Sunday, April 28, 2013

LSB Easter 5C Sermon - John 16:12-22

April 28, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…. You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Jesus is going to leave His disciples. That is the big news that He drops in the Upper Room. You heard a portion of the long address that Jesus gives to His disciples on the night when He is betrayed. Biblical scholars call this Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Jesus says: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me.” Then He goes on to discuss the pain and sorrow that this will cause His disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

Goodbyes are hard. And when the taking leave is connected to dying, it is even more difficult. There is finality to it. That is what Jesus is speaking of to His disciples. He tells them that they will no longer see Him. And that time will be soon. In fact, it is just a matter of hours when He will leave them. That is the “little while” which Jesus mentions. The evening walk to Gethsemane is short. The appearance of the Temple Guards will take place quickly. And by the next sundown, Jesus will be lying in a grave as an executed condemned criminal.

This will cause grief for Jesus’ followers. The weeping and wailing of the women in Jerusalem was heard in the streets. Peter’s remorseful tears for denying Jesus freely flowed. The dazed and confused disciples would linger in that same room where they had heard Jesus speak of His departure, but they would lock the doors for fear that the same would happen to them. Other followers of Jesus would trudge home, wondering if their hope that Jesus was the Promised Messiah had been misplaced.

And while they were full of sorrow, the world rejoices. The opponents of Jesus walk away from the site of crucifixion convinced of the rightness of their cause. The great impostor, the blasphemer, the critic was dead, done away with. It happens just as Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” In fact, we even put those words into song. CFW Walther’s hymn for Easter includes the lines: “The foe was triumphant when on Calvary / The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. / In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, / For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

But Jesus’ statements include something that does not cause sorrow. He speaks words that bring just the opposite reaction. When Jesus discusses His sudden departure, He also mentions that it is not permanent: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me.” That second part of His statement speaks not of departure, but of arrival. The same disciples who experience a time of not seeing Jesus after His death would see Him again. And that seeing Him again would be soon.

Jesus’ promise of a return arrival is the greater part of His Farewell Discourse. Taking leave of someone when they die is expected. Pain and sorrow are anticipated. But to have that person reappear is completely unexpected. When it occurs, it brings joy that is boundless. Such joy was found for Jairus, the Widow of Nain, and for Mary and Martha when Jesus brought their loved ones back to life. The same joy would be given to the Eleven who hear Jesus’ words: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

What happens when this takes place? You heard the record of it on the Sunday after Easter Day. Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples. He shows them His hands and side, the same ones that were pierced during His crucifixion. But His death and burial was not the end. The “little while” of their not seeing Jesus had come to an end. We put that into our Easter hymns: “The three sad days have quickly sped, / He rises glorious from the dead. / All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!” Now they experienced the “little while” of seeing Him again. And they were glad. Their grief and sadness had been removed, just as Jesus said: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Jesus’ promise of having His disciples brought from sadness to joy is rooted in His resurrection. He knows the purpose for His being in the world. He knows what He is meant to do. Death and resurrection are essential to it. This is why Jesus disclosed His betrayal, arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion to His disciples at various times in His ministry. Even at His transfiguration, the matter of Jesus’ exodus—His departure—was the main topic. Everything led up to those eight days in Jerusalem, the eight days of glory that were marked by Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and then His resurrection. The creation of new life was being accomplished through those acts, a new life that is meant for Jesus’ people. The sorrow and anguish of Holy Week are the pains of bringing eternal life to birth. With the resurrection of Jesus, there is only gladness: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
So how do these promises speak to us who have not seen Jesus before or after His death? We have not had Jesus depart from us. There hasn’t been the “little while” then His going away from us, so that we cannot see Him. And there hasn’t been the “little while” when we see Him again. We have not seen Jesus. We only have the testimony of those who saw, heard, and touched Him. So how do His words apply to us?

