1Peter 1v3-9 & John 20v19-31
Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection, and he said that he would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he could see for himself the nail marks in Jesus' hands. The name Thomas is always associated with doubting. There are more than 90 uses of the word belief or believe in John's gospel. It says that to those who believed in Jesus, God gave the right to become children of God. Indeed John says at the end of his gospel that it was written so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (John 20v31)
Many people wanted signs and miracles, and even then refused to believe in Jesus. Others believed but still had some doubts - the father of the demon-possessed boy said to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." (Mark 9v24) We should not dismiss Thomas for his doubts because we all have doubts at times; doubting our salvation, doubting that God is with us or that He loves us because of our sins. Do we supress our doubts or talk to a good friend who can help us, or pray through our doubts? Thomas was honest enough to express his doubts. We have a kinship with the disciples who were just ordinary men, and had their doubts. It has been said that "doubt is the skeleton in the cupboard of faith" and the best thing to do with a skeleton like that is to expose it and deal with it.
Jesus' words to the disciples in John 14v1 onwards - "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" are not just for funeral services, but for us all the time. What brought Thomas peace was that he knew how much Jesus loved him, and it is the same for us. There is a simple choice for us - believe in Jesus, or don't - the result of belief is our salvation. In the end Thomas was a man of faith, when he said "My Lord and my God." and that is what we say when we make a positive choice to believe in Him. Jesus said to Thomas that he believed because he had seen the risen Jesus with the nail marks in His hands, but "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." This includes those of us in the present day who believe in Jesus as our risen Saviour.
The passage starts with the story of the resurrection and goes onto the two followers of Jesus walking along the road to Emmaus and talking about the crucifixion. Jesus himself walked along with them, but they were kept from recognising him. They were sad because of what had happened and because they loved and missed Jesus, and they were confused. Jesus explained to them that everything that had happened to him had been in accordance with what was prophesied about the Messiah. He opened the scriptures to them and interpreted them, and he does the same for us in our Bible studies, both corporate and private.
As Jesus met these two followers where they were on the road, so he meets with us where we are in our lives, whether we are sad, depressed, disappointed or happy and joyful. He walks with us in every step of our lives. Ecclesiastes 4 v 9 says that "two are better than one" because "if one falls down his friend can help him up." Jesus says that he is always with us and he will help us when we are down. The two followers recognised Jesus when he broke the bread - the invited guest became the host. If we look for him we can find him with us in our struggles. Maybe however there are times when we don't really want Jesus around us because he is convicting us of sin, or urging us to do something that we don't want to do.
Jesus never forces himself on us - Revelation 3v20 says "Behold I stand at the door and knock." He will only come in when we invite him into our lives, but he assures us that those who seek him will find him. When we do let Jesus in, he urges us to "Remain in me, and I will remain in you." (John 15v4) The good news of Easter is that Jesus is alive and that he will be with us always "to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28v20) May we share the joy and urgency to tell others of this good news that those two followers on the Emmaus road had, as they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell their friends that they had seen Jesus.
Mark 8v27-30 & Mark 11v1-10
The message was centred around Jesus' question - "Who do you say that I am?" In Mark 8, the disciples answered Jesus' question by repeating who they had heard people say they thought Jesus was - John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. But when He asked His disciples who they said He was, Peter replied that He was "the Christ" (or Messiah). Jesus told Peter that this had been revealed to him by God. The trouble was that people, including the disciples were not at that time ready for the sort of Messiah that Jesus was - not an earthly king come to free them from the Romans, but a Saviour and Redeemer.
The question is equally relevant to everyone today - who do you say that Jesus is? What does He mean to you personally? Have you made that all-important decision to accept Him as your Saviour?Mark 11 records Jesus' entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey - as prophesied in Zechariah 9v9. It was the beginning of the week leading up to the Passover feast, and many people had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate it. The crowds along the way acclaimed Jesus, shouting "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!", "Hosanna!" and "Blessed is the King of Israel!" But within only a few days the crowd, probably made up of many of the same people, and urged on by the Jewish religious leaders, were shouting "Crucify him!" and when Pontius Pilate showed Jesus to them and said "Here is your King", the Chief Priests replied, "We have no king but Caesar!"
How many people in the first glow of receiving Christ at a particularly inspiring event or service have shouted "Hallelujah! Praise God for Jesus!", and have come forward to receive Jesus, but when life got hard, or even when life got easy and wordly wealth distracted them, how many have then crucified Jesus with their actions or sometimes inaction? How real is your commitment to Christ as your Saviour? At this time leading up to the most important part of Easter, let us each consider our commitment, and make sure that we are still honouring Jesus in every way as our Saviour and Lord. And if you have never applied the question "Who do you say that I am?" to yourself, now is a good time to say "Jesus is the Son of God and I want Him to be my Lord and Saviour; please, Lord Jesus come into my life today." He will hear your prayer and come to you.
Isaiah 53v2-10 & Mark 14v32-42
The passage in Isaiah gives a picture of the "suffering servant", foretelling the suffering of the Messiah for mankind. In the Mark reading, it shows how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah. It shows Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what was to come for Him. He prayed that the cup could be taken from Him, but said "not my will but thine be done". He was obedient to God His Father even unto death. Our obedience to God should not depend on a clear view of the future but on having complete trust in God. Jesus knew that He was being rejected by those He came to save, but knew also that He could totally depend on God His Father.
For us as Christians, as for Jesus, obedience to God is of utmost importance. Constant commmunication with His Father through prayer was vital to Jesus, and allowed Him to be obedient to God's will for His life. It is also vital to Christians to maintain a vibrant prayer life and to be open to God's leading in our lives. An important phrase in the Lord's Prayer which we pray so often is "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven". We need to be willing to learn from the example Jesus set us, as we pray all our prayers "through Jesus Christ our Lord".
Because Jesus knew what was ahead of Him, He prayed three times for that cup to be taken away from Him, but nevertheless, He went forward to meet those coming to seize Him, in order to do the will of God. We need to trust that God will give us what we really need when we pray, rather than what we think we need. We need to trust that God knows what is best for us. Trusting is not easy - it does not mean that we are exempt from problems, but by reading the Bible and by prayer we can learn to trust God, because He gave His all for us.