One of the strengths of BBC over the years has been an ethos of expectancy. We gather on the Lord’s Day with a humble expectation that the Lord will meet with us, and usually we have not been disappointed. But there is also a more horizontal expectancy; namely, we expect that our members will gather—both for morning and evening worship. And again, for the most part, we have not been disappointed. I suppose, as statistics go, BBC has a higher percentage of attendances at an evening service than in many churches. On average, perhaps 70-85% of our congregation returns for evening worship. But those who compare themselves among themselves are not being wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). My pastoral concern is not for us to merely be “above average” but rather for the 15-30% who choose to stay at home Sunday evening rather than choosing to gather with the Body. It is this concern that gives rise to this article, in which I simply wish to encourage you to consider what you miss when you choose to stay home Sunday evening. And the case with the disciple Thomas, as recorded in John 20:19-29, will serve our purposes well.
In this well-known account the disciples had been blessed with a visit from the risen Lord—that is, the disciples minus Thomas. As they were huddled together in the Upper Room on that Sunday evening—the evening of the day on which Jesus rose from the dead—the Lord suddenly appeared (20:19). He pronounced shalom and then gave them proof of His ability to bestow such peace by showing them the scars in His hands and side. Truly it was the Lord; indeed, it was the once-crucified but now risen Lord!
Jesus commissioned them to disciple the nations, affirming this by breathing on them, signifying their reception of the Holy Spirit, the means by which they would carry out this glorious task (Acts 1:8). They were thereby assured that He would authenticate their gospel proclamation as they sought to win others to Him.
But after this glorious account, we read in v. 24, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve was not with them when Jesus came.” In other words, for reasons which are not revealed, Thomas was not assembled with his brothers in Christ on that glorious Lord’s Day evening. Thomas was not “at church” (actually, he was not with the church) that Sunday evening and therefore he missed out on quite a blessing.
Of course, his brothers proceeded to tell him what he had missed. “We have seen the Lord!” they exclaimed (v. 25). And, all too characteristic of those who have missed the corporate blessing, he scoffed at their testimony. Thomas quite literally was saying, “I don’t believe you. You claim to have had this wonderful experience with the Lord on Sunday evening, but frankly I don’t believe that I missed out on anything special. In fact, unless I have such a personal encounter I will not believe that Jesus has risen.” What should be noted is that, by the end of the account Thomas, did have such an experience, but he would have to wait a full week for it. Further, this experience of encountering and worshipping the risen Lord would only occur in a corporate context. Whether it occurred in the evening is not made clear in the text, but what is certain is that Thomas would not experience the risen Lord as a stay-at-home church member. Jesus would meet with Thomas as Thomas met with other believers.
I like to imagine the disciples responding to Thomas, “Well, doubt if you like, but our testimony is true. [After all it was apostolic testimony!] However, we will be gathering next Sunday; feel free to gather with us and check it out for yourself.”
The next several days perhaps dragged by slowly as Thomas awaited the Lord’s Day. Finally, Sunday arrived (v. 26) and this time Thomas was where he should be. The Lord appeared and Thomas, now persuaded of the Lord’s presence, responded in worship as he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). I seriously doubt that after this encounter Thomas ever again chose to stay home from gathering with the church. After all, what Christian would risk such life-transforming encounters? Sadly, too many in our day!
We are told that Thomas was “called the Twin.” There are many in churches today that resemble his initial behaviour. If this is you, then please consider what you miss when you choose to neglect gathering with the Body—including Sunday evening worship.
- You miss the opportunity to be in a position to encounter the Lord once again. Jesus does not merely attend the morning worship but is there in the evening as well!
- You miss the opportunity to be strengthened in your conviction that Jesus is Lord. In Christ-exalting worship, the church is strengthened in her faith that the gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation. We are strengthened in our faith that the gospel is true and by implication that our lives have a transcendent purpose.
- You miss the opportunity to be reminded that He is your Lord and your God. And how we need that as we begin a new week of confronting the world, the flesh and the devil! We are strengthened to live delightfully devoted to our God. And this results in authentic witness that Jesus Christ has risen indeed! Note that Thomas had to live a full week with his doubts; doubts that could have been removed had he been with his fellow disciples on that Sunday evening.
- Further, not only are we strengthened in our faith, but we have the privilege of encouraging fellow believers who also need such reminders that Jesus Christ lives. When we gather together there is an affirmation, though perhaps unspoken, that we believe the gospel together. And in a mysterious kind of way, there is strength in numbers.
Much more could, and probably should, be said, but space will not permit. However, may these thoughts encourage you to prioritise the corporate gathering of the church. Rather than neglecting corporate worship like doubting Thomas, gather with your church—morning and evening—and be the twin of the Thomas who worshipped.