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I. A Disappointing Easter Celebration
I don’t know about you, but the way that the disciples of Jesus spent that first Easter Sunday has always struck me as more than just a bit strange. Wouldn’t it be much more along the lines of what we expect to hear if we read that “on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples and the women who were so devoted to Him, dyed eggs and hid them for the children to find and ate lots of candy and killed the fatted calf and poured the best wine and the banquet was frequently interrupted by one then another shouting, ‘Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!’”?
What I expect to read is that the disciples organized an Easter Parade and marched right through downtown Jerusalem and through the Temple, carrying pictures of the risen Jesus and singing, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, Alleluia. (Join me) Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia. Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia. Suffered to redeem our loss, Alleluia.”
That’s the way you spend Easter, right?
But instead of this, what DO we read? “On the evening of THAT DAY, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were FOR FEAR OF THE JEWS…” And they weren’t even all there. Thomas was not with them.
What were they thinking? What were they doing? What were they talking about?
For quite awhile they had found themselves on the wrong side of ‘politics.’ The ‘governing authorities,’ the chief priests, the council, the Sanhedrin, had done all that they could do to interfere with their freedom of speech and freedom of religion; false accusations, rumors, intimidation. And then, just in this last week, they witnessed politics at its worse; bribery, false arrests, blatant lies, rigged trials, stirring up the crowds. And then the ultimate injustice, they had Jesus, an innocent man, put to death.
It’s hard to tell if they still didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, or if they were simply too intimidated to go public with the news.
II. Jesus Among Them
And then, suddenly, there was Jesus, standing in the middle of the room. “Peace be with you.” He had promised them, “A little while and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while you will see me.” Jesus never fails to keep His promise.
And the disciples turned to see the voice that was speaking to them, and on turning they saw “seven gold lampstands, and in the midst of the lamp stands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, his voice was like the roar of many waves. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” (Rev.1:12-18).
Now that’s the way you celebrate Easter, right?
No, He showed them His hands and his sides. This was no mirage or cheap trick or a ghost. “Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” There were the holes made by the nails that pinned Him to the cross. And that was the gash where the Roman spear had stabbed Him in the side to be sure He was dead.
As long as we are on this side of heaven, these are the identifying marks of the resurrected and victorious Jesus; marks of utter weakness and failure and death and “folly to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1Cor. 1:18).
“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Their world had fallen apart. All of the danger and disappointment is still there. But Jesus is alive and Jesus is here, with me, for me. “Then the disciples were glad…” What an understatement that is.
A second time Jesus speaks His Word of peace. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.” With His first word of “peace” He sets them free from all of their fear and fills their heart with joy. Now with the second word of “peace” He sends them to feed others with His forgiveness and love and life.
“As the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you.” The Father sent His only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn the world but because He so loved the world. “So I am sending you.”
This faith is not meant to be kept private. It meant to be public, because there’s a world of people who live in darkness, and who will perish in the darkness, whom Jesus died for and rose for and whom He loves.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” Here, in this ‘little Pentecost,’ 50 days before the ‘big Pentecost,’ Jesus gives them the authority and power of the Holy Spirit to preach and to speak in His name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
III. The Disciples at the Temple
Fast forward just 50 or 60 days from that first Easter and this little Pentecost and what do we see? Now instead of huddled together in fear behind locked doors, too intimidated to go public, “They were all together in Solomon’s Portico.” “Solomon’s Portico” was one of the several porches that surrounded the Temple where Rabbis would teach. It was one of the places where Jesus taught in the Temple.
“They were ALL together.” “Peter and John and James and Andrew, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James and Mathias, who was chosen to take Judas’ place, and Philip AND THOMAS. The ‘one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church,’ in the public square. “And more than ever, believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
Politically speaking, nothing has changed. Same corrupt politicians and dirty politics as ever. Out of “jealousy” they arrest the Apostles for speaking about Jesus. They’re thrown into the clink, all 12 of them, Thomas too.
But if they couldn’t keep Jesus locked up in His tomb, how much less can they keep the Apostles locked up in a public prison? “During the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out…” (Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.)
The angel gives them instructions on what they were to do. “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
“Speak ALL the words of this Life.” That includes all those words that no one really wants to hear, like, “you shall have no other gods besides me.” And “you shall honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And “you shall not murder or commit adultery or steal or lie or covet.” And “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
A. False Sense of Security
One of the greatest deceptions that the common religion of our time has foisted on people is a FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY. The message is clear, ‘do you best,’ ‘try your hardest,’ ‘do good,’ ‘don’t do anything that everyone agrees is really bad,’ and you will be saved. “Just as I am without one plea” means that I’m just fine the way that I am and I have nothing before God to apologize for.
Fallen man is always tempted to think that his condition before God is better than it actually is. The word on the street is that what God really wants is for everyone to be good citizens and get along with one another. The critical question of the day is ‘what harm does it do?’
Far from embracing THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE that convict us of our sin before God, they are ignored and resented and those who are willing to speak them in the public square should expect to be intimidated and told to keep their religion private.
B. God in General.
A second great deception of our day involves the danger of believing in a god in general. If asked, ‘do you believe in God,’ the vast majority of our friends and neighbors and co-workers and classmates would say ‘yes,’ they believe in god. And then they would quickly tell you how they define ‘god’ and add that, in the spirit of maintaining peace and harmony in society, no matter how you define ‘god,’ all gods are basically the same. It doesn’t really matter which god you believe in. The important thing is that you believe.
To speak ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE is to speak of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who ALONE is the One, True God. This One, True God became Man in Jesus Christ, and He suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead to atone for the sin of the world and save sinful men and women. He is the Only way that God has given by which men may be saved.
Again, these are words that are bound to be received poorly if not with at least some hostility. Who doesn’t feel the pressure of SPEAKING ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE in a culture where such public speaking is strictly taboo?
Confronted by the Council, the Apostles were threatened, “We strictly charged you onto to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”
“And Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” What a stunning response from men who had celebrated the first Easter Sunday in hiding, “behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.”
The specific issues may be different, but the general culture in which the Christian church was born is very similar to the situation of the Church today. And it should not be too hard for us to compare the fears and doubts of the Apostles and the pressure that they were under to remain silent and keep their religion private, with our own fears and doubts and temptations to do the same.
We are blessed to have their example for our encouragement. And we are blessed by the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathed on us in our Baptism. And we too “must obey God rather than man.” And God has commanded us to ‘To stand in the public square, and SPEAK ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE.”
The disciples did the same for others as Jesus did for them. They stood among them and proclaimed His peace and showed them His wounds through their speaking. They showed them the mortal wounds of the immortal Christ that speak the light of the world into the darkness of this age. They spoke words like, “In Him was life and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4). “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have LIFE in himself.” (John 5:26)
They quoted Jesus. “He said to us, “I am the Resurrection and the LIFE. Whoever believes in Me, even though he die, yet shall he LIVE, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25). And He died and rose from the dead to prove it.
And they certainly wanted to bring the blood of Jesus on everyone who would be wetted by it. For by His blood He gives His forgiveness and life and salvation.
“And more than ever, believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:14).