Many of them had staked their whole future in following Jesus.
They’d left everything else behind. Jesus was their friend; and following Jesus
seemed to be the most exciting and compelling thing they could possibly do.
And now Jesus had been executed by a foreign power on a brutal cross.
Jesus had told his disciples a number of times that this was bound to happen,
but it still didn’t make sense to any of them.
None of what they had experienced with Jesus made sense …
if it all ended on a cross, or so they thought. They were confused, disappointed,
discouraged, grief-stricken, defeated, maybe even depressed.
We ourselves can lose hope when life seems to turn against us.
Many people have lost hope – life has become too hard or lacks meaning.
There are times when we think we have failed, or times of desperation where
answers seem to allude us, or times when we just feel broken.
An evil injustice may have been done to us. Sickness and pain can get on top of us.
Broken relationships break hearts. Maybe we think that we are wasting our life.
It could seem that those big dreams we had … have been killed off.
The character of Fantine in the musical version of Les Miserables,
who was so badly treated by so many people, sings “I dreamed a dream in days
gone by … now life has killed the dream I dreamed”.
If this is not true for you, it easily could be for someone you know.
Those lacking hope need to experience something new –
something that reassures them, lifts them, offers them a new way forward.
This is what Easter Sunday is about. Hope is generally defined as,
“a desire with the expectation of fulfilment”.
When the disciples started following Jesus, their desire for meaning had gained
high expectations. Such expectations had been suddenly dashed, but now,
just a couple of days later, there was to be new reason behind their hope.
Life was to take a new trajectory, yet again.
The original disciples of Jesus were going to receive some very good news.
God had raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was alive … he is risen!
So, for them, the worst of situations had now turned into the best of situations.
For these first disciples, a deep sense of hopelessness turned into exciting new hope.
This was worth celebrating then, as it is worth celebrating now.
Some people need more convincing than others.
We have read about one of these – his name was Thomas.
Why wasn’t Thomas with the others when Jesus first appeared to them following
his resurrection? Maybe this reveals the depths of his despair at this point –
not feeling able to be with others or talk about it.
Perhaps Thomas shouldn’t have needed so much evidence, but he did!
He has been called ‘Doubting Thomas’, and maybe many of us would have been
like him if we were in his position. Had we seen Jesus die on a cross,
we may have wanted more proof as well.
So is this really Jesus? Let me see his wounds! Let me touch where his body was injured!
Maybe these are fair enquiries – Thomas didn’t want his hopes dashed again!
The Bible tells us that Thomas did get that opportunity, just a week later,
to see and to touch the One who was unmistakably Jesus.
Jesus did not castigate Thomas for being slow or dumb or anything like that;
rather Jesus just makes himself available to Thomas. Then,
with love and understanding, Jesus said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe”!!
Take a step of faith – you have seen enough!
Thomas indeed gained new faith and hope as doubt was dismissed. What did he say?
One of the moment famous responses in the Bible: “My Lord and my God”.
Those feelings of hopelessness and discouragement that Thomas had experienced …
surely they could now be overcome.
If Jesus could rise from the dead, then anything is possible.
The fact that Jesus had risen Jesus, meant everything to Thomas.
The Gospel of John is quick to apply this to the generations that will follow:
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
The blessing of the resurrected Jesus is for everybody! Or as Romans puts it,
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
Like Thomas, when doubt gives way to belief, we can also say to Jesus,
“My Lord and my God”! A blessed people are we, when we believe in Jesus!
These first disciples had not only re-established their relationship with Jesus,
but now they had an exciting and challenging new phase in their lives.
They were being sent on mission. They were going to be peace-makers.
They were going to receive the Holy Spirit. They were going to live like Jesus lived.
They were going to work as a team. They were going to care for the poor,
comfort the sick, encourage the lonely, visit people in jail,
and stand up for the oppressed.
They were going to set a new standard for loving their neighbour.
They were going to share the Gospel and talk about the path to forgiveness.
Now that’s purpose! In all this there is great hope for making a difference.
Was the resurrection real? The first witnesses were clearly convinced!
That the first disciples risked their lives, often against severe opposition,
to share in the loving ministry of Jesus to the world, is a pretty good reason to
believe that they were on exactly the right track.
The significant growth of Jesus-followers, leading to the celebration of an
Easter festival over the centuries,
shows how important Jesus has been to so many millions of people.
Jesus will abide with his people and give them his very special personal peace.
Whereas we may have not felt very good about ourselves previously,
now Jesus will say, ‘You’re forgiven … you’re okay … you’re acceptable …
you’re valuable … you belong to me’!
We can and should open ourselves up to a relationship with this Jesus –
a relationship that will make all the difference.
In the end, it will be Jesus the person, who is our hope.
Not all of our worries will disappear straight away.
Many issues will still have to be worked through.
But the resurrection of Jesus does offer a whole new perspective,
a whole new way of thinking, a whole new bag of purpose –
we actually shouldn’t limit the possibilities of what a relationship with the
resurrected Jesus might mean for us. We may be able to start dreaming again.
God will do something good in us – it might just take us a while to recognise what it is.
I’ve met up with some pretty excited people this week, enjoying the prospect of
celebrating and worshipping God today. Not all of these people have everything
together by any means, but they do have hope and purpose.
Another one of these early disciples was Peter.
Peter had had his own moments of fear and failure – denying even knowing Jesus.
The Gospel of John goes on to tell about Peter’s recommissioning and the
reestablishment of his relationship with Jesus. Peter had learnt something through his
bad times, and now any lingering guilt for his past actions had been forgiven by Jesus.
Later, Peter would write these words:
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 (1 Peter 1:3).
Jesus is alive … hope lives on!
People continue to find forgiveness, restoration and new possibilities in life because of
what happened at Easter. I invite you to deeply consider all this again today.