Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Work, the Mission, the Power, and the Model

[This past Sunday, I was privileged to lead worship and preach at the non-denominational Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel in Topsail, North Carolina. As they do with guest pastors fifty Sundays a year, the people of the chapel provided my family and me with a parsonage-by-the-sea, an opportunity to rest and recharge our batteries, and incredible hospitality!]

EMMA Anderson Sunday Worship Service from Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel on Vimeo.

John 20:19-31
Today, in light of the Bible lesson, I want to talk with you about four things: the work, the mission, the power, and the model.

The lesson opens with Jesus’ disciples huddled in a locked room on the first Easter evening. The doors are locked because they’re afraid of their fellow Jews, afraid that, like their Lord and teacher, they might become targets for rejection, arrest, torture, and death.

Now, the disciples had heard the report of some of the women of their group that Jesus was risen and alive. John’s gospel tells us that John himself had hurried to the tomb in that foot race with Peter and, as a consequence, believed the women’s words. But most of the disciples seem to have concluded that, even if the reports were true, they had no idea of whether, if they were crucified like Jesus, they would also rise again. Besides, because we’re all averse to pain, they surely don’t want to be crucified even if they are going to be raised again!

Some have suggested that on that first Easter evening, the disciples may have had another fear. Namely, if Jesus really was risen, what would He do or say to them after they had scattered and abandoned Him the second He was arrested?

Amid this scene of fear and uncertainty, the risen Jesus, no longer constrained by time or space, appears in that locked room and says, “Peace be with you!” These are more than the words of a well-wisher. Jesus is God the Son and when God speaks, things happen. When, at the creation of this universe, God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. God said through the prophet Isaiah: “My Word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire...” (Isaiah 55:11) So, in pronouncing peace on the disciples, Jesus isn’t just wishing them His peace, He’s giving them peace.

When Jesus talks about peace, He’s not telling the disciples that their lives on earth will be a smooth ride and they’ll never know conflict and they’ll always get what they want. To have Jesus’ peace is to have a right relationship with God, our sins are forgiven, and we have life with God, both here in this imperfect world and in perfection in life beyond the grave.

And this brings us to our first word; work. Peace with God is not something we can work for or attain. Peace is God’s gift to us through Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...

When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant it. Everything necessary for the forgiveness of your sins and for everlasting life with God has already been accomplished by Jesus. He took the death sentence for sin we deserve. He rose again to open up your never-ending life with God. True peace is God’s work and God’s gift to us through Jesus. I hope that’s as big a relief to you as it is to me!

The Bible teaches that we are born in sin. That is, we have a sinful nature that leads us to commit individual sins. Our sin is a serious matter. The Bible is unblinking in saying the rightful punishment for our sinful nature is separation from God, eternal chaos and condemnation rather than peace. That’s why Jesus’ work from the cross and tomb is so amazing and wonderful! With the apostle Paul, we can say: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Thank God for the finished work of Jesus Christ for us!

After giving His disciples His peace, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) This is a remarkable thing! Jesus was sent into our fallen world by God the Father to do the work of our salvation. Now, Jesus says, He’s sending His disciples, including you and me, into the world. He does because He has a particular calling for us: We’re to share the good news of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus and the work He’s already accomplished for every human being. Giving others the Word of new and everlasting life for sinful people who trust in Jesus is our mission. This, of course, is called the great commission, the mission Jesus gives the Church and individual Christians: to be and make disciples, sharing what Jesus has done to save us from sin and death to give us His peace! He describes that mission in today’s lesson as declaring God’s forgiveness to repentant believers in Jesus and withholding God’s forgiveness from those who refuse to trust in Jesus.

I’m convinced that more people are open to our mission from Christ than we Christians often realize. Part of my personal mission field is the deli of a Kroger grocery stor near me. I’ve gotten to know some of the employees and there’s one man in particular that our church has been able to help in the past. A few weeks ago, I was at the deli counter again. While another employee waited on me, this man we’ll call Bill wrote a note for me on the back of a deli order form. In large letters, he wrote, “Please! Please pray for my son!” I looked at him after reading his note. I could see how much he wanted God in his son’s life circumstances. You and I are surrounded by people like Bill who need Christian disciples who will pursue the mission Jesus has given to us of sharing the Gospel with everyone!

Of course, if we try to do our mission on the basis of our own sparkling personalities, we won’t get done what Jesus has sent us to get done. That’s why after Jesus had given the disciples–all disciples, including you and me–His mission, John says, “with that [Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22) This brings us to our third word for the morning. After Jesus has done all the work for us to know God’s peace and after He gives us our mission, He gives us the power to fulfill that mission. He gives us the Holy Spirit!

Jesus says elsewhere in John’s gospel, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We Christians often forget this. When I was a seminary student, our spiritual and academic progress was assessed annually by a committee that included laypeople, professors, and classmates. In preparation for these evaluations, we had to write essays in response to a series of questions. I’m embarrassed to say that in my first year, I began one essay with these  words, “I have great confidence in my potential for being a good pastor.” I was rightly called out for arrogance! No Christian and no Christian pastor will ever fulfill Christ’s mission for them by their own “potential” or abilities. That’s why Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to every believer. Jesus promised this to His disciples before His crucifixion: “I  will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) If you can say that Jesus is your Lord, you can be assured that Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit. God’s power for fulfilling His mission for you is in you!

The last part of our lesson is well known to you. It takes place one week after the resurrection. Thomas, who hadn’t been in the locked room when the risen Jesus appeared, had refused to believe that Jesus was risen. But Jesus didn’t give up on Thomas, any more than He gives up on us when we stubbornly refuse to trust Him or when we violate His will. Jesus appears to Thomas and the other disciples. Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds. Then Jesus tells Thomas, literally, in John 20:27, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” At this, the formerly unbelieving Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” (John 1:28) Here, Jesus becomes our model for pursuing our mission. Jesus doesn’t upbraid Thomas. He doesn’t criticize Thomas’ lack of faith. Instead, He calls Thomas to believe in Him and so to know the peace of God. Would Thomas have come to believe in Jesus had Jesus not been patient with Thomas? As a former atheist, I can tell you that it was the patient, loving witness of Christians who shared Christ and His Gospel with me that brought me to being able to say of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Often today, it seems that Christians treat their unbelieving neighbors as enemies. But the Bible tells us that our real enemies aren’t other people. Our enemies are the devil and the spiritual forces of darkness who imprison people in unbelief and sin. Our neighbors are people who, just like us, need the peace Jesus has secured through His death and resurrection. This is why 1 Peter tells us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15) For this, friends, Jesus is our model.

So, four words for us to consider today. The work for our peace with God, others, and ourselves, which has already been completed by Jesus; the mission Jesus gives to share that peace; the power Jesus gives us to fulfill our mission by sending the Holy Spirit; and the model Jesus has given us for pursuing our mission with gentleness and respect. May Jesus bless and guide you as you and this remarkable fellowship of believers follow Him and lift Him up to this community and world. Amen