Sunday, April 18, 2004

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

"And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him."

It is quite tempting to continue a second week of sheer joy at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Psalm 150, the psalmist calls for God's people to praise Him. I love this passage and its praise that encompasses every aspect of God - where He is, what He is and what He has done. The call goes out to the heavens and earth, to honor His power and His surpassing greatness. I can almost see a circus parade coming down the street with the Ringmaster calling out on a megaphone while the performers dance in the streets and play instruments with joy. "Let everything that hath breath praise Jehovah."

John writes a doxology in praise to God in the book of Revelation. These words call attention to the greatness of God, to give Him the glory and honor due. The main act of power is Christ's death on the cross, from which we receive the forgiveness of sins. Yet, His work is not complete as long as there is one who has not heard the Gospel, so He calls us to continue His work in this world.

While our praise and joy will continue every day of our lives, we are also brought this week to the reality of our life in Christ. It is not going to be easy to follow this Jesus who has been raised from the dead. Some people will not believe. John writes, "Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen." Some people will require a great deal of proof before they will believe. Our words will be hushed, ignored and rejected. The world is going to wonder why our witness is important, what it has to do with them. The message of Christ is foolishness to those who do not think they have a problem.

Imagine what it would be like if an unbeliever heard us proclaim the words found in Psalm 118:21, "I will give thanks unto thee; for thou hast answered me, And art become my salvation." They would probably wonder, "Why did you need to be saved?" See, a great many in our world today do not recognize their need for a savior. They have nothing to be forgiven. They see their lives as good, the words as worthwhile. They might even spout off a list of wonderful things that they do and use it as proof of their goodness. They won't bother to listen because they aren't looking for salvation. To add to it the burden of faith in Jesus makes the whole thing ridiculous. After all, many believe that there are many paths to heaven, that Jesus is just one we can choose.

The disciples may not have fully understood what Jesus had taught them before His crucifixion, but they believed that He was speaking the truth. In the days that followed the resurrection, Jesus spoke plainly about these things and they began to see more clearly. But they needed something even greater.

The Gospel lesson tells us that the disciples were gathered together, hiding behind locked doors. It was the first day of the week. Perhaps they had gathered to discuss the events of the resurrection. Mary told them she had seen Jesus. The two on the road to Emmaus came to tell them He appeared to them. They were afraid, but they were excited. What if everything they heard was true? What if Jesus was really alive? Those who may have thought about abandoning the ministry began to hold out hope again.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them. His first words were "Peace be with you." This would have been a pretty shocking appearance. He came out of nowhere to stand among them. Most certainly this was out of the ordinary. The other appearances were not so strange. Mary thought she was talking to a stranger until He called her by name. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus spent an afternoon listening to a stranger until He broke the bread and they realized that it was Jesus. These were unusual, certainly, but not nearly as shocking as having someone appear out of thin air. They may have even though Jesus was a ghost, a frightening thought.

Jesus had promised them peace, but they were in the midst of the most difficult turmoil they had ever known. So, when Jesus appeared to them, He reminded them of His promise. Peace would not be found in giving up, in running, or even in hiding. Peace was found in Jesus. In this passage, we see again that the disciples did not know the joy of the resurrection until they saw Jesus. "The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord." He showed them His hands and His side and then again He said, "Peace be with you."

With this second greeting, Jesus gave the disciples their commission. He passed on the work of the Father to those whom He'd prepared. Were they ready? No, they still needed something else. They needed the Holy Spirit and a purpose. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

Just as Jesus had done for three years, and completed on the cross, the disciples - now apostles - were sent to share forgiveness with the world.

They were so excited about this appearance of Jesus, but one disciple was missing. We do not know where Thomas was when Jesus came to the disciples a week ago. When they told him that Jesus was alive, he could not believe. We often call this disciple "Doubting Thomas" and yet Thomas was no different than any of the others. Did any of them believe when they heard the words of Mary? Or when they heard the story of the disciples from Emmaus? It was not until Jesus appeared to them that they rejoiced. Thomas only required what the rest had been given - a chance to see the risen Lord for himself.

Jesus appeared again through the locked doors and stood among them. Again He said, "Peace be with you." Though Jesus offered, Thomas did not need to touch the wounds in His hands or side. He exclaimed the greatest confession of faith, "My Lord and my God."

In Psalm 118:27, we hear "Jehovah is God, and he hath given us light: Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." The horns of the altar were a place of sanctuary. They were located on the four corners of the altar of sacrifice. Blood was touched on the horns as a sin offering. If someone was in trouble, they could go to the altar and hold on to the horns. No one could do them harm while they held the horns.

Jesus is now our sanctuary. He was the Lamb of God, the final and acceptable sacrifice. By His blood we are saved. He is our salvation and our peace. We are sent in His name to take that sanctuary to the world. John wrote the words of Jesus in Revelation, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

That peace does not mean we won't face trouble. In the earliest days of the Church, the apostles faced great persecution. In the lesson from Acts, the Sanhedrin had forced them to appear in court before the high priest. They had put forth an order that no one could preach in the name of Jesus. Yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in faith and trust of God's word, there was nothing else the disciples could do. They would not stop the work of God, the work God had sent them to do. "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him."

Though we have not had the experience of seeing Jesus as the disciples or Thomas, we too are sent as witnesses of these things. We have the Holy Spirit who testifies through our lives so that those who have ears will hear. It is a tough job. There are many like Thomas who need more than words to make a confession of faith. There are those like the Sanhedrin who will try to halt the work of God. There are those who think that any name will do, any path is right. There are many, too many, who believe that they do not need a Savior at all.

Yet, we are called to go forth in faith and share the forgiveness and peace of Christ with the world. We do so in joy, despite the persecution. We walk forth in praise even when it seems the world means to stop God's mercy and grace. For God can't be stopped. He is the beginning and the end, the Way of salvation and joy. Thanks be to God.

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