Witnesses And Leaders

April 7, 2024 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2024

Passage: Luke 24:33–40, 1 John 1:1–3, John 20:19–28

Sermon 4-7-24

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

Based on the Second and Gospel Lessons for The Second Sunday of Easter, 1John 1:1-2:2 John 20:19-31


Witnesses And Leaders

In Lent we examined Romans 1:18-32 where St. Paul describes how any culture, nation or people that has ever existed or will exist can slide into paganism. Do this one thing and paganism in all its most perverse aspects will eventually result. That one thing is for a culture to systemically deny that this universe has a Creator God.

As we’ve been noting recently, it seems that people — especially young people — are coming to the conclusion that there’s something just not right about the times we’re living in. They don’t know it, but it’s the slide into paganism that they’re feeling. As we’re going to explain in the Sundays of Easter, Christianity has an antidote for what they’re feeling. And I’m going to lay that out beginning today.

However, today I want to deal first with the matter of the Apostle, Thomas. We might call the Second Sunday of Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday, since the incident from John’s gospel about Thomas always is read on this Sunday. In order to understand it, we’re going to do a little chronology of Easter Sunday. But before that, a little note on why the Resurrection of our Lord occurred on the first day of a week.

The four gospel writers are all insistent that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth occurred on the first day of the week — Sunday. This is notable because it coincides with a special festival found in the Law of Moses.

Jesus was crucified at the beginning of the Old Testament festival of Unleavened Bread. Here’s what the Law of Moses has to say about that festival. Numbers 28:16-17, “On the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD’S Passover, 17 and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast. Seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten.” Now since unleavened bread is also required for Passover, in effect the week of unleavened bread is eight days.

Like our calendar months, Jewish calendar months can start on any of the seven days of the week. Therefore, Passover and Unleavened Bread can begin on any day of the week as well. However, there’s a special commandment dealing with the Saturday Sabbath that falls within the week of Unleavened Bread. We read in Leviticus 23:15-16, “‘You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.’”

The day after a Sabbath is the first day of the week, Sunday. Therefore, on the Sunday that falls within the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special offering of grain was to be made in the Jerusalem Temple. And from that day fifty more days were to be counted off. In Jewish tradition this counting is called the Omer. Then, on the fiftieth day, also a Sunday, comes the great festival of Shavuot or Pentecost. We Christians also follow the practice of counting the Omer. That’s why there are fifty days between our celebrations of Easter and the Day of Pentecost.

Now, the Sunday in the Week of Unleavened Bread was also a day when a grain offering of the first fruits of the harvest was presented to the Lord in obedience to Leviticus 23:9-11. This commanded offering of the first fruits of the spring harvest was a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Thus, the parable Jesus told about Himself in John 12:24 makes sense. John 12:24, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’”; Also what Paul writes in 1Corinthians 15:22-23, “22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Jesus is the first fruit of Yahweh’s harvest of earth’s dead unto eternal life. Appropriately He was resurrected as firstfruits from the dead on the Sunday of the firstfruits offering in the Week of Unleavened Bread.

So now to the resurrection chronology. As we read last Sunday, when the women went out to the tomb they were amazed at what they saw and experienced. However, we read in Luke 24:10-11, “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Remember, last week we talked about how important it is to believe the testimony of the 600 eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection? So, these women were the first to see the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus. They were the very first eyewitnesses. But were they believed? No. Therefore, the apostles and others in the upper room failed to be converted by the women’s eyewitness testimony. There are two reasons for this as we’ll see shortly.

In the 24th chapter of his gospel, Luke tells us of two disciples who left Jerusalem Easter afternoon for the village of Emmaus. We’re told Jesus joined them for the trip, but they were kept from recognizing Him until he broke bread with them at their destination and promptly disappeared. After this, they ran back to Jerusalem. So we read in Luke 24: 33- 40, “33. . . And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.” Did you notice all the trouble they had believing? Keep that in mind.

