Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018)

JOHN 20:19-31


In the name + of Jesus.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room on that first Easter evening, he greeted them with these words, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  This was not merely the traditional greeting of one Palestinian to another.  It was more than, “Shalom, my friends, shalom!”  It was a proclamation. 
     You may recall that the last time these apostles saw Jesus alive, they had failed him.  For most of them, the last time they saw Jesus was when he was being arrested in Gethsemane.  The band of soldiers bound up Jesus to cart him off to trial before the Sanhedrin, but they ran into the night.  They abandoned Jesus in order to save their skin.  The last time Peter saw Jesus was right after he had denied him the third time.  Jesus, having been struck and spit upon, exchanged glances with Peter who went out and wept bitterly at his failure.  Misery loves company, so the disciples huddled together in Jerusalem in misery in the room they had used for the Passover.
     On Easter night, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “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. (John 20:19-20)  The risen Jesus proclaimed peace, and he emphasized that peace by showing them that the body, which had been crucified, was indeed risen.  The disciples were glad because the Lord Jesus has conquered death.  They were glad because God's peace was bestowed upon them.  They were glad because Jesus had not come to rebuke them or condemn them.  He did not even say that he was disappointed with them.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.
     When the church gathers together, it is always a group of sinners that meets.  No one has served the Lord as faithfully as we would like to think.  We have all failed our Lord.  Perhaps you failed to confess your faith when you feared it would bring ridicule on you.  Or maybe acting according to your faith and refusing to partake in sin as the world does meant you might lose a job or a friendship.  Those are the moments we discover that our faith is not as strong as we think.  We fail in our weakness.  It results in guilt and shame.  We become frustrated and disappointed in ourselves for failing to serve the Lord as we know we ought to.  What would Jesus say to us if he appeared personally to us in the flesh?
     The apostles can tell you.  When Jesus appeared on Easter evening, he was not angry, and he did not regret going to the cross for them.  And so it is for you, too.  Jesus declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  Peace because God does not hold your sins against you.  Peace because your shame is removed from you.  Whatever sins you have committed are forgiven.  God does not hold your sins over you, waiting for future day for retribution.  He does not even use guilt to goad you into doing better next time.  The wounds on Jesus' wrists and in Jesus' side are evidence that Jesus had been crucified.  Jesus' crucifixion is for you.  It is the payment for your sins.  The wounds themselves proclaimed peace. 
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  The risen body of Jesus is living proof that the payment for sins is complete.  Jesus is risen, and he has earned the right to forgive the sins of mankind because he had paid for them.  He lives and reigns to declare sinners pardoned.  Therefore, Jesus' greeting, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) was not an expression of friendship or wishing well.  It is a declaration.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.
     When Jesus appeared to the disciples that Easter night, Thomas was not present.  And Thomas was not ready to believe any reports, even from reliable sources such as his fellow apostles.  The world today would congratulate Thomas for being a skeptic.  And if you think that Thomas demonstrated wisdom in this, then understand that Thomas also ended up dwelling in his grief and guilt for a full week longer than he needed to.  As far as Thomas was concerned, Jesus was dead.  And if Jesus was dead, so were Thomas' hopes.  He did not have God's peace, and blessing eluded him.  But that is not because God had failed Thomas.  It was because Thomas did not believe God's word which was fulfilled by Jesus, which was witnessed by the other apostles, and which was joyfully declared for Thomas' benefit.  But Thomas, in his prideful skepticism, rejected all of it.  As a result, Thomas remained stuck in his guilt and shame.
     On the following Sunday, Jesus appeared again to all the apostles, and this time Thomas was there.  Once again, Jesus did not condemn.  Once again, Jesus came and declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)  Peace, even for Thomas who made demands of God rather than rejoice in God's word.  When Jesus appeared to Thomas, we do not hear about Thomas poking into Jesus' wounds to inspect them as he had demanded.  We only hear Thomas' confession: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)  
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  While he proclaimed peace to Thomas, Jesus extends this blessing to you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)  God has worked in you to believe him and to take him at his word.  By that word, Jesus gives you peace.  Jesus' peace is not based on what you can see and feel.  If you feel forgiven today, you may not feel that way tomorrow.  Satan is good at dredging up the past and reminding you of how you failed Jesus with your sins.  But Jesus does not tell you to look to yourself for comfort.  The risen Jesus declares peace to you and bestows his blessing upon you.  It is his word that delivers his peace, and his word does not change like your feelings.  Therefore, your peace remains.
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  He will not appear to you as he did to the apostles and to Thomas.  Jesus has ascended to heaven, and we will not see him until he comes again to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.  But Jesus has acted so that you can find comfort, peace, and blessing in his word.  Jesus said to (the apostles) 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 20:21-23)  
     Jesus has commissioned his ministers to go in his name, to speak with his authority, and to forgive sins in his stead.  Once again, it is not merely that the pastor wishes you well or wants to express his friendship with you.  Hopefully, you do have your pastor's friendship, he does wish you well, and even prays for it.  But your pastor's fondness does not take away your sins.  Jesus' word does.  And so Jesus tells his ministers to go and proclaim blessing, peace, and forgiveness in his stead, in his name, and by his authority.  The declaration “I forgive you” proclaimed by the pastor is Jesus' word; therefore, it is Jesus' forgiveness.
     It does not take much to destroy our feelings of peace.  Feelings of peace are quickly destroyed by our own sinfulness.  We endure guilt, doubt, fear, and frustration because we are not as faithful as we ought to be.  Like the apostles who failed Jesus and hid themselves away, we too can wallow in misery, thinking that God is disgusted with us, expecting that God will disown us, or fearful that God is disappointed in us.  After all, we are often disgusted and disappointed in ourselves.  But God is not angry.  Jesus does not regret being crucified for you.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  His “Shalom” assures you that God is your friend.  He does not merely wish you well; he restores your soul and will deliver your body from death.  He gives courage to timid souls and comforts miserable sinners.  The risen Jesus gives you his blessing and he lives to proclaim, “Peace be with you.”

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

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