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The rest of the world has already forgotten about Easter, if it ever paid much attention to it at all. Coming as late in the Spring as it did this year, Easter overlapped with Earth Day, and the message of God's salvation of the world by the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ had to share the spotlight with the ecological message that we must do all that we can to save the planet from destruction. I read that some churches tried to cleverly combine these two messages into one, which I'm afraid in some cases, may have resulted in a Trinitarian confusion involving the Father, the Son and Mother Earth.
But let there be no confusion among us here. God the Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ into this world to atone for the sin of the whole world by becoming sin FOR US. Christ Jesus took our place in the divine judgment against our sin and took all of the punishment that we deserve upon Himself, atoning for it by His most holy and precious blood on the cross. And the proof that Christ has completely justified us before God the Father, is that God raised Jesus from the dead ' for sin, which leads to death, has no hold on Him who abolished sin in His crucified flesh.
The cross, which to all the world is a hideous object of shame and death, has become the object around which the saints of God gather to worship their Lord and Savior. On Good Friday, the blood of Christ rained onto the roof of hell, and on Easter Sunday the roof collapsed when the same Christ descended into hell to announce death's demise – 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory'?
The rest of the world may have already forgotten about Easter, but the Christian Church will never forget and the celebration never ends. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. Every Sunday the Church gathers to hear the same old story of Christ's death for the sins of the world and His resurrection for the righteousness and salvation of all believers. It's the same old story every Sunday and it never gets old. Such is the case of us.
But the brand new, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church observed the very first Easter Sunday a lot differently than we do. No great organ anthems, trumpets and exuberant singing. No joyous proclamations of 'Christ is risen!' 'He is risen indeed.'
On Easter evening, the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors. They weren't celebrating a great victory. They were wondering what had gone wrong. They were afraid of what the ruling council of the Jews might do to them. Who knows that Judas wasn't cutting a deal with Chief Priests at this very moment, agreeing to reveal their location to the soldiers just as he had done to Jesus?
Nothing is so effective at silencing the spread of the gospel as fear. As long as the disciples remained afraid of what might happen to them, the report of the women that Christ had risen from the dead, would go no further. The news that the Chief Priests hadn't been able to conceal by the rock that sealed the entrance of the tomb, they would accomplish as long as the disciples fear kept them locked behind closed doors in an undisclosed room.
It was fear that sent Adam into hiding. Before there were rooms with doors to lock, Adam tried to hide behind a leaf. 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I WAS AFRAID, because I was naked, and I hid myself.' (Gen.3:10). The Lord God went looking for Adam and found him. From the very beginning, God seeks and finds those who try to hide for fear. We can try to hide from others and even from ourselves, but we can't hide from God.
So, just as He barged in on Adam, He barges in on His disciples. He enters right into their fear and gives them His peace. He walked right through the locked doors. They were no more capable of keeping Jesus out than the stone in front of the tomb was capable of keeping Him in.
I suppose He could have knocked. In John's Revelation, we hear Jesus speak to the Church in Laodicea, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.' (Rev.3:20). But surely His disciples on that first Easter night would not have answered His knock for fear.
But just what was it that they were so afraid of? What was it that they were so afraid the Chief Priests would do to them? It was the fear that these men could cause them bodily harm and death, just as they had done to Jesus. And so, 'like sheep without a shepherd, they harassed and helpless.' (Mat.9:36)
But Jesus is the good shepherd and the good shepherd comes to His sheep. He comes to them and stands 'among them.' The Good Shepherd hears the bleating of His sheep and He comes to them and shows them that they are not alone. He has not abandoned them or left them to fend for themselves. Even the cross and the sealed tomb could not keep Him from coming to them. 'Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you."
Not, 'why are you in here when you should be out there.' Not, 'don't you remember anything that I taught you or are you really such cowards'? But He speaks to them with gracious words, absolving words, live giving words. 'Peace be with you.'
His words give what they promise. 'Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.' 'Let not your hearts be troubled NEITHER LET THEM BE AFRAID.' (John 14:27) 'I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But I have overcome the world.' (John 16:33).
