Peace Be With You

Text: John 20:19-31

Peace be with you,” Jesus spoke to the Disciples. These were the first words they would hear from the mouth of their teacher since He rose from the grave. They were so important that He repeated them three times. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. This peace is the new reality that is in play since Christ has suffered, died, and risen triumphant from the grave. Peace here means that the enmity, the separation, between God and us since the Fall into is now removed. Through Christ all things have now been made as they should be.

After the crucifixion Jesus no longer limited the use of His divine powers. Before, men taunted Him to come down from the cross – if He really were the Son of God. But, it’s a good thing He didn’t. Now, Jesus does use all of His power all the time. Today we see this happening. Twice the Disciples were behind locked doors, and twice Jesus immediately appears in their midst. They had all fallen away and were in hiding. Jesus could’ve angrily grabbed an axe and broken down the door; He could’ve turned them all to ash for betraying Him. Instead, appearing in their midst, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Amidst their fear, doubt, and unbelief Jesus appeared to preach peace to the Disciples – the peace we share through His resurrection from the dead.

I.

We find the Disciples on Sunday evening, the same day Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”[1] Usually how the flow of the Easter season goes is that we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. That’s a great day: we have choirs and brass, and then everyone goes home and puts on their comfortable eating clothes. The next week we come back to church fresh from that celebration and we begin scolding St. Thomas for His doubting. It happens every year on the Sunday after Easter.

Part of it is because a name like, “Doubting Thomas,” is such a catchy name that you can’t not use it in a sermon. But when we spend all the time focusing on Thomas, we don’t do justice to the fact that all the Disciples were doubting at this point. It’s the first day of the week, three days after Jesus’ death. He had told them explicitly that He would rise from the dead after three days. Instead of looking for and expecting that, all of them are hiding behind locked doors. Of course the persecution that the Jewish authorities were threating against Jesus’ followers was now becoming real, but instead of trusting in God for the strength in that situation and the words to speak, they hid.

They were not just fearful in their hiding. After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to Mary Magdalene. Having seen the Lord she went and told His Disciples. Mark says that they were mourning and weeping. When they heard from her that He was alive, instead of rejoicing, “they would not believe it.”[2] Luke says that the words of the women seemed to them, “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[3] They weren’t just hiding for fear of the Jews, they weren’t just doubting, but they were actually not believing.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them and stood in their midst. “’Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”[4] Before there was a vast chasm of sin and death separating the Disciples and God. When Jesus was crucified, they forsook their faith and feared death. Instead of appearing to them to judge and condemn them, Jesus appeared to speak peace. Christ stood in their midst to forgive their sin and call them out of darkness. Because of His resurrection they are now at peace with God.

II.

We said earlier that it’s bad to pile on Thomas when all the Disciples were equally doubting and unbelieving, but we will return to him. By doing so, we also see ourselves. The Gospel says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’”[5] I think maybe a better name for Thomas is “Thomas the Scientist,” or “Thomas the Enlightened,” or “Thomas the Intelligent.” I mean, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared, and so like the other Disciples he didn’t believe. Unless He saw it for himself, unless there was verifiable empirical evidence, by default he would not believe it.

By the world’s standards Thomas is completely in the right. Unless there is evidence that you can measure with your five senses, there is absolutely no grounds to believe in anything. This line of thinking came as result of the Enlightenment and has infected even the church and has further robbed us of our innocence in this matter. We are all now little Thomases. Now, despite the fact that Thomas didn’t believe it, Jesus was alive. The Gospel could’ve ended with the words of Thomas. It could’ve ended with Jesus smacking him upside the head. But instead, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”[6]

Though it was sinful for Thomas to demand evidence, Jesus didn’t destroy him. Jesus saw that he demanded proof, and in His grace, gave more than Thomas could ever need. The very body and blood of Jesus given for the sins of the world stood before him, alive. Rightly, Thomas was humbled, “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed. Here Jesus pulls Thomas and us into the same boat, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”[7] This gets us on both accounts. First, not all people have been privileged to see Jesus. And so, our temptation is, like Thomas to demand signs and proof from God before we believe. The answer to Thomas and us is the same: Jesus the crucified and risen one.

As with the Disciples and Thomas who doubted and were unbelieving, Jesus the Risen One comes into our midst, into our doubt and despair, not to condemn us, but to forgive us and give us the peace that He won by His resurrection from the dead. This peace comes not from within us, but from outside ourselves. This peace He gives through the pastoral office, whereby He sends men to stand in His stead and forgive our sins. Christ stands in our midst in the words of Holy Absolution and in the feast of His own body and blood. In the words of the Benediction we hear His words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us. None of us has seen Jesus in the flesh yet, and yet we believe. For that purpose that Gospel was written, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing we have life in His name. By His resurrection Jesus has destroyed the powers of sin, death and hell. Though we are often times caught in doubt and despair, in impatience and fear, Jesus comes to us with His peace. This peace is that the guilt of our sin is removed from us by His death. May the Lord continue to send us His Holy Spirit to speak peace to us, that even without seeing, we may believe and have life in His name.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 20:19.

[2] Mk. 16:11.

[3] Lk. 24:11.

[4] Jn. 20:19–23.

[5] Jn. 20:24–25.

[6] Jn. 20:26–27.

[7] Jn. 20:29.

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