Though we have not seen Jesus, we do experience what He has come to remedy. We have plenty of experience with sorrow, with the hard goodbyes that death causes. We know well the grief and anguish that come from the world, including the joy that is found at tearing down the Lord’s ways and the people who attempt to follow them. Weeping and lamenting over our own sinful acts is not a foreign concept to us. But this is what Jesus’ work is meant to remedy. Jesus is our Redeemer, the One who has dealt with our sin. His death and resurrection were accomplished for our benefit. He has brought eternal life to birth for us. The promise is extended to you and me: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

But what turns that sorrow into joy? Only the resurrection of Jesus can do that. Not just that Jesus has risen from death, but that His people are given a share in that same resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a new age, the ushering in of an era that is governed only by the new life that He has brought to birth. You have been given entry into that new age. This is what your baptisms have given to you. You have died with Jesus and have been raised to life with Him. You have been born of water and the Spirit, so that you can enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have been made heirs of God the Father, granted a place in His household.

Through that act, a great promise has been extended to you. God the Father has made a covenant with you. He has given you a pledge of what He will do because of what His Son has accomplished by His death and resurrection. That pledge includes being brought to the full experience of the joy that Jesus’ disciples had when they saw the Risen Lord. Today, you heard a portion of that pledge: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is your future. This is what awaits you because of what Jesus has accomplished.

The joy that will be made yours is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection. It has brought eternal life to birth for you. The making of all things new that God the Father speaks of is taking place in you. And so you put that in your Easter song, as you sang this morning: “Easter triumph, Easter joy! / This alone can sin destroy; / From sin’s pow’r, Lord, set us free, / Newborn souls in You to be. Alleluia!” Being born to eternal life, you have an inheritance from God the Father, a place in the new heaven and new earth that He establishes: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” That is the promise made to you.

This promise of new birth is what brings joy in the midst of sorrow. It makes the hard goodbyes a little easier to bear. It forms endurance in the midst of the world’s rejoicing at unrighteousness. It gives comfort in the times of illness and the closing of earthly life. It establishes hope even in the midst of the frustration with your own fault-laden actions. For the world’s rejoicing, illness, pain, mourning, sin, and death are not eternal: these are all counted among the former things that are passing away.

But God the Father says: “Behold, I am making all things new.” He is making all things new for you. This is your heritage. What awaits you is the ending of these former things. What awaits you is the time when you will see Jesus. What awaits you is the joy that will be given for eternity that no one can take away. That is what Jesus’ resurrection has made possible for you. And so you can go through the pains that lead to the birth of eternal life for you, just as the Eleven and those who followed after them did. For what the Risen Jesus says to them is also true for you: “A little while, and you will see Me.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

LSB Easter 4C Sermon - John 10:22-30

April 21, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

Jesus talks about His identity and His relationship to His disciples. The way that He gets to speaking about that relationship may not be the way that we would expect Him to. Jesus’ statement comes from a time of conflict: “The Jews gathered around [Jesus] and said to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” Jesus is challenged to make a definitive statement about His identity: “Give us an answer. Are You the Messiah, yes or no?”

That is the setting for Jesus’ discussion about His identity and His relationship to His disciples. Faced by that challenge, Jesus speaks about what He has done and how people either receive that or not: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Jesus plainly marks the divide that stands between people. Some individuals hear what Jesus has done and said, and they believe that He is the Christ. Others hear the same, but come to the exact opposite conclusion. That’s the way it is, says Jesus.

Speaking in the Church, the focus is not on those who come to the conclusion that Jesus is not the Christ. You and I know that such individuals exist. We know them. Some are in our circles of family and friends. The division makes it difficult in some arenas: discussing issues of life, determining how to raise children, making moral decisions, and so on. These challenges exist and we live with them. This is not new in the Church, even St. Paul addresses these challenges that people in Corinth faced, including having spouses who do not believe the same.

But the major focus of the Church on this Good Shepherd Sunday is the statements that Jesus makes concerning those who are His followers. That is the definition of the Church: “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.” The Church is the assembly of those who believe in Jesus’ identity as the Christ. They are the sheep that belong to Jesus. He says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” When He says this, Jesus is speaking about you. He is speaking about His followers, His disciples.

Those words of Jesus define you. They define your identity. They define your relationship to Jesus. Jesus’ statement includes the very important point that you hear Jesus’ voice. How does that happen? How can you who live centuries after Jesus was walking and talking in Palestine hear His voice? The voice of Jesus is heard by having His teachings delivered to you. The voice of Jesus is heard by having His actions told to you. That is what Jesus established when He sent out His apostles into the world. It is why Jesus says about the ones He sends: “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” As the apostles—the sent ones—went into the world, they carried the voice of Jesus’ words and works with them.

