Going, Going, Gone???

Sermon on Jun 2, 2019 – Ephesians 1:16-23

What happened next? You get to the end of the movie or the end of the book, and you might be left wondering, “So what happened after they rode off into the sunset? Where did they go the next day? What did their kids grow up to be?” Some of that anticipation might be intentional as the writer or producer leaves room for a sequel, but sometimes it is just the end of the story. The end.
I sometimes wonder if people feel that way about Jesus’ ascension. What a great story! God becomes man and is born in the little town of Bethlehem. Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his divine power in his preaching and performing of miracles. He lives a perfect life but is wrongly convicted and condemned to die at the cross. While at the cross he suffers for the sins of the world and willingly sacrifices his life. Three days later he triumphantly rises from the dead. During the next 40 days Jesus repeatedly appears to his disciples and other followers proving he is in fact alive. On that 40th day, Jesus rises into the sky and returns to heaven. The end. Well, not exactly. While Jesus’ ascension did mark the end of his physical and visible presence in this world, it certainly was not the end. God doesn’t leave us at Jesus’ ascension wondering what Jesus did next. This morning, we see that Jesus’ ascension into heaven assures us that God is giving powerful gifts to his people. These powerful gifts guide us through this life and guarantee us of the glorious life of heaven.
Those were the gifts that we heard about this morning in Ephesians 1. They were the gift that the Apostle Paul was praying that God would give to his fellow Christians who were living in the 1st century city of Ephesus. Paul had founded this Christian congregation while on one of his missionary journeys and had actually spent about 3 years being their pastor. Mission work had taken him away from Ephesus and it had been years since he last saw the Ephesian Christians. While he had not seen them, he heard about them. He heard how they were continuing to live their Christian faith. In the opening chapter of this letter to the Ephesian Christians, he praises and thanks God for their faith. But his prayer of thanks quickly turns into a prayer of request or intercession, asking that God give to his fellow Christians gifts that he wants every Christian, that he wants you to have. Let’s walk our way through this section of God’s Word to see the powerful gift that the ascended Jesus has for you.
In Ephesians 1:17 Pauls asks that God give to his fellow Christians, “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” You might be familiar with this definition of wisdom, that wisdom is the application of knowledge. The Christian’s wisdom begins by knowing what God has revealed to us in the Bible. What does God reveal to us in the Bible? He reveals who he is, what he has done, is doing and will do for us. The Bible reveals how God created the world and all that is in it. The Bible reveals the source of suffering, sadness and death. The Bible reveals the heart of our God who so desperately wanted to rescue people from the eternal curse of sin that he came up with a rescue plan to save people for eternity. The Bible reveals how Jesus perfectly executed God’s plan to save us from the guilt and eternal punishment of our sin. The Bible reveals the perfect life of Jesus lived in the place of every person, the death of Jesus died in the place of every person. It shows us the power and faithfulness of Jesus in his rising from the dead. The Bible reveals a God who forgives and loves, a God who makes and keeps his promises, a God who has a perfect plan and purpose for each of us.
You see, when you spend time with the Bible, the place where God reveals himself, you realize that the Bible is much more than just a book of information. It is more of a personal conversation with the God who wants you to know him and what he has done for you. As we spend time getting to know that God better, we grow in our appreciation of what God has done for us and the guidance he provides to us. And with a growing appreciation comes a growth in Godly wisdom, applying God’s Word to our daily lives. We better learn how and why to forgive, love and serve one another. We learn how and why to be better Christian parents, grandparents, friends, spouses and neighbors. We learn how and why to set priorities, to use the money and possessions, the time and abilities that God has given to us.
That naturally leads into what Paul writes in the next verse, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Have you ever changed a lightbulb and afterwards thought, “I wish I would have done that earlier! I can see so much better now!” It’s not that you couldn’t see before, but that you can see so much better with the additional light.
As God the Holy Spirit works through the gospel message of Christ our Savior in Word and Sacrament, we see more clearly what the work of Christ means for us. Paul says, “The eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” What is it that we see more clearly? We see “the hope to which he has called you.” And what does that hope of Christ constantly point us to? “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” The Holy Spirit opens ours eyes to bring into brighter, clearer view the heavenly riches that Christ has won for us and has waiting for us at the end of our lives. It is an inheritance which the apostle Peter would later write, “can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4,5).
