The Second Sunday of Easter April 3, 2005
1 Peter 1:3-9
188, 200, 759 (TLH alt. 290), 767 (TLH alt. 23)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then, the same day at evening, 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 the name of our risen Lord, dear fellow Christians:
In a letter to a friend Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.” Experience tends to bear that out, doesn’t it? The weather report promises no chance of precipitation all weekend long. But then Saturday morning the clouds start building on the horizon, and later in the afternoon a thunderstorm rolls in and dumps two inches of rain on your picnic. A company assures its jittery employees that there won’t be any layoffs for the foreseeable future, but six months later corporate headquarters announces downsizing and the loss of hundreds of jobs. We are told to question everything from parental authority to moral standards to the role of government in our lives. It is even suggested that all this uncertainty is a good thing, that it is the ultimate freedom to realize that we can be sure of nothing.
Really, though, it is an awful way to live, because it results in tentativeness and confusion. How can we go forward if we can’t be sure of who we are, why we’re here, or where we’re headed? It can leave us paralyzed by fear. Look at the disciples Easter night. Were they celebrating the Resurrection and making big plans for the future? Not at all! And why not? Because they were not sure of anything. They were not sure of what the Jewish authorities were planning. They were not sure what to make of the reports of Jesus’ rising, and they did not know where they fit into the picture. Jesus appeared to change all that. He came to give them the sureness they needed. In Him we, too, can be sure.
In Jesus we can be sure, first of all, of peace. But how can we, when just as things seem to be finally falling into place in our lives, something happens to upset our plans? There are changes at work or some major unexpected expense or some other stressful situation. How can we be sure of peace when there is so much violence in the streets, and when there is no guarantee that Social Security will be around when we retire? Above all, how can we be sure of peace when we compare our lives with God’s will for us and see such a huge discrepancy between what our lives ought to be and what they really are?
That is where the disciples were at too. Their lives had been turned upside down by the events of Good Friday. For all they knew, the door would be broken down at any moment, the police would lead them away in chains, and they would be nailed to their own crosses for being followers of Jesus. Then there was the guilt they felt for abandoning Jesus when He was arrested. If He truly were alive, how could they ever face Him? Would He want anything to do with them?
Jesus makes us sure. Suddenly there He was among them in the room saying, “Peace be with you!” It was the usual greeting of the day, much like saying, “Hello, how are you?” But when Jesus speaks it, it is more than a nice wish. It is so comforting, because Jesus has the power to grant what the words say. During a furious storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called out, “Quiet, be still!” and the water became glassy smooth. In the same way, the night before He died, He calmed the stormy hearts of the disciples by telling them: “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 NIV).
“Be sure!” Jesus was telling the disciples. “Look at the proof. Look at My hands and side.” The marks of the nails in His hands and the spear gash in His side are the evidence of our peace, for by His death Jesus earned the peace which nothing can alter, the peace between sinners and God. All the guilt that loads down our consciences and all the failings God’s Law points out in our lives have all been taken care of. Jesus paid the price for us. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:25-5:1 NIV). If all is well between us and God, we can be certain of peace in every other area of our lives, because we know then that all things must work together for good to those who love Him. That is the peace of God which transcends all human experience and understanding.
Be sure! When everything seems uncertain, look to the risen and living Lord. When you’re faced with stress on the job, you can still be sure of peace, for Jesus lives. When there are family problems, be sure of peace, for Jesus lives. When guilt over past and present sins fills your heart with anxiety, you can still be sure of peace, for Jesus died and paid for all sin and now He lives. Peace be with you! It’s more than a wish, it is an accomplished fact, a precious gift from our Lord and Savior.
“But where do we go from here?” The disciples must have asked that of each other as they sat together. What were they supposed to do now? What was to give purpose to their lives now that Jesus was not visibly present with them everyday? Or, for that matter, what about us? Does the Lord have more in mind for us than just learning, growing up, working, and making our way through life as best we can? Is there a bigger cause?
Jesus says, “Yes, be sure of it!” He told the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [v.21] Jesus came with divine authority to announce God’s love and saving plan to the world. Now He was sending the disciples out to do the same. Their mission in life was to go out and make disciples of all nations by preaching the Gospel’s good news of complete forgiveness in Christ.