St. Paul describes that type of work in his valedictory address to the Ephesian elders: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s what carrying the voice of Jesus’ words and works looked like in Ephesus. And the apostle tells the elders of the Church: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul wants them to do the same thing with that voice of Jesus, so that more may hear it.

That is the will Jesus has for you. You are His sheep. So you are meant to hear what He says. You are meant to hear that voice. But is that happening? Though Paul gives instructions to the elders, they are also applicable in part to you: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” Paying careful attention to oneself includes taking the time to hear the voice of Jesus. It is a hazard for the elders of the Church not to do this. But the same hazard exists among you who aren’t elders. Problems arise when the hearing of Jesus’ voice isn’t happening.

It is very hard to follow someone when you don’t hear them. Think of a troop of soldiers or a marching band or a tour group. They each have a leader. That leader gives instructions. But if the soldiers, band members, or tourists cannot hear the leader giving instructions, what happens? They go off on their own ways. They try to determine what to do. And that leads into chaos of various sorts: firing on incorrect targets, playing the wrong songs, getting lost.

Similar negative results happen if the leaders of the group don’t have the correct instructions to give. The same groups can fire on incorrect targets, play the wrong songs, and get lost, if they hear leaders who don’t have the right words to give. It happens in the Church. This is what Paul warns the Ephesian elders about: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

These warnings are given to you, the Church in the present day. They are spoken to give direction to you. Your identity is what Jesus says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Essential to that identity is the hearing of what Jesus has said and done. That is how you can follow Him. So the charge is given to you: “Listen to the record of Jesus’ words and works. Be familiar with the gospel accounts. Know what Jesus has said and done. Hear the prophetic words of the Old Testament that told of what Jesus would do. Pay attention to the apostolic words of the New Testament that speak of the results of Jesus’ acts. This is what guides you to follow in His way. That is what it means to be one of His disciples.”

But Jesus’ statement about your identity did not end with a description about what you are. It also included promises about what you receive. Recall what He said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” This is what the Jesus who died and rose from death says to you. The promise is made, a promise rooted in His actions: “My sheep whom I know, the sheep who follow Me, receive eternal life.”

Such a promise can be made because Jesus is powerful over death, because He has overcome it. That is what the first three Sundays of Easter were telling the Church. It’s why you have heard again the records of Jesus’ tomb being found empty, the appearance of Jesus to the Eleven and their commissioning, the revelation of Jesus to the disciples along the seashore. These are the acts that demonstrate His being alive, never to die again. You have also heard the heavenly worship about those acts that Jesus performed. Praise is given to Him because He was slain but now lives.

Today, you have heard again the benefit of what those actions have accomplished. You have heard the promise of eternal life being given to Jesus’ sheep. You have details of the vision of those who receive that promise. What do those who hear Jesus’ voice, who are known by Him, who follow Him become? “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” That is the outcome for those who possess the identity of being Jesus’ sheep: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

That outcome is meant to be yours. It is given to those who hear Jesus’ voice. It is for those whom Jesus knows. It is the end of following Him. So is that the description of who you are? Do you hear His voice? Do you listen to the record of Jesus’ words and works or is that not something done very often? Does He know you? Has Jesus placed His name on you in baptism and called you His own or has that not been done? Do you follow Him? Is your life governed by the instructions that Jesus has given or do His statements about His disciples’ lives not really sound like yours?

Those questions are asked for a reason: to make you think once again about the identity that Jesus has granted to you. For in that is found the life that is meant to be yours. Not only is it meant to be in some philosophical way, it has been enacted by Jesus for you. Today in this place, you have heard the voice of Jesus. You have recalled the Divine Name that Jesus has put on you. The Good Shepherd prepares a table for you. Your souls are restored by His absolution. The promise of eternal life is given to you. And you will make the confession of faith about what you believe concerning Jesus and the identity that He has given to you.

