Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31
Let me be perfectly honest with you. I love Easter, I love the victory of the cross and resurrection. I love the joy of Easter morning in the songs we sing. I love all that goes on over Holy Week leading to Good Friday and Easter morning.
But for a preacher, it. Is. Exhausting.
Last Sunday, I was like “Oh thank you Jesus for the empty tomb, now do you mind if I go in and have a nap, since you seem done with it all all?”
And I did nap. I wasn’t much company for my in-laws as I spent most of the afternoon unconscious in their living room. But it’s also not the first Easter Sunday I’ve done it either!
We want to be careful though. A nap is one thing. But losing the joy of Easter is another.
We get excited for Easter, after all it is the biggest Sunday in the Christian calendar. Without Easter, there’s no reason to be here at all. So we should be excited. We should be looking forward to it.
It’s what comes in the days after which really matter though. Jesus died and then walked out of the grave. So the question is, what does this mean in our daily life?
If we believe Jesus walked out of the tomb for our sake, and for the sake of everyone else on this planet, then what impact does it have on us each and every day?
In our reading this week Jesus makes a couple of appearances to his disciples. And they weren’t expecting him.
The disciples were meeting together in a home with the doors locked. They had locked the doors because they were afraid the Jewish leaders would come after them next, since they were accomplices of Jesus. I mean, if they were willing to do what they did to Jesus, what would they be willing to do to his disciples? So they sought to protect themselves by locking the doors.
Then all of a sudden, Jesus appears in the room. And what does he say? “Peace be with you.”
Now, I totally understand why this would have been his opening statement. The disciples are together in a locked home. They are afraid of what might happen if the Jewish leaders find them. They are on edge. And what happens? A person shows up in the middle of the room!
No doubt when this happened there was lots of panic and confusion.
Think about it. You’re sitting around talking with your friends, then all of a sudden someone is just standing there? I’d freak out! Wouldn’t you freak out?
It’s like when you think you’re alone somewhere, maybe at home, and you walk around the corner and your kid, or your spouse is standing there. What do you do next? You jump! Maybe you shriek!
Whatever it is, it’s usually not your best moment.
So when Jesus appears in the room, I’m pretty sure the disciples freak out and chaos ensues. It’s just natural.
So hearing Jesus speak, “Peace be with you.” and showing his wounds, it would have helped settle them down a bit. Remember that last week we read how Jesus gave Mary Magdalene a message for them, so they know he’s out there somewhere, and now he is here with them in the room. Once they recognize him, they settle down and realize how wonderful it is to see Jesus again.
And then Jesus says,
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)
Jesus repeats the “peace be with you”. After the room has settled. After everyone has hugged Jesus and high-fived one another. Jesus offers them peace again.
And then Jesus says he’s going to send them just as his Father God has sent him and then he breathes on them to offer them a taste of the Holy Spirit.
There is a short teaching on forgiveness, which I won’t really get into this week because I could preach on that for an hour. So I’ll sum it up by saying we need to learn how to forgive and forgive well. Not just for the sake of the person we hold grudges against, but also for our own relationship with Jesus. The two are far more connected than you may think. Don’t worry, I’m working on a sermon series around forgiveness, it’s on my list of topics I will be preaching about, possibly in the fall.
In the meantime, just remember: forgiveness is good for everyone.
Now in this first scene, poor Thomas was out getting the pizza and missed the party, or something like that. And when he gets back he hears about all their excitement. The poor guy feels left out though, and is more than a little bit jealous.
I get it, he’s upset that he missed seeing Jesus again. I know I’d be upset too. So he refuses to believe it. Easter was on April Fool’s Day this year after all, so he’s decided he’s not falling for this old trick.
But a week later, this time everyone is in the room together, including Thomas. The door is still locked and Jesus appears. And what does he say?
“Peace be with you.”
I don’t expect there to be a lot of commotion this time, the disciples have seen this trick already. The disciples are probably looking at Thomas saying, “Look! See we told you!”
Thomas is the one who is overjoyed and walks up to Jesus and gets the opportunity to touch Jesus himself. To see the wounds from the cross up close and personal. Once the realization has fully hit Thomas as to who he is standing in front of, what does he do?
