“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.” Those were the last words Jesus addressed to all the disciples as they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of Maundy Thursday.
Jesus had said a number of things, but a theme that continues to appear throughout the three chapters of his words to them in John’s Gospel is that Jesus is about to leave. He is returning to the Father. Now our Lord also repeatedly tells them that he will send the Spirit who will play a critical role in the work that is to be done. But the thought of Jesus leaving them could hardly have prompted feelings of peace.
And then our Lord says that he has overcome the world. In the events from Thursday night through Friday afternoon, it sure didn’t look like it. Instead, he had been betrayed by Judas – someone who was supposedly one of his devoted disciples. He had been sentenced to death and crucified. He had suffered and died on a cross. Then, before sundown on Friday, he had been buried in a tomb. By any rational evaluation, the world had overcome Jesus with overwhelming might.
On the first day of the week – on Easter – there had been developments that were confusing. In John’s Gospel we learn that Mary Magdalene had gone to tomb early, when it was still dark, and had found that the stone had been rolled away. As we heard in the Gospel lesson for Easter, she had gone and told Peter and John. They found that the tomb was empty. The cloth in which Jesus had been buried was folded up and, the cloth that had covered his face had been set in a different place. When John saw this, we are told that he believed.
John and Peter had returned to where they were staying. Mary Magdalene had then met the risen Lord Jesus. She had held on to her Lord who had risen from the dead. Jesus had replied, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Just as Jesus had commanded, Mary had gone to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord” -- and that he had said these things to her.
However, our text this morning begins with the words: “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.” There was certainly no peace in that room. Instead, there was fear. Mary’s report seemed to have had little impact on the disciples as a whole. Was it because the source of the news was a woman? Was because it was just too good to be true? Was it because it was sounded too crazy too be true? For whatever reason, her announcement, “I have seen the Lord,” had done nothing to drive away their fear.
Looking at things from a rational, worldly perspective there was indeed much to fear. Jesus, the One they had followed for nearly three years had been arrested and crucified. The disciples had been with Jesus. It wouldn’t be hard to identify them. What if the Jewish leaders weren’t content to stop with killing Jesus? What if they decided to go after others who were seen as leaders in his movement?
As we live our lives, when we look at things from a rational, worldly perspective, there is also much to fear. There are serious, life threatening health problems in our life, or in that of family and friends. There is uncertainty about the future course of our life – the direction it will take and the events that await us. There are financial concerns as we face debt and worries about how we are going to pay for future expenses.
The disciples were in a locked room because of fear. But John tells us, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” The risen Lord appeared before them in the midst of that locked room. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” This was not a wish or hope. It was a declaration of fact. They were words that did what they said, because Jesus Christ was there speaking them to the disciples.
He was their peace. He was their peace because he had been crucified and died. But now he had risen from the dead. He showed them his hands, which bore the marks of the nails that had held him to the cross. He showed them his side, into which a Roman soldier had plunged a spear to confirm that Jesus hanging on the cross was in fact dead.
Jesus had died on the cross. He had been buried. But now he stood before them alive! Certainly, there was something different about him. After all, he had just appeared in the midst of a locked room. But the marks in his hands and side demonstrated that this was the same Jesus they had known. It was the Jesus who had been crucified. It was the Jesus whose body had now been raised from the dead.
Our translation says, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” But that doesn’t really do justice to the Greek. Not only is the word used here more normally translated as “rejoice,” but John has placed it has the first word in the sentence which is a sign of emphasis. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord! Jesus was alive! In an instant they had seen the words of Mary Magdelene confirmed to be true. Whatever they had thought about Jesus’ death was now wiped away.
Jesus who had been crucified was alive. He had risen. And now they had peace. Our Lord drove this point home by saying for a second time, “Peace be with you.” And then Jesus went on to express how they were now to share this peace with others. He said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Our Lord had told his opponents, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” He had said to them, “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.”
John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus had compared himself to the bronze serpent that God had commanded Moses to raise up on a pole. He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus had said during Holy Week, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
In his first letter, John explains what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The apostle says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus’ death as the Lamb of God was the sacrifice that has removed sins and allowed us to have life with God. John tells us, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
In the Old Testament, a sacrifice was killed, and then it was dead - end of story. These sacrifices pointed forward to the great sacrifice Jesus would offer on the cross. But as the fulfillment of these sacrifices, Jesus’ death was about the forgiveness of sins that leads to life. Our Lord said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
As the risen Lord, Jesus told his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He sent his Church forth with the authority to forgive sins – his authority as the crucified and risen Lord. That’s what happened at the beginning of this service. You heard these words: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The command spoken by the risen Lord on the evening of Easter was carried out this morning. Because it was, your sins are forgiven. They are forgiven, and because they are you have life. Jesus promised, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” These are not merely words. They are words that find their source in the One who died on the cross and then rose from the dead. They are words that are true because Jesus lives. He has conquered sin. He has conquered death.
Because of Jesus Christ, you have eternal life now. And you also know that the risen Lord will raise you up on the Last Day. Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Death cannot be the end for your body, because it was not for Jesus. He stood in the midst of his disciples with the same body that was crucified. Yet it was also a body transformed by the resurrection so that it can never die again. Jesus has won the victory for us in both body and soul.
On the night before he died, Jesus told his 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.” On the evening of Easter, the disciples learned how true these words are.
By his death on the cross Jesus has given us the forgiveness of sins. By his resurrection from the dead he has defeated death. Through faith in Christ we already have eternal life now – life with God that not even death can end. We also have the assurance that death cannot end our bodily life. Yes, it may put our body in the grave. But the risen Lord who stood in the midst of the disciples on the evening of Easter will return on the Last Day to raise our bodies to be like his own – never to die again.
Are there tribulations and difficulties as we live in this fallen world? Yes. Jesus said there would be. But there is no need for fear. Instead, we live by confident trust in the Lord Jesus who was crucified on Good Friday to give us forgiveness and rose from the dead on Easter to defeat death. He has conquered sin and death for us. We live in his forgiveness and love which will carry us through every challenge as we set our hope on the risen Lord.