Peace Be With You
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31 (NIV)
Our Lord was already manifested to Mary Magdalene, to the women, to St. Peter, and to the two disciples of Emmaus. this day’s Holy Gospel He is manifested to His Apostles as a group. He came with a message of reconciliation. “Peace be with you!” They had sinned against Him, but He came to them not in anger but with pardon. He had dismissed their sin from His memory, let them do the same. On the evening of that first day of the week, and also “a week later,” He came with a message of peace for them.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; Put yourself in the place of the disciples for a bit, and you will see how much God loves you and only wants to forgive your sins and bring you the peace which passes all understanding.
The disciples were gathered together in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They had heard the resurrection story. The women had even seen the Risen Lord. But there was still this nagging fear. What would Jesus response be to them? After all, how had they done in their commitment to the Lord and His message?
Frankly, they hadn’t done very well. In fact, they had all rejected him and fled from the scene. In the face of fear and opposition from the Jews, their friends and relatives, they had left Jesus to die the death of a common criminal, without a friend or a loved one to even stay with him to the bitter end.
But Jesus had risen from the dead! And now the question was before them: “what will Jesus do?” Now that’s a question, or one very similar to it, that you hear asked a lot today. There is a whole popular movement that seeks to ask that question. When faced with a moral or ethical dilemma, they want you to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Of course, that is a completely Law question. Consider your place according to the 10 Commandments, and you will both learn what Jesus would do AND that you fail constantly. As a sinner from birth, there is no doubt that you fail in the quest to live good and holy lives. Gossip, slander, covetousness, theft, adultery by thought, word and deed, even hatred or worse fill your thoughts and minds. You may not admit it to others, but it is the truth as sure as you sit in the pew today.
They were afraid. They were afraid that their hopes were lost. But perhaps even more, they were afraid that He was God and that they had abandoned Him to die. What could be worse than abandoning the Son of God to die, only to have Him come back? What would be His response to them?
If you take sin seriously and believe that it is your sin which caused Jesus’ death on the cross, this is a question you simply must ask of yourself. How does God look at me a sinner? Does He judge you according to the Law and condemn,or does He judge you by looking at His Son and forgiving your sins for Jesus sake?
It is very easy to toss this question away as a no-brainer. Of course God loves me. Of course God forgives my sins. But the nagging doubts will come back at the worst times. Death and heartache brings it out. Troubled and Broken relationships bring it out, painful lives and all of the thousand other things which afflict us all can bring doubt and fear to the front.
This is what the disciples faced that evening of the resurrection. This is what you face as a sinner from birth who needs God’s love and forgiveness. And that is what Jesus comes to give this very day. 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.
God gives peace by His Word. He shows them His hands and His side, but it is finally His Word that creates faith and gives the peace which the world cannot give. For you see, the Word of God which created the world and everything in it creates faith in your heart and gives you the peace which is beyond understanding. That is the joy of Easter. That is the miracle of the Christian faith.
This Sunday after Easter is really about faith. Our Introit begins, “Like newborn babes crave pure spiritual milk.” That is how God comes to you by Word and meal. As newborn babes, you need the Word of His forgiveness and the peace which only He can give. And He gives it. Thomas didn’t understand it at first, but He learned. We all learn from Thomas’ unbelief and doubt.
Jesus loves you with an everlasting love. He tenderly invites you to believe in Him and His forgiveness. He gives you pastors to speak that Word of Absolution to you. He gives you His very body and blood in His Holy Supper to forgive you and draw you into His presence.
I think that is what is so difficult to understand about Jesus’ words when he goes on to say to the disciples: 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. The Son of God defines both the Christian Church and the Holy Ministry. They are about forgiving and retaining sins. Nothing more, nothing less.
This is why John says at the end of our text: 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. God creates faith and gives you peace by forgiving your sins. And He uses the most earthy and mundane things in the whole world to accomplish this great and wonderful task. He uses pastors. Common sinners, with all the faults and foibles and weaknesses that every sinner has. He uses words. Just words, that in our day and age are there and gone in the blink of an eye. He uses common wine and bread. He uses common water. But with the breath of God’s life in them, these common things are not so common after all. For when attached to God’s Word and promise, these common things bring you life and peace that does not exist anywhere else. These common things are the tools that God uses to give you faith, the faith that moves mountains, the faith that brings you through this life and into eternal life.
We don’t have to ask the question, “what would Jesus do?” While it may be an important question in some ways, the really important ones are, what did Jesus do when He died on the cross, what did Jesus do when he met with the disciples, and what does Jesus do even today? He forgives you. He gives you peace. He makes you His own for all eternity.
The risen Christ is here, today, ready to calm your fears and give you the milk of his word. Believe that Word, and have life in his name.
He is Risen! The Lord is risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Soli Deo Gloria