Preached: April 15, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to our risen Savior is John 20
Then when it was late on that first day of the week and the disciples had the doors locked because they feared the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After saying this he showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples rejoiced because they saw the Lord.
Then Jesus again said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so also I’m sending you.” After saying this he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven to them. Whosever sins you retain, have been retained.” (John 20:19-23).
This is the word of our Lord.
Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “No Jesus. No Peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace.” For just eight words, it says a lot. It’s at least enough to perk someone’s interest. Who is this Jesus? What is this peace? How can I know him?
How would you answer those questions? Let’s think about that as we take to heart the events of that first Easter evening when the disciples were still hiding behind locked doors. Through the Word of God may the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds to answer those questions and move our mouths to proclaims: Only Jesus brings Easter peace. That’s the theme today.
First of all, who is Jesus? You know several ways to answer that question. The second article of the Apostle’s Creed or Luther’s explanation to it are excellent summaries. Or you could answer as the Gospels do and review the life of Jesus as you’ve learned it in Sunday school. Or you could start with the resurrection of Jesus, which today’s text brings to mind.
Who is Jesus? He is the One who rose from the dead. Although he had done nothing wrong, the people had him crucified, nailed to a cross. In fact, his life had been filled with good as he taught and preached God’s Word and helped by healing the sick. But he also made it clear that no one could earn their way into God’s favor no matter how good they were. He was the only One who could bring people to God, because he was the God the Son who came from the Father. That offended the religious leaders, so they had him crucified.
But this was all part of God’s plan to save you and me from sin and death. The Lord had foretold how he would send the Christ, the Messiah, to conqueror Satan and free sinner from guilt and death. He foretold through the prophets that the Christ would suffer and die to accomplish this mission and then be raised from the dead. Jesus is the One, dear friends.
You can be sure of that because Jesus rose from the dead. There’s the proof that he spoke the truth, despite the religious leaders rejecting it. There’s the proof that he is the Christ, the Messiah, who has fulfilled the prophecies of old. There’s the proof he is our God, the ever-living Son of the Father, who came to save sinners. Easter is the proof.
And look at the multiple testimonies you have that testify that Jesus really did rise from the dead. This is no myth or legend. The disciples were cowering in fear, hiding behind looked doors. They were afraid even to show their faces as former followers of Jesus. Do you think they would have invented some sort of story about him rising from the dead, which would bring them even more trouble from the Jewish leadership? Yet even a skeptic like unbelieving Thomas was fully convinced. They were convinced that the same Jesus who had died on that cross was now alive. He had risen from the dead. He was no ghost. He had flesh and blood and bone. They could touch him. He was no hallucination. He ate with them and talked to them. He has no impostor. Who else would have nail marks in their hands and a spear wound in his side? Besides they had spent over three years in his constant company. They knew this was the same Jesus.
Not only did these eleven see the risen Jesus, although eleven witness would be plenty. Think of how often people are convicted on the testimony of only one or maybe two eyewitness. Others saw him too: Mary Magdalene and the other women saw him. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus saw him. Over five hundred saw him at one time. They didn’t just catch a single momentary glimpse him. They saw him repeatedly for an extend period of time. For forty days, they saw him multiple times in Jerusalem, in Galilee, at the Mt. of Olives. They even saw him ascend into heaven. And even after the ascension, the Apostle Paul, while still persecuting the church, witnessed the risen Jesus speaking to him from heaven. Why would an enemy of Jesus make this up?
And these witnesses all put their lives on the line. If they had invented the resurrection of Jesus, don’t you think they would have recanted and taken it back instead of dying for a lie? Unlike a blind follower who dies for a lie because he thinks it’s true, like a radical suicide bomber, these disciples would have known it was a lie if they had made it up. But they hadn’t made it up. They were all eye-witnesses. How the risen Jesus changed their lives! Even after one of them was put to death, they still didn’t recant -- not a single one of them. They didn’t even stay quiet. They continued to proclaim the risen Jesus, even though it cost most of them their lives. If this had been a conspiracy, at least one if not most of them would have broken at some point in time. But Jesus’ resurrection is the truth, written in the blood of the Apostles and martyrs.
Who is Jesus? He is my risen Savior. He is my God who rescued me from sin and death. He has changed my heart and life. He is the only one who brings Easter peace.
This brings us to the second question: What is this peace? Do you notice how the message of peace bookends Jesus’ earthly life? What did the angels sing on the night Jesus was born? “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). And now that he is risen from the dead Jesus greets his disciples: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19 NIV84).
