The First Sunday after Easter April 11, 2010
191, 193, 208, 207
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
In Christ Jesus, our risen and ever-living Lord, dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever seen tears in the eyes of a TV morning news anchor person? It happened a couple of weeks ago. A video clip from Seattle was aired showing a father who had just returned from Iraq stepping into his six year old son’s classroom to surprise him. The moment was priceless! The little boy looked up from what he was doing and spotted his dad. In just a couple of seconds his facial expression went from one of total shock and disbelief to overwhelming excitement and joy. He jumped up and ran into his father’s arms with tears streaming down his cheeks. After months of waiting and wondering if his dad was OK and when he would return, suddenly he was right there, and everything was fine. All was well in the boy’s world. There was peace.
Do you ever find yourself, like that little boy, waiting and wondering if everything will be OK today, tomorrow, and years down the road? Do you ever feel incredibly small in comparison with what you are facing in life? Do you long for the peace and safety of strong arms holding you and assuring you that you are not alone? Then look back to the first Easter evening. Three times in three different ways, the Lord assured the troubled disciples of peace. He says to us as well: “Peace to you!”
Last Sunday’s Easter celebration was for most of us a joyful and relaxing time. We gathered to praise the living Lord and then spent the rest of the day in the company of family and friends. However, the first Easter was not at all like that. It was filled with anxiety, confusion, and tension. So much had happened in such a short time that the disciples’ heads were spinning. Jesus had been hastily arrested, tried, convicted, crucified, and buried. The disciples were left feeling very alone and vulnerable.
Then Sunday dawned, and soon came the reports of the women that they had seen Jesus alive. Later Jesus appeared to Peter and to the Emmaus disciples. By evening emotions ranged from joy over the Lord’s resurrection to uncertainty over what it all meant to fear that the Jewish authorities would break down the door and haul the disciples away to their deaths. Things had not gone as they had planned or imagined and, as a result, they were all on edge.
Suddenly! Jesus was there, not pounding on the door, but standing right there among them! His appearance at first magnified their fears. They thought they were seeing a ghost. On the other hand, if it were really Jesus, how would He feel toward them? They had deserted Him, and left Him to face the shame and agony of the cross alone. They had feared for their own safety, rather than stand up and confess that they were the Lord’s followers. What if Jesus were to say, “How could you abandon Me? Since you wanted nothing to do with Me, I now want nothing to do with you!”
Instead, the Lord’s first words were: “Peace to you!” Peace. Everything is fine. All is well. The word in Hebrew is “Shalom.” It was a common greeting back then, but when Jesus speaks it, it is more than a nice wish. It is a gift. He has the power to make it happen. He showed them the marks in His hands and side. They were the price He paid to earn the peace of forgiveness. With their sin taken away, the disciples did not have to fear. God was not holding anything against them, and if all was well between them and God, what was there to worry about?
Already the night before His death Jesus had said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Yet, we too have our share of fears and doubts, don’t we? When things do not go “according to plan,” when we are not sure how a problem is going to be resolved or where a sickness will lead, we can become boxed in and locked in by anxieties just like the disciples were. We look at our bodies and we see the wearing effects of the years and we know what it means. We are not going to live here forever. We look at our record and we know what we deserve. Did it happen that even over the Easter weekend when joy in the Savior should have filled our hearts that you quarreled with someone, gossiped about someone, or worried as though Jesus were not alive? When we look at ourselves we see plenty of reasons for Jesus to say, “I want nothing to do with you!”
But then look at Jesus instead of yourself. See the nail marks and the wound in His side. He paid the penalty for all your sin and now He says, “Peace to you!” “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus is our peace. That peace is made certain by His rising the third day. It is the living Lord who says, “Peace to you!”
So when you feel overwhelmed, confused, guilty, afraid, or lonely, look up and see who is standing right beside you. He is back from the war. Look at His hands and side. He not only survived, He won! Run to His arms, and within them find peace. All is well. It is certain.
