It was just one week ago that we, along with a good majority of the world, were all excited about… nothing. The women went to the tomb expecting to find the body of their Lord, and ours. But they found… nothing. And it is just this ‘nothing’ that they found that caused us to rejoice and say, “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed, alleluia.”
The emptiness of the tomb in which our Lord and theirs was laid is cause for great joy for all who have pinned their hopes on this Jesus. Our destiny is all bound up together with His – so that if He died on the cross for the sin of the world – then we have also died to sin. And if He is risen from the dead for the life of the world – the we also have risen from the dead and are fully alive in Christ.
Last Sunday, we followed Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Matthew told us that it was “toward the dawn of the first day of the week.” (Mat.28:1) John tells us that it was “early” “on the first day of the week.”
They made their way to the tomb in that light before the sun rises, stretching out the stiffness in their joints, yawning, downcast, bracing themselves for the emotions that were sure to overtake them. Wondering out loud about that stone they had seen them roll over the entrance of the tomb. BUT THEN, they felt the ground move under their feet. Now running to the tomb, they jerk to a stop at the sight of an angel, as bright as lightning, and Temple guards, trembling like babies, face to the ground crying. And their fear and amazement and confusion all thoroughly mixed together with the words of the angel – “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen – as He said.” And then the invitation to “come see the place where He was laid.” And then the command to “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead…”
And then running like they have never run. And then the gasping to catch their breath while telling those in the house what they had seen and heard. And then Peter and John sprinting to the tomb to see for themselves. And for the rest of that day, how many times had these two Mary’s told and retold their story? How many questions were being asked? How many different explanations were being proposed?
Could it be that they had gone to the wrong grave? Could it be that His body had been stolen? Could it be that He wasn’t actually dead when they laid Him in the tomb and that He revived and escaped? And to every rational explanation, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary would have replied – “BUT THE ANGEL SAID, “HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID.” And with each new question and new answer, they would repeat their refrain, each time a little louder than before. “BUT THE ANGEL SAID, “HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID.”
To every one of their objections and rationalizations and “it just can’t be’s!” the women would reply, “BUT WE SAW HIM. WE HELD HIS FEET.” (And we imagine just what they saw as they held His feet.) AND HE SPOKE TO US. HE SAID, ‘DO NOT BE AFRAID; GO AND TELL MY BROTHERS TO GO TO GALILEE, AND THERE THEY WILL SEE ME.” (Mat.28:10)
What a day it had been. But it’s not over. Because as we are learning, with Jesus, it’s never over.
John writes, “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, Jesus came and stood among them…’”
It is as though the Easter morning story is now being played in reverse and every detail is turned around. The women had gone to the tomb to anoint His dead body with spices. They don’t know how they’ll get past the stone blocking the entrance. And they’re shocked to discover the stone rolled aside and the body of Jesus is not there.
Now, it’s Jesus who comes to them. The doors remain firmly in place and locked. He however walks right through them. He finds that the room NOT EMPTY – but filled with spiritually dead bodies. Once inside, it is He who anoints them, not with burial spices but with His Word and Spirit.
He said to them, “Peace be with you.” “When He said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were GLAD when they saw the lord.”
As you know, I don’t get too riled up over the choice of one English word instead of another to translate the New Testament Greek word. But here’s a case where “they were glad when they saw the Lord” doesn’t quite cut it. The NIV gets it much better by saying, “they were OVERJOYED!” It’s ‘over the top’ joy, busting out in shouts of joy, and songs of joy, and even tears of joy.
It’s the same word that describes the Shepherd when He finds His one, lost sheep and returns with it, “REJOICING.” It’s the explanation of the Father to His older son, “It was fitting to celebrate and be OVERJOYED, for this, your brother was dead, and is alive, was lost and is found.” (Luke 15).
