Sermon on John 20:19-31

May 1, 2011

There is too much in this text to cover on one Sunday, so we will have to content ourselves with what John put first. What he put first is a list of three gifts which you have received through Jesus’ resurrection. So what is the first gift? Listen.

We breathlessly attend to the last words of a dying person, never forgetting them, retelling each other of them and pondering their significance, and in some cultures never, ever disobeying them if they contain a command, such disobedience risking terrible curse.

So what about the first words of a resurrected man? They are arguably even more important than the last words of a dying man, even Jesus’ last words from the cross, and I am sure that God himself carefully considered beforehand what would be the absolutely most essential thing of all to merit such a first word. You know what that word was and is. It is “Peace to you”. Remember last week when we mentioned the two angels one on each side of the stone shelf where Jesus was laid. I said that that was where God met man, because it was just like the mercy seat in the holy of holies. What I should have said makes the point even more clearly. What I should have said is that the mercy seat is where all sin is taken away from us. The place where Jesus lay, was where that sin was removed from us. On Good Friday you see sin doing its worst, bringing wrath, darkness, curse and death upon God’s own beloved Son, who willingly took our place under that Sin. But now on Easter day, the darkness, curse, wrath and death are gone forever, nowhere to be found. The angels rightly ask, “Why are you weeping?” So Peace is the gift of the resurrection. Peace means the cessation of all hostilities and judgment from God’s side, through God’s merciful provision of his own Son. But Peace or Shalom in Hebrew means so much more—it includes health, gladness, wholeness, healing, and functioning rightly for the first time.

Now, notice that John clearly says that Jesus came and stood among them, even though the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. Yet with his coming and his Word, “Peace” comes and their fear is removed. But this is the strange part. They have this peace, not because the dangerous situation outside has changed at all, but rather because they, themselves have been changed. In other words, the peace that God brings is different from worldly peace, which depends upon having everything going your way—being young, being rich, being care-free, being healthy, pain-free, being good looking, having your kids turn out just right, having everyone like you, being popular powerful sexy and so on. The peace of God depends on none of these things. In fact, it comes most often in the midst of suffering, or trial, or test, as even these men found out. (tell the story of John Emerson) If Jesus is present, even the very worst that the world can do to us becomes pointless. Because we have Jesus, our sins shall not condemn us, and because our sins cannot condemn us, though we die yet shall we live, and because our sins are gone, we shall never be alone or abandoned ever again. “Lo, I am with thee, till the close of the age.

After Peace, the second gift of Jesus to the disciples and to you is Joy. It says,”The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” I would rate that as one of the most comical understatements in the whole bible. Just as for Mary Magdalene, when Jesus spoke her name, and in hearing that old familiar tender voice she instantly knew that the nightmare she had been living was instantly over, so these men instantly were transformed from fear and despair, from crushing sadness to joy and gladness. What transforms miraculously that way, does not come from you believing that Jesus actually rose from the dead. That produces neither peace nor joy, neither power nor authority. But, like Mary and the disciples, you must believe that Jesus rose for your sake, for your benefit, and that he was not glorified for his own sake, but that he might help you and all who believe in him. Even more: that through his resurrection, sin, death and hell are forever done in, and that the victory is given to you. Last week we said that Easter is about intimacy. Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me.” How glad these first disciples were that Jesus had come to them. They knew that it was for their sake that Easter had come to pass.

So you. Jesus is right this second in the midst of us, so that he is yours. He stands here too, and we have him among us. How do we know this? Because he said he would attend, with his personal presence, the preaching of his word. And what is the summary of that Word Jesus commissioned you to hear? It is his loving voice, alone, which says to the troubled consciences: “Peace. There is no more danger. Your sins are forgiven and blotted out, and they shall harm you no more.” Such is the power of the Word of God. It has two parts. His coming to us is preaching. His standing in our hearts is faith.

To see Christ is the greatest joy a person can have. That is why they were so glad. Without Christ, all we see is the works of our hands, and we have to trust in our works. This brings no gladness, but only frustration. However, to see Christ makes us glad because now we have something completely different to look at than our hands. Paul says in Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace where in we stand. And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

The third gift besides Peace and Joy, is the entry of the very person of God Himself into us in the person of the Holy Spirit. We said last week that John announces in the very first words of his gospel, that the whole thing is going to be about new creation, when he he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he notes the days of the week in the passion story which correspond to what God did on those days in creation. And, as the climax of God’s creation, in chapter 2 verse seven of Genesis, we read, “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man becomes a living being.” So here. The living God himself, breathes upon his disciples the very breath, which can only come from resurrection reconciliation: the breath and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now they become different men and women. The testimony to that amazing miraculous transformation is recorded for us in the book of Acts. I can never get over or used to the contrast between the disciples—especially as recorded in Mark, where no one even gets close to understanding the vocation of Jesus Christ, let alone loving it—to the bold glad preachers of Pentecost. There they remember, literally, every word that Jesus had said, with complete understanding for the first time. They are so impressive that the whole Jerusalem faculty asks, “where did they get this?” And the answer: “they have been with Jesus.” The Holy Spirit points only to Jesus. False spirits point everywhere else. The Holy Spirit causes to come to your remembrance what Jesus wants you to believe, right at the time that you need it most. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, when in the attacks of conscience it is the devil’s habit to frighten us by showing us our sins, but the holy spirit redirects our eyes to Jesus and to his cross and to his resurrection, and to the assurance, that he is with us always, even to the end.

These three gifts are impossible to keep just for ourselves, and so with the coming of the Holy spirit, you are transformed into God’s own messenger, God’s own ambassador, given the authority only God has. We have seen over and over in the OT story, that when God judges, it is final, and that nothing in heaven or earth can prevail against it. When god puts away David’s sin and says you shall not die, that sin is put away, and he is able to live. But when old Eli hears from the boy Samuel, of the judgment that is going to descend upon him, he is enough of a man of God to say simply, “It is the Lord.” It is finished if God has spoken it. So also when you hear God’s verdict over you today—nothing in heaven or earth can shake it. This is Jesus body given for you. This is Jesus blood shed for the forgiveness of Your sins. Nothing can abrogate or change that. Nothing is greater than the resurrection which brought these gifts to you.

So you. Jesus says, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you withhold the forgiveness of sins, they are withheld. In this authority, is the entire and complete power of the kingdom of God. It is yours. You are all ministers of the Gospel for Jesus sake. God and tell those that don’t know it. That is your one task. It is why you have received the very presence of Jesus to go with you in the person of the Holy Spirit.

 

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