“Real: Past, Present, Future”
April 03, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: John 20:19-31 Acts 5:27-32 Revelation 1:4-8
Have you ever been selected to serve on a jury, or had to testify in court, watched a courtroom drama, or even watched a trial that was on television like the O.J. Simpson mess?
At one point or another, whether it was on television or in real life, most of us have heard these words: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
A courtroom, in fact, our entire justice system depends upon people who tell the truth, and that, in turn, depends upon those people being courageous enough to stand up in public and speak out.
But, at the same time, there are, and there always have been, people in society and in the judicial system, that do their best to suppress the truth in one way or another because the truth doesn’t benefit them personally.
Defense attorneys know that when they are defending clients that are obviously guilty, it is not in their best interests for everyone to know the truth. And as sad as it is, often people with power and money attempt to manipulate the system, and manipulate the truth, in order to accumulate even more power and money.
Knowing that, and knowing that human beings have changed very little since the beginning of time, it comes as no surprise to discover that exactly the same thing was happening in the time of Jesus. In Acts 5:27-32, the disciples of Jesus are hauled into court because they insist on telling the truth.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council of Israel, the highest authority under Jewish law and second only to the authority of the Roman government, was a cross between our state legislature and the Supreme Court. They not only decided court cases, but passed legislation and rules under which the people of Israel lived. These were some of the most powerful men in the nation and they had specifically instructed the disciples of Jesus that they should not preach and teach about Jesus. Although they were in a position to know that the disciples had not stolen Jesus’ body, and they had probably heard testimony from one or more of the Roman soldiers who had guarded Jesus’ tomb, and although they themselves had manipulated the events that led to the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus, they didn’t like it when the disciples preached that Jesus was alive and that the Sanhedrin had done, exactly what they had done. In other words, the truth made them look bad, they didn’t like it, and they wanted the disciples to stop telling the truth.
But the disciples were prepared to take a stand.
Despite being ordered to stop, they continued to preach and teach about Jesus and, as eyewitnesses, they continued to tell the truth about what they had seen and heard. These were the men who were courageous enough to stand up in public and speak out and their best argument was that God had called them to speak the truth about what they had seen and what they had heard.
Jesus was real.
It wasn’t just that Jesus had been real in the past, but then had been crucified and died, it was more than that. And because it was more than that, it was much more important than that.
Human beings die. None of us get out of this life alive. Sooner or later, all of us will die, but these men had seen and heard Jesus, they sat down and shared meals with Jesus, they walked with and talked to Jesus long after they watched him die on the cross. In John 20:19-31, we hear this:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Because of these things, and others that John didn’t take the time to record, the disciples knew that Jesus was not just a person from the past, but was indeed a real, flesh and blood, living person in the present as well.
But still, there was more to it than that. When Jesus left the disciples, he didn’t simply join a caravan to Timbuktu and disappear into the sunset. When Jesus left, these men watched as he climbed to the top of a mountain and then ascended into the air until he was obscured from view by the clouds in the sky. And as he left, Jesus told the disciples what they were to do until he returned to earth. This means that the disciples were also clear that Jesus didn’t just live in the past and in the present, but would continue to live in the future as well.
And then, for good measure, the Apostle John saw this in a vision that we call the book of Revelation 1:4-8.
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
John recalls that in Matthew 23, Jesus had told them that he would be coming in the clouds. And then he hears God himself say that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who was, who is, and who is to come. And so this passage declares that Jesus will come in a time which is in our future, but, at the same time, he says that everyone will see him, including those who where there on the day that he died, which is in the past.
In writing this to the church in Asia, and to future generations, John is proclaiming that Jesus was real in the past, is real in the present, and will continue to be real in the future and until the end of time itself.
But there is one more point that must be noted from God’s revelation to John and that is the part that has the greatest impact on each one of us. John describes Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead” and that means that although Jesus rose from the dead, he will not be the last. What it means is that more resurrections are expected and those resurrections belong to those that are followers of Jesus. Each one of us have been freed from our sins by the blood of Jesus, and in doing so Jesus has called us to, collectively, be members of God’s kingdom and, individually, and be priests that serve God both now and forever.
The apostles had the courage to stand up in public and speak the truth about Jesus even when powerful people tried to stop them. They knew that Jesus is real in the past, in the present, and in the future and so do we. And because Jesus is real, we must answer his call to continue the work that the disciples began. We must speak the truth about Jesus in the world that we live in and we must answer his call as children of God, members of his kingdom, and as priests that minister and witness to the world.
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