Peace Be With You

Sermon 1801 John 20.19-31 April 24, 2022

This is not the sermon you or I were expecting. Smart alecks aside, this is commonly known, not as “Where Did Everybody Go Sunday?” but “Doubting Thomas Sunday.” Jesus appears to a hurt and skeptical Thomas and convinces Thomas he is alive. We can all feel good that we aren’t as bone-headed as Thomas. Jesus even praises us in the text, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But I would have to skip over the first part of the text and ignore the ending. While it may result in a well-received sermon (who doesn’t like praise?) it is not honest preaching. So this is the sermon you get because I am way too close to Jesus’ Judgment Seat to lie to you from the pulpit.

Peace Be with You

1. Believe (19-20, 24-28)

2. Forgive (21-23, 29-31).

The price of unbelief is obvious.

“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).”

The disciples were together, like in the Godfather when the whole gang was holed up in a house reinforced like a fortress and fed marinara by the gallon on spaghetti and meatballs. They were afraid. That’s why they were together. The doors were locked so nobody could come in. When is the last time you had ten of your buddies over for a poker game and sheepishly locked the front door, in case someone breaks in and tries to rob you? Never! If it’s a nice evening, you leave the front door wide open to get rid of the cigar smoke. But if you don’t believe Jesus, your leader, the one you thought was your Lord, if you don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead, you are afraid of a little boy riding his trike in the evening moonlight with his big sister walking by his side. There is a reason Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” These men were strangers to peace at this moment. They were on edge, jumpy at the slightest sound from the outside.

The price of unbelief is obvious.

“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.’ 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 (24-28)!’”

Thomas is pig-headed. He rejects one testimony after another. You know, if two or three people agree perfectly on anything in a court trial, the jury won’t even get a free meal out of the deal when they go into deliberation! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Thomas goes against his better knowledge. He knows these men—they have been his fellow disciples for over three years. He fights against his better knowledge, becoming quite eloquent. See the nail marks and put my fingers where they were, put my hand into his side, not believe. A trained orator couldn’t have put it together more forcefully! But it is bravado. This is a scared little boy talking big. When Jesus offers him the very proof Thomas demanded—and isn’t it something, that the Lord who fills everything in every way knows exactly what Thomas said, even though Jesus wasn’t visibly in the room—Thomas is reduced to blubbering monosyllables. Oh, they are true, “My Lord and my God!” But boastful eloquence is out the door.

Scared. Big talk. Loss for words when you get caught. That’s the price of unbelief. I won’t go much further with this. We all have been there, shooting off our mouth to show how tough we were, how bad to the bone we were. Peer pressure, egging yourself on, incoherence in front of the flashing red lights or your mom and dad waiting for you at the back door at four in the morning.

Let us talk of happier things. Jesus didn’t hold their unbelief against them. He gives them what they need to believe. He shows his disciples his hands and side. It is the same old Jesus. He is alive. They have him back again. They are overjoyed.

Jesus didn’t hold the unbelief of Thomas against him. Right off the bat he goes to Thomas to take care of unfinished business. He offers Thomas the very proof Thomas had demanded. Jesus didn’t pull rank. He didn’t play the shame game.

Thomas confesses Jesus as his Lord and God. There is no more distance between them. As close as a master to his disciple, a sheep to its shepherd, a believer to his God. Jesus doesn’t rub it in. Ah, but I already have one foot into part two of this sermon. Forgive. Let me have one more spoonful of part one, Believe.

Believe Jesus has risen from the dead. That is the only way we have peace. Believe Jesus has risen from the dead and know that we will rise from the dead. Death will not be the end of us. We will see friends and loved ones again. Heaven will be filled with good times. Believe in Jesus and we won’t be the big mouth brashly boasting. Death has lost its sting. My Lord and my God is alive. He will give me eternal life in his name. That gives me peace. Mom, dad, grandparents and so many others, they already are enjoying the eternal pleasures of heaven. It will be a great reunion when I get there and I will be sure to get the parade organized to welcome you when it is your turn. Death, where is your victory?

Peace be with you. Forgive.

OK, now we can deal with the rest of what John has told us, the glue that holds this text together. Jesus gives his disciples (and us) the right and power to forgive sins and then shows how it is done with his treatment of Thomas!

“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).’”

