Let us pray: Dear Savior, although we live in a world tainted by sin in which people can never seem to get along, You have graciously given us an antidote to such strife. For You have made peace between God and man and also given us the ability to foster such inner peace in human hearts by means of forgiveness. Today we thank You for Your peace. We thank You for Your forgiveness. And we ask that all of us may live in such peaceful forgiveness every day and also spread it to those who are still at war with You, with others, and with themselves. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE REMOVER OF ALL DOUBT AND INNER TURMOIL!
TEXT: John 20: 19-31
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
How would you define peace? Is it the lack of physical warfare and violence—which we have seen coming from Iraq lately in abundance on our televisions? Or, is it something more profound and lasting? When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the angelic choirs sang: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Some construe that to mean that Christ came to bring a cessation from violence. And since violence hasn’t ceased, they also view those words as a cruel joke. No, the peace referred to in the bible is between God and sinful humans and it involves and resides in the human heart. Such peace is eternal. It won’t go away just because someone lets their temper explode. God won’t withdraw it either, for the cost of that peace—Christ’s death and resurrection—can never be undone. Godly peace, real peace, is the freedom from doubt and fear. It is the joy of a clean conscience. And God offers it to all who are willing to embrace Him in confidence and faith.
So, how does such peace become our possession? How does God transfer it from His heart to our hearts? Of course, the answer is: through forgiveness. Today in our lesson we see that doubt over Christ’s victory, or Godly peace between God and sinners, brought Thomas inner turmoil. We also see that true peace is intertwined with forgiveness since Christ announced that to the disciples in the upper room when He commissioned them to go and share His forgiveness. With that in mind, today let’s examine all this under the theme:
TRUE PEACE COMES ONLY THROUGH FORGIVENESS
On that first Easter evening, we find ten of the disciples together locked in the upper room, “for fear of the Jews” as our lesson says. Apparently they had heard that with Jesus’ death His enemies now sought to stamp out His movement with their deaths, as well. They were fearful of their safety. And yet, with that inner dread was mingled awe and a certain amount of joy. For they had heard the women’s report of Jesus’ resurrection, and they had also heard from Peter that the Lord has appeared to him, as well. Then Luke and Clopas arrive on the scene to announce that Jesus also appeared to them that afternoon on the road to Emmaus. Amid their speculation, hope, and reviving confidence—suddenly Christ appears in their midst! And what are the first words from His mouth?—“Peace be with you!” God’s gift of peace—the resurrected Savior—now stood before them! He showed them His hands and His side where the nail and spear wounds were still evident. In an instant He took away all their doubts. We’re told: “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
Then He repeats His greeting and adds something to it. Something quite profound. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
This connection between Godly peace and forgiving others of their sins cannot be broken. For as Paul says in Ephesians: “Christ himself is our peace.” Yes, Jesus won eternal peace for us by giving His life for ours on the cross. His sacrifice placated, erased, and wiped out God’s anger over all human sin. Through Jesus’ blood we’re forgiven and thus at peace with God. And now it is up to the disciples to spread that peace around and share that life-changing truth with everyone they meet.
Dr. Luther correctly points out in the catechism that these words of Jesus are very, very special. First, they commission the public ministry of which the disciples were the representatives. The public ministry is all about announcing forgiveness to hurting souls and thus creating peace in troubled hearts. Secondly, since this life-changing ability has been given to the Church at large, all Christians have the right, duty, and joy of engaging in it in their private lives, as well. So, if you think you’re powerless to really make a difference in this world, you’re wrong! You, too, can change the world, one heart at a time, by practicing and announcing forgiveness to those who have no peace because they’re stuck in the guilt and shame of their own sins.
Of course, Thomas, wasn’t with them that night. He’s a classic example of a hurting heart who desperately desires something better but doesn’t know where or how to find it. Even after the others find him and tell him their wondrous news, Thomas still doubts and refuses to believe. Would Thomas eventually come around if Christ hadn’t appeared to him a week later? I like to think so. For the Godly forgiveness and the peace that it brings is a powerful tool. Yet, we don’t have to speculate on that, because our loving Lord wasn’t about to wait. Instead, just one week later He appears again in the upper room while Thomas is present. And again, the first words from His mouth are: “peace be with you!” And then He also confronts Thomas by saying: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” This demonstration of Godly peace, love, and a forgiving heart by Christ is too much for Thomas’ doubting, hurting heart. And he exclaims: “My Lord and my God.”
Your presence here today says to the world that you need Christ in your life. It says that you have a heart filled with various doubts as to God’s goodness, various sins that bother you, various people problems with which you need help. And so, like Thomas you’ve come to the right place! For today, right here, God has forgiven you in His absolution. And today, right here, He will also offer to you an eternal pledge of that forgiveness—His true Body and Blood—the cost of your inner peace in His holy supper.
As a result of this profound demonstration of His power, He expects something in return. He expects faith. He expects obedience to His will. He expects you to “forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven you.” He expects you to be joyously active disciples! And how do I know that? Because Jesus concludes with these wonderful words: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas learned the hard way that forgiveness and peace go hand in hand. By God’s grace you’ve learned that same truth today. So, practice it and receive the blessings it brings! Amen