Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another sermon

Easter 2 – April 19th, 2009 – John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) +
It was Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together. Not to celebrate, not to rejoice, but to hide. They didn’t know what was going on. The day that had just come had been quite confusing. Early in the morning Mary Magdalene had come and shown Peter and John that the tomb was empty – and Peter and John had seen it. And then a bit later Mary came and told them that Jesus had risen – what is one supposed to make of that? They didn’t know what was going on. But they did know one thing – that mob out there could turn angry. 72 hours ago they had been having dinner with Jesus – then they watched the mob turn on Him – the leaders call out for blood. If you are going to purge someone, you generally want to take out His disciples as well – and they were known – even the slave girl knew who Peter was. They were marked men – and whatever was going on – they knew that it wasn’t safe to head out after dark. And so the disciples (with the exception of Thomas) had gathered together behind locked doors.

Into that locked room strides Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and glorified. First, our Lord speaks to them – “Peace be with you.” Be at peace, be calm, put away your fears – Christ Jesus is here. Then our Lord shows them His hands, His side. See My wounds, it really it Me and not another. And then our Lord says to them, “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 forgiven the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” That’s it. That’s Jesus solution that evening. Jesus tells them that Peace is with them, and that forgiveness has come, and it is time to hand out, to speak out, to proclaim forgiveness. He didn’t show up with legions of angels to slaughter the Jews – that danger is still there. 8 days later, they’ll still be locking their doors. Most of the men in that room will be killed by angry mobs. They still are hiding for fear of the Jews – and with reason – but Jesus proclaims peace, shows His resurrection, and sends forth the command for forgiveness to be given out. Here is the question for this morning – a question that is, or ought to be, near and dear to us. How does that do any good? It doesn’t seem like Jesus is dealing with the immediate problem, isn’t dealing with the current danger. Peace with God is one thing – but what about the mob out there? Your wounds are horrid Lord – but what about the wounds they want to give me. Yes, I can speak forgiveness – but I don’t want it to have to be from a cross saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” like you did! When we hear what Jesus does, we can be tempted to wonder what good it does.

This is a vitally important question, because this is the question that has shaped Christianity, and sadly the question that is deforming it in our generation. Too many people, too many Churches have come to the conclusion that Jesus’ peace, His resurrection, His forgiveness really don’t do any good. That’s why I heard stories of friends who went to Churches where peace with God isn’t proclaimed, where the pastors would say things like, “Eh, we don’t really know if the resurrection happened, but whether it did or didn’t doesn’t matter that much” – literally, had a friend hear that last Sunday – you can go to places where you can spend a Sunday morning and not hear the word “forgiveness” spoken – and certainly not about God forgiving you. Modern Culture has said that what Jesus does here in John 20 doesn’t do any good. When there are bills to be paid and kids to be raised and all the hustle and bustle of modern American life, who cares about peace, who cares about the resurrection, and who cares about forgiveness. We want solutions that will make our life easier – we want God to be, not just a broom to sweep up the messes of our life, no, we want God to be a swiffer wet jet, new and improved and shiney and quick. In the days of the early Church, when John wrote His Gospel – the problem was people would think this was too good to be true, that they would doubt it – that’s why we have the nice section on Thomas – no, no, I assure you, Christ has risen. All this is true. Today, people could care less. So the question remains, why is what Jesus says here vitally important, even though so many in the world blow right on by it? Let’s look at what Christ says and learn from Him.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” We forget what sin is. Sin is declaring war on God. Adam and Eve rebelled, they took up arms, as it were, against God. Sin isn’t just nothing, it isn’t just silly little things – it’s rebellion, it’s war – and when you go to war against the Almighty, when you try to fight against One you cannot hope to defeat – the only thing you can expect is death. This makes sense even in life. Why aren’t the disciples out there running around – there’s a mob, they can’t defeat the mob. Even Peter with his sword – not enough – live by the sword, die by the sword. That was true not just for this life, but for eternal life – live by sin – and you were doomed to die, eternally, by sin. The war was on, and we were on the loosing side. And Jesus steps in, and He says, “Peace”. Peace. War’s over. You are going to live, you are going to survive, trust in My peace, put your faith there, and you will not taste eternal death but you will have life and salvation. That’s what peace is – it’s peace with God – it means that the Strife is over, the battle is done – that the rebellion is done and we get to come home. Eternally, forever.

