On this seventh day of April of the year 2007- Easter Sunday- the theme of my message is: ‘The Eighth Day of Easter.’
It is interesting that Matthew, Mark, and Luke reported those post-resurrection appearances of Christ which took place on the first day of resurrection. These included the encounter at he tomb, the visit with the two travellers on the Emmaus Road, and an appearance unto the entire company later that same day- in fact late evening of that day.
This is the visit John reports at verse 19 of the twentieth chapter of his record: ‘So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When you proceed to verse 24 you make this important discovery regarding that visitation: But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
Between this encounter and the next appearance, John makes note of the time factor, and he tells us it was eight days. The way it is written in our English Bibles- ‘After eight days…’- seems to indicate that this encounter actually occurred on the ninth day. However, I don’t think we can just automatically conclude that.
Based upon my research regarding the calculation of time within that culture and period, it would not be incorrect to suggest that this appearance of Christ took place on the eighth day after the resurrection. But regardless of how we calculate that or what our particular conclusion may be, I am going to centre this message around the fact that John- by inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit- referenced the number eight in this text. And based upon its presence- I will continue with the afore mentioned theme: ‘The Eighth Day of Resurrection’- OR ‘The Eighth Day of Easter .’
The study of numbers in scripture is very interesting. Man was created on the sixth day and thus the number of man is six. God rested on the seventh day- and the reason God rested was because His labour, His work, was full or complete. And so the number seven speaks of fullness or completion. The number seven follows six which tells us that man in himself and by himself can never realize fullness nor completion.
If seven means completion- then eight means new beginning. The argument may be that if seven means completion then how can there be an eight- how can there be something beyond completion?
If we are applying this to God, then indeed, there is no eight; He is the “Eternal Seven”- infinitely complete and the perfection of fullness. But in terms of our experience with and of God there will always be an eight just beyond our present seven.
Think of it in terms of a large book consisting of- lets say- twenty five chapters, and each chapter is exactly seven pages long. When you read to the end of that first chapter- those first seven pages- you have indeed experienced the fullness or completion of that chapter- but you have not experienced the completion of the book. And so you turn to page eight- and with that page you are experiencing a new beginning- not a new book- but a whole new realm within that book.
In our city there is a fellowship of believers known as ‘Third Day’- in other places I have known of churches that bore the name ‘First Day.’ Both churches are of course referring to the same day- the day of resurrection. I think that if I had to name a church after a day I would choose ‘Eighth Day.’ The eighth day of resurrection was the day of new beginnings for a very weary and devastated disciple who was having an enormous struggle with his faith.
So what exactly happened on this eighth day? Why was John so meticulous in reporting it? What was the new beginning that occurred on that particular eighth day? Let me just hint at this in passing; what happened on that eighth day was the new beginning of how a group of disciples would relate to Christ; it was the new beginning of a complete redefining of what faith would mean to these followers of Christ. And if I may say so this morning, the church is long overdue for another eighth day experience of the same reality.
It is not too strong to declare that on the eighth day of resurrection the faith of Thomas was going to be revolutionised. To understand that revolution we must understand what defined his faith prior to the death of Christ.
Thomas would tell us in his own words exactly what his faith was before the death of Christ. John would write them down for all time- so that each generation would know the core truth concerning New Testament faith.
Jn 20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
What did Thomas reveal concerning his faith when he spoke those words? I see three defining words in this: see, finger and hand. These are references to the sense realm- particularly sight and touch. The attitude is basically this- Thomas would be satisfied with nothing less than material evidence.
And right there we touch the core of what faith was in that disciple band before the cross and resurrection. It was based upon material evidence in the physical realm. And we need to understand that this was not just a “Thomas issue”, it was the case with all of these disciples. When the women reported that the tomb was empty not one of these disciples believed until Christ manifested Himself in the material realm.
Prior to the cross these followers of Christ knew Him after the flesh rather than by and in the Spirit. Regarding this the apostle Paul would write: 2CO 5:16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
It would not be until Pentecost and the outpoured Spirit that these believers would begin to know Christ after, by, and in the Spirit. Their faith would become a spiritual reality as opposed to a sense based reality dependant upon physical evidence in the material realm.
