Friday, April 5, 2013

John 20:19 - 31 Fruits of the Resurrection

Grace and peace to you from him who is and who was and who is to come,
   It didn’t look very promising. Only Jesus could make something of it. The disciples were so frightened that they had to make sure that the doors to the building they were in were locked, and one of them didn’t believe in the Resurrection at all. At least they were together in one place, though, and ready for something to happen.  They must have been amazed to see Jesus suddenly standing in their midst in his glorified and risen state. Nothing could confine him or keep him from going where he wanted to go. His appearance was a miracle. We don’t understand it now, but we will understand better when our own bodies take on their heavenly form.
       The appearance of the resurrected Lord changed the disciples. The came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Jewish people had been expecting for centuries and they had life in his name through their faith. They felt the effects of the Resurrection in their own lives. And that’s our topic this morning – the effects of the Resurrection.
       Peace first. Jesus said “peace be with you” three times. Like the first visitors to the empty tomb, the disciples had been frightened.  They had seen the crucifixion or heard about it and wondered if the gospel would fade away, along with the good news of salvation and the presence of God in their lives.  Moreover, what would secular authorities do to people who’d been close to Jesus? A lot of things concerned them. The Risen Lord quieted their fears and brought them the peace of soul they needed to pick themselves up and go on with the work he’d given them. He didn’t promise to keep them away from danger and difficulty – after all, look what he’d endured. Instead, he removed their fears and warmed the chill in in their hearts. He gave them courage, confidence, and cheerfulness.
       The peace that comes at the end of fighting or when poverty or sickness are taken away are great blessings. War has taken the lives of millions of people in the last century and disrupted millions more.  We pray that civil peace come quickly there and give thanks that Canada is at peace at home and that her people find peaceful ways to settle disagreements.
       Jesus has taught us, though, that peace from God reaches deeper than civil peace. God’s peace changes us and brings us joy. Jesus calms us and carries us through troubles and times of tension. Sickness and poverty may strike, news reports of war and crime may unsettle us, sin and the devil may threaten, but because his peace is in our hearts, Jesus protects us from numbing distress and to such a degree that we Christians are stronger and braver when conflict is present than during serene days. His peace reaches deep into our souls. The Lord lets the devil frighten us; earthly troubles vex us. Never mind. The Spirit of Jesus – the Holy Spirit – gives us courage. He brings rest to burdened consciences so that we’re brave and sturdy no matter what comes our way.
       Jesus’ resurrection proclaims to us that he conquered sin, death, and the devil. He will provide for all our needs so that we never lack what is necessary. We bring our sinfulness to the resurrected Lord and receive his pardon. We cling to him if we are sick or in difficulties or if resources are slender, trusting that he will provide for us, comfort us, and give us strength. He promises that no evil is so great that it will injure us permanently or bring us to despair.
       Martin Luther said that confidence in rocky times is the hallmark of a Christian. If we aren’t at peace when earthly trouble strikes, we are not yet Christians. A Christian trusts that Jesus has risen for him or her and that he guides her or him through the tangles and challenges of everyday living, and so we ask Jesus to keep faith in his promises alive in our minds and deep in our souls so that we may experience the peace of a Christian.
       Joy is another fruit of the resurrection. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Risen Lord. Faith in Christ brings the greatest joy we will ever know. He takes away whatever is bad for us – sorrow, sadness, the effects of stress, sin. He conquered death and the devil for us. We live because he lives. He does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We take a heavy burden on ourselves if we struggle to win God’s favor on our own because he demands perfection. Jesus lifted the load from our shoulders and put it on himself. He makes up for our poor performances and calls us to rest in him.
       Jesus’ work for us doesn’t mean, however, that we can lean back and take advantage of a free ride. It means that we know where we stand with God, so we dive into the tasks he’s prepared for us with joyful hearts. The freedom we have in Jesus brings us the fullness of joy that comes to people who have been released from captivity. Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul wrote. We rejoice because Jesus offers us a life with God that nothing can ever take away from us. He expects obedience from us, but he takes note of our weaknesses and never asks for more than we can give. Our Savior never shuts the door on anyone. He reaches out and lifts us up and invites us to walk along beside him. We rejoice and ask him to keep on giving us the joy that comes with living by faith in him.
       And so we come to another fruit of the resurrection – the blessings of faith. After he heard reports that the Lord had risen, Thomas said that he needed not only to see the Lord but also to touch his wounds. Now, we make a distinction between doubt and the unbelief that rejects God. The Pharoah with whom Moses pleaded for the release of his people and Jesus’ enemies Judas and King Herod all rejected God totally and with hardness of heart. Thomas was different. He wrestled with a challenge. Faith isn’t always easy, even for folks who have walked with God all their lives. The Crucifixion must have shocked Thomas. If a man like Jesus gets treated cruelly and unjustly...He had good reason to believe what the apostles told him, though, because they were his friends and honest men who had nothing to gain from telling a lie. If ten people from St. Peters told us about something they’d seen with their own eyes, we would believe them. Thomas wanted more than reliable reports. He wanted to see the Lord for himself. He yearned to believe, but he found obstacles standing in the way. Reason, past history, and experience all taught him what he thought was the truth about life. He overlooked God’s promises and the dimension of faith.
       It’s natural to believe in Christ, as natural as breathing or the abundance of the earth, and Thomas longed to overcome the obstacles that thinking had put in his way. He wanted the joy of faith that he couldn’t create on his own. He needed God’s help, and Jesus graciously reached out to him. Thomas responded with gratitude and understanding. He called Jesus what no one had called him before – “my Lord and my God.” By the grace of God, the resurrected Jesus became personal for him. He pardoned Thomas’s sins, including his doubt; he took away his anxiety; he assured him that God was not his enemy but a friend who would guide and protect and guide. He offered Thomas a place in eternity and found him work to do for the kingdom. Thomas would live by faith from then on.
       The same goes for us. We live by faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus said. How blessed in God’s eyes are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
       Power, as we said, is another fruit of the resurrection. Church tradition tells us that in later life, Thomas founded the Christian church in India. The Holy Spirit empowered him to leave his home and his friends to serve the gospel of Christ. God’s power works in us, too. Martin Luther wrote that it comforts and strengthens us to know that God arouses in us the same power that worked for Jesus. He gives us the power to resist temptation and to overcome evil, to rise above everyday troubles and to live by faith. When we speak to our neighbors the words that Jesus gives us in the Bible, they count just as much as if he were speaking them himself. And even though we don’t have the power to create faith in someone we know Jesus does empower us to pardon offenses and to speak the good news of salvation in him.
       We share Jesus’ teaching about sin and God’s mercy, about our needs, and how God meets them. We set examples of faith, and we lift up our families and our neighbors in prayer.
       So – to sum up – peace, joy, faith, and power are some of the fruits of the resurrection we prayed for a few minutes ago. Our Heavenly Father wants us to keep asking him for them. We may be tempted to sit back and say that comfort is our goal. God’s word opens our hearts to receive our Lord’s gifts to us, day by day, Sunday by Sunday.
       The resurrection is more than words on a page. It’s a living, personal, powerful reality, our own possession. We ask our Heavenly Father by his grace to keep the resurrection working fruitfully in us, and so we rejoice to hear his promise that he will go on acting in our lives, building us up in peace, joy, faith, and godly powers. In his name we give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.   

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