Sermon on John 20:19-31 for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 5 & 8, 2018
- Jesus greeted his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” How would you define the word peace? I think most people would define peace by talking about what peace is not. Peace is the opposite of war, …or the opposite of strife, …or the opposite of Well, we still haven’t found out what peace is. Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, so they probably spoke Hebrew or something close to it, Aramaic. Some of you know what the standard Hebrew greeting is: Shalom! A word that means peace. But shalom as peace also has the sense of completeness, that is, everything the way it should be, everything right. Yes, that sounds like a good definition of peace.
- And that peace was something the disciples didn’t have. “On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews.” They had seen what happened to Jesus on Friday, and they were afraid the Jewish leaders would come after them, too. Along with fear, they probably felt shame, too. What did they all do when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane? They ran all directions. Peter and John did follow for a while, but most of them abandoned Jesus. And then there was Thomas. Thomas didn’t have peace either. Along with fear and shame, Thomas’ peace was ruined by doubt. Even when ten of the remaining disciples said they had seen Jesus alive, Thomas doubted. He had to see Jesus to believe it. Even with the other ten disciples telling him, he wouldn’t believe it. That shows us that Thomas’ doubts came from within— strong doubts, dark doubts.
- So Jesus comes to them and says, “Peace be with you.” “Completeness.” “Restoration of the way things should be.” With the ten, Easter evening, he drives out the fear by simply appearing. “Our Friend overcame death, he can overcome anything.” He also drove out their shame. They abandoned him—but he didn’t abandon them. Just by being there, Jesus was showing that he forgave them. With his greeting of peace he forgave them. Then there was Thomas—not with the disciples Easter evening, but the week later. Jesus drove away his doubts by appearing, with his word of peace, and by telling Thomas the exact words Thomas had said. “You need to see my hands? Put your finger here. Touch me and see. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” You see, Jesus word of peace was not just a greeting. It was not just a wish. Jesus himself was their peace.
- We have problems with peace, too. Some of us have the same problems as the disciples. Fear. Oh, there’s plenty out there, isn’t there? There are the things you see on the TV news. There is the news you hear from the doctor. There is the news you hear from relatives and neighbors. And there are so many fears from within. And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the fears he says to us what he said to them. “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Whatever the crisis is, you are not alone. When the disciples were afraid on Thursday night he told them, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14). He tells us that he has overcome the world (John 16:33). He tells us that when this life is done, we will see him. “Where I am you may be also. (John 14:3).
- And then there’s the doubt. And there’s plenty of doubt out there. Faithlessness. You see it when TV personalities publicly degrade and dismiss Christians and the Christian faith. I see it in scholarship—I bought a book last week that was supposed to be about Jesus’ week between Palm Sunday and Easter. I thought “This will be great. Bringing the four gospels together and adding historical insight.” But it was a book full of doubt. Its conclusion was, “We don’t know what the disciples saw. Resurrection is a parable or a metaphor.” But what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the doubts, he sets his Gospel Word in front of us, to hear and to read. There we see what he has done—and what he has done for us. Where we have the word of Jesus, we also have Jesus. This is how he is present and how he gives himself and all his grace to us today. The disciple John said this at the end of today’s Gospel: “These are written 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 20:31). Life means our connection to God. It also means our peace.
- And then there’s shame. Guilt about what you did or what you didn’t do. What you should have done but didn’t—and the memory just won’t go away. But what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” What did John the Baptist call Jesus? “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Your sin and shame. All of it. Mine. All of it. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).
- And then there are the other regrets that disturb our peace. The “what ifs.” What if I had chosen a different career? What if I had made a different decision? Would my life be different? Better? And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For all the regrets, the thoughts about what choices we have made or how things could be different, he invites us to put everything, past, present and future into his hands. “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9).
- And then there’s the anger that disturbs our peace. Sometimes it burns long, doesn’t it? Sometimes the anger is turned inward on ourselves. Sometimes the anger is directed at another person. Sometimes the anger just burns. All these things destroy our peace. And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the anger, whether directed inward or outward, Jesus freely gave his disciples forgiveness an peace, and he sent them on a mission of forgiveness. “Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:21-22).
- Jesus gave his disciples peace. More than a greeting or a wish. He gave them peace by giving them himself. Then he sent them on a mission of peace. We have a mission of peace, too. First of all, to find and hold the peace of Christ ourselves. To keep looking at these words that are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ and by believing we have life in his name. Our closing hymn today has the phrase: “Seek where you are found.” It’s talking about reading the Gospel, hearing the Gospel, finding Christ in his Word and in his Supper. Then our mission of peace is to share and proclaim this same peace. Sometimes, when we’re at a loss and we know we should share Christ with someone but don’t know how—just invite them. That’s what some of the first disciples did. They said, “Come and see” (John 1:46). Being a Christian friend with a listening ear is our mission of peace, too. We live in very strange times. We have all kinds of communication devices and services. Phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more that I probably don’t know about. And with all this communication— people aren’t really communicating. People are feeling more and more isolated. That’s why drug addiction is up. Suicide rates are up. People don’t have others they can really talk to. That can be your mission of peace, too. Ask somebody, “How are you doing?” and really mean it. Wait for an answer. Be that Christian friend, that listening ear. And share the peace of Christ. Remind a troubled friend of our forgiveness in Christ, or of God’s promise to provide, or of Jesus and his assurance to be with us always. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” Jesus says.
- Without Jesus we will have no peace. That was the state of mind the disciples had Easter evening when the doors were locked. They had all been doubters too. They thought Jesus was dead. So they had not peace. That was Thomas’ problem. Doubt had darkened his heart. He thought Jesus was dead. He was without Christ and without peace. And this is what we are seeing in our world. People without Christ are without peace. Some show their lack of peace with angry words. Some with violent actions. Some by shutting the rest of the world out. So what will eternity be for them? It will be the same. No peace, only with no opportunity for grace either. Now is a time of grace for the world. That’s why the end hasn’t come yet. Now is the time for our mission of peace. Jesus himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (EHV)