This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 20:12-31
Sermon prepared by Rev. John Klomps, Mississauga, Ont.
Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
It must have been an upsetting day in Jerusalem. The first day of the week started out with many rumors flying. People were stopping each other on the way to and from the market. Don't forget Jerusalem then was much smaller than today. People knew each other. They talked to each other. As they passed each other on the streets they exchanged greetings. Jerusalem was like one great family.
You can just imagine how some of these conversations must have sounded on that first day of the week. On the way to a friend's house one disciple may have said to another: "Did you hear the latest about Jesus? No", said the other one. "What is it?" "Well, they say that Peter and John have been to the cemetery early this morning and found the stone removed." "Really?" "Do you believe that?" "It seems hard to believe." They say that also some of the women were at the grave and found the same situation. It seems impossible, but let's watch the news at noon, maybe we will learn the latest then.
One person who was not in the least impressed was Thomas. When a fellow disciple mentioned to him that Jesus was alive, Thomas said: "Yea, sure? Thomas was not convinced, because he had been at Calvary on Friday afternoon. He had witnessed Christ's crucifixion. He had heard Jesus utter those fateful words: "It is finished." Thomas had interpreted that in the most negative way. Finished for him meant, the end.
The hopes and dreams of a Thomas were nailed to a rough piece of wood. Thomas had seen death before and knew that Christ's death on the cross was not a fake. He had watched the Roman soldier use his spear to verify that the one whom they called "the King of the Jews" was truly dead. The Roman was satisfied and so was Thomas. That's why he did not bother to come to the meeting. It was useless anyway. For him there was no future in the Jesus movement. He was dead. Forget about Him. Leave him in the grave. The rumors will quickly enough disappear. Life goes on. That's the philosophy of Thomas.
During that first day of the week another rumor had begun to blanket the city of Jerusalem. It was mentioned that the religious leaders would also seek the death penalty against the disciples of the man of Nazareth. It was suggested that since Jesus had been disposed of, the same should happen to his followers. Then peace would return to the streets of the city of David. Then the religious leadership could continue its rewarding co-existence with the Roman authorities.
Is it any wonder that in this climate of rumor, fear, despair and yet some hope, the disciples almost naturally drifted together. They looked for each other's company. To exchange stories, to encourage each other, to hope against hope that there could be some truth in these rumors. But they met behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.
Where did they meet? I don't know. Maybe they used the same upper room that Jesus and the disciples had recently used to celebrate the passover. Maybe they met at the home of one of the Jerusalem disciples of Jesus. At any rate they must have mentioned the place to each other during the day, for in the evening a whole group of followers is together. Who were there? I don't know.
I know who was not there. Thomas was not there. Sure he had also been invited, but to his fellow disciples he had said: "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." That's why Thomas stayed away.
Who may have been there? Peter and John? Yes, I think so. The other disciples? Probably. The women? Could be. Do you think Mary, the mother of our Lord, may have been there? Can you imagine what must have gone through her mind. Together with some of the other women, Mary had also been on Golgotha. She had stood there helplessly watching the incredible suffering of her first-born.
For parents, to see a child die is terrible. But Mary had to witness the public disgrace of her special child; she had to listen to the catcalls of the crowd who made fun of her son. At the same time she heard the echo of the voice of the visiting angel who had said: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1: 32)
Any wonder that Mary must have been confused. Hopeful on the one hand because of the joyful rumors of an empty tomb, but despairing on the other hand because she knew that Jesus had died on Calvary. She was certain of that. Not even the most optimistic person could change her mind on that. Who were there? Ordinary people who were bounced back and forth between hope and despair. Between faith and unbelief. Who were there? You and I.
Suddenly Jesus stands among them. Now keep in mind that the doors were locked. The windows were closed. They did not want any unexpected visitors. Right into the middle of this group of followers Jesus stands and looks at them. An awed silence must have fallen over the room. Nobody dared to ask a question. Perhaps they were wondering if this was a case of mass delusion. Yes, they recognized him, and yet the shock was so great that they could not yet embrace him. They simply stared speechless.
"Shalom," Jesus says. "Peace be with you." In today's Israel the word shalom is used almost as the equivalent of the word hi. For instance if you wanted to ask a question of an Israeli, you would walk up to him, and say "Shalom." Could you tell me where I can find such or such a hotel? Shalom means hi, hello. It has lost the richness of the Old Testament meaning. In that context shalom means, peace. Jesus uses the word with all the rich content of the prophetic past. Shalom means that God and mankind are on talking terms again. Shalom means that God has stretched out His arms to a world lost in sin and has embraced that world through the sacrifice of His Son. Shalom paints a dark background of a broken relationship between God and mankind. Genesis 3 is full of that brokenness. In the middle of that destroyed relationship God had held out His hands of promise. To mankind He had extended the hope of a future restored relationship on the basis of forgiveness. A savior would come and restore true peace.
