Monday, April 16, 2007

Second Sunday of Easter - A Great Gospel Text

This Sunday's Gospel was one of those texts that requires multiple sermons. There is simply too much to cover in one 15 minute proclamation. If you didn't hear it or can't remember it, the text is John 20:19-31.

A list of points to ponder and fodder for future sermons or Bible classes:

--"Peace be with you!" - Jesus' Easter greeting is repeated no less than three time in this text. Its importance to the church is obvious each time the celebrant shares the Pax Domini after the Consecration, elevating the chalice of Christ's blood for all to see. True peace comes only through the shed blood of our Lord which paid for the sins that separated us from God. Romans 5. Furthermore, his greeting is an absolution as well. These ten men were locked behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. They had abandoned their master, and one had openly denied him. Certainly they were crushed with guilt and shame. Yet here is Jesus declaring divine peace to them!

--"Whenever you forgive someone's sins..." - There is hardly a clearer verse in all of Holy Scripture for the sacrament of Holy Absolution (Yes, a "sacrament" - Even though it does not have a 'visible element,' the catechism allows for its inclusion.) As Jesus told the 72: "The person who hears you hears Me, and the person who rejects you rejects Me" (Luke 10:16). Our Lord empowered His church to speak His living voice of absolution with the same authority as if He Himself were visible before us saying it. Many Protestant Christians resist this gift believing it is in conflict with the truth that "only God can forgive sin." It seems terribly presumptuous for a pastor to say "I forgive you..." Yet here is the promise and the command, which a pastor does "by virtue of [his] office as a called and ordained servant of the Word..." What a blessing even Lutherans have forgotten in the loss of Private Confession and Absolution which our confessions clearly support and encourage. To know the direct voice of Christ pronouncing forgiveness on MY sins!

--"My Lord and My God" - I will never understand how the Jehovah's Witnesses can deny the divinity of Jesus with such an absolutely crystal clear confession such as this. If Jesus was not God, should He not have corrected Thomas right then and there? Yet He allows the confession and simply mentions that many will believe as he did, but without the benefit of their direct encounter with the risen Lord. Thomas' confession was a natural faith reaction to the resurrection. Who but God could defeat death itself? No man could do so. Jesus had raised others from the dead, but who was there to raise Him? The Easter miracle is the most direct indication of Christ's divinity. And why is this truth so important? Again, consider the JWs. They are on an endless quest for a works-secured righteousness because they do not have a God who can save them. How sad. If only they too had met the real resurrected God in human flesh.

--"But these things are written...." - What a testimony to the purpose of the Bible. Many things could have been written, but only those things were recorded which serve faith in Christ. We often wish that we knew more details of the personalities of the Bible. There are other curious events we wonder about. But the Bible's goal to to present Christ and Him alone. The one scarlet thread connecting it all is the thread of his life and work. This is important as well for those Christians who would make the Bible into another rule book for holy living. It is about Christ. Period.

--Beyond the above points we should not forget the person of Thomas. Aside from his inclusion in the list of apostles, his only appearance, as such, is a few places in John's Gospel. In John 11 before they go to Bethany he calls on the other 11 to go "and die with Him." Was this courage, or just a pessimistic realization that it was inevitable? A few verses before this the other disciples show reluctance to go because of the danger to Jesus from those who wanted to stone him. In John 14 it is Thomas who is the honest one and tells Jesus that they do not know the "way" where He is going. His admission is met with one of the clearest statements of salvation: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life...." Finally, we meet him for the last time in John 20. Known as "Thomas the Doubter," I think that he has gotten a bad rap. Yes, he doubted. But so did all the others. Remember last Sunday's Gospel from Luke? They thought the report of the women was "nonsense," or "an idle tale" (as ESV has it). Why single Thomas out? No, I am thankful for his honesty here. Faith rightly is founded on the solid, objective truth of the evidence of his resurrection. We benefit in faith today because of what Thomas needed to see and touch. By the way, once armed with this evidence, his faith came alive in clear confession, and He went on to become a tireless missionary. History places him eventually all the way east in India, where he is still known today as "The Apostle to India."

Well, I'm sure there is more to clean from this text, but those are the highlights. It's too bad I didn't have a week to preach on all this.......

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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