I think of the people who have said to me, “I never really thought it mattered how much I came to church or studied the Bible, until I started doing it regularly. It was only then that I realized how much I had been missing.” Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the more you come to church or read your Bible, the less problems you have. That’s not what God promises. But God does promise that when we are regularly connecting ourselves to the powerful message of Christ, we can better handle the struggles and the problems that we face. Why is that? Because we know the God who walks with us through them, the God who promises to use them for our blessing, the God who promises to rescue us from them all one day. When you are regularly hearing that the Son of God gave his life for the forgiveness of all your sins, how can that not strengthen your trust him and his Word, to want what he wants for you, to follow where he is leading you? When you are regularly hearing of the eternal riches of heaven that await you, how can that not strengthen your fight against the temptations that want to rob you of that inheritance? When you are regularly seeing the history of God’s faithfulness, how can that not help you when you face the problems of this life? Yes, we see more clearly the God who goes with us and guides us through.
But here comes the million dollar question, how can you be sure that God can deliver on these powerful gifts that he promises to send? Verses 19-22 provide three reasons. “That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Ephesians 1:19-22). God demonstrates his power to deliver what he has promised in three ways:
1) God Father raised Jesus from the dead
2) God the Father welcomed Jesus into heaven to again make full use of his divine power and authority that belonged to Jesus as true God. These verses repeatedly make it clear that Jesus’ power and authority is not limited in any way. It is power and authority over all other positions, in every arena (heaven and earth), in time and for eternity.
3) And just to be absolutely clear, we are told that Jesus, our now ascended Lord and Savior, has power and authority over everyone and everything without exception.
And how has Jesus chosen to use all the power and authority that he has as our ascended Lord and Savior? One little phrase, “for the church.” He has not chosen to use his power to make is life more comfortable, or to rid himself of the petty problems of human beings. No! He has chosen to use all of his power for you, for Christians of every time and place, for those who he has called to be his own through faith. In fact, he is so closely connected to us and every Christian that he calls us “his body” and then tells us that we are the “fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Jesus, who has everything as true God and needs nothing from anyone, has chosen to find his fulfilment in us. You are his pride and joy. You are the ones he is most concerned about. You are the ones for whom he promises to use all of his power and authority for. Those are some pretty good reasons to believe that our Lord can deliver the powerful gifts that he promised to us.
Jesus’ ascension is not the end of the story for Jesus. Is it the continuation of the amazing story of God’s love for you – a powerful God who guides you and guarantees you the riches of heaven as only the ascended Jesus can do. Amen.

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Let Go

Sermon from May 26, 2019 – John 14:1-4,25-29

It’s the first day of school. You watch as children are being dropped off by their parents. You look over at the kindergarten classroom and find parents with children clutched to their legs. More than a few tears are being shed by both children and parents. You hear a parent saying to their child, “It’s alright. Go on in. I’ll be back in just a few hours to pick you up and take you home.” While the child knows the parent is right, the child still has a hard time letting go, of not being able to see the parent for all that time. But if the child doesn’t let go, what will they miss out on? Learning, playing, friends, so many good things.
While I don’t think that you necessarily would have found Jesus’ disciples clinging to Jesus’ leg after his resurrection, you do find them having a difficult time letting him go. Actually, there was one follower of Jesus who had been physically holding onto Jesus after his resurrection. You might remember how Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, overcome with emotion at seeing Jesus alive, grabbed ahold of Jesus and did not want to let him go. Jesus reminded her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). She just didn’t want to let him go! But she wasn’t the only one.
Throughout the forty days following Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus had repeatedly made appearances to his disciples and followers. We’ve looked at some of those appearances over the last couple of weeks: the two disciples travelling on Easter afternoon to the town of Emmaus, the disciples on Easter evening, one week later again to all of his disciples including Thomas, and later on at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus ate breakfast with seven of his disciples and had that Good Shepherd conversation with Peter. But those were not the only appearances that Jesus made. The Apostle Paul tells us, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Yes, as you heard in the opening chapter of the book of Acts, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3). Jesus made it clear at multiple times, to multiple audiences, and in multiple places that he was in fact alive. But his appearances were not only to assure and re-assure and re-re-assure his disciples that he was alive, it was also to prepare them for what was going to happen next. He was preparing them for what we are going to be celebrating next weekend – Jesus’ ascension into heaven – the time when Jesus would permanently remove his visible presence from this world and from those disciples.
