St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
Dear friends in Christ. Today is the day that the Church remembers two of our Lord’s apostles, St. Philip and St. James. Normally the Church remembers the saints on the anniversary of their death dates, their heaven birthdays so to speak, but Philip and James are remembered together because on this date in 561 in Rome the Church of the Holy Apostles was rebuilt and the relics of these two apostles were transferred to this church that was then rededicated in their honor.
Like Peter and Andrew, Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee; and like them he was one of Jesus’ first disciples and brought Nathaniel to Jesus [Jn. 1. 45]. Galilee was an area with heavy Gentile, non-Jewish, influence. Philip’s name is Greek and it was through Philip that “certain Greeks” tried to see Jesus [Jn. 12.21]. Philip was a practical man, noting the huge amount of money it would take to feed the crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children. According to tradition, Philip was killed on a cross on account of his faith in Phrygia, which today is in Turkey.
James, mentioned less often than Philip in the NT, is traditionally known as “James the Less,” to distinguish him from James the brother of John and from James, the brother of the Lord. In the list of the 12 disciples he is listed as “James the son of Alpheus.” He may have been from Caesarea.
Today is also The First Sunday After Easter. The traditional Gospel reading is Jesus appearing to His disciples Easter Sunday evening—without Thomas—and then the following week with Thomas present. This account is most well noted for Thomas’ words when the other disciples tell him they saw the risen Lord: Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. For this Thomas gets the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But would the others have acted differently? Would we have?
We are here reminded of the “humanness” of the 12; we are reminded of it by Philip’s words: "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father?’”. At that time he still didn’t “get it” perfectly as to who Jesus really is.
These two accounts—of Thomas and of Philip, whom together with James we are remembering today—show us that we often “don’t get” –how the Lord is dealing with us. The disciples had heard from the women who had gone to the tomb and had seen the angels and empty tomb. Peter and John raced to the tomb, saw the tomb empty. Perhaps to our way of thinking, we would have thought that right away Jesus would show Himself alive to those closest to Him, to His apostles, to those whose preaching He would use to establish His NT Church. But He doesn’t; He lets them “sweat it out a bit”—what really did happen to Jesus? What will now happen to us? Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews.
Here we are reminded of our OT text: Therefore the Lord will wait, to show grace to you; and therefore He will be exalted for having mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. Yes, Jesus let the disciples “sweat it out” for a while, but by it He intends to show mercy and that for their spiritual good.
What an anxious time it surely was for them! How many questions they must have had about the Lord—as the disciples on the road to Emmaus said Easter Sunday afternoon [Lk. 24.21]: But we were hoping that it was [Jesus] who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early astonished us…
In times of anxiety, worry, and hardship it is not that the Lord is absent—He is as Scripture tell us [Ps. 46.1]: a very present help in trouble—but He is waiting, waiting for the right time to reveal Himself to show us grace. Here as the disciples were “sweating it out” in worry about what happened, the Lord’s intent was to drive them back to the OT Scriptures, back to the word He had spoken—a word His enemies had remembered rather well: that He would rise from the dead come the third day. In all times of worry and anxiety, when it seems that the Lord is absent, may we go back and hold all the more firmly to His word and promise.
These times of distress and hardship, these times of trouble, are times of merciful discipline that the Lord lays on His dear Christian—precisely as a time to exercise and strengthen faith. When we are enduring a discipline from the Lord, when our faith is being tried and tested, when it seems that the Lord is far away, that faith is exercised to hold firmly to His word and promise. The easy, gutless thing would be merely to look at the outward circumstance and despair of the Lord. But the Lord uses precisely this discipline to drive us back to Him and to His word.
It’s not as if He leaves us hanging out to dry; it’s not as if this discipline goes on forever. Instead as our OT tells us: For the Lord is a God of justice. His discipline for us is not out of control, but only enough until He can show us mercy.
Our times of difficulty, anguish, have a definite end, determined by the God who does what is right: Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you”. The Lord comes to us to show us His grace and mercy—at just the right time. Could Jesus have come earlier so the disciples wouldn’t have all that worry and anxiety? Couldn’t Jesus have at least come when Thomas was there and not make Him wait another week? --Yes! But the Lord waits until the time of our discipline and chastisement is full, the time when faith is tried and exercised—the time He knows is right for our spiritual good—and then He comes in grace that we may fully recognize it and praise Him for it: Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you”.
How can we recognize the Lord’s coming in grace unless we are earnestly longing for His grace, unless we are at our wit’s end, unless we have stopped relying on ourselves and seek the Lord’s grace and help? Then that time of faith being tried has reached its goal! Then the Lord, who has waited, can show us His grace. It is precisely when God shows us His mercy that He is glorified: Therefore the Lord will wait, to show grace to you; and therefore He will be exalted for having mercy on you. In short, the Lord comes at the right time to us in grace.