What takes place here is rooted in what Jesus’ statement about His identity and your relationship to Him: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” His sheep believe this. They believe that Jesus is the Christ. They believe in His words and works. Let that description be true for you, because you are among His sheep. Then all the statements that Jesus makes about His sheep will be fulfilled for you, especially the promise that He makes this day: “I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

LSB Easter 3C Sermon - John 21:1-19

April 14, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

Dawn’s light may have been a welcome sight for the disciples. There were other times on the Sea of Tiberias that they longed for it. You can recall how these men had been in their boat during some rough nights. Twice they had endured incidents with Jesus on that big lake: the storm that blew up during the night while Jesus slept nearly drowned them; another night journey that Jesus had sent them on had turned into a frustrating effort. Both times Jesus had come to their aid: He calmed the storm; He strode across the waves to them.

But this evening on the Sea of Tiberias was a little different. The disciples had gone on the lake out of their own desire. It was their decision to go; no command had come from Jesus. Of course, you know that the timing of this excursion was a bit different than the earlier ones. Great events had preceded it. The crucifixion of Jesus had been followed by His resurrection. The Risen Lord had appeared to His disciples; twice He appeared, standing in the midst of them who had been cowering behind locked doors. But they had not seen Jesus for a while. So some of the disciples decide to take up again their expert skill of fishing.

That is what you heard: “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’” These seven disciples revert back to what they knew well. But the Gospel Writer mentions the outcome of their fishing venture: “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” A whole night of fishing, but not one part of the nets is filled. The amazement at this must have been great. How could they have lost their skills at this trade? Since when do dragnets catch nothing? You can easily think about the disciples’ frustration at this. When the sun starts rising, there would be the sense of putting a lousy night’s work to an end, putting it behind them for good.

But this event is meant for the disciples to receive something essential and beneficial. This is more than just a bad night of fishing. No, this event will be a revelation of Jesus’ identity for the disciples. That is how John introduces the event: “After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and He revealed Himself in this way….” A revelation is happening. It begins with Jesus’ appearance on the shore while the disciples are still frustrated on their boat: “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’”

Jesus’ question is a leading one. To put it in our English idiom a bit better, it’s more like this: “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” Jesus’ question is based on what He already knows about the disciples’ failed fishing expedition. Not that Jesus was in the boat with them, but that He knew that their attempts to go back to their former lives of fishing would fail. So Jesus gives them a command: “He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of the fish.” With Jesus’ command given to them, the disciples fill their nets—something they were unable to do after an entire night’s worth of work. And this leads them to the conclusion about who that Man on the shore is: “That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”

So why does this event occur? What is the point of it? The answer is seen in what Jesus had once again done: He had revealed His identity as the Authoritative One by giving a command that it fulfilled. But it is also seen in what the outcome of that revelation is: the disciples are shown that their identity is no longer fishermen, but to be the apostles that Jesus had made them by sending them out with His authority to forgive and retain sins. Their livelihood was no longer with the fishing nets on the Sea of Tiberias. Their calling had been transformed because of what Jesus had done for them and to them. Apart from that, they could do nothing. But with Him, abiding by His authoritative command, these men would be able to fulfill their new tasks as apostles—to do the tending of Jesus’ sheep and to obediently follow Him, even to death. And this is where the event along the Sea of Tiberias where Jesus reveals Himself also has meaning to you.

Former lives are meant to be left in the past. A change has happened for you, just as there was a change for those disciples. A new identity has been given to you. Jesus gives it; His work establishes it. That was alluded to in the vision of the heavenly worship of Jesus that you heard in the Second Reading today: “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” It’s a big statement! Several points are made in it: Jesus had ransomed people; His ransoming made them God’s people; the ransomed people are no longer identified by what earthly group they came from, but as God’s kingdom.

That work of Jesus is the foundation for your new identity. You are the ransomed people. Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it so. You have been made participants in His work through your baptisms. That changes your identity, just as it changed Saul from being a persecutor of Jesus to being a believer in Him. A transformation has occurred. With that transformation comes an entirely new way of life. There are new allegiances and new responsibilities for you. There are new tasks that you are assigned.

Each Easter Season, the Church recalls that new identity given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is done at the Easter Vigil, when the Service of Baptismal Remembrance is conducted. The scrutinies are asked of the members again: “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” These questions refer to a setting aside a former life and a desire to keep it away. What is renounced is put in the past and meant to remain there.