Jesus’ peace is peace with a purpose. It is meant to be shared with the whole world. The Lord did not want the disciples to stay locked behind closed doors and keep the Easter message to themselves. He told them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” [v.21] He authorized and empowered them with the Holy Spirit. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” [v.23]
We call it the Ministry of the Keys—Jesus gave the disciples the awesome power to lock or unlock the Kingdom of Heaven through the use of the Word of God. Encouraged and fortified by the gift of God’s peace, they were to fan out and preach the good news of a Savior crucified and risen for all people. To those who repented of their sins and rejoiced in Jesus as their Savior, the disciples were to say, “Your sins are forgiven. You are God’s child. He has given you peace and eternal life.” To those who refused to repent, the disciples were to say, “The kingdom is locked to you, because of your unbelief. Repent before it is too late!”
The Lord has put those same Keys into our hands. We are not to keep Jesus’ peace locked up in our hearts or homes or congregation or church body. We are to be busy sharing it with others. It is not just a theological or theoretical sharing in which “others” is never any real person in our lives. No, we are to be active in using the keys with people all around us.
Use the keys at home. When a family member is worried or sad, remind them that Jesus overcame even sin and death and now lives to help and bless His followers. When there is tenseness instead of harmony in the house, be ready to lovingly point out sin or acknowledge it yourself, depending upon the situation. Then give or receive forgiveness trusting that it is as valid and certain as if Jesus Himself were standing there.
When you visit with the neighbor be ready to say more than “hi” and talk about the grass. When he is bothered by something that doesn’t seem right, or he re-evaluates his life because of an illness or setback, he may come to you and say, “You go to church, so tell me, what does God say about this?” All around us are people with their own doubts and fears. The only real answer is the peace of Jesus. Show them the living Savior. Unlock the kingdom to the one who repents and trusts in Jesus. Lock it to the one who does not repent so that he may be led to realize the seriousness of sin and turn to the Lord for mercy.
Together as a congregation we also use the Keys through the public ministry. We call pastors and teachers to act in our behalf. In our worship services we collectively confess our sin and our faith in Jesus. Following the confession you hear the pastor say (or another similar absolution), “Almighty God, our heavenly Father has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.” In the Communion liturgy it is stated like this: “Upon this your confession, I by virtue of my office, as a called servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” This, too, is using the Keys by Jesus’ authority to unlock the kingdom.
The disciples had no reason to cower behind locked doors. They had the peace of Jesus assuring them that all was well. They had that peace for a purpose: to share it with the entire world. We have received the same peace and purpose. Think of all the people whom the Lord has brought into your life. The best thing you can do for any of them is to use the Keys and bring them the peace which gives eternal life. It is peace made certain. It is peace with purpose. It is peace for all.
Think back for a moment to the little boy in Seattle. What would have happened if, instead of seeing his father immediately, the boy had just been told by his teacher that his father had returned? If the boy believed the news, the joy would still have been there for him. But what if he didn’t trust the message? He would have missed the joy. The same is true for Jesus’ peace. He won it for all people by His death. His resurrection is the confirming proof of it. However, the individual sinner receives the joy of it only through believing. Otherwise, it is lost.
We see that in Thomas. The other disciples wasted no time in telling him that Jesus was alive. But Thomas didn’t believe, and so for the next week he was just as fearful and uncertain as before Easter. Still, the Lord did not give up on him. The following Sunday Jesus again appeared to the disciples and greeted them with: “Peace to you!” He fanned Thomas’ smoldering, sputtering faith into a bright, strong flame. Thomas’ fears were replaced by the confident confession: “My Lord and my God!”
We know that Thomas had no reason to doubt. Yet we have the same weakness. We confess, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord…the third day He rose again from the dead…and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty” (Apostolic Creed). But we do not always act as though Jesus is our living Lord. Often we live as though everything is tenuous and uncertain and that it is up to us to figure things out and find a way through life and determine our future.
Thankfully, the Lord comes and reassures us, just as He did Thomas. In fact, Thomas’ own experience with doubts helps to assure us that Easter is indeed real. If this skeptic became so fully convinced of Jesus’ resurrection that he dedicated the rest of his life to preaching the good news even as far as India, what cause do we have to doubt?
The apostles were there. They saw and touched Jesus. John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 NIV). In addition, every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to us in a way we can see, touch, and taste as He gives us His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.
Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” [v.29] We are among those blessed! May the Lord preserve and strengthen our faith through which we receive that priceless gift of peace: peace made certain, peace with a purpose, peace received by faith. Peace to you! Amen.
May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw imprinted palms reach out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt. Amen.
[HS ‘98 831:4]
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