The disciples were having a hard time with that thought. They wanted to hold onto Jesus. They wanted to keep him here, to see him and to have him do what they wanted him to do. You see that in the question that they asked Jesus just before his ascension into heaven. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Why did Jesus have to leave? He could stay and set up his kingdom and they could rule the world together, make people’s lives peaceful and perfect. It would be so good if Jesus just stayed! It was troubling to think of Jesus not being there, not doing what they were convinced Jesus should be doing.
That’s one of the reasons why Jesus made those multiple appearances to them. He was preparing them for that time when they would need to let him go. And how was Jesus preparing them for that? He prepared them by reminding them of not only why he had come INTO the world, but also why he was LEAVING this world. He reminded them that he did not come to stay here or bring heaven to earth. He came to return to heaven and then bring people from earth to join him in heaven. Jesus was repeatedly reminding them of the promise he made to them and to every Christians on the night before his death, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back to take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2,3). Yes, Jesus needed to leave them. They needed to let Jesus go, but letting go was hard. Letting go is still hard.
Letting go is hard because we feel that in some way we are losing control. And let’s face it for the most part we like to be in control or at the very least to feel like we’re in control. When you’re used to driving the car and suddenly you find yourself sitting in the passenger’s seat with someone else driving, it can be a little difficult. You might have some sore legs from “breaking” when the person doesn’t slow down as quickly as you’d like. You might question the route that the driver is taking because it’s not the route YOU would have taken.
Do we ever find ourselves trying to hold onto Jesus, in some way trying to control Jesus, telling him what to do and when to do it? That’s especially true when we look at the things that are going on in our lives and think, “This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, Jesus! I just don’t understand! I just don’t get it! That’s not the type of ‘kingdom’ we thought you were going to give us! My way was so much better!” Like Jesus disciples, our hearts are troubled.
And what does Jesus remind us of? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). That word for “troubled” has the idea of being agitated or stirred up. It’s like the washing machine that is tossing your clothes to the right and left to get the dirt out of them. It’s like swimming in a lake when and when you get too close to the bottom your stir up the silt so that the water gets all murky and you can’t see where you are going. Yes, our hearts can so easily be troubled when it feels like our lives are being thrown back and forth, flipped upside down by the unexpected. We find ourselves frantically trying to “tread the waters” of this life when things don’t go as we had planned or preferred, and our hearts become murky as we ask, “Why God? When God? What now God?” And what does Jesus say is the solution to troubled hearts? “Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). So simple, isn’t it? “Believe (trust) me.” And there’s a little, and sometimes a large, part of us that wants to fire back, “Why? Why should I trust you?” And Jesus actually anticipates that question. He says, “Remember! Remember why I came. Remember why I left.”
Remember why Jesus came. Jesus came to pay the price for your place in heaven. Do not underestimate the cost for that place in heaven. On this Memorial Day weekend we gratefully recall the cost for the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. We appreciate the sacrifice of those in our military and their families, the very high price that has been paid. The sacrifice of time, energy and even life itself. But all of those sacrifices combined cannot even begin to pay for the price for even a single place in heaven. Heaven’s home and the unending peace that comes with it, required God sacrificing his own life. As the Bible says of Jesus, “With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus battled the devil at the cross and was willing to give his life in our place. He suffered the eternal death of hell that is required of us, for our sinful doubting and our demanding of God. He poured out his holy, precious blood, as the payment for us to live in heaven’s home, to be live in the eternal peace of God’s presence. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is receipt of his purchase, confirmation of our your reservation in heaven’s home. But in order for Jesus to take us there, first Jesus needs to go there.
You see, just as Jesus came INTO this world with a specific purpose (to pay the price for our place in heaven), so Jesus LEAVES this world with a specific purpose. He leaves so that he can come back to take us to that place he has prepared for you in heaven. That is the promise that Jesus fulfills every time a Christian dies. Like that parent who returns at the end of the school day to pick up their child just as they promised, so Jesus immediately comes to pick up his children from this world on the day of their death, just as he promised.
Jesus’ disciples needed to be reminded of that. We need to be reminded of that promise. Why? Because we so easily can lose sight of it in the troubling circumstances of our lives. If I’ve visited you in the hospital you’ve probably heard me say, “I’m not here to tell you anything new. I’m hear to remind you of what you already know.” God is not constantly reinventing his message to meet popular opinion or what’s trending now. Instead we have a God who is consistent and faithful, who simply reminds us of why he came, why has gone, and how he will come back for you. In that we find what Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). It’s okay to let go because Jesus never will. Amen.