2. Therefore, what does our OT text tell us? Blessed are all those who wait for Him. The Lord waits so that He can show us His grace; and as the Lord waits, so do we wait on Him. This is faith! The ungodly depend on what they can feel and hear—not faith. We have the Lord’s word and promise and faith clings to that. Jesus tells Thomas and us: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
In faith, we are always certain of our Lord’s grace to us—even when He appears to be hiding Himself, His grace, from us. Why is faith certain of our Lord’s grace to us, His working everything—no matter how it may look at the time? Because of God’s promise and the work of Jesus. Our OT text: For the people dwelling in Zion in Jerusalem, in no way will you weep. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. When He hears it, He will answer you. In the prophets, Zion and Jerusalem are a reference to the Church, as Zion is the mountain with the temple so this is a glorious promise to our Lord’s Church, to you and me, His dear Christians.
Our Lord’s dear Christians will in no way weep. Why? The reason is especially clear as we are now still basking in the full glow of Easter: with Jesus’ resurrection we have the complete destruction of our spiritual enemies: sin—Jesus lived a life without sin for us, fulfilling the righteousness God demands of us; devil—we are no longer his slaves but have in baptism been given the Holy Spirit to fight against him; the devil is now a defeated enemy; death—by dying Jesus destroyed death by rising from the dead; hell—Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory over it; it can no longer claim our Lord’s dear Christians, instead Jesus ascended into heaven and opened it to us.
We will in no way weep because Jesus rescued us from sin, death, devil and hell. He reconciled us sinners to the holy God so that now we, His dear Christians, can call Him and to Him: Our Father. In Jesus, because of His work, Easter being God’s seal of approval on and acceptance of Jesus’ work to save us, we know that God is our dear, loving heavenly Father who works everything for our spiritual good.
Will we suffer trial and hardship? Yes! That’s the Lord’s fatherly discipline on us who is working on us in love. Will it seem that He is ignoring or ejecting us? Yes! But remember our OT text: Blessed are all those who wait for Him. Knowing that in Christ things are good between us and God, we in faith know that God will work for our good in His perfect time. As in times of trial, times when faith is being exercised, times when it seems God has abandoned us, we wait for Him to reveal His mercy once again, we remain in that faith that trusts the Lord to act for our good, looking forward to and longing for the fulfillment of His promised mercy.
B. We who wait on the Lord are blessed because as we wait the Lord, He blesses us and strengthens us in the wait—so that we do not rely on ourselves and our own strength. Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you”. Not only had these men heard the words of the prophets from little on, but Jesus had preached 3 years, giving these men the word of God. During these 3 days of anxiousness, He did not make them rely on themselves but was driving them to that word. Jesus did come with the word of forgiveness, absolution: Peace be with you.
This is the same thing our OT text tells us: And the Lord will give you bread in adversity and water in affliction. In our trials, when the Lord seems distant, He isn’t. He’s right there protecting and nourishing us. He promises us nourishment in our need: bread in adversity and water in affliction. Here we easily think of the Bread of Holy Communion. Under the bread and wine of the Sacrament, Jesus gives us His very body and blood strengthening us in our time of trial, giving and assuring us of the forgiveness of our sins; giving us that nourishment our soul needs the most.
In time of affliction, remember the waters of holy baptism when God washed you from your sins and brought you into His holy family; it is your baptism that connects you with Jesus’ death and resurrection. In time of trial, take great comfort in what your baptism has done for you. He who has brought you into His holy family, who is your heavenly Father, will always act toward you in love and show you His mercy at the right time.
Our text continues: Yet your Teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, But your eyes shall see your Teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.
We have Teachers—Jesus, the Son of God who became true man; and the Holy Spirit, who descended visibly in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism and Whom Jesus promised and sent. He is now our Teacher, teaching us in the Word of the Bible in the way that we should go. He is teaching us and reminding us of the work of Christ and of the promise of God; of the grace of the Lord and His working everything for our spiritual good; all so that we are strengthened as we wait on the Lord to once more reveal His mercy to us.
In the anxious days following Jesus’ death and the news that His body was gone, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, we see a picture of ourselves today—our faith tried, God seemingly not there. But yet as we wait on the Lord to show His mercy toward us again, He gives us His word and Sacrament by which His Holy Spirit is at work strengthening faith and giving us the blessings Jesus won for us and which Easter proclaims—forgiveness, life and salvation. This is how the Lord worked in grace on Philip and James, keeping them in the faith; and this is how He will work on us, keeping us in faith. Here is the Easter assurance that the hopes of our salvation will not be deceived. INJ Amen.