Sometimes we call them cowards, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable in the least – this thing the disciples do: they hide. I mean, if you think about it, it’s not crazy. Their friend and master had just been subjected to some mock-trial, a callous miscarriage of justice, and a horrific death. If they’d been willing to do such things to the popular preacher, the miracle worker – would they even hesitate to exterminate his followers? So they hid. Reasonable, right? Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.
Ah, but… you could reason this way too. They’d heard things from Jesus. He’d said he’d die; and more, even rise, be alive again. They’d seen, some of them, the empty tomb. Women had even said they’d seen the Lord himself… Still, as you know, sometimes, in the traumas, it’s hard to believe. Sometimes, in the difficulties, staring into that gray fog of the future where you’re guessing at what’s around the corners, it’s hard to trust. Sometimes, when your whole world’s been rocked, it’s easy to be overcome by fear and doubt. Which is exactly why it’s important to listen when Jesus appears to those disciples. That, of all the things, he says this thing first and leaves this thing behind among John’s last gospel words. To doubting, fearful disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you!”
What does he mean? Let’s relate it to our confirmands. They have some measure of peace now – the examination they prepared for is finally done. They made it through 70 minutes of questioning and Bible passages and reading essays aloud before people. Perhaps, though, they’re not fully at peace. They’re thinking yet about the rite of confirmation and the words they’ll say – the Apostles Creed, all by themselves. And communion the first time. Then there’s their song to sing. So perhaps they have some temerity still about some things. Later though, when they get home and relax – when there are no more public questions, no more songs, no more speaking – when there’s nothing (at least in this confirmation respect) that could fall apart, they’ll feel good – at rest.
Practically, as he appears alive to his disciples on Easter, Jesus means that they have no worry or doubt or anxiety or fear because he is alive – he won the victory over death. As St. Paul said it to the Colossians, Jesus made peace “by the blood of his cross” where he died to make payment for sins. Because of his death and resurrection there is no longer any failure between you and God; there is no longer any guilt complicating your relationship; there is no doubt about your outcome; there are no things left to be done – by faith in him the victory’s won and heaven is yours. And in that peace, Jesus enables us in three ways: to go, to believe, and to live.
Jesus says to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” At confirmation at CTL, these students express their faith in God in their essays. And every essay, this class just like many others, looked ahead to what’s coming in the future. They have a recognition that they’re going out from here to other things. And every one said they don’t have to fear because God will be with them. In the process of editing essays, one thing we almost always have to say is, “Now, did you talk about Jesus in here? What about the forgiveness of sins?” Of course, if we’re honest, even we pastors have to say it to ourselves. Just as you do in your daily lives. Often as we go out, we’re thinking about life and all the things it could mean and bring and all the things we have, maybe, to fear or not. It’s easy to think of the stuff of life as answers to all the problems and figuring the situations and wondering what will come; and to forget that as we go out we go just like Jesus came.
Did you notice how that is? The words people say in certain circumstances are important – Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, here’s the way to achieve social justice in the world.” He did not lead with, “Here’s the formula for changing lead to gold.” He didn’t bring out his 50 maxims for maximum living. His big important next line after “Peace” was this, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Why? because that’s exactly what he came for! On a confirmation day we confess our fellowship together in doctrine and practice around the Word of God – but really, it’s in this: in Jesus’ forgiveness we have a right relationship with God. And Jesus sends us out with the authority, having received that forgiveness, also to give it. For the person who lied about you – the one who slandered your name – the one who betrayed you – the child who disobeyed you – the parent who mistreated you – Jesus says that if you forgive, truly their sin is forgiven. And, if they think that sin is no deal at all, you have the power to say what’s true – that sin is not forgiven. What Jesus has won, he gives you the power go with – to withhold or to share with sinners as they need to be reminded of sin or have it removed. All so that we together might live in the essence of faith – sharing that we have a right relationship with God on the basis of Jesus’ work. All so that we can confidently join in the second part of his peace – to believe.
Believing is looking to what Jesus has done and trusting that it’s true and confessing it too. And that’s personal. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of believing is being at peace personally in Jesus’ work. …say with the idea that Jesus could forgive my sins? …or with the idea of forgiving that person’s sins? …or being at peace when the world’s in uproar? …or when what Jesus says is hard to share or receive for ourselves? The disciples weren’t at peace – locked away for fear. Thomas wasn’t at peace either – refusing to believe what he hadn’t seen. Maybe the disciples’ hunt for peace tempts us. We hide away. Or we say, “I’ll believe and confess when Jesus gives me real friends, or improves this horrible life, or shows me himself.” It’s easy to be uneasy instead of at peace.
But hear Jesus say there is peace in his work – from all your sins, your fears, your death – personally. But more, specifically, that he calls each of us to know this peace from a place that is unchanging and reliable. Graciously Jesus returned to Thomas to show him everything he needed to see – hands, feet, side. Graciously Jesus comes to you and me with his Word so that we might see him and believe despite what we see or feel around us. Martin Luther said, “I believe what God’s Word promises, if I feel it, or if I don’t feel it!” That’s what John said at the end: there are tons more things Jesus did, and lots you might feel, but “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
Whether we are just confirmed or continuing in years and years of faith, how important for us to gather around this Word, to hear Jesus’ promises, to trust what he says and then, like those first disciples, to confess what we have heard to those who have not seen yet. In what we do, in what we say, with our friends, with our brothers and sisters here – we want to confess: I have peace from this broken world in Jesus. I have peace from all my sins in Jesus. “Jesus is my Lord and my God!”
As you do that this morning, confirmands – as you confess your faith, we’re all praying that you will be ready for life. When Jesus leaves us in his peace, at rest in his work, personally forgiven, and trusting his Word – it’s all so that we can truly live. The purpose of John’s book was that “by believing [we] may have life in [Jesus’] name.” When he started his book, John said that Jesus was the life of the world – in him is life. Here at the end, after Jesus’ work is done, he tells what Jesus’ victory over sin and death means: those who are in Jesus by faith, they have his life. Though they die, they will rise up from the dead. Though they may never see him in this life, on the testimony of his Word, with the confession of their friends, hearing the message of forgiveness again and again – they are not dead in sins but alive to God, and by faith in Christ they will be with him in life forever. Life brings many experiences, temptations, fulfilling things – but in all our living, there is nothing more fulfilling, nothing more worthy than knowing that, in Jesus’ peace, we will truly live – forever.
Confirmands, Christians, friends in the risen Lord – in this Easter season, in this time until he returns, you are witnesses to the glory of the risen Lord. In his name and by his work, peace be with you – to go with his gifts to the world, to believe what he has promised in his Word, and to live with him now and forever. Amen.