Easter Sunday

April 4, 2021

John 20:19-23

Life-Giving Hands

 

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.  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.”   (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,

 

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

On her way out of the coffee shop, she ran into a classmate she hadn’t seen for years.  Within moments they were visiting as though no time had passed— until her friend asked her, “So, how’s life?”  Her mind raced to think of a way to deflect the question, because honestly her life was a mess.  The restaurant she and her husband had opened just a few years ago was barely hanging on.  It was closed for months and the take-out orders were only covering a fraction of their bills.  To make matters even worse, her life at home was beyond chaotic.  Distance learning had strained her relationship with her children.  Financial concerns had strained her relationship with her husband  All the stress and all the uncertainty had left her feeling scared and angry and trapped.  Sometimes she even dreamed about running away from it all, starting over and really living life.

 

Sometimes it’s the idealness of youth.  Sometimes it’s a midlife crisis.  Sometimes it’s burnout from situations over which we have no control.  But it’s not unusual for people to feel though it’s time to start really living.  People tell themselves that they need to go backpacking through Europe, or buy a convertible and cruise the Pacific highway, or take a cruise to Alaska— for a month or so.  They try to convince themselves that this is what they need to do in order to really live!  But when they get home again and realize that they still feel empty, they wonder what it means to really live.

 

The Bible has something to say about really living, my friends, and it doesn’t involve a backpack or a convertible or a cruise.  As Christians we know that the cure for that empty feeling that so many people experience, we know that they key to really living is— Easter!  As Christians we know that we need the empty grave in the garden.  We need the happy shouts of, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  We need Jesus appearing to His disciples and showing them His Life-Giving Hands.  We need to hear Jesus proclaiming to His disciples— and proclaiming to us!— that Easter gives us a life that is really worth living!

 

When we first see the disciples here in our text, they were a lot like that woman whose life was a mess.  John tells us, “The disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.”  The disciples were convinced that if the religious leaders of God’s people were willing to go to the lengths they did to orchestrate the crucifixion of an innocent man, what would stop them from coming after Jesus’ disciples next?  Seventy-two hours earlier the disciples had abandoned Jesus and fled from the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was being arrested by His enemies.  Peter had disowned Jesus— three times!— just as Jesus had predicted.  And despite the fact that Jesus had spent months preparing His disciples for His death— the disciples still seemed genuinely shocked and surprised when it actually happened.  Here in our text the disciples were acting like Jesus was still dead and their lives were no longer worth living.  They were afraid.  They were overwhelmed by guilt.  And they felt trapped in that locked room.

 

Knowing full well what His disciples were feeling, the risen Christ wanted to calm their nerves.  So when He met with them there in that locked room, He didn’t lead with, “How’s life?”  No, my friends, the very first words that the risen Christ spoke to His fear-filled disciples were, “Peace be with you!”  Remember, it was still Easter Sunday.  Some of the disciples had seen the empty tomb.  They had heard the reports of both the women and the Emmaus disciples.  But, since the disciples had not seen Jesus with their own eyes, they weren’t sure what to make of the days’ events.  So Jesus came, stood in their presence and  showed Himself to be alive.  He gave His disciples a moment to grasp the full impact of His physical resurrection from the dead and then John tells us, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.”  Jesus’ physical presence together with the sight of His life-giving hands, convinced the disciples that Jesus had indeed kept His promise!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

It took them a moment, but the disciples finally grabbed hold of the true meaning of Easter— which is?  The true meaning of Easter is joy!  That’s why John tells us, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”  This Easter joy is what makes life really worth living!  This Easter joy assures us that the gloomy hopelessness of this world died on Good Friday— along with the darkness of sin and all its nagging guilt.  The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees to us that Jesus conquered sin.  The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees to us that Jesus defeated the devil.  Jesus is alive and because Jesus is alive His life now makes your life really worth living!  Because Jesus is alive you are able to live your life with the joy of knowing that you are “at peace” with God!

 

The easy part of Jesus’ visit was now done.  He proved to His disciples that He had kept His promise to rise from the dead on the third day.  But Jesus was not finished!  The risen Christ went on to tell His disciples that the joy and the peace of Jesus’ life-giving hands was not only theirs to enjoy, but it was also theirs to proclaim!  John says in our text, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”  The heavenly Father had sent His Son into this world with the goal of saving us from our sins.  Now that Jesus had reached His goal, now that all the sins of all mankind have been paid for, the risen Christ sends out His disciples— including us!— on a mission for Him!  The apostle Paul reminds us of the mission Jesus has given to us when he writes, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not accounting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).  Take a moment to let that sink in!  As Christians we serve as “Christ’s ambassadors” to others!  Now that’s a life really worth living!

 

The nobility of Jesus’ call is surpassed only by its scope.  Serving as “Christ’s ambassadors” is a big job— so big that the disciples may have been a little overwhelmed by this!  After all, within moments of Jesus’ appearance the disciples had gone from terror-filled hiding to Easter-filled peace and joy!  Then they were commissioned to share the message of Jesus’ life-giving hands with others!  How could they possibly accomplish this?  Any uncertainty that the disciples may have had was swept away when John tells us, “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”  God the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers and enables all of Jesus’ disciples to carry out their God-given mission of being “Christ’s ambassadors” in this world.

 

John also tells us that Jesus even trained the disciples in the message they were to proclaim.  Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.”  Many of us have learned from personal experience that it’s a significant day when a parent gives their child a key to their house.  It’s an even bigger milestone when they hand over the keys to the car.  With these powerful words, Jesus confidently hands every believer the keys to heaven itself.  Forgiving those who humbly confess their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior or withholding forgiveness from someone who is not sorry for their sins or someone who does not trust in what Jesus has done for them (Pointing to the cross), is the spiritual equivalent to unlocking or locking the gate to the kingdom of heaven itself.

 

The ”keys” to the gate of heaven.  This is the special power and privilege the risen Christ gives only to Christians.  Forgiving sin and announcing peace is what the risen Christ did on Easter Sunday by showing His disciples His life-giving hands.  There is no better way to live Easter and to celebrate Easter each and every day of the year than to carry out God’s life-giving mission, namely, to forgive others, to announce to them exactly what the risen Christ announced to His disciples— “Peace be with you!”  Keys are only valuable, however, when we actually use them.  So let’s make sure that we use the spiritual keys that the Son of God Himself has given to us!  Living at peace with God and with others plus sharing with others how they can live at peace with the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth— now that, my friends is a life worth living!

 

So, how are you?  Are you feeling stuck?  Do you feel as though your life has no meaning and no purpose?  If so, stop acting like Jesus is still dead, because He is not!  Look again at Jesus’ life-giving hands.  Our Jesus is alive!  Let’s act like it.  Let’s pray like it.  Let’s believe like it.  Let’s embrace the mission the risen Christ gives to us when He says to us, “I am sending you!”   Let’s bring the message of Easter to others— one soul at a time.  Live like there is no death, my friends, because Easter guarantees that death has been defeated.

 

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen