Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 12, 2015)

JOHN 22:19-31

Pastor:            Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:              He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them… (John 20:19)  I suspect that these disciples were not only afraid of the Jews.  I’m sure they were afraid in part because of them.  The fevered pitch of the crowds chanting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” had to be fresh in their minds.  That had only happened three days earlier.
      But it was only hours before that when the disciples themselves had boldly proclaimed words that they were deeply regretting.  Maybe they did not regret the words, but they certainly regretted not following through on them.  Each of them boasted their undying, unyielding allegiance to Jesus.  Each had made a case for which of them was the greatest.  Each of them had vowed that they would even go to death for Jesus.  None of them had done it.  All of them ran for cover into the darkness in Gethsemane.  All of them abandoned Jesus when it got too difficult or dangerous to be his disciple.
     On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were… (John 20:19)  This was Easter night.  The disciples were in hiding and had locked themselves in.  Throughout the day, they had heard the reports.  The women who had gone to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial did not find Jesus.  The found angels who said he had risen.  They found the tomb empty.  Then, on the way back into the city to tell the apostles, they saw Jesus!  Jesus had risen, just as he said!  Some of those disciples ran to inspect the tomb for themselves.  They were convinced that the tomb was empty.  They were convinced that the body was not there.  They were not convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.
     And what if he actually had?  What would this risen Savior say to apostles who were not at the tomb, awaiting his resurrection?  What would Jesus say to disciples who were so full of themselves in the safety of the upper room, but so cowardly in the danger of Gethsemane when their allegiance was tested and failed?  What would Jesus do to disciples who had forsaken him?  These disciples were likely not afraid only of the Jews, but even more so of Jesus. 
     Suddenly, despite locked doors and secret locations, Jesus stood in the midst of them.  His first words?  “Peace be with you.”  When he said this, he showed them his hands and side. (John 20:19-20)  Remarkably, there were no words of condemnation, not even disappointment.  The scars said it all.  Jesus had taken their guilt away.  Jesus had atoned for their cowardice, for their failure, even for forsaking him!  He poured out divine blood to cover over the shame of sinful men.  All was forgiven.
     Of course, the disciples were afraid and guilt-ridden because they knew that they had done wrong.  Their confession had been genuine.  Their boasting was even sincere.  But in the hour of testing, they failed.  They were not faithful to Jesus.  It is no different for you—especially if you have made a confirmation vow.  In that vow, you swore that you would suffer everything, even death, rather than turn away from Jesus and his word.  And yet when the pressure is on—and forget pressure from your enemies, this is pressure among those whom you call your friends!—you turn.  You give way to temptation and plunge headlong into sin.  I suppose we could spend some time here detailing some specific sins that people commit.  But the specifics are never really the issue, as if this sin is not as bad as that sin   Every sin is a departure from God’s word.  Every sin is an abandonment of Jesus.  Every sin breaks the vow—for you have not suffered everything rather than turn away from Jesus.  Not death or bloodshed or imprisonment or confiscation of your property.  It is just easier to forsake God’s word than to follow it.  Can you understand why the disciples would have been afraid of Jesus?  It is for the same reason you do not want to confess your sins out loud.  They are too painful to repeat, too shameful to admit. 
     What is worse is how we attempt to soothe our consciences about such things.  We may ignore them or deny our sins.  But neither one of those is repentance.  We may try to justify them and we might buy our own arguments, but God does not.  We can lock ourselves away in our secret shame, but that will only lead to greater guilt, and then to despair, and then—if you follow the footsteps of Judas Iscariot—to suicide. 
     This is what the Lord says: Whoever seals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)  In that proverb are both a warning and a promise.  The warning is that ignoring your sin and shame is of no benefit to you.  It brings a curse.  But the promise is that he who repents of his sin and confesses it finds mercy from Jesus.  By his wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5); and by his resurrection, we have life.
     “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23) 
     Jesus appeared to the disciples.  He declared peace.  He bestowed mercy.  Jesus showed them the scars that testified of his atoning sacrifice.  This is what brought joy to the disciples.  This is how Jesus bestows peace.  But Jesus has not appeared to you.  Nor will he, not until the Last Day.  Just as Jesus appeared to the guilt-ridden disciples to bestow peace upon them, so also Jesus wants guilt-ridden disciples today to have peace.  Jesus does not want you to live in your sins—either persisting in them or consumed by guilt because of them.  Therefore he commissioned these disciples to be his ministers to administer his peace.
     Jesus breathed on them, giving them the Holy Spirit.  Then he gave them his authority: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  Jesus sends his ministers to speak in his stead and by his command.  That means that forgiveness does not come to you just by wishing it will or thinking it should.  Instead, Jesus tended personally to his disciples.  He declared, “Peace be with you.”  And he showed them his hands and side to demonstrate where that peace comes from—from the divine Savior who suffered, died, and rose for them.
     In the same way, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  Jesus sends his ministers to deal personally with you and to bestow peace.  Flesh and blood men, as Jesus was, articulate the peace that Jesus gave.  His ministers are flesh and blood men who also know the reality of sin and guilt in their own lives.  These ministers know the comfort of forgiveness and proclaim the forgiveness they themselves have received.  The minister’s, “I forgive you,” is Christ’s, “I forgive you.”  It is based on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it is given for you so that you are not ruled by sin or crushed by guilt.
     There is no need to live in secret shame or to carry a burden of guilt any longer.  The Lord Jesus has suffered and died for you.  He calls you to repent of your sins.  He teaches us to say with King David, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)  Just as Jesus promised he would rise from the grave, so he promises to forgive us when we confess our sins.  He sends his ministers to bestow this peace, and he is eager for you to live in it.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.