Filled with that expectation the Old Testament community had listened to its prophets. Now Jesus uses that word shalom with all its ancient meaning. He draws the attention of his disciples to himself. I am the Peace of the world. In me you will find the foundation on which the restored relationship between God and mankind will be rebuilt.
A look of utter bewilderment must have passed over the faces of the people who stared at him. They still saw Him only as a ghost. Their minds could not register the fact that Jesus was alive and standing among them. Nobody dared to break the silence and ask: "Who are you?" Then Jesus takes the lead. He takes them back to the reality of last Friday afternoon on Calvary. The disciples had been there. They had witnessed the bloody damage of the nails.
Now Jesus holds up his hands for everyone to see. The result of the crucifixion was still visible. He uses this as a means to convince his followers that He is real and not a ghost. He leads them from death to life; from despair to joyful conviction. Then the reality of the miracle begins to sink in and they are filled with joy. Yes, this is truly Jesus, their Lord and He is alive.
Again Jesus says "Shalom". That's twice in a row. Why? Did it not register the first time? Did our Lord speak too softly, so that they did not understand Him? I don't think so. Rather, our Lord mentions it twice to underscore the importance of this foundation for the challenge to the church that follows.
This newly achieved relationship between God and mankind allows the Church to carry out it's incredible task. Through the finished work of our Savior a new beginning may be made. God in Christ once again stretches out His arms of mercy to the children of Adam and invites them to enjoy this new relationship of peace. The insurmountable barrier of sin which stood between God and mankind has been removed in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Then our Lord issues that incredible commandment to the early church. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." For a moment it takes your breath away. When you begin to realize what He is saying, you are ready to register an objection. The apparent equivalent between the Father sending His Son, and He sending us becomes too much. We are ready to say: "Lord, that is impossible." How can mere human beings be elevated to the level of the Divine? We will never be able to fulfill that challenge.
You are right. If our Lord had sketched a straight equivalent between Himself and us then our objections would seem to be well grounded. But wait a minute. Jesus uses two different words which are both translated in English with the word send. The two words give a very specific meaning to the sending of Christ by the Father and to the sending of the church into the world. The two are far from identical. Each word describes very specifically the task of the one being sent.
Let us a take a closer look at these two words. Let's begin with the phrase "as the Father has sent me." The word that our Lord employs here may be freely translated in this way. The Father has sent His Son to be the liberator. The first word send has the content of unique, once and for all. It can not and does not have to be repeated. The background to this word send is that mankind was in prison. It is not further explained here how that happened.
To read the explanation of this background you will have to go back to Genesis 3. From the position of freedom in the Garden of Eden, God banished mankind to a life of self-earned slavery. As a matter of fact you even read that "God placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." Mankind had become enslaved to death.
The living relationship of creation between God and mankind had been totally severed. Mankind faced a lonely future full of pain and despair with death at the end of the road. The road back to the Garden of Eden was blocked. Sin, as the barbed wire of a concentration camp, kept mankind locked up. The freedom to meet with God on a partnership basis had evaporated as a short rain shower in the desert. He suddenly faced the enormity of the result of his sin.
The author of Psalm 130 describes it this way: "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" There is no answer to that lament. The only answer is one of silence. Nobody could stand before the face of a holy God. Mankind had become prisoners of his own disobedience. Alone and lonely he faced the bleak future of a life without God. Every aspect of life showed mankind what he had lost and how he had become a prisoner in his own world. No amount of human optimism could remove the tall fence of his prison. Within himself man did not possess the ability to start over again, or to set himself free. He needed Someone from the outside to rescue him and to set him free.In the divine judgment against sin as mentioned in Genesis 3 God miraculously opens a window of hope. For in that judgment it is also mentioned that the offspring of the woman will crush the head of God's adversary.
Even at mankind's lowest moment in history, God does not completely wash His hands of his creation. In John 3: 16 we read "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." As the beam of a flashlight this divine promise penetrated the darkness of his imprisonment. To this promise God brought mankind back time and again. For only in the fulfillment of this promise would mankind ever taste freedom again.
And the bridge for mankind to reach this fulfillment was faith. God would send the Liberator, the divine Freedom fighter to break down the barriers of mankind's solid prison. Galatians 4:4 provides this timely commentary: "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."
"As the Father has sent me," says Jesus. That sending has now become accomplished. When his words "It is finished" rang over Golgotha's hill, it did not mean as Thomas had thought, failure, but rather fulfillment. The Liberator did not merely arrive, but he tore down the bars and barbed wire of sin. He atoned for mankind's sin and guilt and freed those under the just law of punishment. He pardoned the slaves of sin, so that they could become sons and daughters in his kingdom. No slave could have ever been sent on a mission like that, but the Father's Son could and did accomplish it.