Conversation with the Good Shepherd

Sermon from May 19, 2019 – John 21:1-17

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is about to deliver some bad news to you? Your teenager comes and tells you how great of a parent you are, and you can’t help but wonder, “What did you do? What do you need? How much is this going to cost me?” Your boss calls you into the office, begins telling you how much they appreciate all your hard work and you can’t help but wonder, “I bet I’m going to have to work another weekend.” When someone is suddenly, exceptionally nice to you, you might wonder, “What’s going on here? Did something happen? Is something about to happen?” I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ disciples may have felt that way in the account that we heard about in John 21 as Jesus ate breakfast with them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
The gospel-writer John has briefly told us about two appearances Jesus made to his disciples after his resurrection and now he adds a third. John tells us, “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee” (John 21:1). While the first two appearances of Jesus took place in the city of Jerusalem, we are now taken to the Sea of Galilee, nearly 80 miles to the north of Jerusalem.
The Sea of Galilee was familiar territory for Jesus’ disciples. Not only was this the hometown of many of them, but this was the place where it all began for Jesus’ disciples three years earlier, here on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. You might remember how Jesus had called Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave behind their former occupations as Galilean fishermen, and to become his full-time disciples. In many ways, that day must have seemed like a lifetime ago as Jesus’ disciples considered all that had taken place during those three years. What do we now find seven of Jesus’ disciples doing? They went back to the one thing they knew well, something they were familiar with – fishing.
They spent the entire night fishing and had caught nothing. As the sun began to rise, they heard a man calling from the shore, “You catch anything?” “Nothing!” respond the fishermen. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some,” (John 21:6) the man says. You can only imagine the disciples looking at one another, maybe thinking, “This seems a little strange. Does he really think that we haven’t tired the left AND right sides of the boat?” But then concluding, “What do we have to lose?” They cast the net on the RIGHT side of the boat and when they begin to pull it up, it’s heavy – really heavy. What in the world? It’s FILLED with fish! Lots of fish. John still remembers the exact number, 153 large fish. And that’s when it hits John. He looks more closely at the man who called to them from the shore and he immediately recognizes him. John announces, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). In typical Simon Peter fashion, he grabs his outer garment and hurls himself into water, leaving his fellow disciples behind to deal with the fish. He just needed to get to shore as soon as possible, to see Jesus.
When Peter and the other disciples arrive at the beach, they not only find Jesus, but we’re told, “They saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:9). There is a full meal for these hungry fishermen. Jesus invites them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught… Come and have breakfast” (John 21:10,12). So the disciples sat down and began to eat with Jesus. They couldn’t help themselves from staring. John says, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (John 21:12). They knew it was Jesus, but it was still hard to believe that they were sitting there eating breakfast with a man who had been dead. What do you think the conversation during that meal was like? Maybe just stunned silence, Jesus’ disciples afraid to say much of anything. Or maybe it was the attempt of awkward small talk, “Nice morning. Looks like it’s good to be another hot one today.” The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus and his disciples talked about during breakfast, but you can only imagine that those disciples must have wondered what this was all about.
Why did Jesus make them breakfast? Why did Jesus give them this miraculous catch of fish? Was Jesus preparing them for some bad news he was about to deliver? Maybe something like, “Guys, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and after seeing the way you acted at my arrest, and Peter, the whole denial thing, and the way you’ve repeatedly doubted me, I’ve decided to take my discipleship in a different direction. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to let you all go. Hopefully this catch of fish will help to carry you over until you find other employment.” Was that what this breakfast on the beach was all about?
Jesus makes his intentions clear as he talks with Peter after breakfast, revealing once again the heart of the Good Shepherd. Look at that conversation that Jesus had with Peter. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The word for “love” that Jesus uses is the word that describes a selfless and sacrificial love, a love that is willing to do whatever it takes for the good of another person. How well had Peter shown that type of love for Jesus? Remember how Peter had boasted, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). Peter thought that his love for Jesus was superior to even that of his fellow disciples. How had that worked out? Peter remembered how he failed to show that sacrificial love for Jesus, denying even knowing Jesus, and so Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But Peter uses a different word for “love”. Peter uses a word that describes a lesser kind of love, a love between friends, a word that says, “I care about you.” Peter had come to realize that his love for Jesus was far from perfect. Still, what does Jesus say to imperfect Peter? “Feed my lambs.” Jesus still loved Peter. Jesus forgave Peter. Jesus still wanted Peter. He wanted Peter to provide the spiritual food of his saving Word to the lambs of his flock – the very ones that Jesus had loved so much that he was willing to die for.
Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16) Again, Jesus uses the same word for love he had previously used, and Peter responds with the same word he previously used. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Again, Peter humbly recognizes that he has not loved Jesus in the same way Jesus has loved him. Still, what does Jesus say? “Take care of my sheep.” Jesus calls Peter not only to be concerned for the youngest of Christians, but also to shepherd those who are maturing in Christian faith. This would include the warnings of what is spiritually bad, and the searching for those who have wandered away from Christ and his Word.
Then Jesu asks Peter a third time, parallel to the number of times that Peter denied knowing Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:17). This time Jesus changes his word for love to the same word used by Peter, “Peter do you care about me?” Peter answers again with the same words, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” And Jesus says again, “Feed my sheep.” While it was hard for Peter to hear Jesus’ questions, calling him to evaluate his love for Jesus, Jesus’ repetition was meant NOT to bring Peter to deeper despair, but to greater assurance that Jesus had completely forgiven him, that Jesus still loved him, that Jesus still wanted Peter to serve him.
This conversation was not merely for Peter, but this is a conversation that Jesus has with us. Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you love me?” And we might be quick to reply, “Of course I love you Jesus!” But then Jesus asks us to examine that love. So how about those times that you had too much to drink? What about those posts on Instagram and Facebook that bragged about how much you drank? What about that “break” you took from coming to church during the summer months? What about that arrogance in your heart that slyly convinces you that you are so much better than all those people who aren’t sitting here this morning? Do you love me?
Can our response be anything but that of Peter? “Lord, you know all things. I care about you, but my love for you has been anything but the perfect, selfless and pure love you have shown to me.” And what does the Good Shepherd say back? He responds, “I know. That’s why I came. I loved God perfectly for you. I loved others perfectly for you. I loved you so much that not only was I willing to die for you, but I was also willing to rise from the dead for you, so that you would know without a doubt that I love you, I have forgiven you, and I want you to serve the lambs and sheep of my flock.”
Even with all our failures, the Good Shepherd Jesus still calls us his own and allows us to serve him throughout our lives. He calls us as parents and grandparents to feed the lambs of his flock who sit on your laps and listen to the story of Jesus you sing and speak. He calls Sunday school teachers, Christian day school and high school teachers, college and seminary professors to teach and explain the truths of God’s Word to the sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock that they may mature in faith. Jesus gives us pastors, literally, “Shepherds” and others within the church who make sure that we are regularly “eating” what is spiritually good for us, guide us with the counsel of God’s Word, search for us when we wander, and comfort us with the Good Shepherd’s message of full forgiveness.
Simply put, we get to reflect the heart of the Good Shepherd Jesus, a heart of perfect love for us and for all, that so highly values every single person that he was willing to die for us, that they might live each day and always under the protection, the peace, the love of the Good Shepherd. Amen.

I STILL Can’t Believe It!

Sermon from May 12, 2019 – John 20:24-31

“I can’t believe it!” Something extraordinary, something unusual, something unexpected happens and we exclaim, “I can’t believe it!” “I can’t believe its snowing…again!” “I can’t believe they actually won the game!” “I can’t believe I passed the test.” “I can’t believe I got the job!” “I can’t believe she said yes!” “I can’t believe it!” Many times, those words follow the evidence that something that we thought would not or even could not happen has in fact occurred.
