Friday, April 24, 2015

Rev. Michael Smith - The Body of Christ

THE BODY OF CHRIST

A.  Why did Christ stay in the body?
    1. Thomas examines the nail-pierced hands
    2. The abuse that the Body had endured
    3. Christ’s commitment to the Body --- a witness to the miracle

B. Why wasn’t Thomas with the body?
    1. Thomas the doubter…or Thomas the missing?
    2. Where was Thomas during the first meeting?  Why didn’t Jesus seek him out?
    3. Jesus was establishing a new body, the Church, and Thomas was called to be a part of it.

C. Why should we stay with the Body?
    1.  The distinctives of the body – worship, discipleship, evangelism
    2. Worship –  it makes us who we are, giving us strength, energy, purpose
    3. Discipleship – learning from each other
    4. Evangelism – The ministry of reconciliation is our witness to the world.

D. Call to action/call to unity
    1. Kumbaya?  Let it be!
    2. How good and how pleasant it is…
    3. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord


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Despite the scars, the resurrected Christ remained in his physical body.

The tableau that we’ve just read makes this undeniable.  Jesus, the crucified one, who had hung
on a cross in plain sight of both his supporters and detractors for the better part of a day, now stood in
front of Thomas.  And he said, “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands.”  And Thomas reached
out a tremulous hand himself, and his fingers touched the palms of Jesus’ hands, smooth skin suddenly
interrupted by torn flesh yielding to holes in the center of those palms.  Thomas not only saw it, but he
felt it.  And then Jesus said, “Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”  And Thomas reached out his
hand once again, feeling torn skin and blood, exposed nerves and tendons in Jesus’ side.  Jesus said, “Do
not doubt but believe.”  And as I see this, in my mind’s eye I can only imagine that Thomas must have
fallen to his knees with incredulity, feeling his doubt dissolve and surrender to a newly-strengthened
faith as he proclaimed breathlessly, “My Lord and my God!”

It was undeniably the body of Jesus, and it was undeniably Jesus remaining in that body.  Now
did Jesus have to remain in the body?  After all, Jesus, the son of God, the second party in the Trinity,
was in nature God himself.  And as He had proclaimed to the woman at the well in John chapter 4, God
is spirit.  Could He not have somehow made himself known and visible as Spirit?  Why was the flesh
needed?  The Spirit was still alive, why remain in this prison of human form? For indeed, in many ways it
must have constituted continued limitation and a prison to him.  Certainly we’ve all experienced pain, or
age, or limitation in our bodies, and at times wished desperately that we could either trade bodies with
someone else or just get out of them entirely.  And the body of our Lord Jesus had been shredded by
whips.  It had been beaten, broken, bloodied, dehydrated, pierced.  Punctured by thorns.  Torn by nails
and spears.  Mocked by enemies full of hate.

    And yet, the resurrected Christ remained in his body.   Because only in the body could He
demonstrate conclusively that He had broken the power of sin and death once and for all.   Death, after
all, is a physical thing.  We declare a person or an animal to be dead when we can no longer find any sign
of life in their physical bodies.  The soul, we somehow instinctively believe that it lives on, that it still
exists, thinks, experiences, somehow.  We can scarcely imagine otherwise.  But death is a physical thing.
So only in the body could Christ maintain His association with us and still proclaim victory over the
forces of death.   And as for victory over sin, over evil.  Could sin possibly have been manifested any
more strongly than in those forces that sought to tear apart the very body of the Lord himself?  But sin,
too, had been defeated.   Those men aligned with the forces of darkness could find no body in the tomb,
and still can’t today, because it wasn’t there.  But hundreds of people would see Jesus, who had been
conclusively declared dead, alive and well, preaching, cooking, living, breathing, even smiling.  And
Thomas saw him today, alive and well and still in his body.

