Receiving and Proclaiming Peace

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

John 20:19-23

 

What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you?

Easter Sunday is all about the resurrection of Jesus. The sombre and dark readings of Good Friday, describing the tragic and unjust crucifixion of Jesus, give way to the readings of women and men, friends and followers of Jesus, making bewildering but exciting discoveries – the stone is rolled away! The body isn’t there! Angels are saying he’s risen! “I’ve seen him!”, Mary announces. ‘Jesus is Alive’ – that’s what Easter Sunday is all about. But what does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? What’s the significance? What are the implications for you? How does it affect you personally?

For many in Australia, and perhaps for some us joining in the service today, the most significant effect of the claim that Jesus has risen from the dead is that you get a day off tomorrow. Easter Sunday means Easter Monday, and you’re not complaining! (although this year that’s not going to look too different to most other days at the moment…)

For many, what the resurrection of Jesus really boils down to is… chocolate – lots of it. (And I’m not just talking about the under 10s here!) You’re not quite sure why the news that Jesus was raised to life 3 days after being crucified means you get given chocolate bilbies and bunnies… but you’re not complaining either!

Perhaps for you the resurrection of Jesus is the happy ending that we all want in a story, but frankly it seems like wishful thinking. You like Jesus. You’re onboard with the idea of loving your neighbour as yourself (and hopefully your neighbour doing likewise!). You like the idea that Jesus came back bigger and better than before – like the hero of a movie who looked like he was killed by the bad guys, but rises from the ashes and wins the day. But really, it seems like wishful thinking to you, and you’re not sure why it needs to be true. Can’t Jesus just be the good guy who showed us the right way to live and died as a martyr for his cause, like so many other revolutionaries? Isn’t that enough?

But for many of us, the resurrection of Jesus is big news. This is the founding pillar of our faith. We’re convinced it really happened, and it’s the reason we are a Christian. It’s the reason we think Jesus is more than just a good teacher who made big claims. It gives us hope that God has conquered death. It’s gives us reasonable hope for our future. It speaks of new beginnings and the possibility of a new world.

And maybe for you it’s a mixture of some or all of the above!

 

Well this morning we’re going to take a close look at what Jesus’ resurrection meant for his first group of followers. We’re going to look particularly at verses 19 to 23 in John chapter 20, which was read out for us just before. It describes the moment that Jesus first appeared to this core group of his disciples on the evening of that first Easter Sunday. And it helps us see that Jesus’ resurrection meant peace and joy in the place of fear, and it would mean being sent with the offer of peace for all the world.

 

Peace and Joy in the place of Fear (v19-20)

So first of all, we see that the presence of Jesus, alive again and in their midst, brought peace and joy in the place of fear for Jesus’ disciples.

John explains from verse 19 that on the evening of that first day of the week the disciples were gathered together in a house with the doors locked. This was the same day that Mary had discovered early in the morning that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. The same day that Peter and John had then run to the tomb and seen for themselves – the grave cloths were lying there, but Jesus’ body was missing. The same day that Mary, staying back and crying over what had happened to her Lord, suddenly realised the gardener she was speaking to was none other than Jesus himself, and had then run back to announce the news to the others.

This same day, later in the evening, the disciples are then gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. It’s clear that they are not sure what to think about what they’ve seen so far and what they’ve heard from Mary. Despite what has happened already today, what is dominating their minds is fear of what might happen to them now that Jesus has been crucified. They had sided with him. They had joined Jesus in his mission to announce the Kingdom of God. They had seen the growing opposition to Jesus from the religious leaders, but they’d been hopeful things would turn out in Jesus’ favour. And then it all came crumbling down. The religious leaders had won. Manipulating the crowds and the power and authority of the Romans, they had taken their lord away, beaten him and killed him. And now they were afraid. What would happen to them?

