(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Mark and Luke also deal with Jesus' appearance to his disciples. They are blunter about the episode, especially Mark, who wrote: He (Jesus) rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mk16v14. Luke describes how Jesus upbraided the Twelve for believing he was ghost. He took the trouble to convince them that his body was real: They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Lk24v42and43.

Jesus did not appear to the disciples to reward their faith. The faith of his followers was defective. They believed Jesus was the Messiah but they had no understanding of the saving work the Messiah was sent to do. They had not taken Jesus at his word when he told them that he must die and be raised from the dead. The disciples did recognise Christ's virtue, wisdom and power but could not see how these were compatible with his crucifixion.

Jesus entered that locked room and stood among his disciples because of their undoubted devotion to him. Their love for the Master was rewarded by that familiar greeting in his inimical voice: "Peace be with you!" v19.

(B) Jesus set his disciples a daunting task.

The Twelve, hiding as they were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, must have found the words of Jesus more than a little daunting: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." v21.

Let us look at:

(1) The purpose of the task.
The task of the disciples is summarised in verse 31. Their testimony was to be such that others believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing might have life in his name.

This must have seemed almost impossible to Jesus' disciples. Their Master, for all his wisdom and power, had been rejected by the Jews and put to death by the Romans. His followers had misunderstood his mission and still barely grasped the significance of his death. How could the few of them convince anyone that Jesus was the Saviour of the World.

I often feel like those disciples - not so much because I misunderstand Christ's redemptive work - but because so few conversions occur in the churches I am associated with. In England the tide of secularism is sweeping all before it.

(2) The method to achieve the task
Christ's disciples are sent as the Father sent Jesus. He is our model. There are three things we must do to be like Jesus:

    (a) Serve. Jesus said at the Last Supper: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet." Jn13v14. Through the centuries Christians have witnessed powerful by following the example of Jesus and serving others. Christians are still doing all sorts of charitable work in non-Christian countries. This gives them the opportunity of winning souls for Jesus.

    (b) Shine. Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the light of the world." Mt5v14. "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Mt5v16.

    Jesus shone! He was the Light of the World - full of grace and truth. We shall shine in our small corner if we display the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal5v22and23.

    For the last 8 years my old friend, Henry Underwood, has slowly declined with osteoporosis and Parkinson's disease - such cruel foes. He is in a hospital ward as I write and his cart is almost shaken to pieces. Throughout the remorseless deterioration in his condition Henry has displayed patience, gentleness and self-control. He has never complained. His consistent testimony has been: "I've a lot to be thankful for." After his dear wife has discussed his symptoms with me for a little while Henry will say, "It's time we changed the subject!" Henry has shone and illuminated the lives of carers, neighbours, tradesmen, friends and his fellow Christians. It will be a sad day when that light goes out.

    (c) Speak Jesus spent much of his public ministry teaching and preaching. We should not underestimate the importance of speaking on behalf of Jesus. Paul wrote: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Rom10v13to14.

    We should use every opportunity God gives us to tell others about Jesus. I am not very good at personal witness but I could speak to boys and girls in school assemblies about Christ. Alas no longer!

(3) The cost of undertaking the task.
We must expect to share what Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry:

    (a) Misunderstanding. Jesus was misunderstood during his lifetime and what a lot of misconceptions persist about Christianity. I overheard my friend Tommy Bamber trying to explain to some Japanese friends that my Christian life consisted of abiding by a lot of strict rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. I stand with Paul in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free. AV. Gal5v1. Others believe that Christianity consists of going to church on Sunday or is a kind of insurance policy taken out by the elderly. There are probably quite a large number of individuals, little better than pagans, who are convinced it is Christian to believe the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell.

    (b) Opposition. There is growing opposition to Christianity from politicians, civil servants, local government officials and the media in the name of Britain being a multi-faith society. There are those who propose abandoning Christmas to avoid upsetting Muslims and Jews. These people are hypocrites. They are not really concerned about how Muslims feel about Christmas. These politically correct activists just have a deep-rooted hostility to Jesus.

