Second Sunday Of Easter – Pr Smith

Message for April 7, 2024 – John 21:19-31

As many of you know, this Sunday marks something of a bookend for me and my wife, Kim, and our time here at Our Savior. I am greatly comforted by the Gospel reading before us this morning. It is very much a story of restoration and renewal connected to our Lord’s resurrection and it marks the kind of encouragement that happens in the presence of the Lord especially when we come into His presence.

That first Easter evening, the disciples were hiding in the upper room where they had celebrated Passover on Thursday night. They believed the Jewish authorities were looking for them to arrest them and do to them what they had done to Jesus, and so they were laying low, when, all of a sudden Jesus appears in the room despite the locked doors.

Now, in His sermon with them in the upper room, Jesus had told them, they would scatter from Him when He was arrested. Mark records it simply, “And they all left him and fled.” (Mk 14:50) You might expect Jesus to be less than pleased with them. But Jesus is not angry with them.

He says, “Peace be with you!” Surely, they could not help remembering His words to them on Thursday night: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (14:27). Instead of the rebuke they deserved for their desertion, they received instead Jesus’ forgiveness and blessing. Such is the grace of our Lord! And how tender the scene as Jesus extends His nail-pierced hands to His friends to show them, for certain, it is He and He is alive. The disciples rejoiced when they began to understand that the one standing before them is, in reality, Jesus, the Lord.

Then Jesus blesses them again and gives them a mission. Just as He was sent, so now He sends them. And so that we understand this work is a function of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus expelled a deep breath,” that’s how it reads in the ASV, the Andy Smith version. The Greek is same word we get emphysema from, and it means to breathe onto or into but it’s only used this one time in the NT. In the Greek OT, it is the word that gets used when God breathes His breath into Adam at creation. And when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the dry bones in the valley and breathe on them so that they may live. God’s breath is the beginning of all life. Without His Spirit, His mission cannot be accomplished. If the disciples are to do what Jesus has given them to do, they need the Holy Spirit to enable them to do what they could otherwise never dream of doing.

Jesus is sending them out on a mission to announce the forgiveness of sins. He tells them that if they “forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven,” which is powerful stuff. But even more so, that if they withhold forgiveness it is withheld. It is clear that no one but God can forgive sins. The job of the pastor is not to forgive sins as much as it is to announce that sins have been forgiven when the message of forgiveness is received. The apostle Paul, twenty years later, is still overwhelmed at the task. He asked in his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘Who is sufficient for such things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Cor 2:16ff) That is, none of us on our own are able to do this work, but God enables us by His Spirit. And I want to point out, pastors aren’t so much withholding forgiveness as much as people are refusing it. And when it is refused, of course there is no benefit of the forgiveness. And so, Jesus never intended pastors to be merchants peddling their wares in the religious marketplace shaped by the ideology of the mission industrial complex. No, we are given to simply speak of Jesus and the peace which comes by the forgiveness of sins He won for us on the cross. And that’s what happens here, week after week.

Dear friends, “Peace to you. Behold His hands and feet not just nailed to the cross for your sins, but risen from the dead for your eternal life. Behold His pierced body, given for you, the blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins. It happened just like that on that first Easter Sunday and Thomas missed it because he wasn’t there.

I’m fairly certain Thomas is misunderstood by most Christians today. I never have bought into the doubting Thomas idea. I learned only this week where much of that came from. Calvin thought very little of Thomas. He called him obstinate, that his stupidity was astonishing and monstrous and that he was proud and insulting towards Christ. It’s ironic because that’s probably saying more about John Calvin than it is about Thomas! NO, I think Thomas thinks he is something of a hero in this story, at least at first.

Thomas is mentioned in back chapter 11 when Jesus is preparing the disciples for the trip to Bethany to go to Lazarus. 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Well, if Thomas is not being a little snarky here, then he’s being brave. I remember a war movie I saw once, where the characters were talking. One was afraid of dying and the other wasn’t. And the one who wasn’t afraid of dying explained that in His mind, he was already dead. It enabled him to do what needed to be done. This was actually a thought popular among the Stoics. Whether Thomas was a Stoic, I don’t think we can say, but that he was not hiding like a chicken is pretty clear. I don’t think Thomas is a man of questionable character, second only to Judas. Remember, the early tradition reports that Thomas headed east to Parthia, then on to Persia, and first preached Christianity in India. But for whatever reason, Scripture does not say, Thomas missed church that first Easter Sunday. I don’t think he would ever miss again.

At some point, Thomas meets up with the disciples still in hiding and they tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” You know the story. And when Jesus shows up, again it’s the following Sunday (get it? Jesus shows up on Sundays). He is well aware of what Thomas said and what Thomas needs to see and do. “Here ya go, Thomas. Do whatcha need to do. You’re not the hero here, I am. So, stop disbelieving and believe.” I think Jesus is far more capable of humor that we generally admit. I think we see it here. Isn’t what Thomas does exactly what a blind person would need to do to “see”? How about that! And instead of scolding him because he’s “blind,” Jesus lets him! And Thomas confesses Jesus to be God and Lord. Now, there is a gentle chastisement, yes. Jesus says to him, “Do you believe because you have seen? You could have been more blessed by not seeing.” But Thomas now believes.

But again, this reinforces the role of the apostles. We’ll call them apostles now because they aren’t just followers, they’re now sent ones, sent to speak the Good News, “We have seen the Lord. He was crucified. He is risen from the dead. He is full of grace and the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He speaks peace to all who receive Him. Behold His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life for all who eat and drink of it. Go in peace.” It is not a coincidence that the chief portions of the Divine Service speak these words over and over again, Sunday after Sunday, for almost two millennia, now. It’s the mission we have been given by our Lord and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do. This is the way.

It is the Jesus way of weekly renewal and restoration in the presence of His resurrected Body and blood, for forgiveness And assurance of everlasting life, for our comfort and encouragement. why would you want to miss this, to be the hero in our own story? No! We need not hide. We need never fear. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Behold Him today and every Sunday. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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