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April 11, 2021 Sermon

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John 20:21-31

  Peace be with you Jesus said to that group of disciples who were hiding behind closed doors on Easter Sunday. They had not been feeling very peaceful. Things had not gone the way any of them expected. Jesus had been betrayed by one of the twelve, a man hand picked for leadership by Jesus himself. He had been condemned and crucified. Now the tomb was empty, and all kinds of stories were being told about what had happened. The Jewish leaders were blaming them, saying they moved his body, but they knew that wasn’t true. The women claimed that they had seen him, but could they be trusted? Then, there he was, standing among them, speaking to them, connecting them to peace, a kind of peace that passes understanding; a kind of peace that this world can’t give.

  Were they lacking peace because they were worried about what the Jewish leaders might do? Were they worried that they too might be arrested, put on trial, and be executed? Jesus says, Peace be with you. Look, I was dead and now I’m alive forever and ever. I have defeated death. No matter what the enemy might be planning, God’s plan is that you live with him forever, and his plans never fail.

  Brothers, are you worried about the ministry, about what you will do and how you will be able to do it without me right there with you? Peace be with you. I am commissioning you. I am sending you out in my name. Do you think that I would not be with you as the Father has been with me? Do you think I would let you fail and dishonor my name?

  Receive the Holy Spirit. Remember the prophets and kings of old? When they were commissioned to do things in God’s name, they received the Holy Spirit. God came upon them and gave them the ability to do what he was asking them to do. The same is true for you.

  My disciples, are you wondering about what it is you are to do? Nothing has changed there, nor will it as long as the earth endures.  Proclaim the gospel. Do what God did with Adam and Eve. Point out sin. Call people to repentance. Point them to me for forgiveness. Tell everyone what John the Baptist did, what I did – repent and believe the good news. Tell those who confess their sins, like David, that their sins have been forgiven. Tell them that the reason they are forgiven is that I came as their substitute. I lived a perfect, sinless life in their place. I suffered the punishment they deserve for their sins. Tell them that the proof of their forgiveness is that I have risen from the dead. Tell them that, after my resurrection, I told you whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Connect them to peace in the same way that you are connected to peace, by telling them that by God’s grace they have forgiveness of sins and the certain hope of eternal life in my name.

   My friends, know that your ministry will not always be joyful. There will be those who hate you and persecute you. There will be those who write you off as crazy, or at least backward and uninformed. They will call what you know to be good, evil; and what you know to be evil, good. They will refuse to admit that they and all people are by nature sinful. They will refuse to admit that they have done anything that is sinful. They will claim that God has changed his mind and what he called sin in the past is now acceptable in his sight. As difficult as it is, you are called to disturb their peace, to remind them that there is no peace for the wicked, that those who continue to live in what God calls sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they still refuse to repent and believe, to trust in me for forgiveness, you must tell them that they are not forgiven. They might have peace in their dealings with the world, but they are not at peace with God.

  Jesus connected those who were there on Easter Evening to peace through his word of peace, but Thomas was not there. When they saw Thomas later, everyone who had been there tried to connect him to peace. They kept telling him over and over again we have seen the Lord. Jesus really is alive. All his promises are true. Death has been defeated. Sin is forgiven. Jesus is our peace. He gives us peace with God, a peace that passes understanding.

  But Thomas didn’t have peace. He refused to believe what his friends, those he knew best, were telling him. He demanded proof. He stubbornly refused to accept what they told him and demanded the right to see Jesus himself. For a whole week he lived without peace because of his stubborn refusal to trust the word of those who had seen Jesus.

  It’s interesting to think about the way the others treated Thomas. They could have taken his refusal to believe them as an insult and separated themselves from him. After all they had been through together, how could he doubt them? Did he think they were lying, just making up stories? They might have been tempted to say, “we tried” and given up, shaken the dust off their feet against him. But it seems that they didn’t give up on Thomas. They didn’t break fellowship with him. He was with them as they gathered again a week later.

  Isn’t that a good reminder for us? What do we do with someone who refuses to believe when we tell them that Jesus lived, died and rose again to be their savior? How long do we keep on telling them? The answer seems to be, as long as they continue to listen. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe them, but he continued to meet with them and listen. For two years, the governor Flelix kept Paul in prison hoping for a bribe, but he continued to listen to what Paul had to say. Paul didn’t stop preaching to him. As long as someone is willing to keep listening, even though they seem to be stubbornly refusing to believe what we tell them about Jesus, like the disciples, we don’t want to give up. We want to be just as stubborn about telling them about Jesus until either the Holy Spirit removes their stubbornness, or they refuse to even listen to what we tell them about Jesus.

  We know what happened in the case of Thomas. Jesus appeared to the group that was meeting the Sunday after Easter when Thomas was there. This time Thomas heard his greeting, peace be with you. Jesus was there to connect him to peace. He did it by making it clear to him that, although he had not seen Jesus, Jesus had seen and heard him. He used his own words to convict him. Thomas, put your finger here and look at my hands. Take you hand and put it into my side. That’s what you said you had to do before you would believe, right? Okay, here’s your chance. Do not continue to doubt, literally to be without faith, but believe. Receive the peace I won for you and I want you to have, so much so that I am giving you the opportunity to do what you said you required to believe. My peace, the peace that passes understanding, the forgiveness of sins and the certain hope of heaven, needs to be received by faith.

  In that moment the Holy Spirit smashed Thomas’s stubborn heart and, without putting his finger in the marks of the nails, without taking his hand and putting it into his side, Thomas confessed, my Lord and my God!

  With these words, Thomas illustrates for us the essence of faith. Notice that he did not say that Jesus was Lord and God. That would have been true, but it would not have been an indication of his faith. It’s like saying, “yes, the Bible says that Jesus is Lord and God.” That states an understanding of what the Bible says, but it doesn’t state whether you believe it to be true or not. Faith is not simply parroting what you have heard, or what you might have been taught in school. Faith is not saying, “my family goes to a church that teaches that Jesus is God and Lord.” That doesn’t say anything about you. Faith is, when after hearing that Jesus is God and Lord, the Holy Spirit overcomes our stubborn unbelief and enables us to confess with Thomas; “Jesus is MY Lord and MY God.” It is only then that our hearts will be flooded with a peace that passes understanding, the peace of knowing forgiveness and eternal life is ours because of Jesus.

  Jesus graciously gave Thomas what he asked for. He gave him the opportunity to see his resurrected body. But he makes it clear that we should not expect him to do that for us. He appeared on earth for a very limited time. While he was on earth, he performed many miraculous signs. John uses that word for miracles for a reason. His miracles were not just intended to show his power, or even to impress people. His miracles were signs, things that he did to back up his claim that he is indeed God and Lord, the promised Messiah, the Savior.

  Jesus would not remain on earth to continue to perform his miraculous signs for each generation. Instead, he would send the Holy Spirit to these Apostles to guide them and keep them from error as they recorded for us what he said and did. So, John says, Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God- That with Thomas you my confess, Jesus is MY Lord and MY God. And that by believing you may have life in his name. That’s why Jesus told the group who saw him the week after Easter, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

  Through the word, the good news about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Holy Spirit connects you to peace. He connects you by enabling you to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God. He won forgiveness for your sins. He defeated death and won eternal life for you. He enables you to confess with Thomas, “Jesus, you are My Lord and My God”, so that you too are connected to peace now, and forever.