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Second Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, April 11, 2021

If Christ Is Risen, Nothing Else Matters

Text: John 20:19–31

When Teresa and I had been married a couple of years and were still basically newlyweds, we had friends who were having children. It was pretty much all they wanted to talk about and there was always an endless supply of pictures to be shown. Most of the pictures were just like every other with maybe a change of clothes or at a different location in the house or yard. The kids were not yet able to attempt daring feats of strength or produce impressive artwork or demonstrate any particular gift or talent. They were just lying there, sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning, and of course sometimes having a meltdown.

Now, this was long before handheld video cameras or cell phones. This was the day of Polaroid cameras with ready-to-see pictures or film that had to be developed. But to the parents, each picture had its own story that was meant to enable the viewer to see the miracle that the parents were seeing. Their child was clearly the most amazing and adorable child ever born. As far as they were concerned, you had to be blind not to notice. Often, there was the insinuation that this amazing child already showed signs of brilliance, possibly another Einstein. Of course, the reality of being a new parent was that their schedule now had to adapt to that of the child, and they weren’t able to go out with friends like before and likely couldn’t afford to any longer. Now their close friends were others who also had children and that brought on a whole new set of inconveniences.

We had talked about having children but as far as I was concerned, we should wait until we were better able to afford another mouth to feed, especially since with a child we would be reduced to only one income. But on February 17, 1976, our daughter Amy was born and everything in our lives changed and she became the focus of everything. We were amazed at how beautiful she was and couldn’t seem to take enough pictures. Suddenly, we became vastly different people and our views on what was absolutely necessary and of first importance changed dramatically. As a matter of fact, once you have children nothing is as it once was, and before long the past lifestyle is only a memory.

I have found this total change to also be true for those who have encountered Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It changes everything and suddenly everything is seen through the lens of who he is and what we have become in him. To truly know him is to not want to go back to who we were before we met him.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not talking about finding a church that you like or the preference of one denomination over another. I’m talking about encountering Jesus Christ and having that encounter change everything else in your life.

As to the church calendar, we are in Eastertide, the season of Easter which is 50 days long. It is modeled after the Jewish calendar where there are 50 days from Passover to Shavuot, or Pentecost. For Christians, during this season, the common greetings are, “He is Risen!” and “He is Risen indeed!” Jaroslav Pelikan an American scholar of the history of Christianity and Christian theology at Yale University once said,

If Christ is risen, nothing else matters, and if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters.

When anyone comes to genuinely believe that Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God the Father where he rules and reigns in righteousness, nothing else has the same level of importance as that one fact. In truth, everything else is to be seen through this truth and all of life revolves around it. To forget that is to end up focusing on other things that in essence become the objects of our worship. Hudson Taylor, a Christian missionary to China and founder of China Inland Mission, once said,

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.

During the Easter season the hope is that the truths of scripture will be rekindled in our hearts and renew our focus on the joy and power of the resurrection. As Hebrews 6:18b–19a reminds us,

We who have fled to him for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is still debated by scholars around the world because of all the religions of the world, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. Last week we read from Psalm 118:22–24,

The stone that the builders rejected
          has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing;
          it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;  l
          et us rejoice and be glad in it.

The physical resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity.

In his book Miracles C.S. Lewis considers the historical background and significance of the Resurrection:

In the earliest days of Christianity an “apostle” was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection… to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection…

You’ll notice that the Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Book of Acts. We must be careful to not allow the truth of the resurrection to become such a familiar theme that we cease being amazed and encouraged by the truth of it. This morning my hope is that God will enable us to see it afresh and have the hope within us made alive as never before. I believe that this will be our rock, our cornerstone no matter what is happening all around us.

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb, and we considered it from the perspective of the gospel of Mark 16:1–8. This morning we will continue this story from John 20:19–31 where we will consider the beginning of the church as the body of Christ.

Let’s look again at John 20:19–21,

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.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Verse 19 could easily have read, “and later that same day” because this is the same day that it was discovered that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb.

Last week we considered Mark’s account that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome got up on Sunday morning and went to the tomb to complete the burial ritual that had been done in haste on Friday evening because it was the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. When they arrived, the stone had already been rolled away and an angel was inside the tomb. He told them that Jesus, who had been crucified was risen and not there. They were to go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee, just like he had told them in the Mount of Olives the night of his betrayal (Mark 14:26–28).