And in the midst of this pain and confusion and fear, Jesus is suddenly present amongst them. Though the doors were locked, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘peace be with you!’” And as John goes on to explain, “After he said this, he (Jesus) showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

 

The joy of getting their master back

Now in one sense, the meaning of these verses is quite straightforward. The disciples are simply overjoyed to finally realise that their friend, their master, their teacher, really is alive. Jesus appears in their midst and greets them with the standard Jewish greeting, “peace be with you – Shalom Aleichem.” He’s not saying anything special or unexpected. And then he shows them his hands and his side to help them see that it truly is him! He’s not a ghost or vision. It’s Jesus of Nazareth – their friend and teacher who was crucified before their eyes. And so, with the reality sinking in – the confusing messages of the morning giving way to clear and undeniable reality before them – their fear gives way to joy. They can barely understand what they’re seeing, but they realise it’s true. And joy and peace settles upon them.

But there’s certainly something different about Jesus isn’t there? The reason the disciples had locked the doors was because they were afraid, but the reason John tells us about it is because he wants us to know that Jesus appeared amongst them even though the doors were locked. The man before them is the same man – their friend who was crucified. But he’s different. He’s transformed. He’s not just back from the dead, he’s come out the other side. He’s not bound and limited by the restrictions of our mortal bodies. And all this helps the disciples start to grasp the significance of what they’re witnessing…

 

The peace of God’s Kingdom

You see what the disciples were starting to realise, and would come to fully understand in the days and weeks to follow, was that Jesus wasn’t just appearing to comfort them. He was there to bless them with the peace of God’s Kingdom, which he had made possible through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. Before them was God’s Messiah – God’s promised King – who had suffered for the sins of the world and risen to establish a new humanity, a new world, reconciled to God and filled with the peace of God.

You see the Jewish greeting ‘peace be with you’, wasn’t just like saying ‘have a nice day’. It might have functioned like that most of the time, but it was connected with something bigger. It was rooted in the hope of the peace that God had promised to establish on earth.

The hope of God’s people was that God would one day intervene to establish justice, righteousness and peace in this world. Oppression, injustice and corruption would be overcome. Selfishness, violence and immorality would be purged from God’s world. The sin that plagues our hearts and minds would be taken away and our guilt forgiven. The hope of the Kingdom of God was the hope of ‘shalom’ – wholeness and perfection. Life in this world as God created it to be and promised it would be again one day. Bodies and relationships and communities and societies all working in harmony…

It’s a much bigger vision than ‘have a nice day’. It’s much more than simply the absence of disagreement or escaping the bustle and noise of the city (or squabbling children in some houses that will remain nameless…). It’s everything according to God’s good vision for the world he has made.

This is the peace that Jesus was announcing and blessing his disciples with. It’s what Jesus was sent into the world to bring and it’s what his death and resurrection had secured. And Jesus’ own resurrection was the first fruits of this peace – the first taste of this new world that we are all hoping for.

 

And so that reaction of the disciples to the presence of Jesus ­– the fear of persecution giving way to joy and peace – is in some sense a picture of what Jesus’ resurrection means for all of us. Their fear was just one form of the fear that can infect life for all of us. Fear of others – fear of what life might bring next…

We know what it means to fear the future at the moment don’t we? Some of us, particularly those who are older, are understandably afraid of leaving the house at the moment. I remember that video on the news from a month back of an elderly lady waiting in her car in a shopping centre car park in America – too afraid to leave her car to buy even her essential groceries, and hoping that someone might be kind enough to stop and buy what she needed for her. And all of us are concerned about the social and economic impacts of the virus that has gripped our world.

And all this is just on top of the stuff we’re normally struggling with! Ever since humanity first rebelled against God’s word in the garden, we have hidden in fear from God and each other. And in the face of all that, Jesus comes, having conquered sin and death, and says, “peace be with you.” This is what the resurrection of Jesus means for his followers. This is what the resurrection of Jesus means for a world living in fear of the effects of sin.

 

Peace granted by the King who has suffered in our place

But it’s also important that we appreciate the risen Lord Jesus pronounces peace to his followers as the one who first suffered in our place, and then was raised to new life.