Thomas….Thomas.  We’ve labeled Thomas as the doubter, but I’m not sure that’s really the
correct label for him.  After all, the other disciples would scarcely have believed that Jesus had indeed
been resurrected until they’d seen him in the flesh.  Nor would Mary.  Nor would the men on the road
to Emmaus, or countless others.  Doubting the resurrection would have been totally natural and
common until they’d seen him with their own eyes.  This was a symptom, but not the cause of Thomas’
misgivings.    Why did Thomas doubt?  Look again at John 20, starting at verse 19, and perhaps, along
with me, you’ll see what I believe was the real issue.  Jesus came and appeared in the Upper Room to
the gathered disciples, and Thomas wasn’t there.  Thomas the doubter was Thomas the missing.
Thomas the truant.  Thomas the deserter?

Where was Thomas? Why wasn’t he there?  Now surely you can see many good reasons why he
wouldn’t have been there.  After all, he had seen the leader who he had pledged his allegiance to
soundly defeated, publicly scorned and hung on a tree.  As for these other disciples, these men who he’d
shared the last three years with, well, he hadn’t really chosen them as his companions.   He may not
even have really liked most of them.  And now, because of his association with them, he was a marked
man himself, a wanted man and a man in danger.  You could scarcely have blamed him for hiding, for
isolating himself, for considering moving on with his life and leaving them behind as part of a sad, foolish
chapter in his history.  And when they found him and told him that Jesus had been resurrected, not only
was this an incredible claim, but in many ways he had probably already set his eyes, his mind, his heart
elsewhere, in another direction.

Now, note that Jesus was there when Thomas made this statement of unbelief to his fellow
companions.  Perhaps not physically, but Jesus seemed to have heard the very words that Thomas had
used, the insistence on seeing the marks on his hands and the hole in his side.  He would echo those
words back to Thomas later.  But Jesus, the great shepherd who actively pursues His lost sheep, in this
instance did not suddenly appear to reclaim Thomas.  He didn’t go off and meet with Thomas wherever
he was, in isolation, away from the others, and fulfill his wish, and restore his hopes, his resolve and his
strength. No, a full week passed, and  Jesus waited to appear to Thomas until He was once again in the
Upper Room, gathered with the others, in the place and time of meeting.  Why?

My brothers and sisters, Jesus waited because He needed Thomas there.  He needed Thomas to
be a part of the disciples, not apart from the disciples.  Indeed, at this moment, Jesus was continuing to
fulfill His purpose on Earth, and as He had been doing in working with the disciples for three years, He
was preparing to remove His earthly body from this plane and replace it with a new body, a body of
believers, a body that would be known as the Church.  These were His new chosen people.  And Thomas
was indeed meant, selected, chosen to represent Him, not apart from it, but as a part of it.

Jesus didn’t abandon His body.  And he didn’t want Thomas to abandon the body.

Now where does that leave us?  Here we are, the Church.  We are a small body, seemingly
outnumbered and in many ways unwanted in today’s society.  We’re even at that time of year when
members of the church somehow naturally seem to drift.  After all, the excitements and activities of the
Christmas season and the Easter season are over.  I’ve seen busy churches become ghost towns at that
time, as attention and perhaps, in some ways, allegiances are pulled away in favor of much other
personal and organizational busi-ness.   Oh, come on, Michael, are you really going to preach to us about
attendance?  I could hear the outcries even as I wrote this.  Hey, we’re the ones who are here today.
Aren’t you literally preaching to the choir?  Well, yes, perhaps, but remember, Judas had been a part of
the choir.  Thomas had been a part of the choir, and even he sometimes needed reminders that he
needed to be there, both in body and in spirit.  He missed significant things when he wasn’t.  Therefore,
yes, I want to offer you a few reminders this morning of why we need to be here, regularly, consistently,
in heart, mind, spirit and body, in good times and in bad, whether it’s particularly popular to be here or
not.  Jesus didn’t abandon His body, and brothers and sisters, neither should we.

