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Worship Theme: The risen Christ gives his Church peace

Sermon Theme: Proof of Peace

On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” What was it like in that room that evening? Did each stare sadly at the floor as they reflected on the events of the past few days? “I can’t believe Judas betrayed him! One of us! And now Judas is dead! I can’t believe they treated Jesus like that. How could he let them do that to him?” Perhaps each disciple was stewing on their own personal guilt as well. “How could I do that? Why did I run away? How could I let myself fall asleep in Gethsemane? How could I deny him?”

Or maybe now the room was abuzz with confusion and conversation. By this time, the women had seen the empty tomb, an angel, and Jesus had appeared to them earlier that morning. Mary Magdalene personally saw Jesus as well. Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen it empty. Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus had just walked and talked with Jesus, then ran back to tell the others who were here in this room. Luke records this in his gospel, “There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’” We can put this all together to assume that by this time in the evening there was enough evidence for them to be fairly certain Jesus had in fact risen. And yet, how does John introduce this story? He says they were locked behind closed doors in fear.

Oh, how Satan preys on us in our weak moments and oh how our sinful nature loves to dwell on our doubts and fears! The disciples had every reason to believe that Jesus had done everything he came for. Last week Pastor Hackmann reminded us just how often Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer, die, and rise again. Not only did he foretell it, but he did it. The angel even told the women that morning that he had risen just as he said. Not only did Jesus promise it, and not only did Jesus do it, but several of them had even personally seen Jesus that very day. Yet here they are locked in a room and afraid!

Fear got the best of their feeble hearts as all the unknowns were plaguing them—What if they were next? What if the Jews hunted them down? What if they were killed too?

But when Satan gets you going on worldly fears, he wants to push you further in fear to start doubting your relationship with God. We could imagine that lurking beneath those worldly fears the disciples also wondered things like—What if Jesus holds our sins against us? What if what I did is unforgivable? What if the Jews find us and kill us but God wants nothing to do with us in his heaven? What if I’ve ruined my relationship with Jesus?

So, what would Jesus say to this, these fearful, doubting, confused disciples? “How could you! . . . I told you so! . . . Why didn’t you listen? . . . Why are you afraid? . . . Don’t you get it yet?” No, not at all. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” The first word that Jesus said to them was peace.

What a beautiful word! On the one hand, peace is the absence of strife. In relationships, when there is peace there is harmony. Nations at peace aren’t fighting with each other. People at peace don’t have any conflict. In other words, when there is peace there is a good relationship.

At the same time, peace can also mean prosperity—as in spiritual prosperity. So, when there is peace with God, all the blessings of his love and grace are coming your way.

There on that first Easter evening, Jesus appeared to his disciples and proclaimed to them the most wonderful news— “Peace. You now have peace. your sins are forgiven—yes even deserting me and denying me, yes even your doubts and fears—all your sin is forgiven. I took the sin from you. Look at my hands and side. See where I bled for you. See that I died for you. See that I crushed Satan for you. But now I’m alive. I repaired and restored your relationship with the Father. I have brought to you every blessing of God’s love and grace. You have peace.” Jesus had won peace, Jesus proclaimed peace, and Jesus stood among them as the Proof of Peace.

 Note how this Proof of Peace instantly changed the disciples. The very next verse says, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” But I want you to consider for a moment what actually changed for the disciples at that time. Their worldly situation was the same. The Jewish leaders were still a real threat. The Romans were still a world super power. They were still part of a small minority of people who followed a Jesus that most people didn’t like.

You see, it’s not that Jesus crushed the empire or dismantled the Sanhedrin or gave the disciples Marvel Avenger-like superpowers so that now they would no longer be afraid. No. Jesus simply gave them proof of their new status. They now knew they had peace. They could go back into the world with the confidence of their sins being forgiven. They could face opposition knowing that every blessing of God’s love and grace was theirs, that he would work every situation for their good and his glory. They knew that even if they did die at the hands of enemies, which most of them later did, they would be with Jesus forever in heaven. They had Proof of Peace in the risen Savior and that filled them with joy.

As we consider this story today, it strikes me how relatable it is to today. Being locked behind closed doors in fear is an all too familiar scene for us. It seems like that’s been the norm for the last 12 months or so. It was just over a year ago that a stay-at-home order was issued in most states including ours. Though opinions vary, many were in fact locked behind closed doors. “What if I get COVID? I have a health condition. What if I spread it to someone in my family with compromised health?” Some have maintained the Covid caution and stayed behind closed doors ever since.