That was the common reaction by the people closest to Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. “I just can’t believe it!” Think about the appearances of Jesus that we’ve look at over the last couple of weeks. You had the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morning. They heard the news of the angel, “He has risen” but still found it hard to believe. They reported the news to Jesus’ disciples and they found it hard to believe. You have the two disciples on Easter afternoon who left Jerusalem because they found the news that Jesus had risen from the dead hard to believe. Last weekend we heard how on Easter evening Jesus appeared before his disciples, and even though they saw Jesus they still found it hard to believe that Jesus really was alive. He had to show them his nail-pierced hands and feet, and sword-pierced side, and eat some fish to convince them that it was true And Thomas, the one disciple who was not there at the appearance of Jesus, was actually no different than any of his fellow disciples. He just couldn’t believe it. Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). In other words, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
You can only imagine what that next week was like for those disciples. You have all of them trying to convince Thomas that they really had seen Jesus, and Thomas repeating his demand, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Maybe they reminded Thomas of what he had said just a few weeks earlier. You see when Jesus had announced that he was going to Jerusalem, the disciples were worried. They felt that the hatred of Jesus was growing more intense and that Jesus’ life was likely in danger by going to Jerusalem. It was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas was willing to die for Jesus! But when it came to Jesus dying and coming back from the dead. That was different. People die all the time, but people don’t usually come back from the dead. He just couldn’t believe it!
You can only imagine that as that week went along Jesus disciples must have wondered when and where Jesus was going to make his next appearance. Hopefully it would be soon so that they could convince Thomas, and maybe even themselves, that they weren’t crazy or delusional, that Jesus really was alive. Did you notice where Jesus found his disciples a week after that first appearance? We’re told, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came among them and said, ’Peace be with you!’” (John 20:26). Even though they had seen Jesus the week before, the disciples were still hiding out in the same room where Jesus had found them last Sunday evening, huddled together in fear that the Jewish leaders might do to them what they had done to Jesus. Again Jesus greets his fear-gripped disciples with the same words as a week earlier, “Peace be with you!” Can you imagine the looks on their faces, the eyes that all shifted to Thomas recalling the demands that he had made? What would Jesus going to do Thomas?
But instead of Jesus doing something TO Thomas, Jesus does something FOR Thomas. Jesus shows Thomas his nail-pierced hands. Jesus kicks off his sandals and shows Thomas his nail-pierced feet. Jesus pulls back his cloak and shows Thomas his nail-pierced side. He invites Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:28). Thomas didn’t not need to touch Jesus. He had seen enough. Jesus had confronted Thomas’s sinful doubt. And now with repentant heart Thomas clings to Jesus in faith, looks to Jesus for forgiveness and says, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Thomas is certainly not unusual in his demands and doubts. “I can’t believe it!” are still the words of many people to this day when it comes to Jesus’ rising from the dead or the message of Jesus in general. The denial of the historical account of Jesus’ resurrection is all too common even among so-called Christian and Lutheran churches and seminaries. This is a quote from one of the most popular books used by many seminaries across the United States and Europe to teach Christians doctrine. “Today it is impossible to assume the literal historicity of all things recorded [in the Bible]. What the biblical authors report is not accepted as a literal transcript of the factual course of events. Therefore, critical scholars inquire behind the text and attempt to reconstruct the real history that took place.” The historical resurrection of Jesus is not only doubted, but it is denied, discarded as mythological, nothing more than a fairytale. Why? Because people don’t usually come back to life. It’s something that WE haven’t seen, WE can’t do, and therefore it is something that GOD could not do.
Does that surprise you? Are you surprised by the blatant “I just can’t believe it!” when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus? We might be a bit surprised to hear it coming from those who claim to be Christians, but it’s not actually all that surprising. In fact, it is the natural reaction not only to the resurrection of Jesus, but also to the person of Jesus as true God and man in one person, the mission of Jesus to save sinners, and the message of Jesus of salvation by grace through faith. The Bible says, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”– the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). By nature, we just cannot see the truth! By nature, the whole story of Jesus seems like utter nonsense, foolishness as the Bible says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Therefore, it is no surprise to hear people say, “I can’t believe it!”
Instead, the miracle is when we hear people say, “I DO believe.” That is the miracle that God has worked in you! How? The Bible tells us in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). How ironic! God has brought us to believe that the message of Christ is true through the message of Christ! And because he wanted you and everyone to hear the message of Christ he wrote it down in human language by human beings like John. Did you hear those two verses that John sticks at the end of this account just before going on to describe another appearance of Jesus which we’ll look at next week? It’s almost as if he knows that we would just like to keep on hearing more and more of the amazing things that Jesus did, but then he pauses and says, “Don’t forgot why I’m tell you these things.” “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We don’t have to wait for Jesus to make an appearance or show us his hands, feet and side. Instead, God has chosen to have the entire story written down for us, from the very beginning to the very end and into eternity.
