Our Lord wants his Church to be in the hands of responsible people who are committed to him and living in a personal relationship with him. That has always been his desire, for the church must be the Church. Therefore, Jesus prayed all night for his Father’s guidance when choosing the apostles. It was a very important item on Jesus’ agenda.
When morning came, Jesus announced his apostles. They were neither wealthy nor educated. Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen Ð people who were making a responsible living, feeding their families and raising their children as best they could. You would think Jesus would have chosen one of the scribes, the priests, or the rulers who had studied under the learned theologians of the day. But he was not concerned about wealth or education. So he chose ordinary people.
Those men became eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life. They walked with him around Judea and Samaria as he raised the dead, healed the sick, and proclaimed the Word of God as man had never heard it before. They got to know the Lord Jesus Christ on a personal level.
After Jesus died on the cross, the apostles also were eyewitnesses that he had been raised from the grave. It was important for them, as apostles, to have that personal time with him. They were in a home when Jesus suddenly appeared. Thomas was not with them, and when he returned, he said, “Unless I put my fingers into those nail-pierced hands and my hand into that sword-pierced side, I will not believe.”
Then, a week later, Jesus Christ appeared to them again. This time Thomas was with the group, and Jesus said to him, “Thomas, put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas was taken aback and said, “My Lord, and my God.”
Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” From that day, Thomas was a believer (John 20:24-29).
The apostles were appointed to preach the message of salvation through the atoning work of Christ to the far corners of the earth. But it was not until after they had experienced Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection that they began to understand it and put it all together.
Then, on Pentecost Sunday, Peter stood up and told the people, “Look, this Jesus has been raised from the dead. And you were the ones who crucified him. You were the ones who put him in the tomb. But God raised him up.” Then Peter told them that they, too, could have the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of life everlasting, in spite of what they had done. On that day, three thousand people came to Jesus Christ and were baptized.
Some time after that, the apostles began to travel to various parts of the world. Some stayed around Jerusalem, while others went off to other parts of the world. (Thomas, we are told, went as far as India.) They started churches, made disciples, and appointed leaders for those congregations. Those leaders were to be committed Christians who would proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ was Lord to the glory of God the Father.
However, the apostles also needed to remember that it was possible to fall away. Even one of them Ð Judas Iscariot Ð was an unbeliever. After Jesus sent him away on the night He instituted the Lord’s supper in the upper room, Judas hanged himself, for he had been excommunicated from the group and sent on his own. What a terrible picture.
Can that happen today? Yes, it certainly can.
At the beginning of this message, I stated that Jesus wants a true church where the leaders fully understand that Christ was God and the Savior of the world. If that church is weakening today, I wonder if it is not because it has begun to liberalize itself.
A man recently told me about a funeral he attended where the pastor read John 14:6 Ð “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” The pastor said that not so long ago people believed this verse Ð that the only way to heaven was through Jesus. However, today we no longer believe it. Theological education teaches that other ways to heaven exist. He was talking about the belief that followers of other religions, such as the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and quite possibly even atheists, will go to heaven.
This is an example of the weakening of the message of the church. It is not the same message the Bible teaches. Reason tells us that if we are all going to heaven, why worry? This is a huge cause for concern.
Jesus expects the church to remain faithful to his Word. That Word tells us the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. This is where I see the church weakening. And if it is, we should be very concerned, for it is a serious matter.
Consider the process of calling a pastor. This is not an insignificant job, for this person will stand in the pulpit and preach a message every Sunday. Did this person receive their theological training at a seminary that is faithful to God’s Word or at a liberal school where it is taught that Jesus was primarily a teacher of morals? We cannot afford to have people in our pulpits who do not trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We cannot afford to have higher officials of the church Ð sometimes known as bishops Ð who do not confess from the bottom of their hearts that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the only way to heaven. And we cannot afford to have theologians teaching in our seminaries who relax scriptural teachings, for when we do, the church ceases to be the Church.
Many years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ set up the Church to be made up of godly people in positions of leadership. Those people are to lead all who need to hear the Gospel. This is a very serious matter.
This past week has been a very difficult week for me. If I have stumbled in this sermon, it is because my life is now just a little bit different. On May 18, my wife of nearly 66 years died. My three children and our loving daughter-in-law had been at her bedside all day. She didn’t respond to much of what we said, although at times a little flicker of life gave us some hope. We kept talking to her, singing the hymns of the church, and telling her how much we loved her. We quoted portions of the Bible to reassure her that she would soon be in the presence of Jesus. We told her we were ready to let her go to her heavenly home. I’ll never forget how our three children put their hands on her head and said, “Mother, you have been a blessing to us. You have raised us in the right way. You have taught us that Jesus is our Savior. We will be terribly lonesome without you, but we know you are not going to a cold grave, but to heaven. Jesus is here with us.”
Then they said to her, “Mother, it’s difficult for me to say, but because I love you so much and I want your suffering to cease, I am ready to let you go.” And I told her, “Eunice, you’ve been a wonderful wife and everything God could give me in a wife. I’ll miss you, but I’m willing to let you go.”
Shortly thereafter her breathing stopped, and we committed her in prayer to the Lord Jesus for the rest of eternity. What a way to go! We believe all the truths we spoke to her because the church has been served by good, consecrated, loving ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.