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Today’s text is John 20:19-31. We’ll begin with verses 19-23:
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! 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 his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
Let me start out by asking a question: “Do you think there can be peace without war?”
There are different kinds of wars:
- The war on crime: criminals will continue to commit crimes unless the authorities arrest and prosecute them.
- The war on rebellion: Children will push the limits and disobey unless parents act to stop it.
- The war on cancer: cancer will spread and kill unless it is treated.
- The war on dictators: dictators seek to expand their power and control until they are stopped.
- The war on sin: sin is disobedience and rebellion to God’s word and will. If not dealt with properly, it will result in suffering in hell forever.
That is the nature of sin and evil. That is why peace comes at a price. The price consists of courts and prisons, time-out chairs, chemotherapy, military action, and Jesus’ death on the cross. Peace doesn’t just happen naturally. It has to be pursued and maintained, because we live in a world that has sinful and evil people in it.
The disciples knew firsthand that the world had sinful and evil people in it. They saw Jesus unjustly arrested and falsely accused by the religious leaders of their day. They saw the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hand Jesus over to be crucified to appease an angry mob.
In our gospel lesson for today, we heard that the disciples were hiding in a room behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They had heard from the women that Jesus had risen from the dead, but their action showed that they did not believe it.
Then, suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst. He was not a ghost or an illusion. He stood in their presence in flesh and blood.
The proof of his death was evident from the holes in his hands where he was nailed to the cross. He died. He was buried. Now, he was back from the dead. He had conquered the grave.
But was that good news or bad news for the disciples?
Jesus could have said to them:
“I’ll think about forgiving you traitors, but first, you’re going to have to pay a price for your disloyalty. You will have to work your way back into my good graces. You are going to have to prove yourselves.”
Jesus did not say those kinds of things to those scared disciples. Instead he said: “Peace be with you.”
In other words, “I am here with you, and I bring my peace to you.”
Jesus came to this earth to declare war against sin, evil and the devil. The only way for him to defeat sin, evil and the devil was to lay down his perfect sinless life for us imperfect sinners. It is called the great exchange, the sinless one for the sinful ones. Jesus gave his life in the war against sin for us so that we might have peace with God.
Listen to me, there is still a war going on. I am not talking about a war with guns, grenades and bombs. I am talking about a war for the souls of men, women and children.
Jesus and his church are in a war against the devil. We are fighting for the souls of every man, woman and child on this planet who will end up in either heaven or hell. Each one of us who is a follower of Jesus is also a soldier of Christ. We are called:
- to action.
- to work and serve the kingdom of God.
- to fight the good fight of the faith.
- to share the life giving message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul said these words:
“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
Jesus is our commanding officer:
- He wants us to listen to what he has to say.
- He wants us to follow him.
- He wants us to do his will.
- He wants us to fight the good fight of the faith.
- He wants us to count the cost and pick up the cross and follow him.
Many Christians want to stay in their nice comfortable pews or in their nice comfortable houses rather than pick up their cross and follow Jesus into battle. Many Christians have let the fear of rejection, ridicule or persecution silence them from sharing the good news.
I want to tell you that there have been times I have been afraid to follow Jesus and needed a good dose of courage.
Courage is the not the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing in spite of your fears.
Maybe you are afraid to fight the good fight of the faith. That is understandable. Jesus had the same problem with the disciples.
That is why when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said: “Peace be with you.” It was Jesus’ way of saying I forgive you, I am with you, it will be OK. Then Jesus promoted them from disciples to apostles when he said to them: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Jesus called each one of them and Jesus sent each one of them. Jesus called each one of us and Jesus sends each one of us. May we stand up and be counted. May each one of us answer the call to serve our Lord out of love for him and our neighbor. May we share the good news to family, friends and those around us who ask us about our hope in Christ because their eternity depends on it.
Peace be with you. Amen.