Do you remember how John’s gospel begins? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1-3,14). We are told who Jesus, the eternal God who also became fully human. We are told why Jesus did that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus came to rescue a world of people who were going to perish and be lost forever. So God in his love came to take the place of those perishing. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Just before his death, Jesus announced that the price for life eternal with him had been fully paid for all with the words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus rises from the dead and 40 days later ascends into heaven to assure us of what he promised, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”( John 14:3).
That is the message that brings skeptics and doubters, people like Thomas, like the disciples, like us to say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” That is the message that Jesus’ disciples and countless others throughout history and to this day in countries around the world are willing to die for. This is the message that causes people to freely give of their money and their time for the spread of the message of Christ our Savior, that leads people to suffer inconvenience and loss, that brings us to struggle daily against those things that our Savior says are not good for us. This is the message that brings comfort amid tragedy, peace at the time of death, and strength throughout the difficult times of this life.
All of this is ours because “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” the name of the one who has come to bring us life. Why do we believe that is true? It’s NOT because we have SEEN Jesus, but because we have HEARD Jesus and by the work of the Holy Spirit we know that he is our Lord and God, our risen and living Savior. Amen.

I Can’t Believe It!

Sermon from May 5, 2019 – John 20:19-23

If Jesus were to suddenly, without warning, appear in church this morning, what would you do? What would you say? We would probably begin with a bit of skepticism. “Is this really Jesus, THE Jesus that we’ve heard so much about?” You might wonder if your eyes were deceiving you, if this was just a figment of your imagination. Is this for real?
Last weekend we heard about two of Jesus’ disciples who on Easter afternoon walked with Jesus who had hidden his identify from them. Do you remember how that account ended? They sat down to eat with Jesus and that’s when they recognized who it was. They realized that this was Jesus. Their friend. Their teacher. Their Savior. But as soon as they recognized him, he disappeared. The quickly return to Jerusalem, going to the room where they knew the rest of the disciples were hiding and they announced, “It is true. The Lord has risen!” (Luke 24:34). They began explaining how that afternoon they had walked and talked with Jesus and that’s when it happened. Suddenly, without warning, Jesus was there standing among his disciples. What would they do? What would they say?
Maybe the better question to ask is what would JESUS do, what would JESUS say to them? Do you remember the last time Jesus saw those disciples and what they were doing? The last time most of them had seen Jesus was four days ago, when Jesus was arrested. What were those brave disciples of Jesus doing who had said along with Peter, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:21)? They were running away from Jesus, not wanting to be associated with him. Their fear of being identified as a follower of Jesus had not diminished over the last couple of days especially after hearing and seeing what had happed to Jesus. We heard, “The disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19). They were afraid that what happened to Jesus might happen to them. But now as Jesus stood in front of them, their fear may have shifted a bit. Instead of being afraid of what the Jewish leaders were going to do to them, they might have been afraid of what Jesus would do or at the very least say to them. And rightfully so as they considered how they had acted or not, the words they said or did not.
And we know what that’s like, don’t we? When you think of the omniscience of God – that God knows everything about you, how does that initially make you feel at even the thought of having to stand before that all-knowing God? Jesus knows your internet search history, the clicks to places and to pictures that you should not go, that do not honor God or demonstrate respect for others. Jesus knows those times when we were afraid to be identified as a follower of Christ, silently standing by as someone at work or school questioned how anyone could be so foolish and stupid to believe in all that Bible Christian stuff. Jesus knows the motives behind the things that we do that on the surface look so good and helpful to others, but are actually prompted by sinful pride, arrogance or fear. Jesus knows it all. Now let me ask you again what would you do, what would you say, if Jesus suddenly, without warning, was standing here before you today?
Like Jesus’ disciples on Easter evening, it’s not so much about what WE would say or what WE would do. What is most important is what JESUS says and what JESUS has done. What were the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as he stood before these sinful skeptics? “Peace be with you!” Peace? Really? Didn’t they deserve to be punished? Yes. Without a doubt that is what they and ever sinner deserve from a holy and just God. But what the sinner deserves, Jesus has taken. That is the peace that Jesus announces – the peace of sins forgiven – peace with God. After all, that’s why Jesus came into this world. Do you remember the announcement that the angel made on the night of Jesus’ birth? “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Jesus came to bring peace between God and sinners. The price of that peace required the perfect Son of God going to the cross and taking the punishment of our sins. Because Jesus has been punished in our place, God cannot punish us. We are forever free from sin’s punishment. While the memories of our past sins may still linger in our minds, because of what Jesus has done, God declares, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). What a truly profound thought that because of Jesus, God has chosen not to remember your sins. The God who knows all things, knows nothing of your sins. They are gone! Forever forgotten!
