That you may have life

Reading: John 20.19-31

Life is a wonderful gift from God. I believe we are meant to live it as fully as possible right to the end.

I read recently of a doctor making his rounds in a ward for the terminally ill, asking the patients if they had any final requests.

He entered an older ladyís room and asked, "Is there anything I can arrange before you pass on?" She replied, "Yes, Iíd like to see my immediate family one more time." "Of course," said the doctor, "weíll arrange it."

He asked a second patient for his wishes. "Iím a Catholic," murmured the man. "Iíd like to see a priest for confession and the last rites." "Certainly," replied the doctor.

Then he approached the third patient, "Have you any last wish, sir?" he inquired. "Yes," gasped the old man. "My last wish is to see another doctor."

Life in all its fullness

You may have heard me say at a funeral that we are all suffering from a terminal condition - life. We are all mortal. Our physical life will not go on forever - even if we have a better doctor! And those of us who believe we are called to exercise a valid and important healing ministry freely recognise that the physical healings that God may give in response to our prayers are never final and that all of us are subject to mortality - usually through some physical ailment or another. This physical life is terminal, and eternal life is not attained by healing and perpetuating it.

In John 10, we hear Jesus saying, "I have come in order that you might have life - life in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep... The Father loves me because I am willing to give up my life, in order that I may receive it back again. No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it back. This is what my Father has commanded me to do" (vv. 10-11, 17-18).

Jesus came in order that we can have life in all its fullness. The life that Jesus gives is called "eternal life" sixteen times in Johnís gospel (only eight times in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined). It is a different quality of life. It is a life lived in a restored relationship with God. As Jesus said in his prayer to the Father in John 17.3, "eternal life means knowing you, the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you sent."

As Jesus prepared his disciples for his own death with its special and unique significance for all of us, we hear him saying, "There are many rooms in my Fatherís house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am... I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me" (Jn 14.2-3,6).

The coming of Jesus is about life. His death is about life. His resurrection is about life. But the life he came to bring is not confined to this world - nor is it confined to the next world! We begin living it right here and new - and it is not interrupted even by death!

We have seen the Lord!

Now all of that is good news - if it is true! The world has had other wise men who have expressed their deep thoughts, reflected deeply on the meaning of life, sought contact with the spirit realm, established religions with disciplines, prayers and rituals... We human beings seem to have a religious instinct. Even at our most materialistic we reach out for some kind of spirituality. In a sense, it might be thought offensive to talk about absolute religious "truth" at all. After all, what matters is that people believe something that works, that brings them help and comfort, inspiration and motivation.

Yet for the followers of Jesus it was a real question of truth in an absolute sense. Here was someone whose character and teaching meant that our only options are to regard him as a lunatic, a liar or the Son of God with absolute claims on our life. Did they or did they not see him? Had he entered, though the doors were locked (implying the same Jesus, yet different)? And is it truly possible that forgiveness of sins (as well as comfort for those who fail to meet even their own standards) can be proclaimed in his name?

These were (and are) important questions. It is not enough that some simple souls have come to an "Easter faith" - rising above all the tragedy of Jesusí crucifixion to a belief that his name and teaching and mission of good-will continue to live on in this world and that he himself must continue to live on in whatever spiritual reality there is. No, that is not enough. It was not enough for Thomas. It is not enough for us.

Did it happen? We canít have an action replay of the events, but, tucked away in all the evidence that we are able to review, is the demand of this clear-thinking disciple who knew that it was important that he be convinced without doubt that it was so.

An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, perished in the flames. The boyís cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drain pipe and came back down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.

Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the townís wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. But as they talked, the ladís eyes remained focused on the floor.

Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hand from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw his arms around the manís neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those scarred hands had settled the issue.

Thomas was attracted, not by fine thoughts and noble ideals, but to the one who had really given himself for him and rose again. He said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Believe and Live!

Jesus said to him, "Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!" (v. 29)

Why are those happy who have believed without seeing? Wouldnít you like to have been there? Wouldnít it be good to be an eye-witness?

The eye-witness evidence is important, but what do we do with it? Here is what John wrote, "In his disciplesí presence Jesus performed many other miracles which are not written down in this book. But these have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life" (vv. 30,31).

Whether you saw for yourself or believed on the testimony of someone else, the important thing is to come to faith in Jesus as the Son of God - "and that through your faith in him you may have life".

Again we come to John 3.16, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life."

What do we do with a gift? Receive it, depend on it, live by it!

Our physical life is terminal, but it gives us the opportunity to respond to Godís gift of eternal life - a relationship with God that will go on forever.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 12th April 1998, Easter Sunday
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.
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