The Rules Have Changed

April 19, 2020

Sermon 1699                         John 20.19-31                                              April 19, 2020

I don’t know if you’ve been able to watch the Facebook episodes Pastor Kolander and I post on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  It is a little bit of light-hearted humor with a shout-out to one of our first-line workers in the battle against COVID-19, a short passage of Scripture and prayer.  We hope we are tempting our members to smile in a thunderstorm of otherwise bleak news.  In one of this week’s episodes I was commenting how I was going to take up golf again, because with the new practice of putting a plastic cone over the hole, I would be able to shave twenty-five “points” from my score.  Pastor Kolander objected, saying when things went back to the way they were, the golf courses wouldn’t allow that cone idea, especially the large sized traffic cone I was practice putting on.  I corrected him.  “The rules of the game have changed.”

The Rules Have Changed.

  1. Death is conquered (19-20).

  2. Forgiveness is spread (21-23).

  3. Faith is strengthened (24-31).

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord (19-20).”

Sunday evening.  They should have known better.  The women had told them that morning of the empty tomb and Jesus appearing to them.  Peter and John could verify the tomb was empty.  The Lord appeared to Simon.  Yet the doors were locked.  They were in fear of the Jewish religious leaders.  It was as if nothing had changed.  The same enemies.  The same threats.  The same dangers.  But the rules have changed.

Jesus appears to them.  He shows them his hands, his feet.  It is the same Jesus.  He is not dead.  He is alive.  Death is conquered.  They were overjoyed.

The rules have changed.  Death is conquered.  As long as we have walked the face of this earth, the dead stayed dead.  We don’t rent burial plots, we buy them.  We grieve over the loss of loved ones and gradually adapt to the loneliness.  We look at a world shaken by a pandemic and we long for the life before, the life we had almost as if we are walking into an uncertain future looking backwards.  In a way, we could adjust to that.  In a way, we could find a certain comfort in the unbroken cycle of birth, growth, death.  Life, experience, memory.  Our life is like watching a football game where the announcers always keep our eyes on the action and us away from the fallen.  We focus on the new characters on stage, forgetful of yesterday’s faces.

The rules have changed.  Death is not the end.  Jesus proved it on Easter Sunday.  He appeared to his disciples, alive, living, body and soul, the same Jesus with the same wounds on his hands and feet and side which he suffered on the cross.  It was not a ghost.  It was not an apparition.  It was Jesus.  By his power as God Almighty he had defeated death.  He had risen.

The rules have changed.  Forgiveness is spread.

“Again Jesus said, ‘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 (21-23).’”

Everybody knew if you wanted God to be good to you, you had to be good to God.  Everybody knew the rules.  You could never be good enough.  Like a drowning person, desperate to cling to something to keep their head above water, we tried to cling to someone, something, saints, ritual, vows, offerings, as if God were someone who was friends with our favorite uncle or could be swayed by a twenty in his hand to give us a seat at the heavenly feast.  Everybody knew the rules.  You didn’t get something for nothing.  Go to God and hope that sinking feeling in your stomach goes away after supper.  But the rules have changed.

“If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven.”  Forgiveness comes to us.  Jesus sends his people, his believers, those who themselves have received his forgiveness.  The Jesus who had conquered death, the same death that was the wages of sin, commands his believers to spread his forgiveness.  Sin doesn’t have to be covered up.  Sin doesn’t have to be ignored.  Sin doesn’t have to be compensated for.  Sin has been paid for.  The living Jesus is the receipt.  Sin has been forgiven.  The living Jesus is the proof.  Sin has been atoned for—there is no more hostility between God and man.  The open arms of the living Jesus are evidence of that.

The rules have changed.  Instead of running away from God, “Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come.”  Instead of fleeing from the Lord, “Hide me, hide me, in the shelter of your wings.”  Even if our foolish hearts condemn us, we have one greater than our hearts, the living Jesus, whose blood has washed us clean from all our sins.  Not a stain, not a spot remains.

It showed already on that Easter Sunday evening.  The disciples believed what Jesus told them.  As Jesus breathed on them they received the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.  These were the same disciples who at times were quick to second guess Jesus.  When he told them they were going to Jerusalem for the final Passover, they objected that they tried to kill him the last time he was there.  Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11.16).”  These were the disciples who doubted Jesus.  When Andrew brought the boy with five loaves of bread and two small fishes, he said, “How far will they go among so many (John 6.9)?”  The rules have changed.  They believe.  They are sent.  Forgiveness is spread.

The rules have changed.  Faith is strengthened.

“Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (24-25).’’

