In the Name of Jesus! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the 20th (John 20:19-31) chapter.
Beloved in the Lord, there’s something strangely familiar about our text this morning. It is evening, in the cool of the day and trembling sinners hunker down afraid they’ll be detected. The only thing missing is a few fig leaves and we’d have full blowndeja vu. There’s been rumors floating about, reports of scattered soldiers, and a missing body. Several women claim to have seen an angel. Two other disciples say they walked with Him to Emmaus. Earlier, Peter and John rushed to the tomb only to find it just as the women said, empty, abandoned. The Jews are on the hunt for anyone claiming that Jesus is Risen from the dead. So here they are, the 10 disciples, Adam’s image shivering in the darkness. Here they are . . . hiding for fear of the Jews. Here they are with doors locked, hearts trembling, hands sweating. Every sound from “out there” shifts their phobias into overdrive. “Out there” somewhere are the ones who would nail their flesh to a tree at the drop of a hat. So scared are these 10 men that they make their upper room into a coffin, a coffin nailed shut with the hammer of fear.
Yes beloved it is a familiar evening, strangely familiar. In these 10 men we see Adam, we see ourselves. It is a familiar evening, so familiar in fact that we don’t want to believe it. Unless we put our fingers into the holes of His hands or our hands into His side, like Thomas we will not believe for fear has taken over our hearts
Such is the ugliness of sin. These sons of Adam show us what fear does when it sinks its teeth into faithless hearts. Fear sends the heart for cover, hiding here or hiding there, hiding behind anything that might cover the shame of sin, anything it can get its hands on – a fig leaf, an upper room, an excuse or a lie.
You know exactly what I’m talking about don’t you? You’ve constructed your own upper rooms, you’ve made use of your own fig leaves. You’ve done whatever is necessary to keep God or your neighbor from seeing the real you. You hide yourself quite well don’t you? After all, nobody sees you in front of that computer eyes fixed on perverted images. Nobody is aware of what goes on in the dorm room on Saturday nights. Nobody sees you with that “other” woman or “other” man on the weekends. Nobody can tell when you’re lying. Nobody can see you keep a little more for yourself when you tithe. Nobody can know how you really feel about the person sitting next you. For who would ever suspect such things from nice, church going people? And there it is, the Devil has chased you into the bushes. He has sent you crashing in the upper room. For the moment you hide behind your piety, the idea that you’re better than someone else, the belief that you’re a good Christian, its at that moment he’s trapped you between confession, revealing who you really are, and fear of rejection. When sinners like us are trapped our only natural defense is self-righteousness, it seems our only refuge is to lock ourselves up behind closed doors, away from God and away from the World hoping beyond hope we won’t be found out.
But the truth is, you can’t hide from God! Your neighbor may not know who you really are but God knows . . . He knows everything. He knows your heart. He knows you fail to love, that you hold grudges, that you lust after women, that you can be snooty at times. God knows your tiny little secret sins, He knows the big ones done in public. God knows and you can only hide from God so long.
Therefore you can imagine the fear which gripped the disciples in that upper room so long ago. There they are trembling in the corners hiding from everyone and all of a sudden, through locked doors comes the resurrected Jesus. He didn’t climb through a window, nor did He use a key. Through the door went His flesh and blood that He may stand in their presence. Imagine the terror in their hearts when they saw Jesus. Yet Jesus did not come to terrorize them. Jesus did not pass through the door to bring judgment. Rather, before any disciple could say any word, do any deed, Jesus stretches out His hands, shows them His side, and speaks words of Peace. This is no replay of Eden! God doesn’t come walking into that upper room asking, “Where are you Simon, What have you done, Andrew?” No! He has not come to judge the World, but that the world through Him might be saved. He enters the upper room, our upper room, to show His hands and His side. He comes to speak peace unto the captives. He comes bearing the marks of God’s wrath, having suffered the judgment of the cross for us, that we might see Him, not as judge, but as savior, risen from the DEAD!
Yes, beloved, there stands the Victorious Christ. The strife is O’er the battle done, the war concluded. Sin has been wrestled to the earth. Death has been strangled. The Devil has been terrorized. For there He stands in the midst of frightened sinners offering His flesh for our comfort. There He stands with outstretched arms as if to say, “See what I’ve done for you, how I have loved you, given myself for you, that you may be crowned with my righteousness, my life, my joy! See what I’ve done for you. Here are my wounds. They are letters of love written by the finger of God not with ink and quill, but with hammer and nails, with wood and spear. See what I’ve done for you and Believe! Peace to you!
And with words of peace He breathed upon them the Holy Spirit. Today the upper room is swept clean and the breath of the Resurrection absolves sinners. “As the Father has sent me so also I send you. Whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven. Whosoever sins you retain they are retained.” Not only are these 10 forgiven and their hearts set at peace but now they are sent. Sent to who? Sent to sinners like you and me. They are sent that they may have authority over sins to forgive them or to retain them. They are sent to preach peace to the captives, to preach peace to us.
Now, all who would find the forgiveness of sins, may find it exactly where Christ has located it, in the apostolic office. For “if you desire the forgiveness of sins you must seek it from the Word, out of the mouth of the apostles or your pastor” [or even your fellow Christian if no pastor can be found] (Luther Sermons, House Postils vol. 2 pg. 70). You see beloved, just as sure and certain as sin latches to your hearts and brings fear, trembling, doubt, and despair, even more sure and certain is the Word of Christ given to those whom He’s sent to proclaim it. Hearts like ours, hearts that are constantly rushing to upper rooms for shelter, hiding behind imperfect piety, seeking refuge in lies and excuses can only be comforted with Word of Peace, the Word which reveals the print of the nails and the chasm of the spear. This Word has been given to apostles and pastors to preach, teach and give out through the Sacraments. This Word forgives your sin. It takes it away and buries it under the blood of Christ. This Word is the breath of the Father, the wind of Jesus, the Spirit of God. It is the aroma of the Resurrection for you.
Thomas would not believe the apostolic word. He refused unless he touch the print of the nails and His side. Not so with you beloved. Learn from these apostles! Learn from Thomas’ doubting heart. Let faith rule your heart and receive the gifts of God. Faith takes hold of the Apostolic Word, the pastoral Word and says, “My Lord and My God. You have given yourself into death for me. You have suffered the judgment owed to me. And you have come to me resurrected and full of life. You have come not to judge me nor condemn me but to speak words of peace to me. Forgive me. Renew Me and Lead me that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways to glory of Your Holy Name.” Yes beloved faith inhales deeply the breath of the Savior as His Words of forgiveness bring life out of death, faith out of doubt, comfort out of despair, courage out of fear, you out of your upper room.
Beloved in the Lord, it is a familiar scene these men in the upper room. But unlike how Adam and those who followed after him were cast out of the garden in judgment, these men and those who follow them are cast out of the upper room to preach the resurrection. They have been empowered with the Peace of Christ, and sent out with His authority to forgive and retain sins.
It is still a familiar scene. The Jews are still after them. Our World is still the same, but we are not. We have seen the Christ and He is alive. By faith we have touched the print of the nails and put our hands over the gash of the spear. Our ears have heard His voice and our hearts have been comforted with His peace. The world is still the same but we are not. We are forgiven, resurrected, redeemed by faith alone in Christ alone! And as such, with His Word firmly implanted in our heart by faith, we are now the aroma of the resurrection to the world! Thanks be to God! AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!