Now we turn to John’s Gospel and the account there of the same meeting on Easter evening. John 20:19-22, “19. . . Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” 

It’s only when Jesus breathed Lord Holy Spirit upon them that the 10 apostles and all the others gathered in that room were able to fully believe what their eyes were telling them about the resurrected Jesus. Keep this in mind as we go forward. But a note here. Jesus’ breathing of the Spirit upon the apostles on Easter evening was not the general pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. What Jesus did Easter evening was specific to the people He was going to use as witnesses and apostles.

In today’s Gospel lesson we learned that for whatever reason Thomas wasn’t at that meeting on Easter evening. And just like the men in that upper room had been resistant to the women’s eyewitness testimony until Jesus breathed Lord Holy Spirit upon them, so Thomas was resistant to the eyewitness testimony of those who had been with Jesus on Easter evening.

The men in the upper room on Easter could have been the first to believe based on eyewitness testimony.  But they could not believe the women. Why not? They had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Likewise, Thomas was missing Easter evening. He had not yet received Lord Holy Spirit and could not believe the eyewitness testimony of the other men. Therefore, a week after Easter, the resurrected Jesus again appeared in the upper room with Thomas present.

As we saw in the gospel lesson, when Jesus presented Himself, Thomas didn’t do any disbelieving for joy or anything else. He immediately cried out, John 20:28, “. . . ‘My Lord and my God!’” Although Scripture doesn’t say anything about it, to me, Thomas’ immediate response is an indication that Lord Holy Spirit was also breathed into him at that moment.

And then we come to Jesus’ words in John 20:29, “. . . ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” Thomas could have been the first one to believe because of the testimony of others. That didn’t happen because he was meant to be one of the 600 eyewitnesses. But notice, it’s only because of Lord Holy Spirit that any of the eyewitnesses were able to believe what they were seeing. And as we saw last Sunday and will see again on Pentecost, the first 3,000 people who believed Jesus was resurrected from the dead solely on the basis of the testimony of the 600 were only able to do so because of Lord Holy Spirit. He’s the person of the Godhead who can solve all our doubting problems.

So, this completes our chronology of Easter. The disciples gathered in the upper room could have believed Jesus was resurrected from the dead because of the testimony of others. But they didn’t. Reason number one is that they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit to convince them of the testimony. Second is that these people were meant to be among the 600 eyewitnesses anyway.

There’s probably a third point here. We’re sinners with a sinful nature. Therefore, our normal condition is to doubt both the commands and promises of our Creator God. In this way, the apostles were no different than us. Therefore, Just as Lord Holy Spirit made the difference in them, so only He can make the difference in us.

So now, let’s turn to setting the stage for how both individuals and entire cultures can get out of the paganism they have fallen into. The historical model for this is what happened when Christianity took over first the Roman Empire and then Europe.

Instructing his disciples on what would happen to them in the future, Jesus said in Luke 21: 12-15, “12 ‘But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.’”

We see this prophecy fulfilled in the Book of Acts where first the Apostles Peter and James and the Deacon, Steven, testified before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Then, Paul and his companions are interrogated before several Roman tribunals. At the end of the book Paul testifies before, two Roman governors, Felix and Festus and a Jewish king, Herod Agrippa. Finally, as a captive, Paul is sent off to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Acts ends before that trial, but history says that Paul was let go. He would later stand trial before a different Caesar and be condemned to death.

What was Yahweh’s purpose in having His Christians brought before kings and governors to testify? Leaders lead their people in all matters, including religion. As the leader goes, so goes his or her followers or subjects. This is true from the basic levels of the family and clan all the way up to kingdoms. Therefore, Yahweh used this feature of human life that He baked into us to accomplish His purpose of bringing salvation to the world. If a leader was converted to Christianity, he wanted all his people to be Christian as well. We see this particularly when the Roman emperors, beginning with Constantine, embraced Christianity. The entire empire from Britain and Spain to the Holy Land became Christian. Even when the barbarian tribes started invading the western part of the empire and conquering it, those tribes and their kings settled in and became Christian.

