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.