April 7 & 8, 2018 Easter 2
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Put yourself in the disciple’s sandals for a moment. Ride the waves of emotions with them. The teacher and friend you have come to know and love over three years was betrayed by someone you trusted—Judas Iscariot. Jesus was brutally beaten and executed. He had been talking about this for a while, but you didn’t think that it would really happen. Then it did. And it happened so fast you hardly knew what to do. Maybe you had a thought of fighting back in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in the darkest moments of your friend Jesus, you ran away. And once the Roman soldiers took control of Jesus, there was no way you could defeat them.
Then he died and was buried. What to do now? Where to go now? You gave up everything to follow Jesus. Now he was gone! The Jews came after Jesus, would they come after you now too? Would every follower of this self-proclaimed King of the Jews be killed?
But just as quickly as this all happened, some women came and announced that the tomb was empty. They claimed they saw Jesus, too. Peter and John sprinted to the tomb and found it empty as well. Two other disciples who had been walking to Emmaus claimed they saw Jesus. What was going on here? Was someone playing a trick on you? Were the Jews framing you disciples by stealing his dead body? Or could it be that he really did rise from the dead?
So you and the other disciples lock yourselves in a room. Maybe Jesus was alive. Maybe this was too good to be true. Maybe they were coming for you next. Maybe it would be better if you just didn’t talk about it to one another or to anyone else.
Fear. Doubt. Wonder. Worry. You’re troubled. You’re disturbed. You certainly don’t have peace.
We don’t have to pretend too much to understand what those disciples were going through. When was the last time you sat down, kicked up your feet and honestly said, “I’m really at peace right now”? And if you did, how long did that sentiment last?
Rather, the way of life in America is busy, fast-paced, stressful. There are so many things to do, so many things to accomplish, so many things to keep up with. It seems like there is a bill for everything but the air we breathe (don’t be surprised if we have to start paying for that too!), so we have to work non-stop trying to keep up with all those bills. We have doctor appointments, bank appointments, taxes to finish last minute, yard work to keep up with. And I don’t really care to talk right now about all the stress and busyness that come with having children!
As unsettled as our lives are, the world around us seems like one big mess. More and more countries have serious nuclear weapons. China and other countries are destroying our economy with their rapid production of electronics and machinery. Europe is a mess. The Mideast is a powder keg waiting to blow up again. Tribal warfare and warlord-led genocide continue across Africa. Drugs are out of control in Mexico and South America.
Meanwhile back in the USA, Americans can’t seem to agree on much of anything. Liberals and conservatives clash worse than ever before. Morality is sliding toward extinction. There is an opioid crisis all around us. Many, including me, wonder if perhaps America is soon to collapse like the Roman or Greek empires once did. Peace? What peace?
The disciples should have known better though. They actually got to see Jesus and follow him around for three years. He taught them so much about his kingdom. He even told them (multiple times!) that he was going to suffer, die, and rise again. Weren’t they ready for this? Didn’t they expect this? Didn’t they remember that Jesus told them exactly what he was going to do?
Yet there they sat in that room, locked behind closed doors like it was a bomb shelter. They were afraid that the Lord wouldn’t protect them. They doubted that Jesus would do what he promised. They worried about what would happen to them next.
Sound familiar? You could make an argument that we should know better, too. Page after page after page of Scripture tells us exactly how great our God is. Page after page after page tells us what our God has done for us and will do for us. Week after week after week we join to be encouraged by the Lord and to encourage one another in worship. We sing and pray and give praise to a God who has done marvelous things. We nod our heads in agreement with what we hear in worship and join in countless “Amen!”s.
Yet there we sit locked in our houses, with worry filled sleepless nights, terrified of what is going on in our lives. We’re afraid that the Lord won’t protect us or provide for us. We doubt what Jesus promises to us. We worry about what will happen to us next.
Peace? What peace?
As Jesus said so often to his disciples, he could certainly also say to us, “O you of little faith!” Why do we doubt our Jesus? Why don’t we trust that he will do what he says? Why don’t we look to him first when we have troubles and fears in our lives? Why does sin have to capture our hearts like it did so many times for the disciples? How unworthy we are of our Lord’s love. Why doesn’t he just throw us into hell? We deserve it.
Hold on. See your risen Savior! See a real peace! It’s a peace freely given by Jesus. As the disciples sat in fear, suddenly Jesus appeared and the first thing he said to them was, “Peace be with you!” Jesus didn’t have to appear to his disciples. But graciously he gave them personal proof that he was alive. He proclaimed that peace now belonged to them.
He gave them even more proof: “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” Jesus didn’t have to do that either. Yet graciously he eased their minds by showing the wounds from his crucifixion as if to say, “Look, here is the evidence that I suffered and died for your sins. Now touch the healed wounds and see that I have conquered death and truly risen. Your sins are gone.” Then once more Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”
But Thomas wasn’t there. He earned himself a nickname by “doubting” what the others said. We have to wonder if Thomas thought they were all playing a really big and really mean practical joke on him. But this wasn’t a time for joking around. Was his faith really so weak that he doubted at least 10, if not more, of his friends telling him that they saw Jesus with their own eyes and touched him with their own hands?
Again, Jesus didn’t have to appear to Thomas. But graciously and mercifully he did so that Thomas could hear Jesus say the same words yet again, “Peace be with you!” The Lord was loving enough to work in Thomas’ heart so that he could be given the peace of forgiveness.
Sometimes you and I are like the 10 locked in the room, afraid and unsure of what to make of things. Sometimes you and I are more like Thomas. Unless we see some real proof and evidence from Jesus that he will answer our prayers the way we want, then we will refuse to believe that we have any peace in our lives.
But listen to your Savior. He speaks to you as well, “Peace be with you!” That isn’t a pious platitude or an empty wish like that of a hippie: “Peace on earth, man!” Oh no. That peace is a fact. See with the disciples the holes in his hands and feet. See the wound on his side! Jesus was crucified and died for your sins. But now he is risen! That is the proof that our sins are gone. We have real peace. We have The Peace of Forgiveness given by Jesus!
Jesus knows our sinful minds so well. He knows that, like the disciples, we still will have our moments of weakness or doubt. So graciously he gives us other tangible things as proof and assurance too! He gives us water to touch that is attached to his promises, water that washes us clean and grants us forgiveness in baptism. He gives us bread and wine along with his true body and blood to touch and to eat, assuring us that the body and blood given and shed for us on the cross won us forgiveness now and forever.
That’s real peace. It’s the peace of forgiveness. And this true peace is only given by Jesus.
There are times in your life when you will doubt that God really loves you. You’ll be angry with God. You’ll wonder if he cares about you. Maybe you doubting right now. When that happens, go to the Bible. The Gospel writer John tells us that God’s Word is the place to go whenever we have doubts: “These are written that you may believe (not have doubts and skepticism but believe) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” With your eyes of faith see the scars in Jesus’ hand, feet and side. Listen to his words of forgiveness and grace. Come to the Lord’s Supper and partake of his body and blood sacrificed for you. Here is your cure for doubt. Your sins are gone. Jesus is alive and is there to help you. Stop doubting and believe. Amen.