At Pentecost, confirmands are asked questions about the new way of life that they are entering: “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” Now these are putting in front of them the new acts, the new responsibilities that they have. Those who have been ransomed and brought into the kingdom of God are given responsibilities. Chief among them is to be people who receive Jesus’ benefits through the ways that He instituted: hearing His works done for them in the Gospel accounts; receiving the sacrament that recalls His giving Himself into death for forgiveness of sins. Then having received these benefits, the people of God live according to the statutes that He established.

There is a connection between these aspects of your new identity and the new identity that was given to the disciples. They were commissioned by Jesus, granted His authority to carry His benefits out into the world. As they did so, they began to feed Jesus’ lambs and tend Jesus’ sheep. Through the line of men who carried His authority and acted according to His commands, Jesus’ ransoming work was applied to you. They didn’t go back to fishing, but became the fishers of men. When they acted according to the authoritative command of Jesus, then what the Lord said was carried out: sins were forgiven, new life was granted, places in the kingdom of God were assigned. You are called to trust in the promises that Jesus attaches to His authoritative commands. Hearing them spoken by those whom Jesus authorizes to speak them, you receive the benefits that Jesus accomplished for you.

So what effect does that have for you? You now no longer consider yourself first and foremost by whatever earthly category you may have. No, your true identity is being a subject of God’s kingdom, being one of His priests. So you offer your worship to Jesus alongside those in the heavenly realm: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” You gather with those who have also been given that identity and partake of the feast of victory for your God. Then while you are here in this creation that your Lord created and redeemed, you live for His honor, for His glory.

But note well: the living for your Lord’s honor and glory is not one-dimensional. It is not given only in the words of praise that you speak of the Crucified and Risen Jesus. It is also given in the lives that you live—in faith, word, and deed. That may indeed mean suffering for the sake of Jesus’ name during this life. The suffering can be the pain that comes from putting the old self to death by daily repentance. The suffering can be the pain that comes from being persecuted for what you believe and do. You have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, no longer counting your own self greater or most important. You walk in the cruciform life that Jesus made your identity when He said to you, “Follow Me.” It becomes the way that you want to go, just as it did for Peter and Paul.

Trying to go back to your former way of life will also lead to nothing truly good. Attempting to establish your own way of discipleship, you will not be successful at all. There will be nights full of fishing that result in empty nets—or choose whatever metaphor you like. But when there is the trust in Jesus’ commands and the promises He attaches to them, there will be the intended result for you, just as it was for those disciples and the others whom Jesus called. That is what this event along the Sea of Tiberias is meant to teach you. So receive the benefits that Jesus gives where He reveals Himself—in the apostolic preaching, in the sacraments He instituted, in the places where He has put His command and promise. Then go take up the responsibilities and duties that are part of the new identity that He has given you as the ransomed people in God’s kingdom.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

LSB Easter 2C Sermon - John 20:19-31

April 7, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, 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 had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

“Peace be with you!” That is the greeting spoken by Jesus. It’s more than just a “Hello.” or “Hey!” or “How goes it?” Those types of greetings are what we use. They elicit a response. Usually another “Hello” back, perhaps a nod in return or a grunt. But that’s about it. Nothing really significant is found in those.

But Jesus’ greeting is not lacking in significance. It is steeped in what He has done, in what had just been accomplished in Jerusalem during the previous week. Jesus delivers what His greeting indicates: He is giving peace to His people. It is the answer to the prayer that His people had spoken for centuries: “May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!”

The events during the previous week in Jerusalem brought that requested peace. It is what Jesus’ death and resurrection had achieved. This is what Jesus had foretold. His work had led up to this. He had called people to repentance, to change their hearts and minds and place their faith in Him. His message was for all the prodigal sons and daughters to return home to their Father; to receive the clean robes, the signet ring, the new shoes; to eat of the fatted calf. They were to be built on Himself, the cornerstone. Jesus would draw all people to Himself, as He was lifted up from the earth in crucifixion. The work of redemption and reconciliation was finished.

But as you heard on Palm Sunday: “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.” That lack of understanding is shown in what the disciples do following Jesus’ crucifixion. It was seen in the dismissal of the women’s report as an idle tale, as you heard on Resurrection Sunday. It is seen in the setting where the disciples holed up following Jesus’ crucifixion, as you heard described this morning: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews….”  

