Sunday, April 19, 2009

John.20.19-31; Second Sunday after Easter; April 19, 2009

19On 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." 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." 24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-3,ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It's a week after Easter. We are still joyful, basking in the glow of that wonderful day. The lilies aren’t here, but they are still bright. We're still singing Easter hymns (and we will for several more weeks!). Joy is still the overriding theme of our worship. But is very clear from our text that that is not the mood of the disciples on that first Easter (at least not yet). It was third day after Jesus had been crucified. Mary had run to them saying that she had "seen the Lord." But, instead of being joyful, they were afraid, they don’t believe what Mary says, “You are speaking like a crazy woman!” The news was too much to believe. Suddenly, unexplainably, miraculously Jesus passed through the walls and the locked doors stood among them. "Peace be with you. Shalom 'Alekem." (v. 26) The simple and common greeting may have gone over the Disciples heads, if Jesus was just your normal, everyday visitor. But it was anything but a simple and common greeting coming from the risen Jesus Christ. After all, before his suffering and death, "peace" is what he said he would bring them.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' (John 14:27-28a, ESV)

And maybe they didn't quite see it just yet. But the peace that Jesus brings them was the direct result of the "It is finished" he spoke on the cross. The peace Jesus brings, he brings through his suffering and death. It is the peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that comes from sins forgiven. It is the peace that comes from sinful people being reconciled to God. "God and sinners reconciled." We sing in the well know Christmas hymn, but it would be a good hymn for today, too.

The disciples had their doubts. They didn’t believe what Mary Magdalene had told them. But now Jesus stood among them. He relieves their fear and doubt and ends their unbelief by showing them the wounds from his crucifixion. Only he would have those specific wounds in his hands and side. See, don't doubt that it is me! Don’t doubt that I am alive. I'm the very same one whom you saw crucified, dead and buried. This translation says they were glad (v. 20) when they saw him. Maybe that's a little understating it. They were overjoyed. Just as Jesus promised, their sorrow was turned into joy. Their fear and unbelief was turned to belief. His love for them, and for us, is unmistakable. It's proved by the nail marks. It's proved by the spear that pierced his heart. It was proved by his death. It is proved by his victory over death and the grave. This is the way that God shows his love for the world; that he gave his one and only son to die in our place, and to rise again from death, for us.

That is the joy that the ancient church celebrated. It was tradition in worship to say the words Maranatha! It means Come Lord now. You can almost see them saying it even many years later with a pregnant pause in the expectation of Jesus appearing again, just as he did that day. That joy is also our joy as we gather in his name, and in the shadow of his promise. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you. (Matt 18:20) Right here in the midst of our doubts (yes we do have them!) Right here in the midst of our sorrow and pain. Right here in the midst of our illness and fear. Right here in the midst of our despair and guilt. Right here in the midst of our insecurity and worry. He comes here, sight unseen, to bring us the peace of sins forgiven. He comes to bring us the joy of God and sinners reconciled. Did I say, "Sight unseen?" Well, that's not exactly right is it? When we gather together in his name, we are the Body of Christ. As I was sent, so I am sending you. (John 20:21, ESV) In our sorrow and our pain we bring Jesus message of peace to each other. In the midst of our illness and fear, we bring Jesus message of peace. In the midst of our guild and despair we bring Jesus message of peace. And it is a message that we have not just for those gathered in this room, but a message of peace for the whole world.

The disciples didn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead at first. Thomas didn’t believe either. He wasn’t there to witness Jesus appearance. We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but when the others tell him what they had seen, he refuses to believe, without proof. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. (John 20:25, ESV) It would be easy to get down on Thomas. But really he was only asking for what the others had already seen. They had disbelieved just as much as he did. Jesus changed their unbelief to belief by an appearance, and he does the same for Thomas. A week later, on Sunday again, Jesus appeared to the disciples in that same locked room. Peace be with you! he said to them. And then specifically to Thomas, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbeliever, but believe! (John 20:27, ESV) These amazing words of Jesus show us that even though he wasn’t there, Jesus knew what Thomas had said. He provides the proof that Thomas demands. We don’t know if Thomas actually took Jesus up on his challenge, but it seems that the sight of Jesus alone was enough for him. My Lord and My God! (John 20:28, ESV) He says. It is a personal confession of faith that comes from the lips of the most skeptical disciple. They are directed to Jesus in such a way that they confess exactly what Thomas now believes. Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. Jesus is God. Jesus is his Savior.

You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29, ESV) Jesus confirms Thomas’ strong statement of faith. His unbelief is swept away by the reality of the presence of the risen Lord.

It is easy to have doubts about our faith. Just look at the disciples. They just didn’t believe that Jesus could have possibly risen from the dead. They were afraid and locked themselves behind closed doors. Thomas was separated from them when Jesus came. He just wanted to see for himself. He wanted the big miracle. Even after they had seen Jesus they had doubts about what they were to do, and how they were to do it.

We are tempted to think that we would have a stronger faith if Jesus would just appear right here in front of us, just as he did for them. And even if he doesn’t appear in person what if he would just appear in other big ways. When we are sick and suffering we just want him to heal us. I once heard about a woman at the funeral of a strong Christian friend who died of cancer. “Wouldn’t it have been a powerful witness if God would have just healed her cancer?” Forgetting what a powerful witness the woman was in her acceptance of God’s will and her coming death. It is doubt that makes us want God to work the way we want him to work. It is doubt that says that we shouldn’t have to struggle in life. It is doubt that says we shouldn’t have to suffer. Doubt is the opposite of trust.

And that’s why we gather here in this place. Not because we trust perfectly, but because we don’t trust perfectly; because sometimes we just don’t believe what Jesus says. It’s the Risen Christ who sets aside our unbelief by coming to us. He shows himself to us in his Word. The whole bible is about Jesus. That’s what St. John means when he says, These things are written that you may believe. (John 20:31, ESV) When we hear it spoken to us Christ comes to us and strengthens our faith. When you hear the wonderful words of Jesus, “Peace be with you!” you know that your sins are forgiven, and your doubt is chased away by Jesus presence in His Word.

Jesus also shows himself to us in bread and wine. In some churches the communion wafers have an imprint of Jesus on the cross right on them. Ours have a little cross. That reminds us that Jesus comes to us in his very body and very blood, right there in the palm of our hand. It’s the same Christ there that stood before Thomas and said touch me and see. Right there in Holy Communion Jesus says to you touch me and see; take and eat this is my body; take and drink this is my blood. (Matt 26:26-29, ESV) He shows himself to us in another way; the Body of Christ is seated all around you in your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a brothers and sisters confessing a common faith. That’s what it means that we’ve joined this church. We believe, teach and confess the truths of scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions and that other churches don’t have the whole truth. Just as the father sent me, so I am sending you. Jesus sends us to each other. He sends us to our neighbors to confess the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. Look and see Jesus in the concern and love that he shows you through your friends, neighbors and relatives here. As we live and work and play together we show that Christ is indeed among us.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29, ESV) That’s me and you. We don’t have the benefit of seeing the Risen Lord in his glorified body like Thomas did, standing before us. But He is here none-the-less, and we are blessed. We are blessed because we have all that we need, in His Word and Sacraments. We have a way that we can be sure that he is with us and all that he has done is for us individually. All that we need is provided by God himself and that is what makes it sure. After all if it were dependent on anything in us it would only be full of doubt.

But this text is about faith that cancels doubt. These are written that you may believe, he says, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing in him you may have life in his name. (John 20:31, ESV) That’s the Peace that Jesus brings to us. Peace that cancels our unbelief and our doubt. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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