Sunday, April 07, 2024

Peace Be with You

 John 20:19-31

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."  And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be with 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."  And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you."  Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing."

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"  Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Sermon for Quasimodogeniti Sunday                               4/07/24

Peace Be With You

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Peace is a big thing in the Christian Church.  It isn't automatic, as our parish experience indicates, but it is a great value among the people of God.  We begin every sermon with a prayer for peace.  Here, in our Gospel, Jesus chooses to speak a blessing of peace upon His disciples as the first thing He says when He appears to them the first time following His resurrection from the grave.  The content of the Gospel is, when it is boiled down to it, the blessing of peace.  Our theme this morning is, Peace be with you.

Our Gospel takes place on the first Easter.  It is the first day of the week, a Sunday.  The disciples were huddling together in an upper room for fear that they might be next on the ‘hit' list of the enemies of Jesus.  They had undoubtedly heard the stories about Jesus' resurrection.  They had run to the tomb.  John and Peter had seen the empty place where the body and been laid.  We are told by John earlier in this chapter that Peter and John had run to the tomb, and looked in, and seeing the body missing had believed, we just don't know what they were believing.  They had hopes and yet they still had fears.

Then Jesus appeared.  The doors were locked, but still, suddenly, He was there among them as though He had just walked into the room through a doorway.  He spoke, "Peace be with you."  Then He showed them the wounds in His hands and side.  He proved to them that it was Jesus, the crucified One.  He even ate some fish in their presence to prove He was not a ghost.  Then they were happy.  The whole unbelievable thing was true!  Somehow, Jesus and risen from the dead!  It was outstanding news!

Then Jesus spoke again.  One more time, He bid them peace, and said, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."  That is where the word "Apostle" comes from.  It means "Sent One."  Jesus commissioned them right then and there.  He charged them with a mission.  And what was that mission?  Listen to the words of John - and Jesus as quoted by John, 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

The mission of the Apostles was to forgive and retain sins.  They were to distribute what Jesus had purchased with His bloody death and fantastic resurrection.  Their commission was to forgive sins.  The authority they received that day has been passed on to the Church.  It is the authority of the Office of the Keys, exercised by the pastor publicly for the congregation in the preaching of the gospel, in the pronouncing of absolution, and in the administration of the Sacraments.  Its use does not depend on the worthiness of the pastor, but on the power of God, on the authority of the Word, and on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The words of Jesus are the command I refer to when I say, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you . . .".  It is in this first moment of the Christian Church, as Jesus commissions His Apostles and gives them both the scope of their mission and His authority to perform it, that the power and efficacy of the absolution you hear each week is established.  These words are meant to speak peace and comfort to your hearts as well - peace be with you.

Of course, Thomas, known as "The Twin" (that is what "Didymus" meant), was not present on that day.  I think he was absent that day by the design of God for your sakes.  Naturally, the disciples couldn't help but share the good news!  We have seen the Lord!  He is really risen from the dead!  Just like any one of us, Thomas was just a wee bit skeptical.   "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

I said that I think he was absent for your sakes, because he asked the question that any reasonable person would, just as if you were confronted by the incredible claim that someone had risen from the dead!  "I'm no fool.  You will have to show me!"  Thomas was not about to just take their word for something so unbelievable as that.  He had to see for himself — and for us, as it turns out.

Thank God for old Doubting Thomas!  The next Sunday, Jesus appeared to His Apostles again.  This time, Thomas was there.  Jesus waited, again, for the doors to be shut tight and locked.  He wanted Thomas to see it just like the others had.  First, Jesus greeted them again with the bidding of Peace be with you.  Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Touch Me.'  "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; reach here your hand and put it into my side, and be not unbelieving but believing."  There was no sense of scolding here.  It was our invitation to see for ourselves – through the eyes of Thomas.  He was invited to put his fingers (and ours) into the nail holes and see that they were real.  Then he was asked to stick his hand into the wound made by the spear and be sure it was real, and that the man he was seeing was actually, physically there.  This wasn't just "seeing" with his eyes – eyes can play tricks on you.  This was seeing with his eyes and his touch and his ears!

