Sermon: Raising Peace
Scripture: John 20:19-21
Date: April 22, 2018
So, have you ever wondered what might have gone through the resurrected Jesus’ mind in the moments before the stone disappeared from the opening of the tomb and He stepped out into the early morning mist of that first Easter morning. Did he wonder who might be on the other side of the stone that was about to get the fright of their life? Imagine all is quiet in the garden. The guards might have been dozing a bit. Guarding a grave would have been pretty easy duty I imagine. Oh there was the occasional grave robbers that needed to be dealt with. But this was a paupers grave. Nothing to steal here. And they certainly didn’t have to worry about people escaping from the grave. Only Jesus would have known that there was about to be a major disturbance in the early morning peace. An explosion, or an earthquake or something was about to cause that stone to be removed from the entrance to the tomb, and the quiet peace of the garden was about to be replaced by chaos and fear for whoever might be on the other side of the stone. I wonder if Jesus thought about the fear that was about to come to whoever might be on the outside of the tomb as he stepped out – alive again. Because, of course, for many the greatest fear that we have is of that which lies on the other side of death. I wonder if, just before He stepped out of the tomb, Jesus was thinking about, wondering how he might be perceived now that He was alive again? Were there armed guards on the other side of the stone? Were there representatives from the Jewish Sanhedrin on the other side of the stone? And would there be Disciples and other followers waiting on the other side. Standing vigil in the waning darkness. Waiting for something – but they didn’t really know what. Do you ever wonder if there was a moment before He stepped out of the tomb when Jesus wondered just how he was going to be received by those who were on the other side of the stone?
Let us pray
Of course, 2000 years after the fact, we imagine that there was great joy in the garden as Mary and the other women, and Peter and John and the other disciples encountered the living Jesus. But the truth is that’s not how the Gospels present it at all. In fact, according to all of the Gospel writers, everyone who encountered the resurrected Jesus, did not react with Joy which is how we celebrate Easter. Instead at some point, they all dealt with fear. I wonder if, as He prepared to emerge from the tomb alive, Jesus had a sense that rather than evoke a joyful response, His resurrection was going to bring fear. Last week we focused on how, because of the resurrection we can live our lives victoriously. And we can. But first we must get past our fears. And I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of fears. For instance… I am afraid of heights. Now my fear of heights is a little peculiar. I am not so afraid of falling as I am of dropping something. Like my glasses falling off my face. Or my wallet jumping out of my pocket. Or losing my car keys. If I have to walk over a bridge – I know I am quite humorous to watch because I am constantly feeling for things to make sure that they are secure and not in danger of falling out of my pocket and plunging into the waters below, lost forever. And there are other things I fear. For instance, the reason that I have been fairly successful in life is not because I am particularly talented, but because I have this fear of failure. But that fear has also caused me at times to not try some things, not stretch myself too much, because I fear failing. Churches I think often suffer from a fear of failure. And I fear suffering before I die. I don’t really fear death, but I want my death to be sudden. I don’t want to linger before I die. One of the reasons I rarely go to the doctor is because I don’t really want to know if there is anything wrong with me . All of us struggle with fears, don’t we?
I read about a rookie police officer that was assigned to walk a beat in a very tough neighborhood. And as he made his rounds one day, he spotted a middle aged woman waiting by herself at a bus stop. It was pretty late at night. And so the officer walked up to the lady and asked: “Would you like for me to wait with you, ma’am?” And the woman replied, “No thanks. I’ll be fine.” And the rookie cop looked around at the dark streets and kind of gulped and then said, “Well then, would you mind waiting with me?”
And then there was the new recruit in the 82nd Airborne Division. “One of the things you’ll be expected to do is to go to Jump School.” The recruiter told him “How long is that?” the recruit asked. “Well,” said the recruiter, “it’s three weeks long.” “Why three weeks?” the recruit asked. “The first week they separate the men from the boys. And then the second week they separate the men from the fools.” “But what about the third week?” the recruit asked. “The third week the fools jump.”
