• Watch the video What Keeps Christians Joyful? Knowing that Jesus Is Alive
THIS WEEK, we’re thinking about Jesus’ resurrection under the simple but profound title, Jesus Is Alive. That’s a matter for rejoicing, whatever is going on in your life.
There are probably Christians now in Russia who have been arrested and imprisoned for no reason — and Jesus is alive and close. He knows all about false testimony.
You may be suffering rejection from those close to you, or in a work situation, or a difficult neighbourhood. Do you know what? Jesus is alive and He is with you — and listening.
Maybe things are going well for you. Praise God for that. But knowing that Jesus is alive and that you belong to Him, gives you an inner joy and peace that others will pick up. Someone will want to know where it comes from. That’s a door that’s open for you to share Jesus with them.
This is going to be an even more than usually encouraging episode. As we start with David’s poetic and also prophetic Psalm 16, we can hear Jesus in these words:
I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.Psalm 16:8-11
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let Your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
We can see how these words were prophetic of Jesus, Son of God and Messiah, and how death could not hold Him.
The same Holy Spirit that we can invite to live within us, is the one whose power brought a tortured corpse into a new resurrection body, and the path of life.
Now in this resurrection-season story we’ll go on to be with the disciples as they encountered Jesus again — clearly alive and in a new body — following His death on the Cross.
But they’re not joyful at this point. They are sticking together, fearful, and hiding behind locked doors. They know that the religious leaders who put Jesus to death will be looking for His followers. Having watched that terrible suffering, having experienced it remotely, they are anything but peaceful.
Jesus knows exactly how they are feeling, as He almost bursts in without needing to open the door, and stands among them — and then He does a strange thing.
People still debate exactly what it meant. But what He did, moved them from fear to faith, as we hear in the tone of these words from John 20.
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!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” 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.”
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.”
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!”
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.”
Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
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.John 20:19-31
Much has been made of Thomas who missed Jesus earlier appearance. He thought, perhaps not unreasonably, that the others, working through their post traumatic stress, had seen a ghost.
Now Jesus appears again. He ministers His peace to them again and gently encourages Thomas. He doesn’t criticise him, or put him down, or give him a bad mark for doubting at first. The truth is, they none of them knew what to believe, or what to make of events which were way past their experience and comprehension.
And Jesus lovingly meets them where they are. Their faith had taken some hard knocks. They needed courage and boldness because He is still their Lord and they are His apostles, His sent-out ones who will go far and wide. A time will shortly come when tongues of flame will set them alight spiritually, but for now, what they need is an initial impartation, a kind of spiritual priming to get them out of their self-imposed isolation — and telling others the powerful story of what they had seen.
Jesus breathed on them — holy breath, Holy Spirit. And He gives them spiritually what they need to move on from their anger at the evil and falsehood that they had witnessed. They needed the enabling, the capacity to forgive.
There’s a lesson for us right there. If we are holding unforgiveness, then that resentment is holding US, and we cannot function spiritually until we have repented and found the capacity to love again. That applies no matter what the injustice may have been. Jesus had taught them: “…as we forgive those that trespass against us” which is hard to do, but it is sin not to do.
It’s a really common scenario. Forgiving unconditionally is the last thing that we want to do, but the Holy Spirit’s love — the same as God’s unconditional love of us — can enable us to bless those who have hurt us.
This initial spiritual impartation also prepared the disciples for the much greater outpouring that was to come. An illustration of this is a new sponge which comes out of the packet dry and hard. You put it under the tap and at first It will shed water., But give it just a little soak, and it becomes soft and able to do what sponges do — and absorb a whole lot more. The disciples needed that initial softening — and anointing if you like — that would set them on the path of emotional healing, and able to receive, in the thunderstorm-like outpouring, that would shortly come.
The scene now moves forward to that time as Peter, the former gruff and very practical fisherman, is cast in a new role as a Spirit-filled preacher. This is following the roaring wind and tongues of flame of the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thousands of pilgrims had formed a throng as they gathered for the festival, never expecting this to happen. They had heard the disciples praising God, recognising their own dialect languages in the hubbub. Someone had to explain what was going on. It fell to Peter, disgraced and then restored by the Lord, and charged with being the shepherd of these exited sheep. Quoting Psalm 16, which we heard earlier, a passage that would have been familiar to the Jewish pilgrims, he explains “this is that” which had been foretold centuries before.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the Cross.
But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.
David said about Him: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that He was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”Acts 2:14, 22-32
This is not just about Jesus. It’s about God’s plan concerning Jesus, allowing Him to suffer agony in death, and then raising Him to new life. And as Peter said, “And we are all witnesses of it.” Peter’s message, like many other snatches of preaching in the Early Church, was about Jesus and about his miraculous resurrection.
This is not like any religion, because it is not like a religion! Some have made it so, making Christianity a ‘doing’ exercise about following the example of a former holy person.
But that misses the point by a mile. We are not just remembering the good deeds of a past person. We experience joy in the continuing good deeds of a very much alive and close to us, PRESENT person! One who enables us to live for Him.
We don’t seek to follow a past example because His spirit in us and His presence with us turns us into a living example. The early believers, followers of the Way of Jesus, were mockingly branded Christians, little Christs or little anointed ones. The derogative slur was not altogether unfair. There was truth in it. The Holy Spirit-transformed believers continued the ministry and mission of the One they took their nickname from. They had begun to resemble Him, and to do the things that He had done. They were unusually capable and this gave rise to jealousy and persecution.
But they remained joyful. Theirs was not just a religious affectation they could be persuaded to change. It was new life for them in a relationship with a living person who was WITH them — who was their strength in every trial. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
A generation later Peter was writing to encourage and teach those in the rapidly expanding churches, as we heard here in this extract from the beginning of his first letter:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter returns to his favourite theme, “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” It was an experience that gave him a lifelong, arresting memory. Peter, you may remember, was one of the first to reach the newly empty tomb. John, much younger, out-ran him and got there first. Then “Peter… stooped and looked in, and saw the linen cloths by themselves.”
Peter just never stopped telling this story. It was the fact that stood tall and central for him. Jesus, who was dead, is now alive and can be known. Which is how we come to know God personally ourselves, nearly 2,000 years later.
- The new birth has not changed.
- The living hope through Jesus’ resurrection has not changed.
- The inheritance from final salvation has never changed.
- Believing in Jesus and receiving the joy that wells up in us has not changed.
- Jesus has not changed. The Biblde tells us elsewhere that Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever.
However, our world HAS changed. Points of reference have faded and become indistinct. Just a few years, can confront us with changes that are unsettling and even frightening.
It’s far better to place our trust in what can be trusted. The promised inheritance of an eternal, heavenly life, and the day-to-day conversation of friendship with the Lord of Lords never changes. It grows stronger. And we become bolder in sharing it — because Jesus is alive.
The story of the week in The Living Word aims to encourage you with.faith but free from the faff. It aims to speak to whatever Christian background you have, or none, in a tone that is theologically neutral and doesn’t lean to any particular religious tradition.