Our gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter recounts two incidents that happen within the space of a week. The first happens on the evening of the very first Easter, the Sunday on which Jesus rose from the dead. The second happens one week later. Because this lesson comes up every year, it may be worn from familiarity. But let’s ask God to help us to experience it in a fresh, new way this morning.
Freshness and newness, in fact, fill our lesson. Newness is what it’s all about!
John tells us that the first incident happens “On the evening of the first day of the week.”
The phrasing is a deliberate reference to the first creation account in Genesis, which tells us that God created in seven days.
The ancient rabbis taught that the human fall into sin happened on the seventh day. And for centuries, they had looked ahead to a “new day” or an “eighth day,” when God would create anew and that perfect peace--the perfect shalom--that existed between God and His creation on the first through sixth days would be restored.
It’s for this reason that many ancient and contemporary baptismal fonts are eight-sided. Here's a sampling of what I mean...
When a person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God makes them part of the new creation secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The baptized are ushered into the perfect shalom of God’s eighth day, the first, only, and eternal day of the new creation, the eighth day that never ends.
It’s from this understanding of things that Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
As Jesus’ disciples huddled behind locked doors on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, they had no idea that the new creation had begun. They were still quaking in fear before the old creation.
Take a look at our lesson, starting at verse 19: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, 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.”
In the new creation, the Word made flesh, Jesus, is no longer constrained by the limitations of humanity that He once voluntarily accepted to meet us where we live. This goes beyond being able to walk through walls (although that’s pretty cool). Now, Jesus moves freely between time and eternity, flesh and spirit, so that all who believe in Him have the peace of knowing that not even death can hold us down.
Like our Savior, beyond the gates of death, we will live untethered from death, untethered from fear.
And we can experience that eternal reality even now as Jesus comes to us in His Word, in the sacraments, and in the fellowship of Christian believers.
How confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear are we to be? Back to our lesson, starting at verse 21: “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! [‘Here’s My shalom,’ Jesus is saying.] 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’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
We should be confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear, first of all, because Jesus breathed on them. He breathes on us.
Jesus infuses us with the very life of God, when we are baptized children of God and when we trust Christ and His promises of new life, forgiven sin, constant presence, and eternity.
Jesus breathing on us echoes what God did at the creation of the first man, as recounted in Genesis 2:7, part of that book's second creation account: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
In the Old Testament Hebrew, the word translated as breath, ruach, can also mean wind or Spirit. The same is true of the Greek word, pneuma.
Jesus breathes the pure breath of heaven, the Holy Spirit, into all who believe. He makes all who believe in Him brand new. Why shouldn’t we be at peace, confident, hopeful?
We should also be confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear because God, the almighty God of the universe, has entrusted us, His new creatures, with an important mission.
It’s the most important mission in the world. He’s given it to us even though, alone, we are completely unqualified to discharge it.
But Jesus fills us with His holy breath and then tells us that, in His name, we’re to proclaim His forgiveness to those who repent and believe and to proclaim God’s condemnation--in hopes that they will repent and believe--to those who balk at repentance and faith.
We’re to wield what Jesus calls elsewhere, “the keys of the kingdom.”
We’re to do so with humility and love. We’re to do this without confidence in ourselves, without a sense of superiority. Christians should never act "holier than thou"!
As followers of Jesus, you and I know that we are nothing without Jesus. We know that we have been saved not by our own goodness, but by what Jesus accomplished for us in His death and resurrection.
But Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit and says, effectively, “Act on My behalf, just as I have acted on behalf of My Father.”
Listen: When Jesus saves you from sin and death and then gives you the same mission He fulfilled on this earth, it doesn’t mean that your life on this earth will be easy. But it does mean that as long as you walk seeking to follow and share Christ each day, your life will be imbued with the same sense of possibility, peace, and hope that must have filled Adam when God breathed life into him.
Christian, Jesus says that you are a new creation.
So that leads to some questions: What are you going to do about it? How many people are you going to invite to come along with you in experiencing the new life you have through Jesus?
And keep in mind that Jesus refuses to give up on anybody. He cares about everyone--from the most indifferent churchgoer to the most rabid atheist. He loves and died and rose for all people. He wants all people to believe that He “is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing...may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
All of which leads us to Thomas.
How many Thomases are there in your life?
How many times are we Thomases?
Keep in mind that, according to the original Greek in which John wrote his gospel, Jesus doesn’t describe Thomas the Apostle as a doubter; He says that Thomas is unbelieving.
How often do we regard the good news of Jesus or the promises of God with unbelief?
God’s Word tells us that it’s impossible for us to believe without the Holy Spirit’s breath giving life to our faith (2 Corinthians 12:3). Yet people can put up roadblocks to the Spirit and refuse to believe.
They either deem the message too good to be true or they’re so tied to the way things are in this old creation that they can’t imagine a new and better creation.
There are times when I preach or when I talk with people about Jesus that I can almost physically feel and see their resistance to the good news that we have in Christ’s death and resurrection. They prefer the things they know in this dying world to yielding their lives to a Savior they’ve never seen.
This happened again this past week during my mother's funeral. As I preached the good news of conquering death for us through Jesus' death and resurrection, I could see people resisting that message; their arms weren't folded, but their minds were closed. This was the posture of Thomas when the other disciples told him that they had seen the risen Jesus.
Verse 24: “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later [The Greek in which John wrote this account actually says, “after eight days."] his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting [John says, in the Greek, that Jesus told Thomas, ‘Don’t be unbelieving.’] and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Thomas, the unbelieving one, ends up making the most resounding confession of Jesus we find in all of John’s gospel: “My Lord and my God” he says to Jesus!
His confession is made all the more amazing when one considers Thomas’ track record.
- It was Thomas who complained that Jesus was talking in riddles: ““Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
- And it was Thomas who sarcastically told the other disciples after Jesus had decided to go to Bethany, within the grasp of people who wanted to wipe out Jesus’ movement: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
If there are people in your life who are like Thomas or if they’re tepid in their faith, distant from God, do not give up on them.
Pray for them.
Ask God to bring people into their lives who will invite them to come and see and know Jesus.
Ask God to for the opportunities to share your own life with Jesus with them.
In the meantime, live with the confidence and peace that is yours because, through your faith in Jesus, you have life in Jesus’ name; you’re part of the new creation!
I witnessed for Christ at the Kroger deli counter again this past week...and I wasn’t wearing my collar, so no "home team" advantage. The conversation started when I noticed a fellow customer was wearing a Buckeyes ball cap. We started with college football and ended with Jesus! God can use any entry point as a chance to help people to know the new life Jesus died and rose to give all people! Our task is to simply keep planting the seeds of the gospel in people's lives.
Make your mission the one that Jesus has given to every one of us, the mission that John tells us, in the last two verses of our lesson, animated his writing of the gospel. “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book,” John says. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
We who belong to Jesus are ambassadors to this old creation from Christ’s new creation.
Live in peace and share Christ boldly! Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for yesterday morning's worship services.]