Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 10, 2010

Sermon on John 20:19-23

EASTER REPLACEMENTS

  1. Fear is replaced with peace
  2. Meaninglessness is replaced with mission

Text: John 20:19-23

Introduction

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  When you came to church last weekend for the Easter Vigil or for Easter Day, you noticed that the church’s décor changed quite a bit.  Gone were the dark colors, sober symbolism, and quiet hymns of Lent.  In their place were bright white paraments and banners, the scent of Easter lilies, and joyful hymns celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.  Over the years, you have probably noticed that we replace parts of our worship during Easter time with other songs to highlight the Easter season.  In years past, we sang the newer Easter song, “This Is the Feast of Victory,” in place of the Gloria in Excelsis.  This year, we’re going to sing the ancient Easter hymn, “Christ Is Arisen,” in place of the Verse of the Day.

The idea of replacing the somber or the ordinary with something festive for Easter is not just something we do in our order of worship.  It is the essence of the Easter season!  A few minutes ago, you heard the traditional Gospel account for the Sunday after Easter from John chapter twenty.  Most of the time, we focus on the “doubting Thomas” section of that account; that portion of the reading took place one week after Jesus’ resurrection, so the timing is natural.  But today we’re going to focus on the first half of the reading, which describes Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on Easter evening.  This was the first appearance of Jesus to a larger gathering of his disciples.  In that appearance, we see Jesus replacing the somber and the ordinary with something festive and joyful.  The risen Jesus came to his disciples with “Easter replacements.”  Fear was replaced with peace.  Meaninglessness was replaced with mission.

I.

On the first Easter evening, Jesus’ disciples were afraid—very afraid.  It’s easy to forget that because we know the whole story.  But put yourselves in their shoes for a moment.  They huddle together.  They lock the doors.  Why such fear?  Remember last Sunday’s Gospel.  Jesus’ disciples, for the most part, did not believe the resurrection until Easter evening.  What’s more, if the Jewish religious leaders sought to kill Jesus, is it unreasonable to think that Jesus’ disciples were next?  Given that they still doubted the resurrection and had just seen the fierce hatred of Jesus’ enemies firsthand, it is no wonder why these huddled disciples looked like a bunch of scared little kittens.

But then Jesus appears.  He appears miraculously among them.  The risen Jesus was now in his state of exaltation in which he made no attempt to hide his divine power as he had done previously.  But the risen Jesus is still the human Jesus.  He shows the nail marks in his hands and the spear wound in his side that testified to his sufferings and death.  And the risen Jesus takes their fear away and replaces it with peace.  “Peace be with you” was his first statement to his fearful disciples.  “Peace,” or shalom was a traditional Hebrew greeting, but on this night it was so much more than that.  The peace that Jesus proclaimed on the first Easter night was attached to all he had done for them by his cross and tomb.  That peace not only took away the disciples’ fear; it also filled their hearts with joy and faith. 

I spend a portion of my Easter Sunday sermon every year dealing with apologetics—that is, defending the Christian faith and, on Easter Day, defending the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Given how much misinformation has been fed to people in our world, and given the faulty assumptions that fill so many minds in our corner of the country, I think it is important to defend the Easter gospel and explain why the resurrection is fact, not fiction.  I’ve noticed that a defense of the resurrection often makes non-Christians uncomfortable.  It puts Christianity in a new realm.  It shows why we cannot dismiss the gospel as a mere religious story.  It reveals that we need to come to grips with the risen Jesus and that faith in him is absolutely essential.

Non-Christians aren’t the only ones who can become uncomfortable with apologetics.  Thinking about the factual nature of Jesus’ death and resurrection can also make Christians squirm.  We can get into “church mode,” go through the motions of worship, and perhaps allow our minds to wander and to separate ourselves from what is taking place in worship.  But the reminder that what we’re talking about is truly a fact can jolt us back into reality.  The message we hear in this place is not just my “spiritual tradition.”  The message of the crucified and risen Jesus is fact.  And that fact points to a future fact—the day coming in the future when we stand before the judgment throne of an all-knowing and all-powerful God!