The rules have changed.  Faith is strengthened.  One was not there that first Easter Sunday evening.  One had stayed away.  The disciples are strong in their faith.  The disciples are firm in the conviction that forgiveness must be spread.  The disciples seek him out.  “We have seen the Lord!”  There is no doubt in their voice, no hint of judgment or blame.  Their joy is tangible.  They want this straying one, this wounded one, this absent one, to share their joy.

“I will not believe,” Thomas said.  He demands proof, greater proof than the disciples had.  Jesus only had to show them his hands and feet.  Thomas demands to touch the wounds on Jesus hands and feet and side.  “Put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side.”  Like a coroner probing and prodding the deceased to find a cause for death, Thomas wanted to poke and grope to find a reason for life.  That is a proof not theirs to give.

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.’

Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God (26-28)!’”

Jesus is alive.  The risen Lord fills everything in every way.  He heard the words of Thomas.  He listened to his taunts challenging belief.  Jesus is alive.  As the Lord of love he comes to Thomas and presents the very proof Thomas demanded.  Put your finger here.  Put your hand into my side.  What more could Thomas demand?  What more could faith lack?  Seeing is believing, so they say.  Only the blindest of eyes could not see Jesus was alive.  Only the hardest of hearts would come up with a different reason for the empty tomb.

But our Lord is so compassionate.  Jesus doesn’t leave Thomas teetering on the edge.  “Stop doubting and believe.”  With those words the Lord gives what he is looking for.  He grants faith to a heart turned away.  He gives that new faith a job to strengthen it.  Stop doubting.  Faith grows by believing.  It is like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.  Crumpled and compacted, damp and bedraggled, it starts spreading its wings in the sun and they unfurl with each passing moment until they flare in all their gossamer glory.

“My Lord and my God.”  From the heart he believes and with the mouth he confesses and is saved. 

They teach in literature there is a fourth wall.  You can imagine the three walls of the stage, right side, left side, back side.  Three sides.  But the fourth wall, it’s like a picture window.  It is the front of the stage, the part that faces the audience, be that an audience in a theater, in front of a television set or holding the book.  Sometimes the actors or characters break that fourth wall.  They cast an aside to the audience and step outside the action or their character to explain what is going on.  Sometimes it is the singer with his expression to the audience telegraphing he is about to let loose on one of his all-time greatest hits, but in a way new, special for this very concert.  Fourth wall.  The rule is, you don’t break the fourth wall.  That’s cheating.  Show them, don’t tell them.

The rules have changed.  Jesus breaks the fourth wall.

“Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (29-31).”

Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.  Jesus is talking to you!  Jesus is talking to me!  We didn’t have the chance to be there.  We couldn’t be like the disciples and rejoice at Jesus’ first appearance.  We couldn’t be like Thomas and, in our stubbornness, refuse to believe until we were given the proof we demanded.  We could not see.  Yet we have believed.  We have believed through the words written down for us.  While there are many things we may be curious about (What are those other miraculous signs?  What else is not recorded?), we have everything we need for Spirit-born faith.  We have everything we need to strengthen faith.  Jesus calls us to believe and act upon that faith to life eternal.

The rules have changed.  Jesus looks at you and me through the pages and ages and says, “Stop doubting and believe!”

Easter has come and gone and still America has not risen.  The pandemic has not lifted.  Today may well be the deadliest day in Nevada, that is, until tomorrow, or later in the summer, or next winter.  They say the dead do not rise and dreams dry up like a raisin in the sun.

Is that true?

The Rules Have Changed.

  1. Death is conquered (19-20).

  2. Forgiveness is spread (21-23).

  3. Faith is strengthened (24-31).

Isolation, separation, my Lord and my God.  Contamination, consternation, my Lord and my God.  Incubation, examination, my Lord and my God.  Speculation, hesitation, my Lord and my God.  Frustration, condemnation, my Lord and my God.  But do you hear it?  Anticipation, expectation, my Lord and my God.  Salvation, I know that my Redeemer lives.

In the upper room, I know that my Redeemer lives.  In the locked-down bedroom evening prayers, I know that my Redeemer lives.  An opened Bible at the kitchen table, on the living room sofa, I know that my Redeemer lives.  In front of the computer, TV, tablet, I know that my Redeemer lives.  In the ER waiting room, in the isolation ward, I know that my Redeemer lives.  In triage and field hospital, I know that my Redeemer lives.  Do you hear it?  From the blooming valleys to the snow-capped mountains, I know that my Redeemer lives.  From sea to shining sea, do you hear it?  Will you join it?  I know that my Redeemer lives.

Because your dead will rise and whoever puts their hope in him will never be put to shame.  The rules have changed.  It is the second Sunday of Easter and we are rising.

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