Jesus gives his believers on earth (all of them—there were more than the Eleven in the Upper Room at this time) the power to forgive or not forgive sins. If you forgive, if you do not forgive. Seems pretty simple. And to make sure we don’t abuse this power, Jesus gives his Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit we will forgive those who repent of their sins and refuse to forgive those who refuse to repent of their sins as long as they do not repent.

Oh, and it really works. Jesus says “they are forgiven, they are not forgiven.” God backs up the proper use of Jesus’ power to forgive sins in our believing hands.

Now we get a chance to see how this works in reality. Thomas has definitely sinned. He refused to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. In effect, he has called the disciples liars and Jesus a fraud. That can’t continue. Jesus confronts him, for that is really what is happening when Jesus says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” As Jesus had instructed his disciples weeks earlier, “Go and show your brother his fault,” so he is addressing Thomas. He is doing it publicly in front of all the disciples, because they all had seen Thomas’ declaration of unbelief.

Will Jesus forgive or not forgive? Well, it depends on whether Thomas is going to repent or continue in his pig-headed unbelief. “My Lord and my God!” Those aren’t the words of an unbeliever. Thomas believes. Jesus says as much. “Because you have seen me, you have believed (29).” Oh, people are going to be blessed who believe and have not seen, but the fact of the matter is, Thomas is blessed, too. He is blessed with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

Thomas now has peace, peace with God, peace with himself and peace with the disciples.

Peace be with you. I don’t think you can have peace without faith. I also don’t think you can have peace without forgiveness. I hate to even admit I remember the show, but you are just as guilty as me if you remember the theme song, “Love and marriage, love and marriage, goes together like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the other!” It’s inseparable. As we have been forgiven, as we believe that forgiveness from God is ours, we forgive others. By Jesus giving us his power to forgive or not to forgive sins he is authorizing and enabling that good deed in our lives. If faith without works is dead, and the Bible clearly says it is, then faith without forgiveness is dead.

No healthy human relation can exist without forgiveness. Oh, you can have friendships, associations, even marriages, but if there is no forgiveness, that relationship will be warped, malformed. We see this with high school friendships. Not all friends are Christians. That is fine. We are called to be in the world. Hard to evangelize the world if we were all locked up in Christian communes or societies. But oftentimes those friendships fall by the wayside. Oh, the Christian has forgiven. The offending friend has said they are sorry and, on the basis of their word, forgiveness is given. And the shoe is on the other foot, too, because Christians need forgiveness in their relationships. But after a while, the non-Christian friend draws away. They don’t like to be forgiven. It makes them feel indebted. When they forgive it isn’t forgive and forget, it is more of, “you owe me one.” And if they feel they owe you one too many, well, it just becomes awkward. They don’t like to live with forgiveness.

I never had that problem. I live by forgiveness, forgiveness full and free, ever since I was little and a little terror. But let’s bring this back to Jesus’ resurrection appearance on Easter Sunday. It was so important to Jesus that, as soon as his disciples believed he was really alive—they had touched him and eaten broiled fish with him—as soon as his disciples believed he was really alive, he gave them his power to forgive sins.

Forgiving sins is the power of the risen Jesus in us. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, there would be no forgiveness, plain and simple. As the Apostle Paul would later say in the great Resurrection Chapter, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15.17).” Forgiveness works because Jesus won that forgiveness for us all on the cross.

The risen Jesus has forgiven me my sins. How do I sin against Thee? Let me count the ways. I have news for you, the number is always going to n+1, a way of expressing an endless chain of numbers or, in our case, sins. If God has forgiven me n+1 sins, that changes me. I cannot think I earned my spot in my relationship with God. I cannot think that God can dial it back a little, because I am carrying so much of his load. That Jesus has freely forgiven me is a constant source of amazement and wonder to me. You would think nothing in the world works like that. You would think wrong. Something in the world does now work like that! I work like that, in my finest moments. And so do you. The risen Jesus moves me to forgive others. The risen Jesus moves me to accept the forgiveness of others. I know Jesus backs up that forgiveness with his authority in heaven. My sins, your sins, are all forgiven.

Peace Be with You

1. Believe (19-20, 24-28)

2. Forgive (21-23, 29-31).

I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. Only John, working under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would have linked Doubting Thomas with the forgiveness of sins. If I have not fed your pride in praise for being so much better than Doubting Thomas, then perhaps I have given you something far, far better. We have the realization that we, like Doubting Thomas, all need Christ’s forgiveness. The risen Jesus has put that forgiveness into our daily lives so we can be at peace with ourselves, be at peace with each other and, most of all, be at peace with God.

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