Almost exactly two months after nationwide lockdown orders, a man by the name of George Floyd died in Minneapolis. Within hours of that, the doors were locked again in fear—some in fear of the police, some in fear of protests, some in fear of riots. I have a cousin who works in health care who has a downtown Minneapolis high-rise condo. She was under lockdown for COVID and watched from her windows as her city burned. Other similar incidents led to more fear in cities across the country, including Kenosha and Wauwatosa.

By November news broke out of a shooting at Mayfair Mall. Neighborhood doors locked again in fear. On the day of Epiphany, January 6, people stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. while national leaders ran, locked their doors, and hid in fear inside the Capitol, and many others across the country did the same. Locked down in fear seems to be a recurring theme, doesn’t it?

But you don’t need to be physically locked behind a door to be captive to fear. Some are locked up by the fears lurking in their own hearts. What if God holds that sin against me? What if I’m unforgivable? What if my guilt is too great? What if God won’t work things for my good? What if I die from Covid or from civil unrest or from this cancer or health problem and what if God doesn’t want me in his heaven?

We have every reason for confidence. We just walked through Lent. We just celebrated Easter last week with magnificent splendor. But oh, Satan fills my heart with fears, just like the disciples. Oh, how my sinful nature wants to doubt it’s real or true just like Thomas who refused to believe and doubted even though literally everyone he knew had seen Jesus alive. And for all this weakness and worry, for all my doubts and despair, what will Jesus say to me? “How could you! . . . You’re doubting me again? . . . Why don’t you listen? . . . Why are you afraid? . . . Don’t you get it yet?”

No, not at all. Today the risen Savior appears to us and proclaims the most joyous word—peace. “Peace be with you.” “Look at my hands and feet and side. Stop doubting and believe. See where I bled for you and your sins. See that I died for you. See that I crushed Satan for you. But now I’m alive. I repaired and restored your relationship with the Father. I have brought to you every blessing of God’s love and grace. You have peace.” The risen Savior gives us Proof of Peace, and oh how we too are filled with joy!

Please note again what exactly is changing with the peace that Jesus gives us. Jesus did not rise on Easter morning to crush COVID or dismantle earthly kingdoms or give us Marvel Avenger-like super powers. When you walk out these church doors each week, nothing will be different from the moment you walked in—except this—you have been reassured once again that you have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us peace precisely so that we can go back into this world and know with confidence that all our sins are forgiven. He gives us peace so that we can face opposition knowing that all the blessings of God’s love and grave belong to us. He gives us peace knowing that even if we die—from COVID or cancer, from injustice or riot, from enemy, terrorist, or just old age—we know that we will be with him in the peace of heaven. You see, Jesus doesn’t change our worldly situation with the peace that he offers. No, Jesus works a far greater miracle than that. Jesus changes our sinful hearts from doubtful and fearful to confident and joyful because we have Proof of Peace in our risen Savior.

Maybe still yet there is a little part of us that wishes to be there. If only we could have been in that room to see and touch Jesus! If only Jesus would personally proclaim this peace to us, too! Friends, what joy is ours that Jesus does just this—just in different ways today.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes to us in the Word and through his own words of Scripture he proclaims to us, “Peace be with you.” After all, John reminded us today that these words, “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.” You want proof of peace? Then go right to Jesus himself, who appears to you in his Word!

“But I need more proof!” my fearful heart says. The gracious Savior knows this. So, Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes to you in the Word along with water. He washes you, cleanses you, forgives you, and claims you to be his own as you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have something to hear and to touch, water and the Word, as yet another Proof of Peace.

 “But I need more proof!” the doubting heart says. The gracious Savior smiles and replies, “My child, then come to my table. Come see me face to face. Come touch my flesh. Take it. Eat it. Drink my blood. The very flesh and blood that were given for you for the forgiveness of sins. Take and eat. Taste and see. You have peace.”

There will never be a time in this sinful world when there is not an opportunity for fear. Flick on the news or scroll through social media and you’ll see plenty of evidence of a broken sinful world filled with sinful people. But Jesus knows given the fears and doubts that assail. He rose to life to prove his victory, then he appeared to his disciples to give Proof of Peace. Today, the Savior still comes to us. Through Word and Sacraments, the Savior appears to us and declares the same good news won at his cross and proven at his tomb, “Peace be with you.” We have Proof of Peace now and forever because Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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