2nd Sunday of Easter (C)
April 3, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat the fruity of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they brought sin and death into the world. Now where is the more evident than in the lack of peace that we’ve had in the world since that fateful day. Couples argue and families fight. There is racial tension, not just between blacks and whites, but between ethnic groups all over the world. People turn on one another over the littlest things. And people are always going to battle about or over something; religious ideology, natural resources, ethnicity, hatred, and sometimes simple domination. In the 60’s the slogan, “Give Peace a Chance” was posted on bumper stickers and protest signs, and while it sounds good, it’s really not possible in this world. So where can we possibly find the peace, the true peace, that we need? As we continue our Easter celebration I want you to see that Risen Lord is the only source of true peace.
Our text finds the disciples hidden in a locked room because they were afraid that they were next on the list of Jesus’ enemies. If they can kill Jesus, then a few disciples would be no big deal – whatever would stop people from talking about Jesus. They had heard the reports of the women, Peter and John saw the empty tomb, but they were still afraid. At least until something miraculous happened. John writes, “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.’” Jesus, the one who had been crucified, the one whom Mary said that she had seen was alive, was standing right there with them. And He came with a message of peace.
He brings peace because His resurrection proves a couple of things. First of all, it proves that all sins are forgiven. They’re forgiven because the price demanded by the Father, the sacrifice of His Son, has been accepted as all sufficient. If Jesus’ death wasn’t enough to save mankind from its sin, then His death was for nothing. If Jesus’ death hadn’t been enough, we’d be honoring our dead Savior at His tomb in Jerusalem. But we’re not! Instead we confidently proclaim that He is risen! When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished”, He meant that all sins are atoned for in His death. His suffering, torment, and death paid the full price of our sins. There aren’t any sins sitting out there that aren’t forgiven or are too heinous to be forgiven. You don’t have to worry about something you’ve done in the past and there aren’t any sins that are waiting to ambush you on the day you die, because Christ died for them all.
His resurrection also brings us peace because it proves that Jesus has victory over Sin and all its consequences. Sin no longer controls us because we can resist it by speaking the Word of God. Death no longer has any power over us because when we die we obtain eternal life. Yes, we will die, but it’s only temporary because we joyfully anticipate an eternal life that will one day include our immortal bodies. All the garbage that makes our lives miserable and uncomfortable has been defeated in Christ’s death and resurrection. He is alive, He is risen, and so Sin and all its consequences, including Death, has lost its sting. His work has been completed, and now we have peace, peace through the risen Christ Jesus.
Now, I’ve mentioned peace a bunch of times so far, but what is peace? Is it some sort of internal balance of mind and soul? Is it the end of war? Is it harmony with nature? Is it acceptance of the way that things are? All of these might be ways that people see peace, but true peace is nothing less than the full forgiveness of our sins before God.
Before Christ’s death and resurrection, we were enemies of God. Paul says the natural mind is not only opposed to the things of God, it’s hostile to God. Or as James writes, “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” and prior to coming to faith in Christ we were friends with the world. No matter what God wanted, we wanted the opposite. We were God’s enemies in that we hated Him and His Word, and we were at war with Him. But no longer! For in Christ we’re reconciled to God. We’re now at peace with God because our sins are forgiven and we’re now His children as opposed to His enemies.
This is what Jesus is telling the disciples on Easter night as they’re gathered in a locked room. He forgave them for running away, for not trusting Him, for not believing what He had told them. But Jesus comes to them and says, “Peace be with you” and by doing so, He gives the disciples peace. No longer do they have to beat themselves up for their failings, but they’re forgiven.
And just so the disciples will know that they’re forgiven, and so that we too will know that we’re forgiven, Christ gives a gift. John writes, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” Jesus here implements a means by which we can be sure that we are forgiven – He gives us the Office of the Keys. The Office of the Keys is the authority, given to the Church, to forgive or not to forgive the sins of the people. Sins that are confessed are forgiven, while sins that are embraced and accepted are not forgiven. And how do you know your sins are forgiven? Because I tell you that they are! This is the peace that I give you every single time I say, “I forgive you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Now this may sound all well and good, but how do you know that the forgiveness I speak is God’s forgiveness. How do you know that all your sins are forgiven and that there aren’t some bad ones still hanging around? You know because Christ gives you peace through faith. To see an example of this we can look to Thomas. That first Easter night, Thomas was off doing something, and when the disciples told him that they had seen Jesus he didn’t believe a word of it. He says, “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.” The disciples all had the joy of seeing the risen Savior and I can only imagine the excitement with which they told Thomas of seeing Jesus. But it wasn’t enough for Thomas, he had to see for himself. Thomas lacked faith, so where the other ten disciples knew of Christ’s peace and the forgiveness of their sins, Thomas had to live with his sins for another week. If only he had believed, the peace of Christ would’ve been with him as well. The other disciples tried to share the forgiveness of his sins, but Thomas refused to believe.
We, on the other hand, believe that we’re forgiven based purely on Christ’s word. I say you’re forgiven, and when I do, God speaks to you. But how often do we not feel forgiven? Our sins continue to plague us by constantly pricking our conscience. They tell us that we can’t be forgiven because if we were, we wouldn’t feel guilty. But we are forgiven and we cling to this knowledge through faith in Christ. As Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You are blessed because you believe. You are blessed, and you’ve been forgiven regardless of what Satan or your conscience tells you. You don’t need see proof because Christ’s Word is good enough for you. He has given the world the peace that only He can give and you can be assured that this peace, this forgiveness, this reconciliation with God is yours through Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord and Savior.
It has been said that peace is a precious commodity, but the truth be told, there hasn’t been much peace in our world for a very long time. I suppose that’s why it is so precious. But what is more precious than worldly peace is the peace that we have with God because of Christ. We will always have conflict in this life with other, but not with God. We’re no longer His enemies, we’re His precious children. And as His children, we have the peace that comes from knowing that we’re forgiven, even if we don’t feel it. For this reason peace is not a state of mind but a state of being. You are at peace because you are forgiven. The disciples initially didn’t feel this peace until they saw the risen Savior. We don’t get to see Him physically but we look to Him with our eyes of faith, and what we see is our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen