April 27, 2014

Living Lord, Powerful Peace - Apr 27, 2014

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Sometimes ordinary words become extraordinary. When the situation is right, a common phrase can become much more powerful than it usually is.  

Think of a child coming home from school. As soon as he opens the door, and sets his bag down, he calls out, “Hi mom, I’m home!” Such a simple phrase, and probably a common one as well. And yet it manages to bring a smile to many a mother’s face each and every day. That common phrase, “Hi mom, I’m home”, has a measure of power.

But imagine, for a moment, that this child lived during the American Civil War. Imagine that he had gone away from his home to serve in the army. Imagine that he had been gone for three long years. He had tried to send letters, but all but the first few had been lost along the way. Mom hadn’t heard from her son in a long time. She didn’t know if he was alright, or not.

Now imagine the weight those words would carry. The door creaking open. The familiar thump of a bag set on the floor. And the voice of a long lost child calling out gently, “Hi mom, I’m home.”

Sometimes ordinary words become extraordinary.
In our sermon reading for today, Jesus greets his disciples with a very common Jewish greeting. He says, “Shalom”, or in English, “Peace be with you.” But since Jesus uttered this phrase on Easter Sunday, his greeting takes on special weight. Coming from the recently crucified and now risen Jesus the phrase, “Peace be with you” carries profound meaning and great power.

John 20:19-31 (NASB)

  19   So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
  20   And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
  21   So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
  22   And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
  23   “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
  24   But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
  25   So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
  26   After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
  27   Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
  28   Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
  29   Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
  30   Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
  31   but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Early on this very day the women had gone to the tomb. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and others. All dear friends of Jesus. 

First, they had found the tomb broken open. Then they had seen a vision of angels. And then they had seen Jesus himself—in the flesh.

Sometime during the day the risen Jesus appeared to Peter also.

In the evening, two disciples hurried back to Jerusalem after Jesus had appeared to them in the little village of Emmaus.

And now they were gathered in this locked room. Ten apostles who had not yet seen Jesus. Peter who had. And the two disciples who just came from Emmaus with the latest Jesus sighting.

And they were afraid. John tells us they were afraid of the Jews. That is to say, they were afraid of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees who were Jesus’ enemies. These Jews had, after all, just recently gotten their master and friend crucified. These Jews had manipulated the Roman governor to execute a man that the governor himself had already declared innocent. You and I would have been afraid of the Jews too. Afraid of persecution, and afraid of death.

But when Jesus appeared to the disciples in this locked room, the very first thing he told them was not to be afraid. He didn’t say it in those words. He didn’t say, “Don’t be afraid” like the angels told the shepherds at his birth. Here in the upper room Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” But it amounts to the same thing.

Why should they be afraid of persecution or death? Jesus was standing there right in front of them—ALIVE! The nail prints in this hands, and the fatal wound in his side remained, but he was not suffering in the least. He obviously wasn’t subject to death anymore. So why should they, his followers, be afraid of death?

The short answer is—they shouldn’t!

And neither should we. Look at the last verse in our reading.  Verse 31 says…

but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31 NASB).

Jesus gives us peace with God by taking our sins away. He suffered our hell on the cross, and died in our place. All who believe in him, have life in His name. Life from God. Life that will not end on the day of our death.

A resurrection and ever living Jesus means we don’t have to fear death anymore. Our Savior lives, and he promises that we too shall rise—to eternal life at his side.

This is why these disciples, so fearful in this little locked room, later stood boldly before the Chief Priests and Pharisees and refused to stop preaching the message of sins forgiven through Jesus. This is why the apostle Paul jumped at the chance to share the Gospel Message, even with an angry mob! The apostles of Jesus weren’t afraid of death anymore, because their JESUS was stronger than death.

I pray that the risen Christ will fill us with the same peace, so that we never fear death, even the tiniest bit. 
After Jesus greeted the disciples, they rejoiced. It must have been a bit of a crazy scene. But Jesus moves right on to business. He’s got a mission for his followers, and he’s going to start preparing them to carry it out RIGHT NOW, on Easter Sunday evening. Verse 21 says…

21   So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
  22   And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
  23   “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:21-23 NASB).

Jesus was giving his followers a pretty heavy job here. They were to go out into the world and preach his Message. They would tell people about God, and sin, and sin’s consequences, and how God sent his Son Jesus to save them from hell.

When they came across people who were clearly NOT SORRY about their sins, they were bound by Christ’s command to tell them that their sins were still on them.

When they came across people who were clearly SORRY about their sins, they were bound by Christ’s command to tell them that because of Christ their sins were forgiven in full.

This authority, to forgive or retain sins, is sometimes called “The Office of the Keys.” You know, one key locks the door, and one key opens the door. This is a pretty serious responsibility that Christ gives to his followers here.

It is a heavy thing to tell a person, “You are obviously not sorry for sinning against God, and so your sin remains on you. You have no part in Christ.”

On the other hand it’s also a pretty amazing thing to tell a person, “I can see you’re sorry about what you’ve done, and that you trust in Christ as your Savior. So, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

To help his disciples with this great responsibility, Jesus gives then the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would go with them, and help them to use “The Office of the Keys” properly. To proclaim sins forgiven, or not forgiven, in the name of the Father. 
The disciples didn’t need to fear death, Jesus was risen.

The disciple didn’t need to fear the assignment he was giving them—the Holy Spirit would help them. And the same Holy Spirit will help us today.

Through the Holy Word of God, Jesus himself speaks to you and me today. And he says the same thing he said on Easter. He says, “Peace be with you. I’m alive. Peace be with you. I give you the Holy Spirit as your guide. Speak my Word. Use the keys. Don’t be afraid.”
But there was one disciples absent on that first Easter Sunday: Thomas. And he was given a special kind of peace when Christ appeared to him a week after Easter. Thomas had refused to believe his closest friends. He said that unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes, and touched those wounds with his own hands, Thomas just couldn’t believe it.

And so the gentle Savior granted Thomas’ request. When the disciples were gathered again. When the doors were shut. Jesus appeared before them again.

And instead of a harsh rebuke, Jesus had the same powerful greeting for Thomas. He said, “Peace be with you.” And then he invited Thomas to touch the wounds with his own fingers. He said, Go ahead, put your hand into my side. Stop doubting, and believe.

And Thomas found that he didn’t need to fear Jesus. For his risen and living Lord and God, was patient and loving. A God whom the Bible says desires that all people be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth (see 1 Timothy 2:4).
From that first Easter Sunday, and throughout their lives, the disciples of Jesus learned how deep and powerful that phrase really was coming from the mouth of Jesus, “Peace be with you.”

They found that a living Lord meant powerful peace. Peace beyond what the world could offer. Peace that goes beyond this life.

With Christ living, we don’t need to fear death. That’s peace.

With Christ living, we don’t need to fear anything God directs us to do. He’ll help us do it, through his powerful Word and his Holy Spirit.

With Christ living, we can depend on God’s patience. Thomas knew it. And we should too. After all, don’t we pray, “His mercy endures forever?” That’s patience. That’s our Lord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when we’re afraid of death or something else that seems scary to us, remind us of your power, your love, and your patience. When we feel inadequate to carry out your mission to let the world know your love, remind us that we’re just a little part of the plan. And that the Holy Spirit will do the major lifting. And when we’re stubborn against some part of your Word, be patient with us. Soften our hearts and open our eyes. That just like Thomas we may finally look on the truth with eyes of faith. Give us your peace, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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