Fear. That is what drove the disciples’ actions. Fear. Fear of the Jews. Fear of being betrayed by their own company. Fear of the chaos that their movement had collapsed into. Fear of facing the same fate as Jesus. So the disciples remain behind locked doors. But Jesus enters into that setting. The words flow from His mouth: “Peace be with you!” And what happens when He says those words? “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

The sight of Jesus brings joy to the disciples. Peace is given to them. And what peace is this? It is the peace that Jesus has accomplished through His crucifixion and resurrection. Note again how Jesus links peace to what had happened during the previous week in Jerusalem: “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Jesus displays the hands that had been punctured by the nails and the side that had been pierced by the javelin. These are the marks of His death; they are the evidence of His being offered as the ransom for many. Here is how the Paschal Lamb was slain for the deliverance of the people. The work of salvation was finished. Peace for all time had been achieved.

This is what gladdens the hearts of Jesus’ disciples. This is what dispels their fear. This is what allows them to understand all that Jesus had done: to know that the Temple that was torn down had been raised up again; to know that He has the words of eternal life; to know that the Hosanna cries had been answered; to know that their sins had been forgiven; to know that the Scriptures had been fulfilled. And that is what the disciples are charged to carry out into the world that Jesus had redeemed.

Hear again what Jesus says after the greeting and showing: “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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” The disciples are sent out, made apostles with the message of salvation and forgiveness. What Jesus accomplished is distributed to the world through the mouths of the apostles. They speak the same greeting of peace rooted in the death and resurrection of their Lord.

That is what you have heard this day. You have heard the historic record of its proclamation in the same city where Jesus was crucified and raised: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” Standing in the Temple, Peter and the apostles speak the witness of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the people. They bear witness to Jesus’ pierced hands and side. They speak of His being raised from the tomb. And they speak the words of peace that is received through repentance and forgiveness of sins.

But that witness is not only a historic relic. That witness is the living voice of the Gospel that still sounds forth in the world. The apostles’ joy and gladness did not remain behind locked doors. No, that joy and gladness went out as the apostles spoke of the Risen Jesus. Their testimony of His words and works unlocked the gates of Hades. The proclamation of Jesus’ work brought people into His kingdom: “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” That kingdom spread its way from Jerusalem to places far from it: “to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” And wherever the apostolic witness sounds, there the peace of Jesus is granted.

So it is that you have the peace of Jesus spoken in your hearing. For what takes place here? At the heart of this assembly’s acts is the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The witness of Jesus’ pierced hands and side is made. In this room, you get to gaze upon a great depiction of it in visual art behind the pulpit. The witness of Jesus’ resurrection is made. The witness of Jesus’ work for you is made. That testimony is given, so that you may have what Jesus achieved for you, so that you may be led to repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

This is the goal that Jesus established. It is the end that He has accomplished. For your Lord does not desire you to remain in locked doors cowering in fear. There is no good in that. Fear of guilt; fear of your death; fear of the slave master Satan: Jesus has overcome these by His death and resurrection. The peace that He has won is meant for you, so He makes Himself present in the apostolic witness. That witness carries the Holy Spirit to you, so that you come to the same confession about Jesus as Thomas did: “My Lord and my God!” You come to the goal that Jesus established in the beatitude that He speaks about you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Even more, Jesus comes among you in His own words of promise—the words attached to the baptismal waters, the words of absolution, the words that set apart bread and wine to be His body and blood. In each of these places, His greeting is given: “Peace be with you!”

As you receive Jesus’ peace, the same response is elicited from you as was found in the disciples who received it. You are given to know all that has been accomplished for your sake by Jesus. You are made to know His dominion over your enemies: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Your hearts are gladdened. Your fears are dispelled. You no longer huddle behind locked doors. Instead, you walk in the path of life that Jesus laid out for you. You know where that path leads—to your death and life, to your tomb and out again. That is what Jesus’ death and resurrection have accomplished for you.

You have a share in what Jesus has accomplished. You will have joy when the Lord Jesus comes with the clouds and stands so that every eye beholds Him. You will see His pierced hands and side. But there will be no wailing from you. Instead, there will be words of praise flowing from your mouth: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” For Jesus will say again what He spoke to His disciples and what He has spoken to you this day: “Peace be with you!”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.