But it was not just the eleven disciples who were sent. Every follower of Jesus is given the authority to evangelize or tell about the Savior to others. It is a special privilege. What could be better than to share with the people around you the news which offers real hope and eternal life? Does just the thought of knocking on someone’s door or bringing up the subject in a conversation make your heart pound and your palms sweat? We feel our inadequacy. Who are we? We don’t know what to say or the right way to say it. Our understanding isn’t clear enough. We feel like Moses when he told God, “I can’t go, send someone else” (cf. Exodus 4).
The Lord knows all about our weaknesses, so before He sends us out He equips us with everything we need to be sure of our mission. He breathed the Holy Spirit into the hearts of the disciples. The Spirit would give them the understanding and courage they needed.
Unsure of how to witness to a friend about Jesus? What can we do when our tongue can’t seem to untangle itself and express the love of God which is in our heart? Find assurance in the Lord’s promise of the Spirit. Through regular reading and study of the Word, let the Spirit instruct and encourage you in the work of sharing the Gospel. With the Spirit’s help be ready to warn an unrepentant person that a sinful lifestyle is not a harmless, personal choice, but something which puts the individual outside of God’s kingdom and means the loss of the forgiveness and life which Jesus earned on the cross. Also then, be just as quick to comfort a friend or anyone else who is troubled by guilt by assuring that person that his sins have been forgiven for Jesus’ sake and that God does not hold them against him.
Do you ever wonder why God leaves you here? Is there a definite reason? Absolutely! Be sure of it! Jesus tells each of us, “I am sending you.” Look and see where and how. Is He encouraging you to begin preparing for the fulltime preaching or teaching ministry? Don’t rule it out because it looks too hard or because the salary is low or because no one in your family has ever served in that way. Trust the Spirit to provide what you need. There is no more rewarding career choice. Is the Lord giving you opportunities to have a heart-to-heart talk about Him with a family member or friend? Is He giving you time to pray? An elderly woman once wrote a foreign missionary, “I just wanted you to know that I will be praying for you everyday at 8:30 a.m. EST.” The missionary later told how often he thought of that woman and her prayers at that time of day, and how much good he was sure was accomplished through her praying. We can be sure of it too, for God says that the prayer of a believer is “powerful and effective” (cf. James 5:16). We have a purpose for being here. We can be sure of it, because Jesus lives and He sends us out.
“He is risen!” the others told Thomas over and over, yet he refused to believe. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” [v.25] People today say, “I know what the Bible says about Jesus and eternal life, and if I could be sure of it, I would be first in line to become a Christian. But there are so many other religions, how can you ever be sure?” We, as well, may have doubts at times: Is God really there? Does He love me, and if so, why is life so hard sometimes?
Thomas’ problem was that he looked to his own reason, sight, and feelings for assurance. If we do that, we will never be sure of anything, because those things are not always reliable. We can’t be sure of our reason, because things are not always the way they seem. If we look at how the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets in the west, it would make sense to conclude that the earth stands still and the sun moves around it. Yet scientists tell us that in reality the earth moves around the sun. In spiritual matters too, our reason and senses cannot always be trusted.
Sometimes people decide their religious beliefs on “feelings.” Does a certain teaching or church “feel” right? Do I feel “close to God”? But how dependable are feelings? Have you ever felt sure of what direction you were driving, only to realize 50 miles later that you were heading the wrong way?
Thomas wanted a sure thing, but he was looking for it in the wrong place. To be sure, look to Jesus. A week after Easter Jesus appeared again and told Thomas: “Stop doubting and believe!” [v.27] Do you want to be sure of what is true? Look to Jesus in faith. He says, “Search the Scriptures. They testify about me” (John 5:39). “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV).
By faith Abraham was sure. When God told him to sacrifice his son, there was no way he could rationally understand what God had in mind. How could the Savior come from his family if he were to kill his only son? But by faith he was sure of what he was to do and confident that God could raise Isaac from the dead to keep His promises.
That kind of faith comes from the clear testimony of the Word, not by our own senses, feelings, or experiences. We can be sure of what the Word tells us about Jesus, because it is the revelation of God Himself, not the impressions of fallible human beings. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). It is true!
Be sure! In spite of troubles, pain, and sin, be sure of peace, for Jesus earned it on the cross and guarantees it by His resurrection. In spite of seeing so much that is meaningless in life, be sure that there is a higher purpose in Christ, for He now lives and sends us out as His ambassadors. In spite of what reason tells us, be sure of the truth of the Word, for Jesus rose from the dead, just as the Scriptures said He would. Be sure, for by believing you have life in His name! Amen.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8 NIV)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.