Why should we remain?  First, because our involvement in the church is a major part of what
makes us who we are.  It is a primary tool that Jesus uses to shape us, to form us, to mold us, indeed, to
keep us pliable enough to be shaped, formed, and molded.  Walking away from it, believing that we are
better than it, that we don’t need it, that we can function as Christians without it, flies in the face of
both his command, his intension, and his provision to us.  It is, in fact, the act of exchanging Jesus’
established form and place of worship for a very real self-righteousness, and it seems clear throughout
his teachings that self-righteousness is one of the things that Jesus hates most.  Yes, we can read our
Bibles, pray and worship in isolation, but the danger of succumbing to ones’ own selfish interests, needs
and desires is magnified exponentially if we do these things exclusively in isolation.  And that doesn’t
even begin to touch upon the danger of capitulation to those outside forces which remain violently and
relentlessly opposed to the influence of Christ, the culture wars, the wars against principalities and
powers.  To stand alone is more often than not to set Christ up for defeat, and yourself with Him.  In
many ways the American culture has vilified participation in any organized body, touting the so-called
virtues of independence.   In his book The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller reflects that “a high percentage
of people want to achieve spiritual growth without losing their independence to a church or to any
organized institution.”  Does the culture at large pull people in this direction?  Of course.  Here’s just one
example, in the most modern iteration of Star Trek, who are the villains considered the worst, the most
unstoppably evil, and the most relentlessly powerful?  The Borg!  “You will be assimilated!”  This is
considered a statement of evil.  But why are the Borg so strong?  Because they remain together!
Because they remain united!  Shouldn’t this tell us something?  Timothy Keller goes on to state
conclusively that “there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a
community of other believers.  You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends,
without a family of believers in which you find a place.”

Why should we remain?  Secondly, because the church is a place of discipleship, and we learn
from each other.  We are meant to lean on each other, to protect each other, to grow with each other,
iron sharpening iron. .  As He speaks through us, He also teaches us to speak to each other.   As He
teaches us to listen to Him, He also teaches us to listen to each other.  In his book The Four Loves, C.S.
Lewis wrote that “in each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring
out.”  I get that.  At the Smith house, we have a cat, because my wife is a cat lover.  Now me, I’m not.
But because of that cat, I get to see a side of my wife that I rarely see elsewhere.  There are affectionate
ways that she responds to that cat, imitations that she does of him, delight that she takes in him that I
don’t see her express in quite the same way anywhere else.  So I tolerate the cat, because he brings out
a side of my wife that I truly love and that I don’t get to see otherwise.  C.S. Lewis applies this thought to
the body of believers, stating that through our friendship and through our continued fellowship, we get
to see sides of God that we may not fully see or understand otherwise.   “For every soul, seeing Him in
her own way, communicates that unique vision to all the rest. ”

And finally, why should we remain?  Because in this we witness to the rest of the world the
power of God’s love.  The ministry of reconciliation referenced in 2 Corinthians 5 isn’t just about men
and women reconciling themselves to God, it’s also about reconciling themselves to each other, and
then reconciling them to God through each other.  Christ says that they’ll know we are Christians by our
love.  That’s not just our love to them, that’s our love to each other.  If we within the body of Christ
cannot be bothered to tolerate, indeed to love, each other, visibly and repeatedly, why would the world
at large ever believe that we could have the strength and the commitment to love them?  We must love
each other.  Even when we disappoint each other.  Even when the Church disappoints us.  Even when
we hurt each other.  Even when we feel that the Church hurts us.  I’ve been there.  I’ve been hurt by the
Church, and by people in the church, even as many of you, even most of you, doubtless have.  But this is,
and remains, the body of Christ.  Christ could only demonstrate the miracle of His triumph by remaining
in that broken, scarred, imperfect body.  Likewise, I would submit, we can only demonstrate the miracle
of His triumph in remaining in the broken, scarred, imperfect body known as the Church.

Christ didn’t abandon His body, and neither should we.  If you believe that today, let’s stand
together and join hands.  This isn’t about being an introvert or an extrovert, its about showing our
commitment to the church and to each other.  Some would sneer and call this a Kumbaya moment, but
Kumbaya was just another way of saying, “Lord, come by here,” so if we want Christ here, then let’s  do
this.  He said Himself that where two or three are gathered together in His name, there He will be in the
midst of them.  So feel the connection between us right now.  How good and how pleasant it is when
brothers dwell together in unity…for there will God bestow the blessing, life forevermore.    Remaining
together, remaining in the body, is a choice.  And so I echo along with our true Founding Fathers, choose
you this day whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  And God willing, we
will serve Him together.

Now release hands if you need to, but remain standing, and let us proclaim together what we as
Christians believe as stated in the Nicene Creed.

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