Now we continue the story from John’s account. The disciples have locked themselves in the room where they are staying because they were afraid that the Jewish religious authorities would seek to arrest them because they were Jesus’ disciples. Last week I said that the angel had rolled the stone away from the tomb in order for the women and disciples to see that the tomb was empty, but that Jesus in his resurrected body could have merely walked through the stone. We see an example of this in John’s account of Jesus suddenly appearing to the disciples even though the door was locked. Jesus appears in the room and says, “Peace be with you”—which was a common greeting, but also would have been most welcome considering that they had each betrayed Jesus. In John 13:38 Jesus had told Peter,

“Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times," but in the very next words he comforts them, “Let not your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me.”

So as they huddled in the room covered in fear, guilt, and shame, Jesus comes to bring them the assurance of peace with God.

This time Jesus was going to lead them into the kind of peace that went beyond the sentiment of a greeting but would be nestled deep within their hearts and would provide lasting comfort. The Prince of Peace is standing before them and the greeting “Peace be with you” is to be seen through the words of Jesus “It is finished” on the cross, because now through his finished work there is peace with God for those who embrace him by faith.

Once he said this, he showed them his nail-scarred hands and the wound on his side and in the ESV it says they were glad, but that doesn’t really convey the Greek word very well. They were exuberant and rejoiced at the sight of Jesus.

As I struggled to find a comparison to what I believe their joy was like, I remembered Brownie…

Years ago I had a little dog who was part Pekinese and part Boxer. When we went on vacation for a week my parents decided to put her in a kennel. When we got back and picked her up, she was so excited and was jumping up and down, yelping and it looked to me like she was trying to stand on her head on the back seat of our car. She just couldn’t seem to get enough of us. The relief that we had come back was so powerful. I realized that she thought we had abandoned her. She wasn’t concerned about making a fool of herself and could not contain her joy at seeing us.

I can’t imagine the relief and joy for the disciples at the sight of the resurrected Lord, but I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t like my little dog, Brownie. Outwardly, they may have been more reserved because they still weren’t certain about their standing with their Master. Brownie knew her standing because I came to get her. I can’t help but believe that when I behold Jesus’ face that I will be overwhelmed with joy and love.

In John 16:22 Jesus had told them,

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Now for the second time Jesus says to them,

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Jesus is giving them his commission and He gives them his peace to let them know that he hasn’t come to chastise them for running away at his arrest, but they were going to need his peace to do the work that the Father was sending them to accomplish.

Over forty times in the Gospel Jesus is said to have been sent by God and now this will become the characteristic of his disciples as well. Jesus had promised them that he would send them the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7) and now he is also sending them out to continue the work that he had begun. The Father had sent the Son which meant that in the words, works and person of Jesus men were confronted not just by a Jewish rabbi but by God himself.

It would then be true that in the apostolic mission of the church the world is not confronted by a mere human institution but by Jesus, the Son of God. In the same way that Jesus in his humanity was totally dependent on and obedient to the Father, the church would need to follow the same path as Jesus and therefore would need the same power and authority to accomplish all that he was sending them to do.

At the resurrection Jesus had been glorified so now the Spirit could be given. Now the life that Jesus had shared in union with the Father is shared with the disciples.

Jesus suddenly appearing in the room where they were hiding was not merely him proving that he was alive but was a reunion with him and the disciples, who would now be united to him as well. Look at verses 22–23,

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit by breathing on the disciples was a major event in the Gospels, but the question arises about how to see this as it relates to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The breathing of the Spirit by Jesus is definitely a powerful event, but it does not fulfill the promises that he made earlier in the Gospel. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would be sent to the disciples after he returned to the Father and this would be the Helper, Counselor, and the one who would bear witness of Jesus. What John is describing is Jesus’ commissioning or ordaining the disciples for mission—not just for them, but for the whole world.

