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Worship Theme: Jesus Is Our Joy
Sermon Theme: Jesus Didn't Need a Key; He Is the Key
Transcript of this week's message:
“It’s the truth,” said the women, “We actually did see angels. We know it sounds crazy, but they told us he’s alive.” Peter piped in, “That’s right! John and I raced to the tomb early this morning. It’s empty, and the grave clothes were neatly folded. What does that tell you? And then this afternoon he appeared to me.” “Yeah, right, Peter. You were probably hallucinating because the last time he looked at you was with that look of utter disappointment.” “Alive?” said James, “That’s impossible! He raised Lazarus from the dead. We saw that as proof that he has divine power, but he was dead as a doornail Friday afternoon and buried. He must have lost his power. I think it’s time to be realistic and figure out what we’re going to do now that he’s gone.” “You’re right,” Andrew added, “We’re going to need a plan on how to get out of town without the authorities knowing. They did away with him, the big threat to their pride and pocketbooks and power, and now they will likely come after us!”
How would you feel if you were there, huddled in that house in Jerusalem with Jesus’ first followers? With the specter of death spooking around, do you think you would have a flash of fear floating through your veins, a dollop of doubt? The apostle John, who was there that Easter evening, reports in chapter twenty of his Gospel that something amazing then happened: Jesus didn’t need a key; he is the key.
Normally, fear isn’t something we sign up for. But it happens. It’s real. Just look around at the folks wearing masks these days. Check out people’s eyes when you walk by them in the grocery store aisle, or, God forbid, step closer than six feet behind them at the self-check. But even before the virus threat, I locked my car. I locked the house. I avoided dark alleys. I trust that homeland security and our law enforcement heroes will prevent bad guys from bashing down the church doors. But the real source of fear for me comes from inside. How could I do such stupid things and say such hurtful things when I know better? How can I face God and God’s people? The fear caused by guilt and facing the consequences is awful. It’s like being locked in a room, and the door has no knob and no key hole.
That’s what Jesus’ first followers must have felt. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews … Fear. In spite of the reports coming in from Mary of Magdala, from the other women, from Peter, from the Emmaus disciples, they had to reckon with fear from outside the doors of that room and fear from inside the doors of their hearts. On the outside they were worried that the religious leaders would get Roman storm-troopers to bash down the doors and do to them what they did to Jesus. On the inside they bore all kinds of guilt for not understanding, for not believing, for running away.
All of a sudden, with the doors locked … Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hand and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” Peace is more than “Shhh! Let’s keep it quiet.” It’s the calming and soothing reassurance that, “Yes, you’ve goofed it all up by your sin, but God no longer counts your sin against you.” Jesus didn’t need a key to get into that room, and he didn’t need a key to get into their hearts. He is the key, bringing peace with God and removing fear.
Does the thought that you wronged other people and thus wronged God bother you? Are you afraid of the consequences, not just getting verbally spanked by those around you, which you obviously deserve, but getting kicked into outer darkness by God? Jesus has risen. He is alive. He comes into your hearts and removes fear with the announcement, “I paid the price so you won’t have to. You’re OK with God. You’re at peace with God.” Jesus doesn’t need a key to get into our hearts. He is the key, removing fear of the eternal consequences of sin.
Social media has been a blessing for those who use it to stay connected during this time of “safer-at-home.” You probably also know that it has been abused over the last several years by those who think it’s funny to spread “fake news.” Whether fake news makes you chuckle or shake your head in disgust, wouldn’t you agree that “fake news” can spread doubt? Oh-oh! I just said the word “doubt,” and we have now stepped in front of one of the biggest challenges we Christians face today, like stepping in front of a sixty-miles-per-hour freight train. We live in a world that feasts on doubt. “How do you know the Bible is true?” “How do you know Jesus is God?” “What makes you think what you believe is better than what others believe?” And doubt is disturbing. It’s like being locked in a room with the floor shaking, making you feel unsettled and uncertain.
