Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Beloved in the Lord,
It’s been a long weekend. Death has come. Death came for Jesus it will come for us, so think the apostles. It’s been a long weekend and the one in whom they trusted, the one whom they hoped would redeem Israel . . . has been crucified, dead and buried. The stone has been rolled. The tomb has been sealed. The guards have been set. The disciples are afraid. They are very afraid. They are huddled together, hiding behind locked doors, keeping quiet. It’s a been a long weekend.
Some have wandered off. Thomas isn’t with them, not yet, not in our text. He’s returned to the way things used to be. Mary has gone back and forth from the tomb, several other women as well. Idle tales seem to be in everyone’s ear causing a stir in this upper room as well as all of Jerusalem. Peter and John have been to the tomb but they don’t know. The stone was moved, the seal broken, the guards gone. What is certain is that Jesus isn’t there. The tomb is empty. That is certain. Everyone can agree. Everyone can believe at least in the empty tomb if not in the risen Jesus.
But what good is an empty tomb if there’s no risen Jesus? Empty tombs only complicate and confuse things. When people get confused, when life gets complicated, we get afraid. Uncertainty doesn’t breed courage but rather fear and despair. And if Jesus is risen, is that good news? What if He’s angry? What if He’s out for revenge? What if He comes to judge? A risen Jesus isn’t necessarily good news if Jesus isn’t offering mercy and peace.
It’s been a long weekend and the disciples are huddled together in the upper room, wondering what will happen to them. And in the midst of their wondering Jesus appears. A sealed tomb could not hold Him, and locked doors could not keep Him out. Jesus appears and the apostles’ fear quickly becomes terror. But Jesus is not there to judge. Jesus is not there to condemn. He speaks peace where previously only idle tales held sway. “Peace to you!” It’s not what the disciples’ see with their eyes that matters. It’s what they hear with their ears. Jesus speaks peace. “Peace to you,” He says. He offers mercy. He’s come to forgive.
Those in hiding aren’t so sure. We sinners are persistent doubters. We doubt what we see and we doubt what we hear. Doubting that Jesus was really risen they supposed they were seeing a spirit, a ghost, not a body, not a man, but a disembodied soul. Their fear, which had grown into terror at His appearance, now moves to a very uncomfortable, somewhat fearful ease following His Words.
They are troubled. We are troubled. They are afraid. We’re afraid. They’re locked up in some upper room hiding from the world, from God, from their fellow man, doubting, disbelieving, and despairing. How is that any different from the lives we live today; disconnected from our neighbors, secluded from our Lord, keeping one another at bay, building fences, locking doors, keeping to ourselves, keeping quiet, keeping sin?
The Savior asks, “what is it that troubles you?” His question is reminiscent of another question asked so long ago. “Where are you? What have you done?” Jesus knows the answer. He knows you. He knows your heart. He knows your heart better than you know your heart. He means to lead you to confession. “What is it that troubles you?” means “What sins burden your soul, hurt your heart, make you afraid of Me?” His concern is for your salvation, your joy, your life. Sin robs the heart of such things. Sins; big ones, little ones, bold ones and hidden ones, mortal and venial, intentional and accidental, sins we do and sins we suffer all plague our life like cancer in the body. We are a sinful people living in a sinful world and we can’t fix it. No 12 step program, no especially pious devotions, no hiding from God, no avoiding our neighbors, no bygones being allowed to be bygones will help us avoid sin, stop sinning or make up for the sins we’ve already done. And the worst of it is that the wages of sins is death! Spiritual cancer leads to physical cancer. Depraved hearts leads to heart disease. The list could go on, the analogies could be extended but the question remains and Jesus still asks it today: “What is it that troubles you?”
Before we could even give Him an answer Jesus moves our eyes toward His passion. He takes the focus off of ourselves, our fears, our anxieties, our doubts and He directs us to what is sure and certain. “See My hands and My feet, touch Me and see. It is I, myself.” He sets before fearful and anxious hearts the marks of His death. Here the Savior connects what He says with what they see. “Peace to You!” is joined with the violence He bore on the cross.
The wages of sin is death. Justice requires it. God’s holiness demands it. But our God does not will your death. We fear death because we deserve it and we know it. We fear God because we’ve sinned against God. As David says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4). The death of the wicked is not His desire. Rather He wills your repentance. When Jesus asks “what it is that troubles you?” he is seeking repentance. When Jesus sets before you the marks of His death He is offering you the certainty of forgiveness. You cannot fix your sin. No person can do that. But God can and God did in His Son Jesus. Jesus did what you do not. He lived a perfect life. Jesus offered what you think you can offer but really can’t. He offered His own life for yours. He shed His blood. He died your death. He suffered your condemnation. He endured your hell. He bore it all on the cross. All of it! None of it is left up to you. The work is done. “It is finished.” See the marks? Believe the Words. Jesus is risen, not as a spirit, but in the flesh. And His resurrection is the certainty of our salvation. He did die. He was crucified, dead and buried. But, risen from the dead He is not come to bring vengeance upon you, but rather peace and mercy and forgiveness. If you doubt – look to His hands and His feet and His side, look to the price He alone paid.
Speaking these words He opened their minds to understand to the scriptures. Doubting hearts will always seek to wander about looking for certainty, returning to the way things were before. But hearts opened and minds enlightened by the Lord are directed to the scripture. The marks of His passion are for our certainty, but where shall we find these marks? The eyes do not observe it. But the ears must listen to the Savior’s voice. His voice rings throughout the scriptures. And scripture’s promises are made manifest in the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus. For scripture proclaims Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation. The fruit of such work comes to us through the Word, baptism and the Holy meal! There I see by faith the hands and feet of Jesus. I hear His voice calling me to touch, to take and eat and drink, to be immersed in His Word and His passion. Through these my sins are covered over. I am covered over with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus it is not my righteousness that makes things right but Christ’s! It is not my works which work, but Christ’s! It’s not my suffering, my death, my blood which atones for my sin, but Christ’s! I am always directed away from myself and back to Christ! Beholding Christ I am comforted, calmed, reassured and strengthened. Beholding Christ, receiving Christ, clinging to Christ I am restored, resurrected, renewed and regenerated. I am His and He is Mine.
Beloved in the Lord, it has been a long weekend and death has come to the disciples. Though they hide away in fear, their fear is uncalled for. Death is defeated. Christ is risen! Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are offered to all who hear and received by all who believe. He offers such gifts to you. You are hearing. Believe the Word. Hold the scripture. Cling to the promise. Receive the gifts. Do not fear! Peace to you! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI