Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 6, 2023

Assurance, Hope, and Power: The Disciples’ Resurrection Rebound (John 20:19–31)

Click the Play button below to hear the recording of the message.

My message from 4/16/23, the week after Easter, at Mt. View Presbyterian Church in Omaha.

I learned a fancy new ten-dollar word this week. “Denouement” (day new MA). If you’re into literature or are a member of book club, perhaps you already knew the term before today. It’s a French word that’s made its way into English that refers to what happens in a story after the climax or high point of the action has occurred. The meaning of denouement is “untying of the knot.” An English equivalent, at least in the context of literature, might be “resolution.” How does the story “resolve” or work itself out after the climax.

Why am I starting my message this morning with a vocabulary lesson? (Don’t worry, no quiz at the end!) Well, you may have already guessed where I’m going with this. The crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the climax of the Gospel story in the New Testament. Like the Gospels, the Christian liturgical calendar begins with the “prequel” of the Advent, the birth of Christ, beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving; passes through several “seasons” in which we see the nature and work of our servant-savior; and leads up to the crucifixion and resurrection.

We’ve now entered the “denouement” of the liturgical seasons, the time between the Resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday, and Pentecost, 50 days following. After that, aside from the first Sunday after Pentecost being “Trinity Sunday” and the last Sunday of the liturgical year being “Christ the King,” the rest of the liturgical calendar is officially “proper,” or the nth Sunday after Pentecost. That’s doesn’t sound near as exciting as all the stuff at the beginning of the liturgical year.

Of course, the Gospel is a compelling and engaging story regardless of the season, month, or day in our liturgical or regular calendars. It is made so, in part, by the way you and I live out our faith in the places we find ourselves in this world. As disciples of Christ, we have been charged with being light and salt in an increasingly dark and bland world. But it’s hard to do that if we’re not convinced and assured that the resurrection of Christ has secured that hope for us.

That is where we find ourselves in the early stages of this denouement: Jesus had appeared to the women who came to the tomb, and even to two unnamed disciples on the road to the Emmaus, but the 11 remaining apostles had not yet seen him and, according to the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, they didn’t believe either of those reports from earlier in the day. But on the evening of that same day Jesus was resurrected, Jesus literally drops in on them in the house where they were staying; the door was locked.

All the apostles (“the Twelve”) except Thomas (and of course Judas) were there for the first visit. It’s likely that others were there as well, but the text is silent on that detail. Jesus shows his disciples his pierced hands and side and even asks his disciples to put their fingers in the holes. The disciples are not only convinced, but the text says they are overjoyed as well. Something else happens here that I think gets overlooked in the Gospel story. Jesus essentially commissions the disciples—we don’t know if this meant only those of the Twelve who were present or everyone—by giving them the Holy Spirit in advance of the day of Pentecost. He also gives them authority to forgive sins or not forgive sins. Jesus was granting them a portion of divine authority here, collectively, so that he could have an official complement of representatives to prepare the world for the coming of the Holy Spirit to believers and birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.

This is important for a couple reasons. First, just as plant seedlings are often nurtured in the controlled environment of a greenhouse or a baby is born in sterile conditions in the hospital, so too did the church need a perfect or near-perfect spiritual environment to get started and to grow. I believe the authority Jesus gives them, again collectively, included the knowledge of the perfect, untainted Gospel on which Jesus wanted to found the church. Their proclamations were considered authoritative, and as a group, they could hold each other accountable for that perfect doctrine, instead of having all of the authority for the church rest in one person. Eight days later, Thomas would be added to that group when he finally got to see Jesus and had every doubt erased. He would be able to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” after seeing Jesus for himself.

On the other hand, having a group of leaders thus empowered and commission would also help with the stability of the local, usually house, churches that would begin to form after the day of Pentecost. With so many hearing the Gospel in their own language that day, it would be important that someone with that kind of authority could be sort of a regional overseer for the fledgling churches and communicate officially on behalf of the apostles whenever questions arose. We see some hints of that in the middle chapters of the book of Acts. I think it’s safe to say the apostles didn’t want 3,000 new converts going back to their respective homelands without some kind of help from those who had first-hand experience with Jesus and the apostles.

Getting back to Jesus’s first appearances to the disciples, they had assurance of what we read in our passage from Psalm 16 this morning. Here’s verses 9–11 from the New International Version:

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

11 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.[1]

The apostles realized that Jesus was the “faithful one” who did not see decay, and by implication, those faithful ones who had died before had also been safe from that decay. Paul tells us in Ephesians that Christ, upon his resurrection, led an army of captives out of the “lower earthly regions” into the heavenly realms. Peter would use this passage from Psalm 16 in his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost because he had realized and experienced its truth for himself.

Peter would later write in one of his two letters about the living hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. He says this in the opening chapter of his first letter:

3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 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. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 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, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [2]

Thomas had the luxury of seeing Jesus on his second appearance to the group and finally believing he had risen, even though he refused to believe his closest friends after Jesus’s first appearance convinced them. You and I will probably not have that luxury of seeing Jesus while we dwell on earth, unless he comes again in the immediate future. We would fall, then, in the second category: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

As disciples of Christ, we have a wealth of resources available to us as we live and serve in God’s kingdom. We have a new birth, or as Jesus told Nicodemus, we’re “born again” of the Spirit. The old has gone; the new has come! The past no longer controls us. We have a living hope affirmed by the resurrection. The faithful in the Old Testament probably could not have even conceived of what the New Testament has revealed to us about eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. Our inheritance is permanent! No moth or rust can destroy it!

We’re shielded by God’s power (and his armor) through faith, and we have the hope of his second coming and the eternal salvation that will be ours to claim. We have this assurance even in the midst of the trials and griefs we suffer corporately and individually, for it is in standing firm through these trials that our faith is tested, purified, and proven true. Paul says in Ephesians that when we put on God’s armor, we can stand firm in the faith. We can know in part here on earth that joy we will fully know in heaven!

Even though Easter is the climax of our liturgical year, our denouement need not in any way diminish the joy and excitement of living for Christ in the hope of our resurrection and our salvation. Each and every day can be an adventure with Christ as we read his word, serve those who need an extra measure of his grace, and walk in faithful fellowship with one another. Those first few weeks after the resurrection, the believers had a lot of knots to untie to figure out their part in growing the early church. Of course, the Spirit was calling people, and that couldn’t be stopped. But they had to move quickly. For us today, we could use this season to think about how we do our own ministries. How can we use the excitement of celebrating Jesus’s resurrection to channel that energy into “untying the knots” that may be holding us back from doing more for God’s kingdom or for the local church or community? Are there others we could reach? Are there others we could invite? Are there others who need our help? Who could I talk to about my doubts and fears? These don’t have to be grandiose, but I do think the answers should be just big enough to require some faith in and reliance on God to get them done.

As we move through this season leading up to Pentecost, remember that Christ has given us assurance of his resurrection and our own, the hope of eternal life in an imperishable kingdom, and the power to minister in his name and encourage those who also need that assurance and hope. Peace to you! Amen.

[1] Psalm 16:9–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] 1 Peter 1:3–9. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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