Posts Tagged ‘Easter 2C’

These Things Are Written That You May Believe!

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Easter 2C
April 28, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you can know for certain that sin, death, and the devil have no power over you!  That is the good news of the cross and the empty tomb!  We need to know this because each of us has a real and natural fear of death.  

On February 27, 1991, a few hours before President Bush announced the end of the Gulf War, a young soldier named Clayton Carpenter stepped on a land mine somewhere in the desert sands of Iraq.  In the confusion of battle, he was reported to have died.  That report was first given to his command and then delivered to his mother back in the U.S.  But three days later that same command discovered that this was a case of mistaken identity; Clayton Carpenter was still alive!  Clayton’s command quickly picked up the phone and called Clayton’s mother with the good news, “Clayton is alive!”  She would not believe it; she was still too deep in her grief!  Then her son called her; still it seemed like a dream… it seemed too good to be true!  So, she began to ask him questions she felt only he would know the answer to.  A short time latter two army officers arrived at her front door and assured her that it was true, her son was alive!

In a similar way, on a rocky hill called Golgotha, Jesus was crucified, but three days later, the Word was delivered, “He is risen!  He’s alive!”  The evidence kept pouring in hour after hour, more and more people were encountering their risen Lord and Savior, but for some it seemed too good to be true!

This is the tension that should be read into our gospel reading this morning.  

You see, it isn’t simply a historical account of events that happened long ago, but instead it is something that is happening in the here and now!  Jesus has risen, and yet so many people, maybe even our own loved ones refuse to believe.  To them it seems too good to be true!  

We can become discouraged when we share our faith; we may begin to doubt the effectiveness of our faith story, because after all we weren’t eye witnesses.  But that is not how God wants you to approach His mission of spreading the gospel, because believing and receiving the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ is a work that He does within the hearts of sinful people; it is a work that He did even in your own heart!  You believe because of God’s Word and the gift of faith that He gave to you in His Word!  You believe because you see, but you do not see with physical eyes but eyes of faith!

You see, God has caused you to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.  And by God’s power (you) are being guarded through faith for a salvation (that is) ready to be revealed in the last (day). [1 Pet. 1:3b-5]

All of this is the same work that God began on Easter morning and it is a work that He continues today.  He does this work through two gifts: The gift of faith and the gift of mission!

Because faith is a gift from God, it only makes sense that He gives that gift in a way He desires, isn’t that true?  

Listen to how he first gave faith to a bunch of frightened disciples who were locked away in a room. “On (Easter evening) 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.”  When He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [John 20:19-20]  Now, many will read this and think, “See He let them see Him!  Why can’t He do that today?”  But friends, the fact that they saw Him isn’t what gave them faith; instead it was only the tool God used to open their hearts to the same gift of faith that has saved you.  And what is it that God always uses to give faith?  What does scripture say?  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word about Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]

What Word did Jesus speak that gave them faith?  It was “Peace be with you!”  Don’t hear these words just as a standard greeting; you see when Jesus speaks them He gives exactly what He offers.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus has overcome the grave.  He gives faith to believe that Jesus has defeated the devil and completely removed the consequence of your sin!  That is the kind of peace that Jesus offers and gives to those who don’t reject it!  That is the very message of the cross and empty tomb that He wanted these frightened disciples who were locked away to receive!  

But He had another gift to give to them; one that would carry the same power of God out into a sinful and dying world.

Jesus gave them a mission; to not only announce the forgiveness of sins and victory over death and the devil, but to also provide these very things in His name and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Listen: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, He breathed on them 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.” [Jn. 20:21-23]

Now Jesus makes it clear that this peace that He is giving is not just for the “eyewitnesses” but it is for the entire world!  It is divine power for building, nurturing, and protecting His church.  It is the very thing that God uses to build His kingdom.  This peace first comes to the church, you and me and then it is sent out through us to a dying world!  So you see, in order to bring and give Christ peace we must first have that peace.  So what is that peace?  It is God’s power to forgive sins!  When Jesus breathed on them, He was giving the Holy Spirit not just to them but through them!  He was blessing their sharing of the peace through their sharing of God’s gospel or good news.  What is that good news?  Again, it is the forgiveness of sins.  Which sins?  All sins; the sins of the world!

But there is a condition isn’t there?  Yes, the one being forgiven must first admit that he has sinned.  If he will not agree that he needs God’s forgiveness then He will not receive that forgiveness!  The greatest sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead!  If you will not receive that resurrection peace, then you cannot receive the gospel peace which frees you from sin, death, and the devil.  And that takes us to Thomas and his unbelief.

On that Easter evening, there was one person who was absent when Jesus appeared and gave them peace; a person who said that he was ready to die with Jesus!  So they went out and found him and told him, “(Thomas) We have seen the Lord!  He has risen!!”  

Poor old Thomas, he seems to be a skeptic lifted right out of our own community.  He responds to all of their joy and excitement with, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.  (No way and no how!)” [vs. 25]

And so it is with the world today, maybe even some of our own friends and family!  But we shouldn’t be too hard on them, because doubt is understandable.  After all Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried!  No doubt about it, Jesus was dead!  And to that doubt, the disciples must have pleaded, “But we saw him!  We touched Him!  He spoke with us and even ate with some of us!”  And to that Thomas then and the doubting Thomases that live with us today, the response is, “Nope!  I won’t believe until He shows me Himself!”  How sad these cases of doubt are; it locks people away with their own sins and fears.  As long as they doubt and remain fearful they also remain miserable and lost.  How can we change them?  Well we can’t; only Jesus can give them His peace; all we can do is wait and pray!

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although 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, and see my hands; and put your hand (out), and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  (And) Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” 

How did Jesus give Thomas saving faith?  The same way He always does; through the power of His Word, a Word of gospel peace!  It was the same Word of forgiveness that He still gives today!  What about your unbelieving friends and family, and those throughout our community who doubt?  Where and how shall they receive the peace of the Lord, the forgiveness of sins?  Through that same Gospel Word of peace and forgiveness!  Keep on praying for them!  Keep on asking God to open their eyes of faith!  Keep on loving them, sharing God’s Word with them, and inviting them here to hear it for themselves!  It is the Word alone that brings that peace and Jesus will not give up on them, and neither shall we; after all, He died for them too!

(Let me close by reminding you that it is Christ’s resurrection alone that gives you complete victory on the final Day of Judgment.  That is why we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Christ has risen bodily, strong and victorious over death.  His resurrection wasn’t just a spiritual victory but also a bodily victory for us!  As He rose from the dead so shall we!  We can’t understand this, or imagine what kind of body we will have, but we know that it will be like our Lords; Holy, perfect, and righteous, just as it was in the beginning in the garden.  And because by faith, we know this is true, we can stomp on the grave and say, “Where, O death, is your victory” Thanks be to God!  He gives the victory (to each of us who know this truth by faith through the power of His Living Word) our Lord Jesus Christ!” [1 Cor. 15:55, 57]  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!