Only when we embrace that accomplishment of Christ by faith, can we truly understand the second part of this sending. Then we are confronted by the words of our Liberator, when he says: "I am sending you."
Our Lord must have looked at all the ones present in that room. Disciples, friends and also the women. Nowhere do you read that some are excluded, based on race, gender or education. The interesting thing is that Jesus now uses a different word send. The one that He uses now has the meaning of carrying good news to others. That makes good sense. The Liberator, the Savior has set us free, and now his disciples, that is the church, may announce that good news to the world. The church comes to the world with hands full of good news. To those who had not yet heard about the new-won freedom, the church may proclaim good tidings. It may show an open door to the throne room of God. Faith becomes the cardinal principle of that new life. Believe and you shall be saved.
In this charge of Jesus to his followers, there is also a uniqueness. Very specially He commits this task to the church. To that degree the church becomes God’s bridge into the world. To the degree that the church forgets this task or withdraws from the world, to that degree it will become more difficult for the world to hear the good news of freedom in Christ. Overwhelmed by the joy of knowing that Christ is alive, the church now takes that good news and distributes it on all the streets of the world. For only in Christ can the world again receive the freedom to live and serve as God’s partners.
The role of the church in the world is not to condemn the world. Throughout history the church has not always remembered that. On many occasions it assumed the role of judge and jury. It forgot its servant role of bringing good news. The glory of the church is to stand in the middle of the world and to point to her Lord. To direct the lost and the lonely in this world to the safe haven in Christ. To that end Jesus said: “I am sending you.” The church’s hands are filled with good news. To the weak and the poor the church may invitingly say: “Take, eat, remember and believe.”
Freedom for mankind has been regained and may be accepted by faith. Therefore the church has even developed prison ministries, because it is convinced that even convicted murderers must hear the good news. No sinner is excluded from this invitation to be reconciled to God. The church has been given the pivotal role to deliver God's good news to a world hemmed in by the barriers of sin. That must remain her joy and glory.
That's why it is so sad to hear that many young members of the church are saying goodbye to the church. They still believe, at least they say so. But the church has apparently lost its attraction for them. Perhaps they see the role of the church too narrowly. Maybe they identify the church merely with Sunday observances, or perhaps they have been turned off by the bickering mentality of supposedly mature Christians.
Whatever the reason, it is a sad loss for the world. Without the next generation of young Christians to take up the task of delivering the good news of Jesus Christ, the world will become a darker place. Only the presence of the Gospel remains the shining light in the world that lights the path to the cross of Christ. The church needs the willing and faithful hands of its younger generation to remain faithful to its God-given task.
Yes, it is absolutely true that the church will face opposition in the world. Again true that some will ridicule the so-called mission of the church. No doubt others will call the church intolerant for its proclamation of only one Way and only by faith. When our Lord was with us, He promised that this would occur. In spite of that he still said: "I am sending you."
In an older movie called 'The longest Day" which depicts the invasion on the Normandy beaches in 1944, there is one scene that has made a deep impression on me. It concerns a glider unit that had been given the task to capture and hold a bridge over the river Orne. While still in England, days before the invasion, you see the unit commander in his commander's office who re-inforces the importance of this mission. He stresses that this bridge must be captured intact because it will serve as a vital supply line to the other units coming off the beach. Before he leaves his office this commander says: "Hold until relieved." In the early morning of June 6, 1944, you see these young soldiers climb into their gliders on the way to France. On the way to capture and hold that important bridge. When they finally land close to their target they sprint out of their gliders on the way to the bridge. Without hesitation they face the deadly fire of the opposition. Soon the message is sent: "Bridge secured." Then you see them dig in all around this bridge.
They are quite convinced that counter attacks will be launched soon. And indeed they are. As a matter of fact the opposition fire becomes so severe, that the commander's assistant crawls up to him and shouts: "We must withdraw, we will all be killed here." As he struggles with the heavy responsibility of leadership, he suddenly hears the echo in his mind of his commander: "Hold until relieved." They stay and hold the bridge.
To the younger members in our churches I would like to say, that bridge is like the church in the world today. It is a vital supply line to fellow Christians at home and overseas who are busy distributing the good news to sin-imprisoned people. In the name of our heavenly commander I would like to say to all of you, but especially to the younger members in this church: "Hold until relieved." Yes, hold until relieved. In spite of opposition fire, in spite of ridicule or hatred, let's remember that we are under orders to "Hold until relieved."
Proposed Order of Service
Words of welcome and announcements
Call to worship
Greeting: We pray that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of us.
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Guide for Christian Living: Deuteronomy 5:6-21
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture: John 20:19-31
Text: John 20:21
Sermon: "The Mission of the Church"
Hymn #525:1, 2, 3
Hymn #237:1, 3
Benediction: We pray that the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24–27)