St Michael’s, 27th April 2014
Reading – John 20:19-31
When our children were very small, one of the favourite books we all enjoyed was called, “Peace at last”. It was all about the Bear family and what happened when Mr Bear found one evening that he couldn’t sleep. In the end, he got up, went downstairs and spent the whole night looking for somewhere to settle. And as you might guess, when at last he finally got off to sleep, the sun was coming up and the rest of the family was wide awake.
I guess there are occasions when we can all relate to Mr Bear’s struggle. In one form or another, peace is something we all long for. It might be the peace of a good night’s sleep. Or it might be five minutes time out, from friends and family who are being particularly noisy. Or it might be simply getting out of our home, away from all the noise and fumes of the busy street.
Or maybe our search for peace might actually be something a little deeper. In our reading from the Bible we meet the friends of Jesus who were sad and downcast, and locked in a room because they were afraid someone might come and arrest them. You see, for three years they had been following a man called Jesus. They had seen Jesus do the most amazing miracles, such as feeding large crowds and healing the sick. They had heard Jesus teaching the most wonderful good news, about a new relationship with God as their Heavenly Father. And when Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem only a week before, it seemed as if Jesus was going to bring about no less than heaven on earth, right here in the capital city of Israel, just as all the prophets of long ago had said would happen.
But shortly afterwards Jesus had been nailed to a cross. He had died in the most cruel and agonising way possible, and at that point it seemed as if all the hopes of Jesus’ friends had died with Him. They had thought Jesus was some kind of king. They had welcomed Him as some kind of Saviour and given up everything to follow Him. But this king had ended up crucified by Roman soldiers, abandoned and alone. It’s little wonder Jesus’ friends crept away from the cross with their dreams apparently in ruins. Try to imagine how confused and upset they must have been. It just didn’t make sense.
And perhaps one way or another you can relate to Jesus’ friends this morning. Maybe you’ve been working for someone for a long time. You thought had a good relationship with your boss, but then suddenly one day he’s told you you’re going to be laid off. Or maybe you had a close friend you used to hang out with, but then one day you find out she’s moving right away. It’s hard at times like that to feel any kind of peace, is it? You may be feeling angry or confused or disappointed, but certainly not peaceful.
And you may well be wondering how coming to church on a Sunday morning and hearing a strange man speak about Jesus can make any possible difference. Well, listen to what happened next in our story from the Bible: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
I can only guess what it must have been like to Jesus’ friends at that moment. Yes, a few of them had been down to Jesus’ tomb that morning and found it empty. Yes, one of their women, Mary Magdalene, had told them she had seen Jesus. But they still could not have been prepared for what they saw in front of them – Jesus alive, right there with them in the flesh, speaking to them words of peace. At that point their whole world must have been turned upside down. It’s little wonder that once they grasped what was happening, despair and sadness turned to the most amazing joy and happiness.
But as we discover a little later on in the story, not all of Jesus’ friends were there on that first, amazing Easter evening. One of their number, Thomas, wasn’t there. We don’t know why he wasn’t there or where he’d got to, but he wasn’t there. And as you can imagine, when his friends stared talking about seeing Jesus risen from the dead, he wasn’t that impressed: “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.”
And I expect there are many people who are like Thomas here this morning. Yes, you talk about Jesus alive. Yes, you tell some story of Jesus appearing to His friends. But where’s the hard, solid evidence? After all, it’s not as if we can see Jesus or touch Him. We can’t talk to Him face to face like Thomas did.
But that’s to completely misunderstand what it means when we talk about Jesus rising from the dead. Just think about it for a moment. If someone really has overcome death itself, then that person is no longer tied to a particular place or time in history. That person is now alive forever, because death has lost its grip. So we don’t have to travel back two thousand years to meet with Jesus. We can meet with Jesus right here with us this morning and enter into a real, living and personal relationship with Him.
How? Well, there’s an important clue right here in our story when Jesus breathes on His friends and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. Now I realise that many people are confused about the Holy Spirit, but in essence the Holy Spirit is quite simply the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ who lives in the hearts of all who believe in Him. And you don’t just have to take my word for it. There are many people here at St Michael’s this morning who can tell you about the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And one of the best pieces of evidence that Jesus really rose from the dead is the fact that even today when people put their faith and trust lives are visibly and wonderfully changed.
Because, you see, if Jesus really is who He says He is, if He really has defeated even death itself, then Jesus is the one we can turn to for real, lasting peace in our lives.
First of all, He can give us peace with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.What do I mean by that? Well, there are lots of people who live with the knowledge they have done things wrong. Maybe these are things everyone knows about. Maybe they are things only they know about. Maybe they know they haven’t lived the sort of life that pleases God and wonder if they can ever make a fresh start.
Well, on the cross Jesus paid the price for all the wrong we have ever thought or said and done. He paid the price that we should have paid for our sin and rebellion against God. Not because we are good enough, or because we are clever or religious, but quite simply because of His great love for us. And if we believe and trust in Jesus, then we can know that peace of being fully, totally forgiven by a loving heavenly Father who is just waiting for us to come home to Him.
Secondly, Jesus can give us peace with ourselves. Now I know that inner peace is something a lot of people struggle with. Maybe they are disappointed how life has turned out. Maybe they are unhappy with how they look. Maybe they simply wish could be like somebody else. The message of cross however is that Jesus loves you just as you are. Yes, there may be things you need to change, and Jesus will give the power of the Holy Spirit to help you do this. But when you believe and trust in Jesus, you will discover that you are a precious child of God for whom His one and only Son was prepared to lay down His life.
And thirdly, Jesus can give us peace with other people. Because, you see, on the cross Jesus shows us a new way of loving our fellow human beings – our family, our friends, our neighbours. Not always insisting on getting our own way, or forcing other people to see things from our point of view – but instead being willing to lay down our lives, to serve them and to bless them, following the example of Jesus.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment this kind of love will always be easy. Loving in the same way that Jesus loved us will often bring a real cost of time or effort or even our own reputation. But if we ask Jesus to help us love in this way, then I believe we will see real healing and forgiveness and peace where we so often need it, in our relationships at home, at work, at school.
So to sum up: if you want peace, real lasting peace in your life, then this passage tells us quite simply, “Come to Jesus”. Because Jesus is alive and right with us now, and He comes to each us with the very same message that He gave His first followers, “Peace be with you”. How do you receive that peace? Just put your faith and trust in Him and He will bless with you the very gift of His peace and His presence – the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now in a moment we will come to the baptism service. And the very first question I will ask parents and godparents is: Do you turn to Christ as your Lord and Saviour? What that means in plain English is, do you believe Jesus died and rose again for you? Are you trusting Him for peace at last in your life? That’s a question all of us need to think about, and my prayer above all else is that as John writes in our Bible reading that by believing you may have life in His name.