Every night when it is time to go to bed, I follow pretty much the same routine. I take a quick look at Twitter to see if there has been any breaking news in the world or in sports. I look at the ESPN app on my phone to see the baseball scores for the day and to check on the standings. I usually take a brief look at eBay to see if there are any new listings of HO gauge Pennsylvania model railroad items that Matthew or I may be interested in buying. Next, I load anything else into the dishwasher that can still fit, and start it.
And then, the last thing I do every night before going to bed, is to make the sure doors of the house are closed and locked. Do I think anything is really going to happen if a door is unlocked? No, not really. There have been occasions when I have forgotten to check, and it turned out that a door had been left unlocked. I certainly don’t lock the doors out of fear. Instead, I do it as a precaution. Things are just safer that way, and so it would be silly not to do so each night.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, we hear about two occasions when the disciples were together with the doors locked. Yet there is a striking difference between the two. The first time we are told that the doors were locked where the disciples were “for fear of the Jews.” The second time we are only told that the doors were locked. There is no mention of fear. Instead, the locked doors become a circumstance that helps to reveal why there was no longer fear among them.
Our text begins by saying, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” On the evening of the first Easter the disciples had ample reason to fear the Jews - a term that is used here to designate those who were opposed to Christ. The Jewish religious leaders had engineered the execution of Jesus. Were they going to be satisfied to stop there? Or would they seek to wipe out Jesus’ inner circle of followers as well?
Beyond that, it had been a bizarre day. It began with the shocking news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. His body wasn’t there. In John’s Gospel we are told that Mary Magdalene had seen two angels who asked her why she was weeping. Then the risen Lord had revealed himself to her. Next, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and told them about how Jesus had said he was ascending to his Father.
While they were swirling with fear and uncertainty in that locked room, Jesus appeared standing in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Our Lord then showed them his hands and side. It is a fascinating detail. The marks on his body provide the assurance of continuity between the Jesus standing before them, and the Jesus they had seen die. Nails had been driven through hands and feet in a way that meant failure and sorrow. Now the places where those nails had been became a witness to the fact that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead.
It was the same Jesus! And in a moment, their world changed. Our translation says the disciples “were glad when they saw the Lord.” Now, I am glad when I see a final score and learn that the Cubs have won. But I rejoiced in 2016 when they won the World Series for the first time since 1908. And that is in fact what the Greek verb here means – “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
The apostles and first disciples may have been ancient, but they weren’t stupid. They had far more firsthand experience with death than you or I do. And they knew that when a person died, he or she was dead. They didn’t go around expecting people to rise from the dead. They didn’t expect someone who had been dead to appear in their midst.
Yet that is what Jesus did. Then a second time he said to them, “Peace be with you.” And he added, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus breathed “and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
The risen Lord declared to the disciples that they had peace. Then he called them to a task that was to deliver this peace to others. He authorized them in the same way he had been authorized by the Father, for their work was now an extension of the work the Father had sent Jesus to do. Through the work of the Spirit they were now to forgive sins.
The disciples had heard Jesus say to his opponents, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Then he had added, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Jesus had been lifted up on the cross. Yet now, he stood in their midst alive – risen from the dead. John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In his death, Jesus had accomplished this. He had won forgiveness, and now he was sending his disciples with the authority to apply this forgiveness to others.
Jesus sent them to give forgive sins. And of course, as Luther says in the Small Catechism, where there is the forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation. Jesus Christ stood in their midst having risen from the dead. He was the One who had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Now it was clear why this was so. The Lord Jesus had defeated death. In forgiveness he gives life now that will never end. In the resurrection on the Last Day he will give us bodily life once again.
Forgiveness of sins, life, and resurrection of the body provided by Jesus Christ the risen Lord - that is what we find in our text this morning. With good reason, Jesus stood in their midst and declared twice that he was giving them peace!
But sometimes, we get confused about what this means. And our confusion can lead to doubt, and even despair. On the night Jesus was betrayed he told the disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus has never promised that the peace he gives means the absence of hardships. I noted at the beginning of this sermon that the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples we are told that the doors were locked “for fear of the Jews,” but the second time we hear nothing about fear. However, nothing about the circumstances of the disciples had changed in seven days. In fact, you could argue that they were in even more danger seven days after the resurrection. The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. In the hardness of their heart they refused to even consider resurrection. Surely they wanted to find Jesus’ bdoy that they believed to be stolen, and the logical place to start was Jesus’ disciples.
When Martin Luther preached on this text he commented: “In this fear and anxiety the Lord comes, soothes their hearts, and sets them at peace – not by taking away the danger, but by their hearts being unafraid. The malice of the Jews was not take away or changed, for they are angry and rage as before, and outwardly everything remains as it is. But they are inwardly changed, so that they are comforted and immovable and no longer care if the Jews are still raging.”
The peace that the risen Lord gives is the assurance of the peace of God; the love of God; the life of God. In this we find the basis to live confidently in this world, even as we share this with others in what we do and say. It doesn’t mean the end difficulties in some kind of “best life now.” Luther went on to say: “But Christian or spiritual peace turns that around, so that outwardly the misfortune remains, such as enemies, sickness, poverty, sin, devil, and death. They are present, do not cease, and are encamped all around; nevertheless, inwardly there is peace, strength, and comfort in the heart, so that it does not care about misfortune and even becomes more courageous and bold when it is there than when it is not.”
That last statement by Luther points us to a reality that we don’t want to acknowledge. God uses times of hardship for our good. He does this because the old Adam is still there. Our sinful nature always wants to turn in on itself. It wants to enjoy the good stuff of life and ignore God. It wants to make the good things of life into a god.
The old Adam has to be crucified – he has to be killed. God allows difficulties and challenges because that is what they do. They show us that nothing else can provide the hope and help we really need. They become occasions when in fact our heart does become more courageous and bolder in faith.
Some of you may have heard about Kelly Stafford, wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Not long ago she was diagnosed with the exact same kind of acoustic neuroma brain tumor that Amy had. Naturally, Amy and I took an interest in what this mom of three young children is experiencing, and we have followed it on Instagram. Kelly’s posts in these first days after surgery have reminded us what it was like when Amy first came home from the hospital. We also know what a long and slow road Kelly, who is a committed Christian, faces as she recovers.
We look back on this experience that we never would have chosen, and recognize how God was at work in the midst of it to cause us to grow and mature in faith; to lead us to understand more fully why the resurrection of Jesus Christ causes us to see everything differently.
Jesus passed through the suffering, weakness and shame of the cross where it seemed God was nowhere to be found. But in his resurrection on the third day we see that God was in fact right there – right where he needed to be in order to give us forgiveness and salvation. We learn that the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the reason we can confidently trust God no matter what is happening.
Martin Luther said of this: When Christ comes, He lets the external adversities remain but strengthens the person. Out of timidity He makes a fearless heart; He makes a trembling person bold; He makes a restless conscience peacefully quiet. Then the person is confident, courageous and cheerful in the things in which otherwise all the world can no longer help with its comfort and goods. That is a true and lasting peace, which remains forever and is invincible as long as the heart clings to Christ.” Our heart clings to Christ because as the risen Lord he appeared in that locked room and said, “Peace be with you.”