Then, even after the western part of the empire collapsed, missionaries moved northward and started to reach the kings and leaders of the Germanic tribes who then led their people into Christianity. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the feast day of St. Patrick. It was only when Patrick brought Christianity to the leaders of the Irish tribes that the people of that island became Christian. As late as 1,000A.D., Christianity was being embraced by the leaders of Eastern Europe and their peoples. Thus, Christianity reached the Slavs and the Russians. None of this was done by conquering armies. It was done by preachers of the Word like Patrick, acting in the power of Lord Holy Spirit.

In contrast, Islam is a false religion that arose in the East and Arabia after 650A.D. It evangelized with the sword. Become Muslim or die. Islam’s constant military aggression boxed Christian Europe in for centuries until Europeans learned how to sail the oceans and go around Islamic lands. Only when that happened did Christianity continue its march across the continents.

That march is still going on because it’s the will of the Lord. But presently we have hit a snag here in the West. For various reasons the historic model has broken down. In Lent, as we looked at Romans 1:18-32, it’s clear that this society has fallen down a hole into increasing paganism. As Scripture makes known, the root cause of a descent into paganism is denial of Yahweh, the true Creator God. And what’s apparent here in the West is that our leaders for multiple generation have abandoned Yahweh for secularism, then Marxism, and now the pagan gods and goddesses. Is it any surprise, then, that the people have followed suit?

As Paul showed us in Romans 1:18-32, societal descent into paganism brings a new normal that is anything but normal compared to the society that Christianity produces. This is because paganism releases human consciences from allegiance and devotion to Yahweh, the God of righteousness and purity. Consequently, rebellion and evil then become the rule. Power over others for the sake of power over others is worshipped and sought after. These are the societal pangs that are being felt by young people. And it’s nothing new. It’s just the same old paganism that gripped the world before Jesus Christ.

And it was precisely in that ancient pagan world that Jesus and His Church exploded onto the scene, causing converts to devote themselves to Yahweh, the righteous God. It’s no different now.

In the current situation, even the proponents of atheism are becoming alarmed. In the U.S., Bill Maher is most unpleased with the political and societal madness that his vicious atheist attacks against Christianity have produced. Only he still has no clue that his atheism is the cause of the very madness he’s objecting to. In Europe, British atheist, Richard Dawkins just confessed in an interview that while he’s an atheist he’s also a “cultural Christian” — meaning he feels secure in the culture that Christianity produced. Reality in the form of the coming Muslim takeover of Britain is what’s unnerving him. Well, Richard, your atheism created the vacuum that the false god, Allah, is filling. And as you well know, Islam doesn’t let atheists live. Are you happy? Indeed, both Bill and Richard have proven that Yahweh cannot be mocked.

So, in this situation what power does Christ’s Church have? The same power it has always had — the Truth. For, the wrath of Yahweh’s Truth is coming home to roost against the godless fools of this age. 

But, then, there’s the good news. Yahweh’s Truth centers around the person of Messiah Jesus. And Messiah Jesus has revealed Himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords by becoming obedient to Yahweh unto death — even death on a cross. For which, Yahweh resurrected His beloved Son from death — the hideous veil last week’s first lesson says presently covers all creation. Yahweh resurrected Jesus’ mortal body into the prototype immortal righteous human body that all who die in Messiah Jesus are destined to receive. As it is written in 1Corinthians 15:54-55, “54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”

It’s news of the coming righteous immortality under the leadership of Jesus Christ that rocked the ancient world. It still rocks the present world. All who desire Yahweh’s Truth can have it through repentance and forgiveness of the greatest sin of all, unbelief.

And this is where Thomas and the rest of the 600 come in. They were the eyewitnesses. As the Apostle John said in 1John 1:1-3 “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed jour fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 

Those who can believe this Truth by the grace of Lord Holy Spirit can also have real fellowship with the risen Jesus. Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the ESV.

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