Readings: Acts 4:32–37, 1 John 1:1–2:2 & John 20:19:31
I wonder what message you might have taken from our readings this morning? I wonder if it might have something to do with
to Jesus Christ in the world? That’s certainly the message that I got. That as Christians, we are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world today.
Our first two readings–from the Acts of the Apostles and the First Letter of John–both give us insight into what life was like in the early Christian communities, but they also give us instructions about bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
We learn from the Acts of the Apostles that members of the early church in Jerusalem were generous and selfless. That they “pooled” their resources together. Each person shared their possessions with the other members of the community. Those members who owned land and/or houses sold them, and gave the proceeds from the sale to the apostles, who in turn distributed money to each person according to their needs. One such member was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, a man we know better as Barnabas.
Barnabas was a pivotal figure (together with Paul) in the ministry of the early church to the Gentiles. He was responsible, with Paul, for establishing many of the Gentile churches.
‘He was the initial leader of the mission team who undertook what became the first significant penetration of the gospel into the Gentile world.’1
His strong backing of Paul, following Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, enabled Paul to be accepted by the leaders (Peter, James and others) of the church in Jerusalem, and for Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles to be embraced by them as well. Barnabas is a wonderful example of someone bearing witness to Jesus Christ in first-century Palestine.
In the same way, the First Letter of John provides us with an insight into the Johannine communities, which were those Christian communities that placed great emphasis on the teachings of Jesus as revealed through the Gospel of John. The context of this passage from the First Letter of John, is that there appear to have been a number of
in the Johannine congregations, whose teaching seemed to deny the opening claims of John’s Gospel, that Jesus was the Word-made-flesh, and which also seemed to deny human sinfulness and the need for an atoning sacrifice.2 In the wake of these
John needed to defend and reaffirm the orthodox, apostolic claim of Jesus as the eternal, preexistent Word, who had been with God from the very beginning, who had become flesh, and who was attested to by the apostles, who had been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry.3
And what better witness to the truth of this apostolic claim than the apostles of Jesus themselves? With their own eyes they saw Jesus perform the signs that are recorded in John’s Gospel. They heard with their own ears the teaching of Jesus, that is also recorded in John’s Gospel. And they saw with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands, the risen Jesus. That is why they were able to declare with complete confidence that Jesus was the Word-made-flesh who had been revealed to humankind. And to declare it publicly, so that other people might also have the opportunity to share in the joy and wonder that they were blessed to experience for themselves. Through their witness, the apostles were the representatives of the ‘new messianic community’.
And in today’s gospel reading, where the risen Jesus appears to the apostles, despite the doors to the room they are in being locked, Jesus commissions the apostles to take up the ministry of this new community when he breathes on them and says,
“Receive the Holy Spirit”.
The apostles witnessed firsthand the signs that Jesus performed in his earthly ministry, and now belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God comes from their testimony to the signs that Jesus performed, rather than from people seeing the signs for themselves.
However, as we know,
“seeing is believing”.
And in today’s reading, we hear that one of the apostles (Thomas) isn’t present when Jesus appears, and unless he can see for himself, he refuses to believe the testimony of the other apostles that this risen Jesus is the same Jesus who was crucified. And so a week later, Jesus once again appears to the apostles when they are in a locked room, only this time Thomas is with them. Immediately Thomas believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead and he exclaims,
“My Lord and my God”,
which interestingly is the only time in the Bible when Jesus is explicitly referred to as God. Jesus gently rebukes Thomas, and then announces that those who believe without having physically seen are blessed.4
Therefore the readers of John’s Gospel, like us here this morning, must believe on the basis of the witness of the apostles, and not on the basis of seeing for themselves. But even though we may not have seen the risen Jesus for ourselves, or witnessed the signs that Jesus performed, we may have experienced a revelation of Jesus through a specific life event and/or a particular person that we have come into contact with. And that revelation, together with the witness of the apostles, enables us to believe without having physically seen. It enables us to have faith.
By that faith, and through the lives that we lead, as members of the ‘new messianic community’, that is the Church, we are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world today. We are called to proclaim the story of Jesus; from his being with God before creation, to his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection.
The Lord be with you.
1 James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 60
2 Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), pp. 264-265
3 Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, p. 264
4 Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, P. 260