The Second Sunday of Easter
Text: John 20:19–31
Rev. Roy S. Askins
preached on 20150412
NOTE: This sermon was preached at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Fairview, Texas.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
The disciples, those fearful followers of Christ, locked themselves away for fear of the Jews. The Jews were convinced the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, so the disciples hid. Behind locked doors they felt a little safer, but locked doors can't stop the resurrected Savior. So he shows up and says something surprising: "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). Really? Can there be any peace for the disciples at this point?
The Jews and Roman soldiers could have brought down the doors at any moment and thrown them in prison. Peace had fled from the disciples' minds entirely. Further, if they had known how their lives would soon change, Christ's greeting of "peace" would probably have seemed empty and hollow.
Persecution would haunt their footsteps at every point. Persecution would divide and scatter them to the four corners of the world. Torture and death would plague their work and mission. They would sin against others, and they would be sinned against; this sin would cause divisions in the body of Christ. The climax of their apostolic work would be the martyr’s cross. All but John would die a torturous, martyr's death for confessing Christ.
Peace? Really? It seems like Jesus' resurrection has brought the opposite of peace; it appears to have brought strife and difficulty.
Jesus makes the same declaration of peace to you, yet you can't always greet it with the joy the disciples seemed to muster up. Peace? Yeah right. “What peace can there be for a sinner such me,” you wonder. The epistle today nailed it: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). In fact, denying your sinfulness makes God a liar. And so, in those honest moments, you sit and wonder what peace can you really have in the face of your sin.
Nor do your sins affect only you. They ruin your relationship with your children or your spouse. If you aren't sinning against someone else, then someone is sinning against you. If you finally get over one of your grudges, you find someone ready to take up a grudge against you. This seems like anything but Christ's proclamation of “Peace be with you.”
Not only have you sins afflicted you, but you also have doubts. You know how, at times, you have doubted with poor Thomas. If God would simply do this one thing, then you would know for sure that He loves you, or so you have thought at times. Or when the sure healing you prayed for against and again didn't come, you wondered and questioned His love for you. "If He really loved me, would He have let this happen to me? Does He know me? Does He care?" Or, in the words of the Psalmist, perhaps you have cried you, "How long O Lord, how long?" (cf. Psalm 6:3; 13:1).
How can Jesus say, "Peace be with you"? You see so much sin and strife; you see hardship and difficulty. Confessing your faith before the world is becoming more and more fraught with danger these days. How can He say, "Peace"?
Even in the church, it doesn't seem like "peace" reigns. Our sins against one another and sins others have committed against us hinder us from learning to forgive one another. The sin of false teaching has divided the church since almost the beginning of the church. Even as the New Testament was being written, false teachers had arisen. They taught false doctrine, a sin in God's eyes, and divided the church. False teaching has become so common, the passage from Acts today strikes us a surprising: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). Look at how many denominations exists today! Look at how members fail to share and provide for the good of the church! Anything but, it seems, being of one mind. Anything but, it seems, the peace Christ promises.
Sometimes, even the church of Christ, His very own body, finds itself doubting with Thomas. We may not doubt exactly the same way Thomas did; no one really expects Jesus to show up and allow them to stick their fingers into His hands, and their hands into His side. No, we doubt Christ's Word that He will grow and provide for His church. We may be tempted by the numbers of the large mega-churches down the street. Or we may just be worried that the church may not outlast our generation. So, the church comes up with programs and plans to "grow" the church, that is, to do Christ's work for Him. Why? Because we have failed to trust His Word to send how His Word to do His work. In other words, we doubt with Thomas.
Repent. Repent and be a Believing Thomas. He proclaimed, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
Poor Thomas gets the short end of the stick, in my opinion. Who wouldn't have doubted what the apostles said? He had seen the dead body of Christ hanging from the tree. Who of you wouldn't have declared the same, "Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe" (John 20:25)? He wanted proof. He wanted to know for sure.
