What’s Next, When?
(John 20: 19-31)
A couple of years ago, we converted part of our basement into an apartment. Initially, it was a dark and stark third bedroom with a half-bath looking much like a cave where your anti-social teenager would prefer living. After much work, it is now a fully self-contained one-bedroom apartment which we list on Vacation Rentals by Owner for those who want to visit the area preferring not to stay in a hotel. Our guests register online so we always know when they are coming, which gives us plenty of time to clean the apartment and make it presentable. There’s usually some chocolates in the dish, muffins and juice in the refrigerator, a selection of coffees, and a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for our guests. The summer is filling up fast and we even have one guest who booked some time in the summer of 2020. It’s a real convenience knowing when your guests are arriving, especially if you’re a procrastinator and are prone to putting things off until the last minute.
Unfortunately, the remaining disciples didn’t have the luxury of knowing when Christ was going to return. All they had were the excited ramblings of Mary who claimed to have seen Jesus who said he was ascending to his Father. And that’s where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for this morning, with the disciples wondering what’s next, when will they see Jesus again. By now, it’s the evening of the first day of the week and we are told the disciples were together, with the door locked for fear of the Jews. You can’t really blame them. They just witnessed some pretty unsettling things. Their leader, the professed Messiah, the Son of God, was just arrested, tried, beaten beyond recognition, mocked and executed as they stood helplessly by. If the authorities could do this to God’s son, they shuddered to think what could happen to them. Was there a house-to-house search going on right now looking for the followers of this radical rabbi? Surely, their lives were in danger.
All of a sudden, Jesus appeared before them. He didn’t knock on the door to be let in, he just appeared. What a shock that must have been as the last time they had seen him, he was dead. Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you. After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
Most of us know this account as the story of Doubting Thomas who was not there when Christ first appeared. When they told Thomas that they had seen the Lord he didn’t believe them. He said he would only believe it when he saw it with his own eyes, when he sees the mark of the nails in his hands, puts his finger in the mark of the nails, and his hand in his side. Until this happens, he will not believe. Sure enough, a week later Jesus appears again and tells Thomas to put his finger on the marks of the nails and his hand in his side. Jesus tells him not to doubt, but to believe. Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. We’re told that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in the Bible, but that the ones that are written are so that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name.
So, what’s next? When is this second coming going to happen? Questions I am sure were discussed among the disciples and followers of Jesus. Jesus’ words, As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe, must have resonated with the disciples. Jesus is passing the job of spreading the gospel of salvation around the world to his disciples. There’s no manual, no how-to guide. Just the examples and teachings of Jesus who leaves it up to us to be creative in implementing his plan for the transformation of a broken world.
Fortunately for us, we have the writings of the New Testament to guide us, the writings of the Apostles. The Apostle Peter, the same Peter who denied Jesus twice, the same Peter Jesus instructed to feed his sheep, the same Peter who ran to the tomb on Easter morning and was present that evening when Jesus appeared to them, the same Peter upon whom Jesus said he would build his church, gives hope for growing Christians in his second letter, Second Peter, chapter three. He closes out his letter wanting to remind them of the command given by their Lord and Savior through the apostles. He tells them that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say: Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar? We still have modern-day scoffers who like to point out how bad things are and question our blind faith that things will get better when Jesus returns. What’s he waiting for? But Peter points out that they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water, that the world of the time was deluged and destroyed and by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. The time for the unbelievers and the scoffers will one day come. Peter goes on to say: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Peter tells us that the day of the Lord will come like a thief, when you least expect it, when you aren’t prepared, catching you off-guard. He tells us that until that time, we ought to live holy and godly lives as we look forward to the day of God. And since we are looking forward to it, we should make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
God may have seemed slow to these believers as they faced persecution every day and longed to be delivered. But God is not slow, he just is not on our timetable. Jesus is patiently waiting so that more sinners will repent and turn to him. He’s patiently waiting for us to get our houses in order and make preparations for his second coming. So, we must not sit around and just wait for Christ to return. We should be living with the realization that time is short and that we have important work to do. We need to be ready to meet Christ at any time, even today. So, plan your course of service as though he may not return for many years. Set short-term goals and long-term objectives. Work for today with an eye towards tomorrow.
Jesus is not expecting clean sheets, chocolates, juice and muffins, gourmet coffee or even a complimentary bottle of wine, (he can make his own), but he is expecting to see the fruits of our labor on his behalf. When he unexpectedly returns, he should catch us in the middle of the harvest, not sitting in the shade planning on doing something when we get around to it.
Please pray with me.
Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do, yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me. Oh, what a debt we have for which we cannot repay as Jesus died in our place, bearing on Calvary my sin and disgrace. Such love constrains us to answer his call and follow his lead giving him our all. Living for Jesus through earth’s little while, my dearest treasure, the light of his smile, seeking the lost ones he died to redeem, bringing the weary to find rest in him. We live for Jesus wherever we are, doing each duty in his holy name in the face of scoffers who subject us to ridicule and scorn. We know not when he shall return but we work in earnest in the harvest until we are united with him in glory. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.