When Jesus shows his disciples the holes in his hands from the nails and the wound in his side where he was pierced, he isn’t just giving proof that it’s really him. He’s highlighting that the peace he brings as the risen Lord Jesus is the peace that was purchased by his suffering on the cross. Jesus conquered sin and death first of all by suffering the consequences of our sin in our place. “By his wounds we are healed” we read in Isaiah 53.

And so now, raised to life, Jesus still bears these scars. He is glorified not despite his scars, but because of them. His resurrection transforms his scars rather than covers over them.

He is the Lion and the Lamb – the Lamb of God, slain to bear the sin of the world, and the Lion of Judah who roars in the face of death and tramples sin beneath his feet. And he is always the Lion and the Lamb.

 

Jesus’ resurrection means peace for us and this world because it means the one who suffered with us and for us has overcome our sin and suffering. The wounds of the resurrected Jesus proclaim peace – they are the basis of our forgiveness with God. And they bless us with peace in the midst of suffering, because they remind us that the one who offers peace is the one who joined us in our suffering.

As counter-intuitive as many find the idea of an almighty God that experiences weakness and suffering, it isbecause of Jesus’ scars that we truly find comfort and peace in him. God has not stood afar from our weakness and problems. He did not click his fingers and rid the world of the ‘troublemakers’. He entered into it, suffered alongside us and ultimately in our place, so that he might truly overcome it for us.

After the First World War, a man named Edward Shillito wrote a poem called ‘Jesus of the Scars’, which reflects that when we are confronted with the horror that this world can bring, it’s only in Jesus of the Scars that we can ultimately find comfort and hope. In the final verse he writes,

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

            They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

            And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

The resurrection of the crucified Jesus means peace and joy in the place of fear and pain. That’s the first key thing we see from this short passage about the meaning and the significance of the resurrection of Jesus for us.

 

Sent to proclaim peace in Jesus (21-23)

The second main thing we see is that Jesus doesn’t just come proclaiming peace for his followers, but that he sends them out into the world to offer this peace in his name in the power and presence of his Spirit. For Jesus’ followers, the resurrection of Jesus means a commission – it means being sent to proclaim peace as an extension of his own mission.

 

Sent (as he has been sent)

In verse 21 we read, Jesus again says to them, “Peace be with you!” If we didn’t get already that this was more than a polite greeting, we should get it now. And this time, Jesus goes on. His blessing of peace is connected with a commission. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Many people have rightly noted that what Jesus says here is profoundly important for our understanding of what it means to be a Christian – for what it means to be the church. We are not just recipients of peace through the work of Jesus, but we are commissioned to take that peace and proclaim it, share it, with the world. To be a Christian is to be sent, just as Jesus was sent.

Yes, Jesus was first of all sending this group of eyewitnesses of his resurrection to proclaim the good news in his name. But through them, with the offer of peace in Jesus’ name also came the commission to likewise go and take that offer to others.

 

Sent in peace and with peace

And it’s so helpful to see that the mission itself is grounded in the peace, the Shalom, that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The mission and message of the church is a restorative mission – it’s all about bringing wholeness and peace to this world; and the mission is itself motivated and driven by the experience of God’s peace.

The presence of Jesus, alive in their midst brings joy to Jesus’ followers – overflowing joy! And our commission comes in the context of this peace and joy. Jesus doesn’t whip his disciples into action, kicking them in the butt for being such scared losers and telling them to get out there and make a difference! No, he first of all blesses them with his peace – twice! And then he sends them out with that peace.

Some of us might need to really dwell on this. Some of us are very driven to ‘make a difference’ in the world and even to ‘do great things for God and the gospel’. But God doesn’t particularly want ‘driven’ people serving him. He wants people who are overjoyed because Jesus is alive and they’ve experienced the peace he brings. He wants people to proclaim that peace because they know it’s so good! – not because they feel the need to produce results and be someone who ‘makes a difference’.

The resurrection of Jesus is good news for this world. It’s the promise and offer of peace. And it means Jesus’ followers, those who’ve experienced his peace, being sent into the world proclaiming it to others.

