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LSB Easter 2C Sermon – John 20:19-31

April 10, 2016

April 3, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Fear drove the disciples behind locked doors. There was much that caused them fear. The memories of the last several days had been seared into their minds. What did they remember? Noting Judas’ departure in the middle of the Passover meal. Hearing Jesus’ strange statements about not eating the Passover again. Seeing the ominous torchlights advancing toward the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by the identification and arrest of Jesus. Watching the beaten Jesus trudge toward Golgotha with the crossbeam strapped across His shoulders. Looking at their Master hanging in agony. Those were the memories of the past three days.

What were they to do? Surely the disciples didn’t want that fate to befall them. So they hide. They barricade themselves in a familiar place, a location where they felt secure. Perhaps it was the Upper Room where the last good memories of Jesus could surround them. Or maybe it was another of the relatives’ houses in Jerusalem. They went and hid themselves behind locked doors. Perhaps if they could hang out there long enough, all this would blow over and they could return to their lives again.

But in the midst of this hiding, other news began to be brought. Rumors of Jesus’ being alive came to them. The women’s “idle tale” and Mary Magdalene’s announcement of seeing the Risen Lord had been heard that morning. But was this true? Could it be so? When John and Peter went to the tomb, they saw it empty and the abandoned grave clothes lying there, but not the Risen Jesus. Just what would the authorities in Jerusalem think about this? With that in mind, fear remained with the disciples. So they remained behind locked doors.

But the Gospel Writer tells you that something amazing took place that night: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” And there was more: “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Now the disciples were confronted with the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. The One who had been crucified on Friday stands before them on Sunday evening. The marks of His wounds are evident, including where the Roman javelin had pierced His ribcage. What the women had reported is shown to be true. The graveside angel’s declaration is confirmed: “He is not here, but has risen.”

So what happens for the disciples? “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Fear is replaced by joy. The former things are driven away. Instead of agonizing over the suffering and death of Jesus as they had been doing, the disciples are moved to express gladness at seeing the Risen Jesus. His statements about what would take place to Him had been fulfilled, even the seemingly impossible act of the dead coming to life again.

As you heard in the First Reading this morning, the fear that had once plagued the disciples and driven them behind locked doors was removed by the Risen Jesus. A great change took place among them. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit and commissions them on that Easter night when He appeared in their midst. As they take up that calling, there is no more fright. Recall the boldness displayed, as the high priest and the Council commanded that they no longer speak in Jesus’ name: “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” There is no more retreating to locked rooms. There is no cowering. Fear is replaced because of what Jesus’ resurrection means: the Messiah has come and brought deliverance and salvation to His people, including a share in life everlasting.

But how is this event connected to our situation? To answer that, let us think of another question and its follow-up: Are you afraid? What are you afraid of? Fear does plague mankind: fear of failure; fear of the unknown; fear of the future; fear of poverty; fear of disease; fear of terrorism; fear of death. These affect mankind because they involve matters beyond one’s control, matters that will befall you. When they do, there often isn’t much to be done against them. You become a victim. And the memories of such incidents can be seared into your minds. There are plenty of past moments easily remembered and recalled, easily bringing fear of repeating them or worse. One of the “remedies” is to hide, to close oneself off, to seek security or respite in anything, even if it never really is obtained.

For those who know the LORD’s Law, more fears arise alongside the others: fear of divine wrath; fear of eternal punishment. Such fear can stem from the descriptions in the Scriptures, including phrases like you heard in the Epistle Reading: “Behold, [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” That vision is enough to strike fear in the hearts of most, if not all, mankind.

So what is to be done? Should we find locked doors to hide behind? And if we did, would that really work? No, the answer is not to retreat, to find a place to barricade oneself. Instead, it is to receive the Risen Jesus and what He desires to provide. Remember what happened on that Easter night. It wasn’t simply that Jesus appeared and showed Himself to His disciples. There was more, as Jesus spoke to them. There was the greeting given: “Peace be with you.” And there was the commission given: “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you…. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

When Jesus appeared in that locked room, He was not there to exact any punishment or vengeance from the disciples. Instead, He was there to remove all fears. Jesus’ desire is to have people receive the forgiveness and salvation that He had obtained by His dying and rising. He wants there to be no fear of divine wrath or eternal punishment for anyone, because He has made atonement for it. He desires that people not be plagued by fear of death, since He has overcome it. That becomes the Church’s proclamation, as you heard preached by the apostles: “God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” The Church repeats the testimony that Jesus has given about Himself: “Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

The remedy to the fear that befalls us is not in hiding ourselves or trying to find security in anything earthly or temporal. Rather, it is to hear what Jesus has done and to receive the benefits that His work has achieved. Just what are those benefits? Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is the shorthand way of listing them. But the benefits can be seen as more than that simple list. Because Jesus was crucified and raised, our guilt has been removed, so that we stand righteous before the LORD’s sight. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, mankind can have a place in the LORD’s kingdom that extends beyond this age into the life of the world to come. Because Jesus died and rose, disease and illness, plague and famine, Death and Hades do not have the last word. The explication can go further, but at the heart of it all is this: what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem means that the fate of mankind has changed and the promised blessed end leaves nothing to be feared. That moves us from fear and trembling to joy and gladness.

Like the disciples visited by the Risen Jesus, you are moved from fear to confidence. His work stands behind what you speak in praise and what you confess. You join the statements of doxology given to Jesus: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory forever and ever.” You sing about Jesus: “He lives to silence all my fears; He lives to wipe away my tears; He lives to calm my troubled heart; He lives all blessings to impart.” You ask with boldness: “Jesus, give me that promised forgiveness of sins that comes from your atoning work for me. I believe that You have empowered people to speak it, and their words carry Your authority.” You state your hope that is rooted in Jesus’ holding the keys to Death and Hades: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

None of those acts are running behind locked doors, trying to hide from the many things that cause fear. No, they are the result of having the Risen Lord Jesus come to you in His Word and Sacraments, so that you may know that He has overcome the world. They are the result of hearing the gospel message proclaimed, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” They are the result of receiving the Holy Spirit, “whom God has given to those who obey Him.” When that happens, fear is not the order of the day. Instead, there is gladness and hope. For the Risen Lord Jesus comes and says: “Fear not. Peace be with you.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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