    Certain scientists also believe that their expertise in one branch of knowledge gives them the right to make disparaging comments about Christianity. I do not deny the right of scientists to discover the processes by which God created the universe, earth and life. It is, however, just not true that an understanding of the processes in some way disproves the existence of the Originator of these processes. Art critics were not around when Van Goth created his masterpieces. They can examine the paintings - the brush strokes, the way the paint was applied and so on - to discover the process by which Van Goth produced his work. An art critic who has understood the process would not dream of saying that this disproved the existence of Van Goth!

    (c) Rejection. Jesus found rejection hard to bear. It is something very evident in the gospel narrative. "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Mt23v37.

    I find it most distressing that so many of my acquaintances reject Jesus. Two of my brothers are not Christians. Not a single member of the Brockley cricket club so much as attends church. Several of my best friends remain resolutely unbelieving. Few of the children who attended my Sunday school classes have been converted. Only a handful of the thousands of youngsters I taught made a commitment to Jesus. The vast majority of people known to me are totally indifferent or actively hostile to what I value most.

    (d) Lack of worldly success. Jesus said of himself: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Lk10v58. Jesus had no property, few possessions and no private wealth. We must not forget the well-to-do woman who followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Mt27v55. I sometimes feel it would be a comfort to have a few such women to minister to my needs! However, Jesus did not spend the last hours of his life in the comfort of his own home tended by highly paid nurses but naked, bruised and bleeding on a stark cross of wood.

    If we are dedicated believers and put Christ's service first we cannot expect to be rich, powerful or famous.

(C) Jesus provides help for the task.

The disciples could never have undertaken the work they were given without help. There are some people who expect a lot from a meagre investment. If the organisers of a wedding reception pay the caterer's the bare minimum they will get what they paid for! Jesus is not like this. He provides his followers with substantial assistance:

(1) His bodily resurrection.
The risen Christ gave the disciples confidence. They were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. v20.

Jesus' old body was taken up into the new in the same sort of way that a hand brush is taken up into a Hoover. Jesus retained some of the features of his old body, the marks of honour, the wounds in his feet and side. His new body was solid. Jesus could be touched and he could eat. But the new body was superior to the old. It was sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body. See 1Cor5v44. So Jesus looked different and was not easily recognised. He could pass out of his grave clothes and through locked doors. His resurrection body was not subject to corruption.

All Christians are strongly motivated by the resurrection of Jesus. He has conquered death and is alive for evermore. We sing:

            I serve a risen Saviour,
            He's in the world today;
            I know that He is living,
            Whatever men may say;
            I see His hand of mercy,
            I hear His voice of cheer.
            And just the time I need Him
            He's always near.

A risen Saviour is one who is able to keep his promise to give: life to all who believe in him and rewards to those who serve him.

In the words of Charles Wesley:

            Soar we now where Christ hath led,
            Following our exalted Head:
            Made like him, like Him we rise,
            Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.

(2) The gift of the Spirit.
Jesus breathed on his disciples and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit." v22. I don't believe the disciples received the Holy Spirit there and then. They were not dramatically changed by what Jesus did. A week later they still met behind locked doors. Jesus did not breath on Thomas as far as we know when he appeared for his benefit. Jesus breathed on his disciples as a sign that they would receive the Spirit and be empowered for evangelism. On the Day of Pentecost they did and they were!

I have never had a Pentecostal experience but the Holy Spirit has helped me do the work to which I have been assigned. Not all Christian workers are privileged to go into the fields when they are ripe for harvest and reap. Some have to sow, weed and water. Just occasionally I have preached a sermon and someone has been present whom God has prepared for the message.

(3) Delegated authority.
Jesus said to the Twelve: "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. v23. This strange statement is similar to the one Jesus made to Peter: "I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Mt16v19.

It is not easy to be sure of what Jesus meant! He is certainly conferring authority on his disciples - an authority we share. There are two possible interpretations of Jesus' remarks:

    (a) It is interesting to compare John and Mark. In Mark we read: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mk16v16. In other words, Christians can say with the authority of heaven that those who believe in Jesus will be forgiven their sins and those who don't believe will not be forgiven. Throughout the centuries men and women have been convinced of this truth and turned to Jesus for salvation when the message has been preached with conviction.