The Good Shepherd comes to His frightened little lambs, who had all fled the scene when their Shepherd was arrested… and who had never really heard His thrice repeated Word that the Son of Man would “rise again on the third day…” He comes to them to anoint them with the sweetest perfume and the most fragrant spice of forgiveness for all of their sins. And the stench of their guilt is transformed into the ‘OVERJOYFUL’ GLADNESS that only Jesus Christ can give.
And then He put His peace on them a second time, “Peace be with you.” His first “peace to you” was to dissolve their guilt and turn their fear into joy. Now, with His second “Peace be with you,” He tells them that He intends to send them out into the world to give to the world just exactly what He has given to them. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
This frightened, little flock of lambs are the foundation upon which our Lord will build His church to carry His Word and His wounds and His Spirit from one age to the next until the end of the ages. They will take the announcement of His victory over death and the grave for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world – and the resurrection to eternal life for all who will believe this – to “all nations.”
This is the Word that Peter, who was in that house on the 1st Easter, announces to the congregation at Rome and that is as wonderful for us to hear today as it was then. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a LIVING HOPE through the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you REJOICE, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-7)
Here we are, in our houses, behind our closed doors – “grieved by various trials” – and yet, not in fear, because our risen Lord is with us, in our home, with His Word of “peace to you,” and with His wounds, in which is the forgiveness of all of our sins, and with His breath breathed out on us through this very word that proclaims the Good News of Easter to us. And we are ‘glad.’
Our Lord’s gift of “peace” and the Spirit’s gift of “joy,” is not to be confused with earthly peace and joy. Earthly peace and joy depends upon a change in the outward circumstances of our life in this world. If the outward situation changes, we have peace and joy. If they change again, and we all know how quickly they can change, our peace evaporates and fear returns.
But the Christian is not dependent for his peace and joy on the outward circumstances of his life in this world. As long as he knows that Jesus is with him, he finds his peace and joy in the Words and the wounds of His Lord, whether the outward circumstances change or not.
There was one disciple who was not in the house with the others on that first Easter evening. When they caught up with him, his friends told him the Good News. “We have seen the Lord.”
That’s the first recorded sermon on record that the disciples preach after their ordination. It’s short and sweet. After the Day of Pentecost, sermons will get much longer than this. But here, it’s simply a matter of the eyewitnesses declaring what their eye has witnessed. “We have seen the Lord.” It’s just what every sermon should be – a telling and retelling of what the eyewitnesses saw when they saw the Lord.
But Thomas was neither ‘glad’ nor ‘over joyed’ because he refused to believe it. Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose from dead on the 3rd day for our justification. But apart from faith that believes – “He did that for ME,” it has no effect.
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” For Thomas, the eyewitness testimony of the disciples of Jesus is just not enough.
Now, a week after Easter, that’s right where we are today – a week after Easter, the disciples are once again together in the house. This time Thomas was there too. Again the doors are locked. And again, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
“Then He said to Thomas,” as though He had come just for this one, lost sheep of His, “put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.”
And by the power that is in His Word and His wounds to create faith in the heart and mind of an unbeliever, “Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’” And the Good Shepherd has found His lost sheep and brought him home. And shares in the joy of the Shepherd.
This is an AMAZING confession of faith that we dare not miss. What springs from Thomas’ mouth goes beyond what his eye has seen or his hands have touched. The early church Father Augustine says, “he saw and touched a man, and confessed God whom he did not see or touch.”
Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE BELIEVED.”
That’s you and me that Jesus is talking about here. We are the ones who have “not seen, yet have believed.” That’s you and me to whom Peter is speaking when he says, “though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
For now, we live by faith and not by sight. Though we cannot see Him, He is with us just as He promised – ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mat.28:20). Though we cannot see Him, we hear His voice speaking to us through the apostle’s word, “peace be with you.” “I forgive you all of your sins.” We long for the day when we, like Thomas, will be invited to hold out our hands that He can put His crucified body into them and His shed blood to our lips to eat and drink.
But for now, even from our homes and behind our closed doors, let us be ‘believing’ and not ‘unbelieving’ that we may have His peace and be glad.