 

Sent with his presence and his authority to forgive

Finally, Jesus makes it clear that he is sending his disciples out to proclaim peace in the presence of his Spirit by offering forgiveness in his name.

In verses 22 and 23, John tells us that Jesus breathed out onto them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

When Jesus breaths on them, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, he is acting symbolically, pointing to the moment just around the corner when God’s Spirit would finally be poured out on all his followers (you can read about it in Acts chapter 2). It’s an ‘enacted parable’ in the words of Don Carson, much like when Jesus washed his disciple’s feet the night before his death; and of course, it was his death rather than the foot washing that would truly cleanse them from their sin.

And Jesus does this, breaths on them and urges them to receive God’s Spirit, to highlight that the presence of his Holy Spirit in their lives will be vital for their mission. Only in the power and presence of his Spirit can they hope to carry out their mission.

You see Jesus is not sending them out in his absence, or to replace him. No, he’s sending them out as an extension of his own mission, and he’s promising to go with them by the presence of his Spirit. You can see the parallel in Matthew’s gospel, when the risen Lord Jesus appears to his disciples and commissions them to go into all the nations, making disciples of him. And he promises that in all of this, he is with them to the very end of the age.

As Jesus blesses them with his peace and sends them out to proclaim his peace, he also promises to be with them in this mission by his Holy Spirit.

 

And the last thing Jesus does is make it clear what it means for his followers to be sent to proclaim peace in his name. It will mean declaring that people have had their sins forgiven as they accept the offer of peace in his name, and conversely, sadly, declaring that people are not forgiven if they reject it.

You see, when Jesus explains that his disciples will have the authority to grant and withhold forgiveness, he’s not saying they will get to decide who’s in and out for themselves. No, Jesus is simply fleshing out what it means for them to be sent to offer peace in his name.

God’s great plans for establishing peace revolve around Jesus. Peace first and foremost means being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, on the basis of his death and resurrection. That’s where God’s peace can be found.

As Jesus has made abundantly clear throughout the rest of John’s gospel, eternal life – peace and wholeness in God’s new creation – is only possible through faith in him as the one sent from God. And Jesus is now sending his followers out to proclaim this offer of peace in his name and his name only.

Now Jesus knew as well as you and I know today that this would seem arrogant and intolerant to many people. How can you say you’re all about peace and restoration when you say forgiveness and life can only be found in one place? Isn’t that what brings division and isolation?

But for Jesus, it’s not about whose ‘tribe’ is ‘right’ – it’s about finding peace where it actually can be found.

If one particular research team finally produce a working immunisation to the COVID-19 virus, it’s not arrogant or narrow minded to tell people this is the only option. If it is, then it is! You’re not going to worry about hurting the feelings of other research teams if they’re not really offering a solution. Faith in Jesus is where God’s peace for this world can be found. He is the one who suffered in our place. He is the one who’s been raised to new life.

Some listening today will need to come to grips with what Jesus is saying for the sake of your own forgiveness. You’re still on the receiving end of this offer. And I want to encourage you to see that it really is an offer of peace – it’s the one real possibility of forgiveness for your sin and hope for a world free from the effects of sin.

But for many listening, you’ll need to come to grips with what Jesus is saying for the sake of accepting your calling in life as a Christian. It’s a profound responsibility to offer and withhold forgiveness. It’s a responsibility many of us want to shy away from – who am I to assume such responsibility? But that’s the point. It’s not about you. You’re not deciding who’s in and who’s out. You’re simply sent to offer peace in the name of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus – and only in him.

 

What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for you?

Whatever else Jesus’ resurrection might mean for you – holidays, chocolate, hope, a reason to believe… whatever else, know that it means the offer of peace and joy in the place of fear. And it means a commission for those who would welcome the offer of his peace. It means being sent into the world in the power and presence of Jesus’ Spirit, to proclaim that peace can be found, and that it can be found in one place only – faith in him who suffered for our sin and has risen to new life.