Sermon by Martin James 24.04.2022

Sermon by Martin James

Sunday 24th April 2022

John 20:19-31

How do you feel after Easter? Full of eggs? I don't eat chocolate and my family are very good to me at Easter. A few bottles of beer and a nice single malt whisky.

That reminds me of the vicar who became partial to cherry brandy. He had a friend who made it himself and one day the vicar asked him if he would give him a bottle. The friend replied that he would only do it on one condition. That was that the vicar published in the parish magazine that he had given him one. "Certainly", said the vicar. "If you turn to the thanks column in the next issue you will find my thanks." The next month, there it was - the thank you. Put like this - "We thank our kind friend very much for his gift of cherries and particularly for the spirit in which they were sent."

Anyway, it's easy to feel flat after Easter, eggs or not. We’ve had the build up - Holy Week, then the celebration of Easter itself. That's why today is called Low Sunday.

But look at how the disciples felt after Jesus’ crucifixion. With all that had happened, it’s no wonder that they were, in the words at the start of our Gospel reading “behind locked doors for fear of the Jews”. There’d been the arrest and trial of Jesus, his crucifixion, worry that they might be identified with him as Peter pretty well was.

And now various reports. From Mary, who’d seen Jesus in the garden. Then from the two men to whom he’d appeared on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus alive? Yes - and here he is suddenly with them in the locked room - verse19 - When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'. Immediately their feelings changed from fear to joy - verse20 - “They rejoiced when they saw the Lord............”.

But, back to verse19 - see what Jesus says/gives to them - Peace be with you'. That was a common greeting. Shalom/peace. And shalom means so much more than how we might normally think of it as, for instance “may your life be trouble free”. It literally means “may God give you every good thing”. It was a sort of echo of Jesus’ words in John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

And that comes to us today as well. We can know the peace of Christ. We can also know his living hope. In his first letter Peter wrote - 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

And also in this troubled world we live in today, we as Christians can play our part in spreading that peace and hope of Jesus. Spread it amongst those we have contact with outside the church - maybe family or friends. And spread/give/show it to one another too. As we do for instance when we share the Peace at Holy Communion.

And then, after giving them his peace, Jesus gives his disciples a commission - verse21b As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Earlier, during Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, he sent his disciples out two by two (eg Mark 6:7-13).

That was a sort of training for them whilst Jesus was still with them in bodily form. A training for what was to come. Because now, Jesus’ earthly work, his mission, has been accomplished on the cross. So he was handing over to the disciples. Jesus was relying on them to proclaim the kingdom of God. Ordinary people, with no special qualifications. Jesus was relying on them to proclaim and live his resurrection life and his promise of eternal life for all who believe in him

And he relies on us too. We are his disciples today. We are ordinary people too. And he sends us out to serve him. There’s an echo here in John 20 of Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:19b “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations”. Ok, not everyone is an evangelist or a preacher. But each and every Christian is a witness. Just before his ascension Jesus told the disciples that they would be witnesses (Acts 1:8).

We are witnesses as much by the way we live as by what we say. But at the same time Spirit filled words are powerful.

But in sending them out Jesus didn’t expect his disciples to go out for him in their own strength. Nor does he expect us to today. Indeed we mustn't. He equips us. Verse22 ‘When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'.

Remember Jesus’ earlier promise of the Spirit in John 14:- 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, (helper) to be with you for ever .26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit came upon all believers that day of Pentecost. And Pentecost of course is celebrated as the birthday of the church, which we will be doing in a few weeks time. That outpouring on all believers that was foretold by Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (44:3) and Joel (2:28+32). Indeed, Peter quotes Joel in his great sermon at Pentecost.

So, yes, Pentecost was the day that marked the birth of the church. But here, just after his resurrection, in this intimate gathering of some of his closest friends, Jesus bestows on them a sort of private and individual commissioning of the Holy Spirit. He gave them the power of the Spirit that was soon to be demonstrated publicly at Pentecost. And then came the beginnings of the early church.

We have the same power today through the same Spirit to enable us in our Christian lives and service. Also our witness. That word again. Now of course witness has that twofold connotation that I mentioned just now of the way we live and also what we say. Part of Jesus sending again.

Of course in visual terms the disciples just after the Resurrection actually witnessed/saw the risen Jesus. And there was one particular eye witness here in John 20, in the person of Thomas. He’s one of my favourite disciples because he was so honest about his doubts. But look at what happens. We read (verse24) how Thomas wasn't with the other disciples when Jesus came. And when they said they had seen the Lord he made that familiar uttering - ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ But now (verse26), he is present when Jesus appears again. And Jesus lovingly "picks on" Thomas - ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. ‘At which Thomas exclaims ‘My Lord and my God!’

Many years ago we had a great Christian friend whose favourite saying was “you can’t have faith without doubt”. And how true that was. An honest questioning faith is one which helps us to grow.

So Jesus now says to Thomas (verse29) Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ That’s us! And it is emphasised by Peter in his first letter - 1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.

So, how do you feel after Easter? Ready to go on, I hope, living Jesus' new life. Ready to go on knowing his peace, going on in his service, and through it all knowing the power and joy of his Spirit.

I will finish with the promise in verse31 - But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Martin James 20.3.22