Peace, Forgiveness, Blessings, Belief, Life
John's Gospel recounts for us the events of that first Easter Sunday evening, and also a week later. And as we stand, a week out from our own Easter celebration, it only makes sense to pay attention. John uses five key words in our reading today – five Easter words – which draw our attention and interest. They are: Peace, Forgiveness, Blessings, Belief, and Life.
The first words Jesus speaks to the disciples in that upper room are words of peace. “Peace be with you”. And to a cowardly and cowering band of brothers who had deserted him in his darkest hour, the greeting is striking. They were anything but at peace. They were in fear of the Jews. They didn't want to die like Jesus. And they certainly weren't expecting to see him alive. Even so, they had deserted him! You might expect he'd be angry. Like a ghost come back to haunt them (remember they mistook him for a ghost once before). But Jesus says, “peace.” Jesus brings peace.
We know from Jesus' own words that the peace he brings and gives is a peace far different from what we're used to. “Not as the world gives, give I unto you”. The last time he gave them peace, well, how did that work out? It was 6 chapters before this, and before all the suffering and dying. Before the disciples scattered like roaches when the hammer came down on Jesus. Peace? Probably the furthest thing from their mind, now, but also what they needed the most.
Peace be with you, he says. Not, “How could you leave me in my darkest hour?” Not, “here I come to punish you for your unfaithfulness.” Nothing like that. No judgment, no throwing their sins in their faces, no come-uppin's. Just peace. Jesus left all that other stuff at the cross, and in the grave. Where our sins lay buried to rot for all eternity. The warfare is over. The time of peace has come.
The same Jesus would bring you a peace that passes understanding. The same Jesus would break in to whatever room of doubt and despair and fear you've got yourself locked into. He comes, not in terror as the king of kings, but kind and good, with healing in his wings. He comes with peace, a peace unlike the world's fleeting, temporary, outward, surface-thin peace. His peace is deeper and broader and more profound than even eye can see or ear can hear or mind can comprehend. It is peace with God.
And that peace is connected, always, to the next key word here: forgiveness. In fact the peace flows from forgiveness. The reason they could be at peace is that their sins were forgiven. The sins of the world were forgiven in Jesus' death, and the deal is sealed when his tomb is un-sealed, and he leaves death behind. That forgiveness of the cross is where our peace is always rooted and where it was forged.
But notice, he's not content simply to forgive his wayward disciples. He has a mission for them. He is sending them, even as he was sent on a mission. And that mission is: forgive. If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven. The forgiveness they enjoy is also a forgiveness they are to extend on his behalf.
And we do so, even today. When the called and ordained servant of Christ stands here, and says, “I forgive you your sins,” some might find it shocking. Some might even ask, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” Fair enough, but Jesus, the victorious-over-sin-and-death Son of God, who clearly has such authority – has commanded humble men to carry it on. He appointed his apostles, who then appointed pastors all over the world, and down through history, to carry this forgiveness forward in Jesus' stead and by his command. So when you hear it today, or any day, in Jesus' name, you are forgiven. It's just as sure as if he was standing in this room, in the flesh, nail-scarred hands and all. Peace. Forgiveness.
Thomas, ah poor Thomas. Absent from the first appearance to the 11. Various theories suggest exactly why Thomas wasn't there. Was he purposely gone, for fear he'd be caught with the others? Was it just happenstance, or even divine purpose? Daylight Savings Time? What's clear, though is that Thomas will always be remembered as “Doubting”. Even though, upon seeing, he believed. Maybe we should even call him, “confessing Thomas”, for his declaration, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus accepts this statement, and implying that Thomas is blessed for seeing and believing, but that they are even more blessed who do not see and yet believe. Clearly Jesus has others in mind – those who would come to believe in the future – people like you and me.
Blessings and believing, our next two key ideas, go hand in hand. Belief itself, faith, is a blessing. It is a gift we can't work up or choose, it's not something we can figure out on our own. It is a working on the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through the Gospel. What greater blessing can there be? For it is through faith in Christ that we are saved. Not of ourselves, otherwise we'd boast about it, but only as a pure and free gift of God's grace. Faith is a blessing, not an earned reward, not a side effect of our great goodness but something God bestows in spite of our worst wickedness. Even though we are, like they were, cowardly, fearful, slow-to-believe and full of doubts. Still he blesses. Still he bestows faith, that we might believe, and have peace, and forgiveness. And... life.
John makes this final comment, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples”. And the mind races to imagine what these might have been. Did he show them the future? Did he give them a peek into heaven? Did he transfigure before them again, or some other wild spectacle? But of all the things that John could have written, of all the words that the Holy Spirit could have inspired, he chose these. Because his purpose is clear: That you may believe, and that believing, you may have life in his name. No distractions. No fascinating sidebars that miss the point. These things are written for you to believe and have life.
Faith and life, also go together. In fact, all 5 of these things do. Peace with God flows from the forgiveness Jesus won. Blessings abound when we believe. And peace and forgiveness and faith – are all blessings of the life that he brings.
And Jesus knows life. He's the author of it. He is the very word of God that was spoken in creation... “let us make man...” In him was life, and the life was the light of all men (John 1). He is the one sent that whoever believes would not perish, but have eternal life (also from John's Gospel, chapter 3). He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14).
His death and resurrection are a life and death matter for you. By his death he destroys death – for you. Your death has no sting, no victory, because of the Lord of life... and by his rising from the dead he brought life and immortality to light. We were blind and dead. But now, in Christ, we can see and we live.
And just like the peace that he gives, the life he gives is far greater than anything the world has to offer. Life in this world is short, sometimes shockingly so. Life in this world is full of tears and misery, thorns and thistles, heartbreak and bloodshed. But the life he gives is far above any life we've ever known. It's your best life now, and your best life for eternity. It's life that swallows up death. It's life even though you die. For he who lives and believes in Christ will never die.
And that life, and that peace, and forgiveness, faith, and all blessings... they come to us through his word. Just as John wrote these words, “so that you may believe and have life”, so does the Holy Spirit work through the Gospel in all of its proclamation. The same Spirit working the same wonders and same spiritual blessings for all of us who are in Christ. So even here, all that is said and done according to that word is for your peace, forgiveness, faith, blessing, and life.
May you find them now and always in Christ alone.