Interestingly, these frightened sheep don't react to His presence or even to His gift of peace until one more thing happens. 'When He had said this He showed them his hands and his side. THEN the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.' It was at the sight of His wounds that they finally reacted and their reaction was pure joy.
It was the wounds, the gruesome holes where the nails pierced His hands, the terrible gash where the spear pierced His side, that assured the disciples that this was none of than Jesus. The prophet Isaiah confirms that this is the conclusive evidence that this One standing among them is the Prince of Peace. 'He was WOUNDED for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his WOUNDS we are healed.' (Is.53:5).
'He showed them HIS hands.' He didn't tell them to look at THEIR hands, suggesting that they should find their confidence and their courage in what they have accomplished by their hands or what, with the proper program they could accomplish by their hands. 'He showed them HIS hands and HIS side.' 'And then the disciples were glad.'
It is said that in an English cathedral, there are two statues lying side by side. The statues are of a crusader knight and his lady. A close inspection reveals that the right hand is missing from the statue of the lady. The explanation goes like this. In one of the battles of the Crusades, an English knight, fighting under King Richard, was taken prisoner by the Muslims. He was sentenced to death by the Muslim general, Saladin. The knight begged Saladin, to set him free, not for his sake, but for the sake of the love his lady in England had for him. Saladin scoffed and said she would forget him and marry someone else before his blood dried. The knight assured him that her love was deeper than that. Saladin decided to test her love for this knight. He sent a letter to the lady asking her to prove her love for the knight by cutting off her right hand and sending it to him. She did just that, and when Saladin saw the hand sent to him in a bag, he set the knight free and sent him back to England.
Just as the lady's terrible wounds testify to the depth of her love for her knight, so the wounds of Christ forever testify to His love for His disciples and for you and me. These wounds are the signs that assure us of our Lord's love for us. Those wounds in HIS hands and HIS side tell you that He loves You and that YOUR sin is atoned for, YOUR death is conquered and He will raise you up to be with Him forever.
He has faced your greatest fear and now we may cast our fears upon Him for He cares for us. He has suffered death, even death on a cross, and risen from the dead, He lives and reigns to all eternity ' FOR YOU. All of this is just FOR YOU.
By His presence, His Word and His wounds, He turns our fear into peace and our mourning into joy.
'Jesus again said to them, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' These frightened men are the foundation upon which He will build His 'One, Holy, Christian and APOSTLOLIC Church.' These frightened little sheep will take the message of victory over death and the resurrection of the body to the whole world. But as they are here in this room, they are nothing but flesh. They have no spirit. And apart from the spirit there may be existence, but there is no life.
In the beginning, when God formed the man of the dust of the ground, the man was just a lifeless body until the Lord breathed into the man's nostrils the breath of life. And then the man became a 'living being.' Now, here in this little room, Jesus breathes His holy breath on these lifeless disciples. 'He breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit.' And His 'One, Holy, Christian and APOSTLOLIC Church' became a living body, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace and joy which only Jesus Christ can give.
This is surely not to be mistaken for earthly peace and joy. Earthly peace and joy depends upon the removal of a bad thing. A financially strapped person has peace and joy when he gets some money. A sick person has peace and joy when he becomes well again. That is, earthly peace and joy is based on the change in outward circumstances.
But the peace and joy that the Disciples of Christ have is a different thing than this altogether. The threat and the danger may remain. The grave still awaits them. But they are at peace and filled with joy because the peace and the joy that Christ gives to His Christians is based on an inner change. They have a new heart and a new mind and their peace and joy is based on the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and has found them, wherever they were hiding.
The peace and joy of this world is fragile and fleeting. If the outward, external situation changes, it flies away and disappears and the fear returns. But among the disciples of Jesus, things are different. The outward situation doesn't change at all, but within they have a peaceful and joyful heart. And this comes from the resurrection of Christ, because they see Christ's hands and side. (Luther. AE 69:342).
Jesus is among us here this morning. Hear His Word ' 'Peace be with you.' He puts His crucified and risen body into your hands to take and eat. And the blood that poured from His side, He gives to you to take and drink, all so that you may know that He has found us and is present among us. Therefore, do not be afraid. 'Lift up your hearts.' 'We lift them to the Lord.'