We all are afraid sometimes. In fact, a psychiatrist contends that we are creating a generation of persons who are more and more fearful. Through a series of surveys, she discovered that because children are constantly exposed to advertisements which imply that they don’t look good enough, or wear the right kinds of clothes or do what is “cool”, they grow up with low self esteem and high anxiety. They fear many things. Her contention is that the whole thrust of advertising is to make people uncertain about themselves, fearful that they can’t stack up to everyone else, unless they look a certain way or use a certain product. Because when we give in to our fears, they’ve got us. Our fears and anxieties often control our lives. What are you afraid of today?
It seems as though an inseparable part of the resurrection story is fear. John tells us that the women were afraid when they went to the tomb, and that even after hearing news of the Resurrection that the Disciples still huddled in fear. And look what Mark writes: “So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Now, of course, the question is, “What are they afraid of?” John gives us one clue. He tells us that even after the resurrection, the Disciples were hiding in the upper room – for fear of the Jews. And John should know, I guess. After all, he was one of those who hid out. But I wonder if there wasn’t more to it than that. Nowhere that I can find in the Gospels is there any indication that the Jewish leaders had any intention of going after the Disciples. Now tradition would feed into the Disciples fear. We often tell the story to suggest that the Disciples feared the Jewish leaders. And by the time John writes his account, that apparently has become an accepted part of the story. But the other Gospels do not seem to agree with John’s account. The clearest indication of that is the fact that when they arrested Jesus in the garden, even though they had the chance, they did not arrest the disciples too. Even after Peter cut off one of the guards ears, they let him go. In fact, the implication is that neither the Jewish leaders nor the Romans considered the disciples to be much of a threat without their leader. And yet the disciples felt as though their faith placed them in great danger. Maybe if they laid low – hid out – the leaders wouldn’t see them as a threat and let them go about their business. Sometimes the things we fear most, turn out to be not nearly as bad as we fear they might be. Even when they built up the nerve to leave the upper room, they didn’t stay in Jerusalem. They went home to Galilee because it was safer there. But before we are too hard on Peter and the others who were the early church, we need to recognize the truth for what it is. Too often the church has been passive – huddled in fear, when we should have been out in the streets proclaiming Christ alive. In all the fearful times that we face in a world that is fallen and struggling, the risen Christ still comes: Peace be with you and He breathes His spirit in to us. Resurrection is the promise that there is no evil in this world that can’t be redeemed, no darkness that can’t be illuminated by the light of a new day, no death that can’t be returned to life, no hatred that can’t be transformed by love, no fear that can’t be overcome, by Christ alive in each of us. It seems as though there is a growing sense that the leaders of this world are out to get us. Perhaps the Supreme Court has replaced the Sanhedrin in our minds and the ACLU has replaced Pontius Pilate in our thinking, ready to challenge the church if we get out of line, should our religion over step it’s worldly boundaries, the result is the same. We close our doors and lament the religious liberties we’ve lost and the growing absence of God in our society. The world is not in the terrible shape it is today because humanity has locked Jesus away in the tomb again. The world is how it is because in our fear we have locked ourselves away, hiding behind the doors of the church, clinging to our fears. Perhaps today, more than any other time in human history, we need a resurrection. We desperately need Jesus to come into our midst and breath His Spirit into us. That’s the promise of Easter. That Jesus will come because He lives. And that which sometimes paralyzes us, threatens to overwhelm us, defeat us cannot stand in the shadow of the Cross. Cannot be locked away in a tomb, no matter how big the stone is that covers over it. Friends, it’s time to throw open our doors, just like the door was opened on that tomb and let the Savior live again in our lives and our world. The Apostle Paul, who certainly rubbed the leaders of his day the wrong way understood the power of resurrection, the new life and wrote these words of encouragement to the church in Rome as he was facing death:
“I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor governments, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is time that we shake off our fear and know that in all circumstances – in all places – at all times, Jesus will come and give us His peace and breath His Spirit into us. Evidently Paul’s young friend Timothy was struggling with faith related fears and so Paul wrote these words to him: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline. So Jesus comes to the Disciples hiding behind locked doors and speaks to their fears. “Peace be with you”. And then breaths the power of the Holy Spirit in them.