Many imagine that this is a promise that a some point there will be earthly peace, an end of war, a better tomorrow, a new age, a thousand years of peace on earth. Some even go so far as to teach that the mission of the church is to work through the social and political problems to help establish earthly peace. But that’s not the peace Jesus promises. That’s not the mission Jesus came to do or sends his church to do. In fact, he clearly taught that there would be wars and rumors of war (Matthew 24:6) until he returns to destroy this world and bring his people into the heavenly kingdom.
Others imagine that Jesus brings peace to the family. Now just as God blesses us with earthly peace at times, he may bless us with family peace. But just because you follow Jesus, doesn’t mean you will have a peaceful, happy family, just as it doesn’t mean there will be an end to war. In fact, Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in law -- a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ ” (Matthew 10:34-36 NIV84). Even in a Christian family, sin can cause hurt, discord, and strife. And when some in the family don’t follow Jesus, they may feel resentment and even hatred toward those who do, pressuring them to put family before Jesus. That’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew.
So if Easter peace is not earthly peace or family peace, what is it? Might it perhaps be peace of conscience? We’re getting closer to the mark. Some may feel at peace in their conscience because they’ve hardened their heart and no longer feel any guilt when they do wrong. That’s not Easter peace. Others may try to have peace of conscience by redefining sin so that what they do is no longer considered bad. That’s not Easter peace. Others may try to make up for their sins in one way or another, at least saying sorry, hoping to soothe their conscience and have some sort of peace. But that’s not Easter peace either.
Rather the peace of conscience that’s connected to Easter peace comes only from Jesus words, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23 NIV84). Christ’s forgiveness brings true peace of conscience
This peace of conscience rests on a peace entirely outside of ourselves. This outside peace is the foundation for our inner peace. What is this outside peace? It is the promise that in Christ God has reconciled the world to himself. Through Jesus he has established peace. We used to be God’s enemies -- the opposite of peace and reconciliation. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7 NIV84). But while we were still his enemies, Christ died for us (Romans 5). That’s how God reconciled you to himself. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19 NIV84) He counted them against Jesus instead. That’s why Jesus died. His death is the only sacrifice that appeases God. Through Jesus’ death God reconciled the world, including you, to himself. That’s why Jesus rose.
Peace of conscience comes as you focus on this peace that the risen Jesus proclaims to you: that you are reconciled to God through Christ. That is the Easter peace. This peace is real, true, and objective whether you feel at peace at the moment or not. Because Christ reconciled you to God, you have forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. His forgiveness brings peace to your conscience.
Believe the Easter peace: In Christ God has reconciled you to himself. Only Jesus brings this peace.
And that brings us to the last question: How can I know Jesus? To know Jesus means more than to know about him. It means to believe in him, to believe that his words are true, to believe that when he says, “You are forgiven,” it’s the truth. It means to trust him as your Savior from sin and death, your Savior, who died for you and rose from the dead.
How can I know him with this faith that believes his forgiveness and trusts him fully? Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples on that first Easter night, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 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’ ” (John 20:21, 22 NIV84).
How can I know Jesus in faith? Because he sends out his disciples to proclaim his message of forgiveness. Just as the Father sent him to win salvation, so he sends his disciples to proclaim salvation, to announce his victory, to spread the Good News of forgiveness, to share the Easter peace. You have the record of their message, the New Testament.
He gives them the Holy Spirit. Notice that he breathes on them before he speaks. Put your hand in front of your mouth and say the word, “Peace.” What do you feel on your fingers? You feel your breath. Jesus’ breath brings his words, and his words bring the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brings faith, faith that knows Jesus, and with that faith comes peace.
Now the Bible it makes clear that Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit to his Apostles for a special purpose as well, so that what they wrote and spoke about Jesus was not their opinion but the words the Holy Spirit himself was leading them to write. We call this verbal inspiration. That’s why you can be sure the Bible is God’s Word, not man’s opinions about God.
And just as Jesus sent out his first disciple, so also he sends us out to share the message of Easter peace. That’s our Easter mission. Without faith in Jesus there is no forgiveness, no peace. What a reason for us to tell others about him!
Now our message to those who refuse Jesus is that you are not forgiven. Yes, Jesus died for your sins, and he rose for your forgiveness. But since you reject Jesus, you reject his forgiveness as well. You are still in your sin. There is no peace for you. No Jesus. No peace.
But to you, dear sinner, who feel the weight of your guilt, you who hate the filth that fills your heart, you who long to be rescued from the pit of death -- to you the risen Jesus says through me: “Your sins are forgiven. Jesus has washed you clean in his blood. He has snatched you out of jaws of death. He is your crucified and risen Savior. Trust him. He has reconciled you to God. He has established Easter peace for you. Believe his Easter message.” Only Jesus brings Easter peace. So dear friends, know Jesus, and know his peace.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.