Easter 3 – (Thursday April 27th 2006)
I. Introduction –
There’s a certain church with a banner in its yard, which reads, “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors”. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I have my suspicions. Sure we want to be open, but let’s be careful what that means, and let’s do it according to God’s word.
Today we read about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. We heard John’s account last week, including the doubting Thomas episode. Today we hear a little more of what happened on that first visit, when Thomas wasn’t there. And we see Jesus opening minds, and hearts and doors – as only he can.
II. Wide Eyes – Gaping Mouths
The recently risen Jesus pays an Easter visit to his fear-stricken disciples. They are huddled in a house, hiding out from the same people who killed Jesus. John tells us, they had the doors locked. No one was getting in there. Except Jesus.
Luke simply says Jesus “stood among them” as if appearing out of nowhere. He didn’t have to unlock or even open the door. He was there, among them. This minor miracle of Easter evening was nothing compared to the great one of the same morning. And his appearance caused the disciples trouble and doubt. For more than walking through a locked door, Jesus was supposed to be dead. And now he stood among them! He even eats in their presence as further proof he is not a ghost! Perhaps their eyes opened wide in surprise. Perhaps their mouths hung open in amazement. Jesus was truly alive!
No the disciple’s door couldn’t stop Jesus any more than the heavy stone rolled in front of the tomb. Jesus will not be kept out – of their presence, or out of life itself. Sin can’t stop him. Satan can’t stop him. Death can’t stop him. Do you think a little lock will? He had the authority to lay his life down. And he had the authority to take it back again.
So too, Jesus “breaks in” to our hearts, our lives. He comes miraculously. He comes by his Word. He comes in the sacraments. He opens the heart closed and hardened by sin. He doesn’t wait for an invitation or for us to choose or decide for him. As if we could reach out and grab him and pull him to us. Dead in our sins, we can do nothing more than the fearful disciples quaking and huddled together. But he comes to us, he calls to us, he takes the initiative and reaches out to us. And so he does what we cannot do. He opens the door.
III. Opened Minds
But Jesus was about to do more opening, there in the locked room. He opened the disciples’ minds to the scriptures. Perhaps this was the first time the disciples really “got it”. What Jesus was all about.
You’ve probably had one or two of those “AHA!” experiences in your life. I remember several well. When the cloud of ignorance seems to break into the bright beams of understanding. When it’s as if someone took a veil and pulled it from your eyes, so that you were blind but now you see.
Here the “AHA” is that it’s all about Jesus, and his sacrificial death, and his open and empty tomb. It was always about the cross and the resurrection. Jesus shows them how the entire Old Testament led up to this. We could say he opened the scriptures to them – but it wasn’t the scriptures that were the problem, it was them. So he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And we can learn from this too.
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us, so says our catechism. Enlightens – that means he helps us understand. He sheds light. He puts the spotlight on Christ, actually. He shows us Jesus. He helps us see Jesus in the scriptures, and know the promises and the love of Jesus contained there. This isn’t so much a head-knowledge, as we might call it, but a faith-knowledge. As we grow in our appreciation and grasp of ‘all that has been written’ about the riches of God for us in his Son. And so, the Spirit opens us up to wider vistas of deeper faith. The wisdom of God, which is foolishness to this dying world.
It was also there in the locked room, according to John’s account, that Jesus also breathed on his disciples and said, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you do not forgive the sins of any they are not forgiven”. And the Greek word for forgive means “loose” or “unlock” or “open” – and to not forgive means “retain” or “bind” or “lock”.
So as we study the Small Catechism, we learn about the “Office of the keys” which is that power Christ gives to his church to forgive sins, and thereby to unlock the very gates of Heaven.
When you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you, Heaven is opened. When you were baptized, when you receive Christ’s body and blood, heaven is opened. When the pastor says, “your sins are forgiven”, heaven is opened. Jesus is about opening doors and setting captive souls free.
This doesn’t mean we get to hang on to our sins. The same one who says, “neither do I condemn you” also says, “go and sin no more”. Repentance means turning away from sin, confession means admitting sin, and forgiveness can only be offered when there is a sin to forgive. Many who preach a welcoming and open Jesus paint him as open even to sin! But Jesus doesn’t ignore sins or excuse them. He doesn’t explain them away. He calls us to confess them, and he promises to forgive them. This is how the door is opened.
IV. The Kingdom Opened
And in Christ, the kingdom of God is opened to all. It is opened to the Jews who had anticipated his coming. It is opened to the Gentiles: The Samaritans, the Romans, those from Cyrene and Ethiopia, Corinth, Thessalonica and Galatia. It is opened to slave and free, male and female, rich and poor. The kingdom of heaven is opened to Tax collectors and prostitutes. To all sinners, the call goes out, the word is preached. Repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name..
This Sunday is Mission Sunday here at Grace. We will have a special guest preacher coming to represent Lutheran Heritage Foundation. He will surely be talking about some of the great work that group is doing, spreading the Gospel throughout the world today. As they translate bibles and Lutheran materials, surely many more minds are opened to the scriptures, and to Jesus and his cross. And though you might not attend this Sunday for worship, I do encourage you to read about this important work – as the information is in your bulletin.
And know that you are a part of that mission. Through your prayers, through your congregation’s support, and in so many other ways, God is working to open hearts and minds to the Gospel. God is opening the kingdom to all nations.
Jesus Christ – who opens hearts that are hardened, who opens minds that are clouded, who opens the kingdom to all nations, and heaven to his people, who opens the door of death itself – first his own tomb – and one day ours. To him be glory forever and ever, Amen.
The risen Jesus has a way of closing what was open, and opening what was closed - opening eyes and ears, hearts and minds. Through him, heaven is opened to us and all people.