But that is when the risen Jesus appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus’ words proclaimed peace to his disciples, and his Word proclaims the peace of forgiveness to you.  Jesus showed his disciples his hands, the very same hands of his body that were nailed to the cross in our place, and now the very same body that we receive in his Supper.  Jesus showed his disciples his side, the very same side of his body that was pierced at his death and that blood flowed from, the same blood that was shed to wipe away our sins, and now the very same blood that we receive in his Supper.  Jesus comes to you in Word and Sacrament with his divine mission accomplished, he takes away your fear of sin and death, and he replaces it with his holiness and forgiveness.  Jesus comes to you today to take away death and hell from your future and replace it with life and heaven.

II.

Jesus’ gathered disciples certainly had a bad case of fear before Jesus appeared to them.  But I will venture to say that they also had a bad case of meaninglessness.  With Jesus dead – so they thought – what was their purpose?  What was their reason for coming together, other than the reality that misery loves company?  If Jesus really was dead and remained dead, about all they could do was become the charter members of the “Organization of ex-Jesus Disciples.”  Or, to put it much more bluntly, the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17).

But the resurrection and appearance of Jesus replaced their meaninglessness with a major mission that drives the church still today.  “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’  And 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.’”  Jesus repeats his shalom statement of peace, and attaches it to a mission that he had for his disciples.  Just as God the Father sent Jesus out on a specific mission—to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world—so God the Son was now sending these disciples out on a specific mission—to preach the good news about salvation and redemption through Jesus.

What should make us sit up and take notice is the specific mission Jesus gives to his church.  It’s not a political message.  It’s not a social message.  It’s not an environmental message.  It is, quite simply, a message about forgiveness from God.  As his disciples preached the gospel to the world, if they came across repentant persons who turned to faith in Christ, those disciples would have the privilege of announcing and delivering God’s forgiveness.  And if they came across people who rejected the gospel message about Jesus, those disciples had the responsibility to announce that God was holding their sins against them until such time that they did repent.  It is just as Luther describes in the Small Catechism: “The use of the keys is that special power and right which Christ gave to his church on earth: to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but refuse forgiveness to the impenitent as long as they do not repent.”

It is not all that difficult for the church to degenerate into a club.  Lutheran churches, with their German origins, can easily become the local German club.  A church like ours, with a predominance of young people and young families, could easily become the Gen-X and Gen-Y club.  With the Bible as our guide for morality, a church like ours could easily become the club of moral conservatives.  And while I have no problem with celebrating one’s heritage, or hanging out with people in one’s own demographic range, or supporting biblical morality in an immoral world, all of these potential “clubs” have one thing in common: they make the church meaningless, because they take the church away from its God-ordained mission.

What is the mission that the risen Jesus has given us?  “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.”  Our mission is to bring the salvation Jesus won at the cross and proved by his resurrection and apply it to the sorrowful and aching hearts that cross into our lives.  Think about that.  Why do we operate a school?  To say that we have a “program” to offer?  Or to reach people with the gospel of the forgiveness of sins so that others may hear and believe?  Why do we gather for worship?  To get a weekly spiritual pep talk?  Or to reach God’s own people with the gospel of forgiveness so that they may hear and have their faith strengthened?  Forgiveness through faith in Christ—that’s our mission.  That’s our purpose.  That’s our calling.  And when we keep that at the center of what we do as a church, that completely changes our views of others—inside and outside the church.  That completely replaces our false motives and meaninglessness with the mission that the risen Jesus has given to each one of us.

Conclusion

I found an interesting comment last week on a website made by a Lutheran pastor.  He suggested that instead of making resolutions for New Year’s or for Lent, we should make resolutions at Easter time.  The more I thought about that, the more I liked that idea.  New Year’s resolutions tend to be things that we do for ourselves to better our lives and kick old habits.  Lenten resolutions tend to be things that we give up, hopefully so that we remember how much more Jesus gave up for us—although I think there may be other more profitable ways to accomplish that.  But when Easter arrives, we have just completed our annual review of Christ’s salvation, and then we receive our mission marching orders from the risen Lord.  What better time to recommit to our work as his people than Easter!

Jesus has replaced your fear with his heavenly peace.  He has replaced our meaninglessness with a divine mission.  Live in his peace each day of your life!  Then carry out your mission to look for others who need his peace!  What a great way to celebrate the fact that he is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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