When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Jesus had risen from the dead – He had, not someone else. See – even the power, the threat of death – that’s been undone. Jesus is risen. Do you see what that means, what the disciples realized then at that moment, what people in John’s day so marveled at? That mob outside that the disciples so feared, it had put Jesus to death. He rose. He conquered, He is more powerful. Do you see what that means? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what that crowd does – it doesn’t matter if they find you one day, like they do to James, who gets caught a few years later by Herod Aggrippa, or Peter who gets caught in Rome – it doesn’t matter – Christ has risen and so shall you. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at you, how rough, how bad things are – Jesus has risen, and so shall you.

This is the truth that is so overlooked today. We simply want solutions for our problems, we want things better now – what good is Jesus if He doesn’t make my crops better, or grow the economy, or get me a better house, a Mercedes Benz, make me more popular or give me better friends? Now, now, now. That’s the cry of this world today, this faithless generation. We’ve lost perspective – we are so used to having things our way right away that we see nothing beyond the now – and we forget the truth that Christ’s resurrection shows. The things of this world, they pass away – the problems, even the blessings. But Christ is risen – and so shall you – and you shall have eternity with joys that do not fade away, with relationships that do not go sour, eternity without the things that poke at us and try to make us fearful now. That’s the perspective that Christ gives – not that all your problems will go away – 8 days later the disciples are still behind locked doors because that is the safe thing to do – but that we will outlast our problems, that we will rise victorious in the end. We know how the story turns out – and so we can face whatever trials we see confidently – for we know we win in the end.

Which comes to one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture. 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.” I wish modern translators would translate it like this – When you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. We tend to think of “if” as a word that implies that something might not happen. If it rains tomorrow – it might happen, probably not. That’s not the what’s going on here – it’s if being used this way – If it rains, the ground will become wet – whenever it rains, the ground becomes wet. When this happens, this other stuff will happen – the logical if. So do you see what this means? Jesus says that whenever His forgiveness is announced to us, whenever we hear it, be it proclaimed in Absolution, or preached, or tied to Baptism or to the Supper – it happens. Forgiveness is real – and forgiveness is that which ties us to Christ, which takes His life and righteousness and makes it ours – forgiveness gives life. And Jesus tells the disciples – “Go hand out forgiveness, go give it out.” We don’t have to wait and hope for a wild and miraculous vision, we don’t have to worry and wonder where and how God will act in our lives, we don’t have to debate if God is present for us giving us His peace – wherever His Word of forgiven is spoken, Christ is there giving forgiveness. If you hear it, it happens. Do you see how wondrous this is? When fears assail, when doubts mount, when problems rise – when all of this seems too good to be true – Christ Jesus has died for your sins and risen to give you life – there, you have it once again now in time, and you shall have it for all eternity. We speak forth God’s Word, we speak with God’s power – the very Word of God which brought forth all creation from nothing, the Word which said let there be light – God gives it to us to speak. Go forgive the sins of those who repent of their sin – and it’s real and it works. This is an awesome, mind boggling thing.

And so, dear friends, we see and understand the big picture – we see what God is giving to us – life and salvation, which goes over and above any earthly and temporal blessing. And He gives it to us over and over, so that we might remain in Him, so that at all times we might know that we have the victory, and even should the world wear us down – He will call us again to His house to hear, to believe, to take unto ourselves His own Body and Blood – given and shed for you for the remission of sin – so that we might always have life everlasting. Christ’s resurrection means you will live, you will conquer, you will out last every problem and threat Satan can throw your way. Let us receive the Supper then in humility with great rejoicing, for our Lord gives us life and victory. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed) Alleluia, amen.

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