But when our Lord appeared before him, he held no doubt. "My Lord and my God" ( John 20:28). Thomas's great confession stands even today as one of the great confessions of the Bible. His lasting legacy is NOT that he doubted. His lasting legacy is a great confession before the world. He ought not be Doubting Thomas, but Believing Thomas, for he also received the martyr's crown for confessing his faith in Christ before rulers and authorities.
And yet, in spite of this, Thomas is not the one whom Christ declares to be blessed in our text today. Who are the blessed ones? "Those who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). You. You are the blessed ones in the eyes of God. For you have not seen the resurrected body of Christ; you have not placed your fingers into His hands nor your hand into His side. Yet, you have heard His Word. You have, by the calling and enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, received the faith. Despite all the sins and doubts which afflict you, despite all the struggles of life, you still find yourself here, every Sunday, hungering for and receiving the blessed words of Christ, "Peace be with you."
Peace for your Sins and Doubts
You are truly right to acknowledge your sins. You cannot deceive yourself, or attempt to deceive God, by denying your sin. Thus, you are right to acknowledge you are sinner. And yet, you have peace with God, a peace that passes all understanding. You have peace because Christ, your Lord and Savior, didn't come to earth merely as an extraterrestrial on a scouting mission. He came to take on your flesh, to become a man like you, and not merely become a man, but to become your sin. He came to take your sin to the cross and crucify it there, than He might give you His life in place of your sin. He brought down the dividing wall, St. Paul declares, that separates us from God. How? By crucifying your sin.
This is the peace Christ comes to bring. When He says, "Peace be with you" to the disciples, He's not merely greeting them. When your pastor stands before you during the worship service and says, "Peace be with you," he's not just saying, "Hey, how are you folks?" No. In the stand and by the command of Jesus, he is declaring to you the very forgiveness for which you came this day. He's giving you peace with God.
Peace with God is what you need most. Peace in the world is all fine and dandy. It's great to get along with everyone, and as the people of God, we should try to do this in every way possible. We should love and pray for our enemies. But peace with God, a reconciled relationship to God, a new life granted to us through Word and Sacrament, transcends any earthly peace. "Do not fear those who can harm the body but cannot harm the soul; rather, fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell," Christ says. He gives you peace with the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
God’s peace even conquers your doubts. Because Christ has reconciled you to God the Father, you cling to Jesus and Jesus alone. Yes, at times you may wonder with Thomas, but when you look to Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world, for your sins, you may be absolutely confident that whatever God sends your way, whether hardship or strife or disease or the rough road of bearing your cross before the world, He sends these things in love for you. If He sent His Son to die for you, surely He will provide and care for you in all things.
Peace for His Church
His peace will preserve and uphold His church through all things. Because you have peace with God, so also you may have peace with one another. You have been forgiven, so also you delight to walk in God's light as His child and share His peace with one another. Yes, it is hard to confess your sins to one another, even in the church. It's even difficult—perhaps more difficult—to forgive one another. And yet, because you have received God's peace, you desire to share His peace with one another, with those in the pew next to you, with your family and friends.
His peace gives hope and courage to His church to trust in His Word. He will preserve His church. He promises His Word will not return to Him empty. He will send it to the ends of the earth. It will do His work. Yes, this means sometimes faithful congregations will get smaller and smaller because the world around them has plugged their ears to the Gospel. They proclaim, but the world refuses to listen.
But it also means that Christ is responsible for His church, and through His peace and work, He will accomplish what He desires to accomplish. It is merely your task, the task of God's people, to be faithful in proclaiming the pure Word of Christ and administering His sacraments according to His institution and desires. He will send His Word out. He does it as you go forth in your vocations, serving your neighbor and speaking of Christ's love. He will send out His Word as He sends missionaries to the four corners of the world. But it is His Word and His work which accomplishes these things.
And is it through this work that He goes forth and proclaims to the world, in the words of Jesus, "Peace be with you." True peace. Heavenly peace. God's peace.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.