Of course I was all mixed up - there's no denying that. We all were, really! With our own ideas of this Kingdom of God that Jesus kept talking about. Even had our quarrels about which one of us would be greatest in the Kingdom! And when Jesus talked about dying in Jerusalem, not one of us could grasp it.
We could all see the dangers he was running into. He was prepared to speak out the truth of God, no matter how it angered the Jewish authorities. We were increasingly convinced that he was "the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God", as Peter put it one day (Mt. 16.16). But we thought that should have meant a protected life, a person whom nothing could touch. If he really was the Messiah, we could picture him restoring, not only true worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, free from corruption, but the Kingdom to Israel. The corruption in the priesthood and the ruling council would be eliminated, the Romans would be driven from the land and Jesus would sit on the throne of David and rule the land in justice and peace.
He was outspoken - called our leaders hypocrites, whitewashed tombs Those were dangerous things to do, but it raised our hopes. Just watch! He's going to restore the Kingdom to Israel!
But yes, it was dangerous! When he declared in the Temple, "I and the Father are one" (10.30), the people picked up stones to throw at him. They said he was claiming to be God (v.33). Jesus answered them, challenging them to consider his life and the things he did "that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (v.38). Once more they tried to seize Jesus, but he escaped their grasp.
We scattered as a group, leaving the Temple by different gates, hurrying up this alley and that, rejoining after we had made our way out of Jerusalem. We could see that it was not safe there. So we went across the River Jordan. It was a quieter place, away from the heat of opposition. Quite a number of the locals came to believe on him there.
Then we got this message from Bethany - "Lord, the one you love [Lazarus] is sick!" We all knew how close Jesus had been to that family. But Bethany is not far from Jerusalem. So when Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death " (11.4), we were all reassured. Everything would be all right in Bethany and we could stay in this safe place.
But then, a couple of days later Jesus began talking about going back to Judaea. One of the others said, "But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" (v.8). He answered that he had to go back to wake up Lazarus. But, we protested, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better" (v.12). Then Jesus said plainly to us, "Lazarus is dead Let us go to him" (vv.14-15).
Now here is a strange turn. Here we were, safely away from danger, safely away from enemies, safely among people who believed in him Jesus wants us to go to Lazarus who has died. He has held back, chosen not to go to Bethany - wisely, we think - why put yourself back in certain danger? Why go to the place where your own death might cut off the fulfilment of all those promises of God?
But I could see that Jesus had made up his mind. I said to the others, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (v.16). Jesus always had my support, one hundred percent - even if it meant us all dying together!
Of course, it didn't happen that way! Lazarus was raised to life! But there was danger. Word must have got to the chief priests, for the whisper went around that they wanted to eliminate Lazarus too because so many Jews were rejecting them - turning away from them and believing in Jesus (vv.10-11).
Not long after that we went into Jerusalem together - you call it Palm Sunday, I think. Now here was a chance. The Pharisee party were antagonistic. That was obvious. But if the rest of the people could be carried, Jesus might just pull it off. It was a chance. He might just do it.
But, in private, he still talked about going back to the Father. It was all so confusing, so different from what we had thought about the Messiah. I was quite bewildered. I remember saying, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (14.5) I am the way, Jesus said, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me. Amazing words! If they're true, what a world of a difference. What might they mean?
When they took him and nailed him to the cross - and he died, yes, he really died! - when they had done their worst to him, when they had crucified him, when he had been speared through his side, when he had been laid in the tomb, when his body disappeared It was all too much. The book had been closed.
Then the others began to talk about having seen Jesus alive. That would be nice. What a world of difference if it was true! But I wasn't going to believe just on someone else's say so!
Was I a doubter? Now just what do you mean by that? There are three kinds of doubters. There are some who throw arguments against believing because they don't want to believe, anyway. There are others who live with a constant uncertainty about anything and everything. And there are some who raise probing questions because they know that belief is going to mean the total commitment of their lives. That was me! "My Lord and my God!" I said. I don't need more proof! Here is my life, Lord! I am yours!
Space didn't allow Luke to write about all the acts of all the apostles. A long and fascinating story that would have been! You only know a little about Peter and much more about Paul who wasn't one of our number at the start.
All of us made our response to Jesus our risen Lord - all, that is, except Judas who betrayed him and then went and ended his own life. All of us were there at Pentecost when he sent down the Holy Spirit in power. All of us went out as his witnesses in all the world.
I went east. On the day of Pentecost there were people from Parthia in Jerusalem for the feast. I went to their land down towards the Persian Gulf. Later Bartholomew and I went even further east to carry the gospel to India. Jesus had said we were to go to all peoples everywhere and make them his disciples. We are glad that so many came to believe in Jesus our Lord.
You still think of me as a doubter, don't you? But I just wanted evidence. I wanted to be sure that it was really true, because, if it was true, it would mean the commitment of all my life to spreading the good news about Jesus. You are the ones Jesus spoke about who would believe without having my opportunity to see the evidence. Yet perhaps it is more important than you realise that those of us who were there at the time asked our probing questions! You can't replay history - for everybody's sake, those of us who were there had to make sure it was true!
When I knew it was true, I said to him, "My Lord and my God!" I laid my life before him and then lived out the rest of my life on that commitment!
And what about you, folks? What do you say to Jesus? What are you going to do with your life? Yes, and what will you let him do with your life?