That is the peace that Jesus announced to his disciples on Easter evening, assuring them that they had nothing to fear from him – their sins were forgiven. That is the peace that Jesus announces to us, assuring us that we have nothing to fear as we stand before Jesus – our sins are forgiven. That is the peace that Jesus sends us out to announce to a world that is by nature enslaved by sin. Jesus has called us to be his voice, to deliver the message of sins forgiven and peace with God.
The gospel of John gives us kind of a condensed version of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on Easter evening, the four verses that you heard in our gospel lesson. The gospel-writer Luke provides a bit of an expanded description of this account, 13 verses long in Luke 24:36-49, and Luke’s account provides some additional details. Right after Jesus says, “Peace be with you” Luke says that Jesus did two things. First Jesus showed his disciples his nail-pierced hands and feet along with his sword-pierced side, and then Jesus ate some fish to prove that he was not just some type of spirit or figment of their imagination, but that it was really him, really there, with a real body. The reason I point that out is that Jesus certainly would not have had to do that. Jesus could have easily said, “Believe me! It’s me.” But Jesus knew his disciples. He knew their doubts and fears and skepticism, and he gave them these additional assurances that he really was alive, that this really was him, that he really had done exactly as he promised.
While Jesus has not chosen to make personal, visible appearances to every Christian like he did for those disciples on Easter evening, Jesus has given us something that shows that he knows us so well, something that he certainly would not have had to give to us, but in his love he has chosen to do so. He has given to us the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. Think about it. We regularly hear the announcement of God’s forgiveness of our sins in our worship services. We read of God’s love and forgiveness in the Bible. But here in the Lord’s Supper Jesus has given to us something that we can see, something that we can taste, something tangible that assures of his love and forgiveness. He gives to us bread and wine and along with it in a miraculous way, the very body and blood that he sacrificed at the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Through this Sacrament God announces to us, “Peace be with you!” Like Jesus demonstrated with his disciples on Easter evening, does Jesus know us or what? He goes above and beyond, before we even ask, and in the Lord’s Supper he assures us that he really has done exactly all he has promised – that we are at peace with God.
Since we have once again arrived at lawnmowing season, let me ask you, what is the first thing you check when you go to start your lawnmower? If you’re like me, you check the gas tank to see if it needs to be filled up. Even I who am “mechanically challenged” know that you need gas for your lawn mower to run. Without regularly refueling, it’s just not going to work.
The same is true when it comes to our Christian lives and the way that we interact with each other. In our first lesson from Colossians 3 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). The peace of Christ is the fuel for our Christians lives. The peace of Christ, the message that you are forgiven of every sin because Jesus lived, died and rose for you, is what empowers all of those different Christian characteristics that the apostle Paul talked about in those verses. The peace of Christ is what enables compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love and gratefulness. When we are struggling to show those things in our lives, the first thing to do is to check our fuel source. Are we as Paul tells us, “Let[ting] the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Colossians 3:16)? Is the message of Christ’s forgiveness something that we are hearing regularly? Is the message of Christ actually something that we think about as we consider in the decisions we make in what we will and won’t do? Is the message of Christ something that we are growing in as we read our Bibles and grow in our knowledge and understanding of who our God is, what our God has done for us, and what our God wants for us?
When we are continually being refueled by the peace of Christ, it takes control our hearts, our minds, our attitudes and actions. We begin to better realize that my life and relationships are not about me getting my way, getting the last word in, getting even with someone or getting recognition for what I’ve done. My life and my relationships are about reflecting the heart of Christ – putting the Lord first and others second, freely forgiving, selflessly serving, trusting my Savior and his will for me. Yes, the peace of Christ frees us and fuels us to live in gratefulness to our Savior.
I’m not sure what I would say or do if Jesus suddenly appeared here in church this morning. But I thank God that we do what he would say to us. Like those disciples on Easter evening he continues to say to us, “Peace be with you!” May that peace of Christ free you from fear and fuel you to live in gratefulness to your risen and living Savior. Amen.