    (b) It is possible that Jesus was conferring on the apostles and subsequent church leaders the authority to exercise discrimination and discipline - to say what is permissible and impermissible - to make binding decisions on what is acceptable and unacceptable. This is certainly what the apostles had to do in the early church where all sorts of problems arose. Paul decided that circumcision was not a binding obligation for Gentiles whereas belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus was.

    Church leaders do have to show discrimination and teach with authority especially in growing churches where there are lots of new converts and immature Christians. There are also new moral issues that have to be addressed. For example, is it right for a childless Christian couple to have IVF treatment? There are many dilemmas for Christian doctors. What should their response be to a directive to let babies who are born very prematurely (25 weeks or earlier) die so that scarce resources can be freed up for other uses? Will they ask for, or receive, any help from their church leader in making decisions? Jesus surely promised that the Holy Spirit and the Word of God equips Christian leaders for this task.

(D) The missing disciple.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples the first time Thomas was missing. He was the last one who should have been missing! Let us look at:

(1) Why he was missing.
Maybe Thomas was so upset by the death of Jesus that he needed to grieve alone. He was like the wounded animal that crawls away to a solitary place to lick its wounds. I am not convinced this is the best policy. There are times that I have had a dreadful day at school and all I have wanted to do is stop at home and brood. It invariably helps to get out and mix with people - to talk about my problems with those who are able to help me get them into proportion.

I think it likely that Thomas was annoyed and impatient with the women who claim to have seen Jesus. The finality of Jesus' death, the shock and horror of it, was so awfully real to Thomas that he couldn't bear the women's stories. Their excitement and wonder grated on him. He couldn't stand it and so he left to sorrow privately. To an extent all the apostles shared Thomas' view because Luke records: They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Lk24v11. The words that Jesus spoke to Thomas were applicable to them all: "Stop doubting and believe." Jn20v27.

(2) The consequences of his absence.
Thomas missed a wonderful blessing. He was like the elder brother of Jesus' parable who absented himself from the party to celebrate the return of the prodigal.

There are big dangers when we stop away from church because we are confused, disappointed, disillusioned, hurt or grieving. That is the place to be otherwise we may miss the blessing - the very one we need - the very one God intends for us.

(3) Thomas' reaction to the other disciples' joy.
Thomas was very disappointed that Jesus had not appeared to him. He felt sorry for himself and embarked on a mega-sulk. I occasionally feel like Thomas when I witness young love. I see a couple ecstatically happy and think, 'It never happened for me.' Unless checked by a dash of humour it could make me sour and bitter!

Thomas' big sulk was not helped by the disciples insisting that they had seen Jesus. The more they insisted the angrier he got until he said violently: "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 it." v25.

I imagine Thomas was good at weeping with those that weep but he found it harder to rejoice with those that rejoice. I am like Thomas! When my boyhood friend, Mervyn, comes to speak at our church and tells us about all the wonderful things that are happening at the lively, charismatic fellowship he attends I find it hard to rejoice. I think to myself: 'Why has God passed us by? Why are there no young people at our church? Why are we in decline? Why has God hid is face from us?" The danger is that I will be as surly, ungracious and belligerent as poor old Thomas.

(E) The loving pastor's intervention.

I admire greatly the reaction of the father of the prodigal to the anger and stubborness of the elder brother: So his father went out and pleaded with him. Lk15v28. That was very gracious of the father and it was very gracious of Jesus to go to Thomas. He went:

(1) Because he understood Thomas.
Jesus knew how Thomas felt. He knew that Thomas wanted to see his Master for himself and was bitterly disappointed because he had missed out.

Jesus does come to us in his great mercy when we feel sorry for ourselves because of a set back in Christian service or the lack of blessing on our ministry. We are not left comfortless and in despair for too long.

(2) To reassure Thomas.
We all need reassurance from time to time. I realised that computers would never take over from teachers whenever I taught 8F. As the children traipsed into my room I would have a series of little encounters: "Have a polo mint Mr Reed." "Give us Five!" "Are you all right then my old buddy?" "I've forgotten my book, Mr Reed. What are we going to do?" Then as the lesson got underway I would have a sequence of requests: "Will you check my work is all right so far?" "Do you like my map then?" And from the wayward Lydia - "You do like me really don't you Mr Reed?" My pupils wanted reassurance that Mr Reed cared!