That’s what Thomas the Twin must have felt like. He had heard the reports. The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Doubt. How can it be true?
All of a sudden, though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” If you did not know this Bible account and had never heard it before, what would you expect Jesus to say? “Thomas! If I told you once, I told you a dozen times. I came to Jerusalem to die for sinners and to rise again to prove it’s true. How much wax did you have in your ears? Were you wearing a mask over your eyes? How did a lame man, whom everyone knows was crippled from birth, get up and walk? How did a leper, whose skin disease everyone knows was incurable, get a clean bill of health? How did Lazarus, whose flesh had already begun to decompose and stink after four days in a tomb, come trundling out, smiling and smelling like a rose? Thomas, I did not need a key to get out of my tomb. I did not need a key to get into this room. What’s the matter with you?” But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead, he showed Thomas his hands and feet and said, “Stop doubting and believe. This is no hoax, Thomas. My payment for your sins is real. Because of what I did God loves you and always will.” Jesus didn’t need a key to get into that room, and he didn’t need a key to get into Thomas’ heart. He is the key, removing doubt.
Then Jesus worked another miracle. He peered across the centuries like riding in a futuristic time machine and, with better insight than using a catheter-tube micro-camera, he peers into your heart and mine, sees us locked up and shaking with our doubts, and says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the greatest and most highly attested miracle of all time. He was seen not by a few but by thousands. And think of this, why would anyone, especially those in this room in Jerusalem, be willing to die for a hoax? When you connect with a friend and wish them a happy Easter season, you don’t have to talk only about Easter baskets with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and whether or not they ate ham last week. Those may be fun, but what counts most about Easter is our risen Lord. Jesus doesn’t need a key to get into our hearts. He is the key, removing doubt.
There it is on the news every day, the death toll from the Corona virus. This pandemic business has slapped the subject of death right across our faces. It makes us face the reality of thinking about our death. Yuck! Death seems so scary, so confining, especially if you have ever witnessed a casket being closed, then lowered into a hole in the ground, sealed with a cement slab on top and six feet of dirt.
The disciples of Jesus knew he was buried, laid in a cave, and sealed in there by a huge stone. His death seemed so final, so confining. With the doors locked … Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Jesus’ resurrection made the difference. Oh yes! They would die physically, but not eternally. That’s what he told Lazarus’ sisters even before he called Lazarus out of his tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die [physically]; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die [eternally]” (John 11:25-26). Jesus didn’t need a key to get into that room, and he didn’t need a key to get into their hearts. He is the key, removing the sting of death.
The apostle John was there in that room on Easter evening. He personally saw, touched, and talked to the living Lord Jesus. That’s why he adds a special ending to this chapter just for us. Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Do you know and believe that you deserve God’s anger forever? Do you know and believe that Jesus paid for all those sins and that he rose from the dead to prove that God has accepted his payment? Then you will not die in hell. You will live forever. Oh yes! You and I will experience physical death if Judgment Day does not occur first. But we will never be separated from God’s love and acceptance and kindness. We will never experience eternal death. Jesus doesn’t need a key to get into your home or apartment. He doesn’t need a key to get into our hearts. Jesus is the key, removing the last enemy, eternal death, giving us everlasting life.
Jesus didn’t just unlock the doors of the disciples’ hearts. He propelled them out the doors of that room to tell others so they, too, can be released from the grip of fear and doubt. He gave them keys. “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’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Those keys, to point out sin and then point people to the Savior, are in your hands and mine. During this pandemic and “safer-at-home” time, people are worried, uncertain, afraid. What if this virus situation is God’s way of unlocking doors of opportunity for you not only to offer assistance but by sharing with people the key they need to remove fear and doubt and the anxiety of being separated from God? You can reach out to a friend or relative or classmate or neighbor by phone, text, email, or social media to calm their fears, assuring them that a virus might lock us in our houses, but Jesus doesn’t need a key to get into our hearts or theirs. He is the key. Amen.
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