Obviously these disciples had believed upon the Christ prior to the cross and resurrection but the fundamental basis of that faith was far more physical than it was spiritual. It was more of a physical relationship with Christ than it was a spiritual relationship- and their faith had not graduated to that reality of faith which is conviction and assurance based upon the testimony or witness of the Holy Spirit within their spirit- faith which is not dependant upon nor governed by physical realities.
With that in mind, let us examine what Jesus said to Thomas.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
It is interesting- and we really do need to understand this- that Jesus did not withhold that particular manifestation which Thomas needed at that time. In that sense Christ accommodated whatever Thomas’s faith was at that moment. But in speaking what He did, it is clear He had no intention of leaving Thomas where he was in his faith- but that He was calling him beyond present experience into a whole new definition and reality of faith.
These words of Christ: “Stop doubting and believe.”- would be better translated in this way: “Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer.” Now that is revealing. Christ is telling him that the pathway he is on is actually leading to greater and greater levels of unbelief. And here is the question at the heart of this Easter Message: ‘What pathway was Thomas on?’
My conclusion is that Thomas was in that place where his faith was pretty much determined, defined and governed by the sense realm- requiring more and more physical evidence in the material realm in order to support it. And my second conclusion is that when the basis of our faith never graduates beyond this level we will slowly and subtly move deeper and deeper into unbelief, disillusionment, and cynicism.
We have all been where Thomas was on that eighth day of Easter- in fact I believe it is a necessary stage in the growth, development and maturity of our faith experience. It is not a problem to be there; it is a problem when we remain there.
Christ meets us where we are on the eighth day, but He does so to bring us to a new beginning, a new level, a place we have never been, a realm of faith and understanding just beyond our present seven.
It is quite okay for Thomas to be where he was on day seven- but day eight is a new beginning, and beyond the lessons of day eight he will never be able to return to where he was on day seven.
This new beginning is expressed in the words of Christ: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We must understand these words with incredible care. The issue here is not physical manifestations of the invisible God in the material realm. Christ is not saying that we should not expect nor anticipate evidences of His glory and power in the material realm.
He is not telling us that there is no place for miracles, signs and wonders real to and in the sense realm. None of that is the issue in these words of Christ to Thomas.
The issue has to do with the basis of true Christian faith. Is it based upon what is real to the senses (even acts of God)? Or is it based upon the internal conviction and assurance created by the living witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit within your spirit- regardless of what is or is not real to the sense realm?
What this new reality of faith means in relation to physical evidences and manifestations in the material realm is that they are not the basis of my faith but they are the consequences of my faith. My faith does not follow them around- rather they follow my faith.
These signs shall follow them that believe- rather than, they that believe shall follow these signs.
I want to say this kindly- and yet it must be said; When I as a believer am engaged in following around reported signs and wonders (which, by the way, I once did) it reveals that I am where Thomas was on that eighth day of Easter; it reveals that my faith is based more in sense reality than in S/spiritual reality.
I will finish this Easter Message with what is to me the most profound words our Lord ever spoke during the days of His flesh- post resurrection words which indicate how complete and radical this eighth day change was going to be.
The setting was the garden tomb. It was a profound trophy of grace, Mary Magdalene, to whom these words were spoken. She was the first to see the resurrected Christ, and falling down before Him she gripped His feet- with what I imagine must have been the fierce grip of devotion, worship and love.
Here is what the Lord speaks: “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”
If I ask the question- ‘Why would Jesus tell Mary to stop clinging to Him?’ there is, of course, a theological answer- which has to with fulfilling the Old Testament prophetic picture of the work of redemption- a part of which had to do with the fact that the High Priest could not be touched until he went beyond the veil and presented evidence of the atoning sacrifice before the mercy seat.
But I believe there is something else here. When Jesus said; “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”- there is a huge reality that suddenly comes into play. It moves around this question; ‘Once He ascends to the Father, how is their relationship going to change with Him?’
I think it is obvious that prior to the cross their relationship with Christ was pretty much defined by physical reality- things real to and in the sense realm. But after His resurrection- and especially after His ascension- relationship with Christ is going to be a matter of spiritual reality.
In my view Jesus is telling Mary to cease clinging to the old definition of what relationship with Him was because that old definition could never be large enough to accommodate this whole new reality of relationship with Him.
And this is what the eighth day of Easter is all about: Stepping beyond the fullness and completion of the present seven in favour of the whole new beginning of where we have never been before with the resurrected Christ.