The actual beginning of the call on their lives will begin at Pentecost where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit changes the disciples completely as they are empowered to fulfill the calling to go into the whole world in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. In the breathing of the Spirit upon the disciples, Jesus is preparing them for ministry. Remember that Thomas is not present when the Spirit is given, yet he is the one who confesses Jesus as Lord, which is a confession that is the work of the Spirit. This would suggest that the breathing out of the Spirit was not simply directed to those within the room but was the Holy Spirit being released into the world in a new way that begins to bring about new life where faith is found. The disciples enter into a new phase in their life with God, but it is not yet the time where the Holy Spirit will be unleashed in power upon them in a way that transforms them into the witnesses that reflect the image and power of Christ to the world. This was to happen at Pentecost. In the meantime, Jesus is commissioning them to be his witnesses.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The disciples were to bear witness to Jesus by being the presence of Christ through the Spirit. In this way they would be the prophets and teachers who confront the world about their rejection of God and his word, just as Jesus had done. As the disciples faithfully bore witness to the Lordship of Jesus both in word and through the examples of their lives and love for each other, the world would be forced to choose for or against Jesus, in the same way that a decision was made for or against him during his ministry. Those who repent and believe in Jesus could be assured of forgiveness and those who refuse to surrender to the Lordship of Christ would be assured that their sins are not forgiven. This is the consequence of rejecting the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.

The ancient church understood this to be demonstrated through the teaching of baptism as the sacramental sign of forgiveness of sin and the exercise of church discipline on those who continued in their flagrant sins while refusing to repent and turn back to obedience to God in Christ.

Unfortunately, most in the modern church have lost the will to show this kind of love for God’s word and for their members, and the consequences are that many within the institution of the church continue to live without regard for the word of God or the witness of their testimony. They consider themselves forgiven for their sins while continuing to mock God through disobedience to his word. The true act of God’s love is to confront those who feel such comfort and call them to faith lest they die in their sins.

Thomas had not been present on the first day when Jesus entered the room where they were staying. Let’s read John 20:24–29,

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Often we hear Thomas referred to as “Doubting Thomas” for his stubborn refusal to believe that Jesus was alive after having seen him put to death and buried. The other disciples didn’t believe Mary or the two disciples that testified to having seen the resurrected Lord in Mark’s account, but now in John’s account they have already seen the resurrected Lord and in that sense have moved forward in their faith. Thomas on the other hand has not seen Jesus alive and makes it clear he needs tangible proof that what they are seeing is not merely a ghost.

When Jesus again shows up unexpectedly, even though the doors are locked (which would be something you would expect a ghost to do), and encourages Thomas to discover for himself that he is not a ghost but very alive and standing right in front of him. John doesn’t say whether or not Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds, but the impression is that when he encounters Jesus there is no longer a need for proof because he is standing right in front of him. Instead, Thomas responds with a confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus invites Thomas to catch up with the other disciples in their faith but instead, he shoots past them with the confession that he now sees Jesus for who he really is. He confesses Jesus as God when he sees the crucified one alive. He now accepts the revelation that Jesus is God in the flesh, but he gets no brownie points from Jesus because faith would be the foundation of Christianity. Like the rest of the disciples, Thomas found Jesus willing to forgive and to impart his peace and power upon him in spite of his initial unbelief.

When he sees the risen Lord, all that Jesus has taught over the years now becomes clear. On the day of Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit is released upon the believers, and Thomas until his martyrdom was an outspoken Apostle and evangelist for his Lord.

John closes out chapter 20 with an explanation of the purpose of his Gospel. Let read John 20:30–31,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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.

John’s explanation as to the purpose of this book is best understood in light of verse 29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” Jesus lived and ministered in the presence of his disciples, and they recorded many things that he did as signs that he was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God. The disciples were to speak and teach about these things so that others “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

They modeled what happens when you encounter the resurrected Lord. It changes everything because everything else is seen and understood through the Lordship of Jesus Christ as seen and experienced through his Word and Spirit.

Do you have that joy and peace that comes through a relationship with Jesus? If not do you want to know him personally? That’s what he offers each of us this morning, even for those who have followed him for many years but have grown tired and need the refreshment of a renewal of faith. Not just a passing acquaintance but a personal, deep-seated, and powerful relationship with God that is only found through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s ours for the asking. In the early church it was the powerful testimony of the disciples through the joy, peace, and power of the Holy Spirit that God used to transform lives and that is still the call upon Jesus’ disciples today.

The invitation of peace and power is still held out to all who would receive it. This Gospel informs us as to the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Lord and this is to be the testimony that we share with those around us. That should be the number one priority of our lives and it is abundantly clear that the only hope for our world, our country, our state, our county, our friends and our church is in the living Lord who resurrected from the dead that we might have life. Just like our friends long ago, it was noticeably clear about what their priority was by what it was they wanted to show us and share with us whenever we were together. This season my prayer has been and will be that we become more alive in Christ than ever before and more desirous of sharing our story than ever before.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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