Thomas received reassurance that:

    (a) Jesus was alive and furthermore he knew what Thomas said and thought. There are times we need the same reassurance - that Jesus our living friend is watching over us and aware of all we do and say.

    One afternoon at Debenham School I was watching a football match when I heard a scrabbling noise in the hedge. Eventually the pretty face of Kirsty appeared through a gap in the hawthorn. "Hello, Mr Reed," she said.

    "Hello, Kirsty," I replied, "are you feeling better?" Kirsty had been away from school for several days.

    "Yes, thank you. I've been sunbathing in the garden this afternoon - but I've been right poorly."

    "Did Charlie come to see you?" I asked - Charlie being her boyfriend.

    "No," said Kirsty, "I looked too awful - but he sent me a rose."

    Now the look on my face must have alerted her because she continued: "Don't you dare say anything to him. I've told you in confidence - because you are my friend."

    In retirement I miss those happy little incidents with my pupils. But the point of the story is that I am able to talk to Jesus in confidence because he is a living friend. I am able to tell him what I would not entrust to any other.

            What a Friend we have in Jesus,
            All our sins and griefs to bear!
            What a privilege to carry
            Everything to God in prayer.

    (b) He was valued. Thomas needed to know that he was as important to Jesus as the other disciples.

    There are times we need to know that our Christian service is valued. Today, Jesus usually employs human instrumentality to give his saints reassurance. When a couple who had joined us, and looked as if they would be useful in the life of the fellowship, left, I felt very down. I was grateful to one of our old members who wrote: 'John - don't give up. You have a small group of very loyal supporters in the church who appreciate what you do.'

    (c) He had a role to play. Thomas required confirmation that there was work for Jesus he could do.

    That is something we occasionally need to be reassured about - that we are not useless - that there is a small contribution we can make to God's kingdom.

I wonder if we take the trouble to reassure our fellow Christians of their value and significance. It might be hard to do this for gloomy and belligerent brothers like Thomas - but they are often the ones who need it most!

(3) To reprimand Thomas.
Jesus did reprove Thomas. He repeated with irony the very thing Thomas demanded: "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side." v27. How Thomas must have wished he hadn't used such intemperate language.

If Jesus came to us and repeated some of the things we have said and thought we would be deeply ashamed.

Jesus told Thomas bluntly: "Stop doubting and believe." v27. Pessimism and doubt are unbecoming to a Christian. We shouldn't have low expectations of ourselves or of others. We certainly shouldn't have low expectations of Jesus and his gospel.

It is instructive to read about some of Christ's servants who endured many years of opposition and failure. Adoniram Judson, one of the first missionaries to Burma, is a good example. The Burmese imprisoned him for two years in the most appalling conditions. He just managed to survive because of the devotion of his wife who brought him food each day. A few months after his release Judson's wife and baby daughter died of fever. He built him self a one-room hut in the jungle and began to translate the Bible into the Burmese language. Only a few Burmese showed any interest in Christianity. But Adoniram Judson persevered for 34 years and today more than one million Burmese Christians can trace their spiritual roots to his ministry.

(4) To provide Thomas with the opportunity to redeem himself.
Jesus gave Thomas the chance to reaffirm his devotion. He had to wait a week for the reappearance of Jesus. What a long week that must have been! However, he had learned his lesson. When Jesus came to the Twelve a second time Thomas was there with them. I think Jesus gave him time to calm down! He must also have begun to reconsider his opinion such was the hopefulness of his fellow disciples.

To Thomas' credit he seized his opportunity to express total commitment to Jesus. He was too ashamed to put his finger in the nail wounds but Thomas was not too embarrassed to say: "My Lord and my God." He could not have said more. It was the ultimate acknowledgement. Have you said to Jesus: "My Lord and my God."? We need to say it whenever we have doubted Jesus - doubted his power, wisdom and love. Say it while you can!