Thomas was overwhelmed!   "My Lord and my God!"  Not words of profanity or an overstatement by a man who had just been shocked by seeing what he could not even imagine was true when he was told about it.  This was a confession of faith.  Jesus is Lord and God – proven by His rising from the dead.

Then Jesus said something remarkable!  He said - "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  Those words refer to us.  They tell us also that Jesus doesn't intend to go around "proving it" to everyone.  Thomas was our test case.  Jesus is also telling us that Thomas is to be our eyes into this event.  Thomas did not believe a fantasy - nor did any of the other disciples.  They believed what they saw, and what they saw transformed them from men huddling in fear to Apostles boldly going out to proclaim, and to forgive sins, even in the face of the threat of death.  You are blessed when you see through the eyes of Thomas and believe what caused this doubting man to become a humble confessor.

John then tells us that his book does not tell us everything about Jesus, or what He did, but it tells us what it does so that we, too, might believe, because it is by believing that we have life eternal in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is by faith that we possess what Christ has won for us.  By trusting in the promises of God that what Jesus did took sin out of the equation, and that all that God has promised - forgiveness, life everlasting, and salvation - is ours because of and in connection with Jesus Christ.

When you stop to consider the staggering price paid for us, and the overwhelming gift of God, you can understand the peace which Christ offers and gives to each of His people.  It is the peace of sins forgiven.  There is no longer any need to carry guilt around.  When we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us for Jesus' sake.  We don't have to wonder.  There is no reason to ask what we must do to earn it or deserve it.  Doubting Thomas took care of that for us by examining the evidence.  It was real.  Jesus died and rose again.  All that He has promised is certain and sure.

And He promises to take our sins and our guilt and remove it.  He promises that those who trust in Him for this forgiveness will also possess life eternal, and resurrection of the body to that eternal life of both body and soul on the last day of the world.  All we need is faith – and faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Like Thomas, we need to examine the evidence, and hear the promises of God, and let the Holy Spirit have time to work in us through the Word.

Because of the greatness of the promises, we should be eager to learn more clearly and completely what is promised, and what our God is like.  We should be excited to give the Holy Spirit access to us by the Word – and the Sacraments.  Every Christian has this eagerness, for it is a work of the Spirit, too.  Some resist it, not understanding it, or feeling the pressures of the flesh and of this world more acutely than they feel the urgings of the Spirit.  That is why the Apostle Peter wrote, "like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."

That verse is the one from which this Sunday of the Church Year draws its name - Quasimodogeniti, Latin for "just like a new-born baby".  We are those new-born babies.  We are born of water and the Word unto everlasting life.  We are kept by the power of God for salvation, and not our own wit or will.  We are fed by the Lord's Supper for faith and salvation and immorality.  We are strengthened and built up by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Word of God.  Our sixty or eighty years – even ninety – are nothing in the face of eternity, so we all remain but "new-born babes."

So, let us pay close attention to Thomas the Twin, and see in him the test of the evidence.  It really happened. Jesus rose from the tomb, which means that it will also happen for everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ.  It means that even when we have no sense or feeling of it, our sins have been forgiven.  It means that God loves us. And He counts each one of us as though we were His only-begotten Son, so our lives are never out of control - just out of our control, at times.  God is with us every day, blessing, and guiding, forgiving and loving, and bringing us to the things He would us to do for Him.

And knowing that is comforting, and trusting in that with all your heart - as Proverbs 3:5 says - is peace.  It is the peace of knowing we are secure.  It is the peace of knowing God will not let us go.  It is the peace of sins forgiven.  And it is the peace of the child who knows that his or her Father is there, so nothing can go wrong.  It is the peace of faith in Jesus Christ, and all that He has done, and all that He has won - in short, the Gospel.  It is a peace which begins when we can confess with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"

Peace be with you!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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