We can only imagine the thoughts running through the minds of the disciples that first resurrection evening. In just three days their entire world had turned upside down. First, they had witnessed the arrest of Jesus, then the mistreatment of him, and when on Friday they saw Jesus hanging on the cross we need to understand that the disciples didn’t know what to think. Was he really the Messiah as he said he was? And, what about the rumors concerning his resurrection? You will remember that some of the women had visited the tomb earlier that morning and returned with the news that it was empty.
So, it’s no wonder these disciples were confused. We all would be. And when we become confused, the feeling that follows is not one of peace but rather fear. John writes that on the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (v. 19). It’s not difficult to understand why they feared for their lives. If the Jews had just finished executing their leader, it stands to reason that they would soon come after his followers.
Or, to say it a different way, I doubt that it was a relaxing evening for the disciples that first Easter evening. If we happened to be present, we probably wouldn’t have found them playing cards nor cracking jokes. “Why not?” you ask. Well, because when one is afraid, he or she is not in the mood for cracking jokes nor for laughing. He’s not in the mood for going out at night or catching up with old friends.
Let’s think about the population of our world for a brief moment. Would you agree that there are millions if not billions who live confused and fearful in life? I would. Confused over an unstable government. Fearful over civil war. Not sure whether to flee their towns in search of a better life or whether it’s safer to stay put.
You see, the same emotions that people continue to deal with today are the very emotions we find in these eleven disciples. They were fearful of the thugs in power. They were grief-stricken over the loss of a loved one. And they were utterly confused as to what to do next. And in the midst of all this confusion and fear, Jesus suddenly appears in the middle of them and greets them with the words: “Peace be with you!”
And now the disciples are even more confused. “Peace now, Jesus? I’m not sure you understand the situation here. The Jewish authorities are out to get us. You, Jesus, are supposed to be dead. And, perhaps worst of all, the last time we spent with you, we all abandoned you!” St. Luke comments in his Gospel that the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost.
But there was no ghost that evening. Rather it was the person of Jesus himself. “Look at my hands and my side,” he tells them. “It’s me!” And upon seeing these proofs the disciples believed that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead, and they rejoiced (v. 20).
Now, I take the time to review all of this because it is right here that we need to pause and ponder the question: do I also believe that Jesus is alive today and therefore real? Or is the way I function eerily similar to the disciple Thomas that first week, namely as though Jesus was no longer present? I want to tell you that the amount of peace you have in your life depends in large measure on how you think about such things. Because if Jesus is “out of sight, out of mind” for you when it comes to actual living, it’s going to be very difficult to have peace in the midst of life’s confusion.
And yet, the truth is that many “Christians” live exactly in this way. They go from house to work and from work to house. They engage with their friends and spend time with their family, but functionally speaking Jesus is not a part of their daily life. They don’t pray to him during the day. They don’t read their Bible throughout the week. They don’t have a sense of his presence in the face of difficult decisions and setbacks. And so, when life begins to go south—for example, when their marriage appears to be failing, or when they suffer the consequences of false expectations—it’s as if their entire world flips upside down and they don’t know what to do.
And why should they, if Jesus has tended to be a matter of cerebral knowledge rather than a real-world reality? Loved ones, there’s no peace if Jesus is just a matter of cerebral knowledge. Because although you may say that Jesus is in control, the way you live your life is as though you are the one who is really in control. And life doesn’t work too well when we are in control, does it? Governments don’t work well when humans are in control. Marriages don’t work well when humans are in control. Do you really want to live in a world where the future depends on the decisions of the men and women who run the world? Do you really want to live within a marriage where success depends on behavior of two sinful human beings?
So, we need to consciously ask ourselves: how am I living? Am I living in such a way that Jesus is involved in all of my daily affairs, or have I relegated Jesus to Sunday morning church and therefore have difficulty understanding how he is at all related to the confusion I face Monday through Saturday? Do the words “Christ is risen!” truly give me comfort, or do they immediately go to that part of the brain that I reserve for the cliché? For too many, it’s the latter.
You see, it’s important that those of us who regularly hear God’s word on Sunday pause every now and then to ask ourselves: how we are hearing God’s word on Sunday? For far too often we hear the words of Jesus, and yet we don’t really hear them. We don’t make the connections between what he is saying to the original disciples and what he continues to say to us. And, you see, if we only hear Jesus’ words with polite nods to the pastor, then we miss out on the peace that Jesus offers. For the peace that Jesus offers in these words is not just some pious wish with no apparent reality. No, the peace that Jesus extends to his disciples is an actual statement. He’s not saying: “May my peace be with you.” He’s saying, “My peace is with you!” In fact I’m giving it to you right now by speaking these very words. And so, in effect he’s saying to his disciples, “You are frightened because you are confused. But to the measure you look at me and to the measure you believe that I am real, that is the measure of peace you will have even in the midst of your confusion. Because when I tell you that you have peace, I am telling you that you are forgiven.”
Do you believe that the only problem you really have has already been taken care of by Jesus on the cross? Do you believe that peace exists right now between you and God? You see, it’s not a future peace that Jesus extends to his disciples; it’s a present peace. It’s the peace that comes from knowing that we don’t believe in a dead God. We believe in God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth who exists right now! And here’s the good news: he’s not against you in life. He is for you! You see, that’s what Jesus wants his disciples to grasp here. He is real, and that means his forgiveness is real. He has power over all things (even death), and he’s for you! And you see, loved ones, if Almighty God is for us, what do we need to be so unsettled about? Now that Christ has risen, his love and power are present in every detail of our lives.
And that is something that your loved ones and my loved ones need to know. They need to know that Jesus lives, and therefore there is no longer any division between them and God. Their sins have been forgiven. And so, how are they going to know that? Someone has to tell them. Someone needs to tell them, “Friend, what you need isn’t a different spouse, and what you need isn’t a different life. What you need is Jesus! What you need is to know of his love and forgiveness.”
That is our task. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 21, 23). Not that we have the authority in and of ourselves to forgive sins. But we do have the task of announcing to others what Jesus has already won for them: the forgiveness of sins and its eternal consequence—peace with God.
Because it is this forgiveness, you see, that is really the power behind a life of peace. It assures us that even in the most turbulent moments God is not angry with us. Neither are things out of his control. Nothing is impossible with God, the Bible says. And so if you have been deeply hurt by another, the peace of Christ gives you power to forgive. And you can repair a relationship that you once thought was dead, but according to Jesus was only damaged. If you live alone and you don’t have much family or friends around you, the peace of Christ means that no matter where you live, no matter the amount of friends and family, you always have him! And as you continue growing in your relationship with him you will realize how much intimacy and joy that a relationship with Christ can bring.
So, how are you living? Confused? Afraid of the future? Are you fed up with the uncertainties of life? Then I encourage you to make Jesus a reality in your life, for he is real. He lives! And therefore, there is always hope. There is always comfort. And above all there is forgiveness, and therefore, there is peace. Amen.