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 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. 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 anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Peace be with you.” It was the normal greeting that people shared with one another. It was the everyday “hello” and “goodbye” the people spoke to one another without even thinking about what it meant. Like we say, “How are you?” not really wanting to know. But on the evening of that day that first day of the week, the first Sunday after the crucifixion, the first one after the disciples had heard the incredible, unbelievable news that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was so much more than just that kind of simple greeting. Those words coming from the lips of Jesus was everything to those men huddled together in the darkened upper room.
They were afraid of the Jews, the text says, and with good reason because the Jews that they were afraid of had the ear of the Romans. After all they were able to convince the Romans to crucify an innocent man. And the Romans never just stopped with the leader of a group they considered dangerous. The fear the disciples felt was real, and overwhelming. The Romans used crucifixion as a means of terror. “Don’t do what this guy did or the same will happen to you.” Suffering men and women on crosses made great billboards for the will and power of Rome. The disciples cowering in fear knew that first hand. And they also knew by example what the Jews who hated Jesus were capable of doing. They were afraid of the might be planned for them. And so they locked the doors and hid.
But, there might be more to their fear than just the fear of being crucified like Jesus. You see there was the betrayal to deal with. When Jesus had needed them most they all fled like scared rabbits. The one brief moment of defiance, the cutting off of a servant’s ear, was a lame excuse for a stand. When it mattered most they didn’t say or do anything. And Peter had the added pain of a public denial, “I don’t know the man!” he said with curses. Even though Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, they were all guilty of betrayal in one degree or another. And now… John and Peter had seen the grave empty. Mary claimed to see Jesus alive. It was difficult to believe. But even more, don’t you think that they were afraid to face Jesus alive, because they had all failed him when He faced death.
So there they were afraid in the upper room behind lock and key. Their ears pursed for marching footsteps. And they were afraid Jesus would come to visit them.
Jesus did come. He stood among them appearing without the door even opening. The disciples must have fled to the corners of the room wanting to escape the deserved wrath of God. He would surely be angry at their betrayal and their denial. Their sin was obvious and their punishment totally deserved. But, Jesus did the unexpected. “Peace be with you.”
That day, that greeting wasn’t the normal “hello” greeting between people. It was in fact very abnormal and especially what the disciples weren’t expecting. Of course there were doubts about the resurrection itself, but more so the doubts that Jesus could forgive them for their sin. In their minds their sins were great, they’re denial complete. They could have no part in Jesus anymore. But Jesus shattered all their fears when he spoke to them “Peace.”
Peace. To the disciples it meant more than the simple word peace means to us. In Hebrew the word is Shalom. Shalom is not just an absence of war. Shalom is a word about relationships. It speaks of wholeness, unity, and restoration. It speaks of completeness, satisfaction, and safety. In that one word Jesus spoke to all the fears of the men he stood before that day. They had broken their relationship with him, they had denied and betrayed him. They had forsaken him and left him for dead (they weren’t even there when his body was buried!). But Jesus restored them, in a word. “No matter what you have done, no matter how evil your thoughts, no matter how selfish, all is well, we are at peace.” It was good news for the disciples, in fact, the best news they had ever heard. Jesus forgave them and restored his relationship to them. They knew what they deserved from God for their betrayal. They deserved the painful death that Jesus died. They deserved the death that would have been theirs if they had not run in fear. But in spite of what deserved, they were forgiven.
Are you at peace with God? Maybe you don’t even remember being at war. “I’m not as bad as other people are. I go to church. I give plenty of money. I haven’t betrayed Jesus like Judas did.” If you think that you’d have done better in the garden than disciples did when they were faced with death or Jesus, I think you are deceiving yourself. But the question isn’t really weather you are better than other people, the question is; are you good enough to live up to God’s standards? God doesn’t just require our best effort, either. “I did the best I could do,” isn’t a defense for sin.
And there is sin in your life. There is sin in my life too. No matter how perfect you try to be you know your failures. “Honey did you forget to take out the trash again?” Your wife repeats with a little sharpness in her voice. You didn’t really forget you were just watching the game, and you put it out of your head. “You know better than that!” Your mother scolds. “I don’t want to see you do that again.” “Dave, that proposal isn’t what I asked for at all. Didn’t you listen to what I said?” “Weren’t you at the meeting?” “Do I have to check over everything you do?” We fall short of our expectations all the time. These are the experiences of sin in our lives. We can’t help it. We try. But we fail.
“Well, at least I don’t betray him, like the disciples did.” You say. “Well, I just don’t know about all this living together stuff.” You neighbor asks. “Things are different now then they used to be. As long as they love each I guess it is ok.” And you keep silent not wanting to cause a stir. “All religions are the same,” you hear, “as long as we are sincere in what we believe.” And the chance to witness to Jesus as the only Savior from sin slips away as you hold your tongue. For fear of rejection, or ridicule, or loss of reputation, or even loss of friendship we don’t speak up when we should. At least the disciples were afraid of death. What’s our excuse? We have none.
But again, we don’t have to deny Jesus or the truth of God’s Word to deserve death, all sin is a betrayal of God and his will for our lives. If you doubt that, just look at what sin leaves in its wake. Broken homes leave devastated children, parents don’t get divorced families do. Unchecked anger leads to violence. Lies lead to more lies and distrust. Alcohol abuse brings death. None of these things are what God wants for his human creatures. It is very much like the destruction of a war. All of it is the result of the denial of God. All of it is the result of sin. All of this is found right in your heart. If you examine yourself with an unbiased eye you see it clearly. You excuse it, minimize it, confine it to the back of your mind, but you know it’s there.
“Peace be with you.” Jesus says. And he is talking to you, “poor miserable sinners” all. You who have sinned against him in “though, word, and deed, by what you have done, and what you have left undone.” “Peace be with you.” Jesus says. “No matter what you have done, no matter how evil your thoughts, no matter how selfish, no matter how often you’ve fallen short of expectations, all is well, we are at peace.” That is the very reason Jesus walked the earth, to bring peace to you. That is the very reason Jesus suffered the shame and scorn of the cross, to bring peace to you. That is the very reason Jesus died the death that you deserved for denying him, to bring peace to you. And most of all, that is the very reason Jesus Christ rose from the dead, to bring peace to you. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [Jesus] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before [God]. (Col 1:21-22 ESV) He has restored your relationship with God. Peace is now where there once was hostility. Punishment that was deserved has now been paid. You are at peace with God.
What does it mean to be at peace with God? It means that no matter what, whenever you fail you have a place to go to find peace. Whenever you find yourself cowering in the darkness for fear of the consequences of sin you can run to him instead. Life can be hard when we fail. But God gives peace even in the middle of the darkness of consequences. Whenever you have hurt someone you can find the strength to make peace because God gives you peace. God first restores your relationship with him. The peace he gives you is what you need restore your broken relationships. God’s peace even covers our fear of speaking the truth in the face of charges of being intolerant. God’s peace, the peace that Jesus pronounced to the disciples so long ago is for you, and your life every day.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “you are forgiven.” How often do you need to hear it? Me, I need it lots, because I am still a sinful and weak person. I need to hear it hear every Sunday, in the words of forgiveness spoken for Jesus. I need to hear it in the Lord’s Supper as often as it is available, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” I need to hear it from my family whenever I’ve hurt them. And I need to hear it from you when I fail to live up to the responsibility of being your pastor.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “you are forgiven.” I want you to hear it often, because I know that you need to hear it too. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.