He says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
What a gift that has been offered to Thomas and to the other disciples. They had heard from Mary on Easter morning that the tomb was empty. Peter and John went and checked it out for themselves. They tomb really was empty. All that was left inside were the burial cloths Jesus was wrapped in.
They were also told by Mary Jesus was finishing up his mission, that he was going to live with his Father and our Father, his God and our God. That should have been enough. All they have seen and heard from Jesus over the last three years should have been enough for them to believe in the risen Jesus Christ just by hearing the tomb was empty. He predicted it, and it happened. I’m sure they remembered those predictions.
But there was still something missing which they needed to fully understand and believe. And it’s not seeing Jesus in the flesh. It’s Pentecost, that’s what’s missing. The day they receive the Holy Spirit which fully reveals to them the love of God and how it lives in them.
But we’ll talk more about Pentecost in a few weeks.
Today, we see the disciples meet Jesus and his resurrected body.
And also, we see Jesus gives them peace.
Why peace? What is so special about “Peace be with you” that Jesus says it three times in just a couple of verses.
The simple answer is, they need it.
After all they have seen and experienced walking with Jesus: They saw him die as an innocent man; They are afraid to be found by the Jewish leaders who may be looking for them next; and they are lost because they don’t have their leader any more, the one who taught them and led them around the countryside for three years showing them great and wonderful things.
So I suspect, as they have been gathering in the room since Jesus rose from the grave, there has likely been some nervousness, some uncertainty as to what comes next. I know I would feel that way in their shoes.
So when Jesus offers them peace, I believe he’s saying much more than just “calm down fellas.”
Jesus is offering them God’s peace, heavenly peace, divine peace.
In John 14, Jesus is talking to his disciples about how someday they will receive the Holy Spirit as a helper in their lives. How the Holy Spirit will remind them of everything Jesus has taught them and how they will know God’s love in their hearts. As part of receiving the Holy Spirit Jesus says earlier in the Gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The peace Jesus offers is not like the peace we like to talk about on the news. This isn’t about stopping wars or fighting. This is about a divine serenity which takes over our lives, changing our hearts to be more like Christ’s heart. It’s about knowing the love of our Father in heaven like no other love we know. It truly is a peace only God can give.
If we turn to Romans 5:1-2 we hear Paul say this,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Paul is saying in Christ we have received the peace of God which changes all our lives and how we see the world around us. For when we receive this peace, God builds us up, strengthens us, and makes us servants of his divine peace.
Among other things, Godly peace is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It is listed as a Godly character trait along with love, joy, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
God’s peace is far more than we might want to normally consider.
Jesus has come to offer the world peace. Yes, God wants wars to end. He wants people to live in peace and love. But God also wants to offer peace within our own hearts. God wants those struggles we face each and every day to go away.
You know what I mean. I mean those inner voices, those thoughts and words which cause us to doubt. To doubt own out abilities. To doubt our own worth. To doubt our own value. To doubt whether our life makes a difference or not.
Jesus wants you to know, through the peace of his Holy Spirit you are much more than what you think. You have worth. You have great skills and abilities to do his work. You have great value to add to his church. You, through the peace of Jesus Christ, make a difference.
We don’t need to see or touch Jesus to believe. We have something available to us the disciples didn’t have when they locked themselves in the house.
We have the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promised it, and it is here, even today. Maybe even especially today.
So, if you feel like you don’t have peace in your life today. Ask Jesus to give you his peace. Let the Holy Spirit speak into your life and show you the peace only God can bring.
It is life changing, and life giving. And God will show you a life you never thought possible. One with him.
Let us pray.
As the disciples gathered afraid and locked out of sight in a home, you came in. You by-passed their man-made barriers and spoke right into their hearts and offered them peace.
Jesus, we need your peace as well. So often we put up our own barriers which end up as barriers to realizing you want to enter our hearts.
Today we ask you to walk past those barriers in our lives and offer us the peace in our hearts only you can give. Help us to see the peace our Father in heaven has in store for us, and let us receive the healing and love we need as the barriers are taken down.
Jesus, you are the great healer, you are the love of God, and we ask you to make yourself known today.
We ask this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.