But I suspect that there is more to the disciples fear, then just the fear of the Jewish leaders. I would suggest that the Disciples also feared Jesus. One writer says:
Just hours before His death they had all professed that they would never leave Him, even be willing to be killed with Him. If Jesus were now alive, what would He say to them? What would He do to them? Would He say, “So you were going to stand by me, huh? Going to fight for me, huh? Where were you James and John? You always wanted to be one on my right hand and the other on my left. Where were you when I was beaten, when I was stumbling my way up Golgotha, when I was hung up to die?” He could have told Peter, “I heard your denials, and I heard that rooster crow”. They might have thought that Jesus was going to find them in that upper room and take out his anger on them. But instead He makes all things new. “Peace be with you.” And He breathes His Spirit into them.
What are we afraid of? I think that many of us fear Jesus. I know that when I was a teenager I feared Jesus. I feared the changes that would need to take place in my life if I followed Him. Because aren’t there times when we let God down? When we betray Him with our actions, and even more often with our inaction? When we fear that our sin has angered Him and we are not worthy to stand in His presence? And so we try to lock Him out, hide behind closed doors, try to flea from His supposed wrath. But the truth of resurrection – of new life – is that it is in those times that Jesus most shows His love for us. His response to our brokenness and fears is resurrection. New life. It is often when we feel most locked in that Jesus steps into our midst and offers His peace once more – breathes His Spirit into us once more. And assures us that we have nothing to fear from our old life because His Resurrection makes all things new.
A little girl was preparing for bed one night and when she had finished her prayers with her mother there listening, she asked her mother one of those profound questions that children often ask that we have no answer for. She asked: “Why did God make the darkness? Why didn’t He make it be daytime all the time?” And as parents often do, the mother stammered out something about it being easier to sleep in the dark and everyone needing rest. And that there’s no reason to be afraid. And the little girl thought about that for a few moments and then she said:. “I know why it gets dark at night. That’s when God puts the world in His pocket and carries us.” It is often when our world is the darkest, as dark as that tomb must have been, that Jesus, the light of the world, steps into our midst and gives His peace – and breathes His Spirit into our troubled lives. Did you know that the most frequently repeated phrase in all of scripture is the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” ? It is usually a phrase which accompanies God’s presence.
What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of failing health? Afraid of what the doctor is going to tell you? Are you afraid of death? Or maybe you’re afraid for your children? There are so many dangers lurking out there for them. Or maybe you’re afraid that a loved one is going to die. Or of a marriage that is troubled. Maybe you’re afraid that you’re going to fail at your job. Flunk that class you’re struggling with. Give into that temptation. Maybe you’re afraid of making a commitment to those you love. To church. To God. Maybe your fears lie more in global concerns. Terrorism. War. Maybe you’re afraid to get in your car and drive out there on the highway. Maybe you’re afraid of the way you look. Maybe you’re afraid of what people think of you. Maybe you’re afraid to come out into a secular world and proclaim Christ alive. All of us have things we fear. Things that keep us locked away, hiding from something.
And then suddenly Christ comes. Appears to us. It may happen as we sing a hymn, or listen to a sermon, or read a scripture. Or it may happen as we watch the sunset. Or in the beauty of flowers blooming. Or we may see Him in the faces of our children or loved ones. Maybe He’ll come through the kindness of another. But however He comes, He always comes. And offers His peace. His Spirit. The gift of His presence. He is here today. Peace be with you. Receive His Spirit. I don’t know what Jesus was thinking just before He stepped out of the tomb into the world – alive again. But I think the truth is that WHAT He was thinking about is not nearly as important as Who He was thinking about. Because it wasn’t for the church that He came out. It wasn’t to reform the political structure of the day that He came out. No, it was for Mary that He rose. And it was for those Roman guards that He rose. And it was for Peter and John and Thomas, and dare I say even Judas that He rose. And it was for you and me that He rose. (Open the tomb) Think of that, as He stepped from that tomb, He was thinking of you. He called your name. And He continues to come to us, often when we least expect it, in the midst of our most fear filled times, and says, “Don’t be afraid. My peace be yours.” And He breathes His Spirit into us. And because He lives, we don’t ever have to fear again. When he stepped from the tomb He brought peace into a troubled world and He wants to bring that peace into your life today. And all you have to do is open the doors of your heart and let him in.