people and their needs, representing them to God. To put it plainly, we are all part of God’s mission, and we are all on His pastoral team.
John manages to fit quite a bit of theology into his introduction. Let’s read it now in Revelation 1:
4-5 John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood…
6 …and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 “Look, He is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of Him.” So shall it be! Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
This is a story about learning to live by faith in Jesus, and it is not a static story — it is full of movement. In these words by John in his revelation, together with the words Jesus spoke over the disciples as He breathed the Holy Spirit on them for the first time, tell us that this new life is not to be static. Living by faith is also living with a dynamic of God’s mission to the unbelieving world. It’s not an option. This is what faith — knowing God — is about. This new life of faith is not about experiencing a comforting liturgy of familiar words week by week.
It’s about seeing where God is working, out in the wide world, and joining Him in it, growing spiritually as we step up.