If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 20:19-23. John says:
“In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”
20 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.
We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.
As our passage opens, the disciples are scared.
John tells us that “In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews.”
So, they’re playing a game of “Hide and Seek,” except without the “Seek” part. They’re hiding from the Sanhedrin. They’re hiding from the chief priests. They’re hiding from some of the Sadducees and some of the Pharisees. They’re hiding from the folks who railroaded the execution of Jesus through the legal system without cause and who might be on the hunt for them, too. They’re playing “Hide and Seek,” but if the “Seek” part happens, they’re dead.
So they’re afraid. Because they should be. Afraid is the right thing to feel when the man you’ve been joined at the hip with for the last three plus years is executed by the leadership in your community and you have every reason to believe that you might be next. That’ll make you afraid.
But more than that, they’re probably afraid because, suddenly, the future doesn’t exist anymore.
For three years they’ve been following a man who taught that all of this was heading somewhere. Who taught that their oppression under Rome was not the end of the story. That their abject poverty was not the sum total of what they can expect from the universe. Who taught that God had not abandoned them. And that God was moving, as we speak, to restore the world, to right every wrong, to make everything good again, and to welcome his lost sheep back into his home, his family, his arms. That was the future Jesus pointed them towards.
But it’s really hard to make that future happen when you’re dead. You can’t be the Messiah when there isn’t a you anymore. And that’s where things stood.
Jesus was supposed to overcome the darkness of the world, but instead the world crucified him. So it seemed like the last three years had been a wash. Like the future Jesus pointed towards was just another naïve hope that evaporated once the pressure set in. That’s what you would think if you were in their shoes at that particular moment.
And if that’s where your headspace was, you’d be afraid. Because it’d seem an awful lot like there was nothing to live for. It would seem like everything you thought was true had amounted to nothing. Like the story that you’ve told yourself since you were too young to walk was a lie. Like all of this was pointless. Like there was no future, because there was no story, and so there is no hope.
That’s what it must have felt like to live through those three days between the cross and the resurrection. /
But that might be in the ballpark of what you’re feeling, too. Maybe you can relate to the disciples, here. Maybe you’re feeling something like what they felt yesterday, today.
I don’t know about you, but the last several years have been unbelievably disorienting, at least for me. When I was younger and dumber, I thought I kind of understood how the world worked. Mostly that just boiled down to the fact that I was young, therefore I was dumb, therefore I overestimated my ability to understand things and underestimated how complex everything on planet earth is all the time, but I think there’s more to it than that. And maybe it’s the same for you.
Maybe without even realizing it, you’ve been slowly coming unglued, yourself. Maybe your hinges are starting to rust and turn brittle so you’re constantly agitated, constantly on the defense, constantly looking for new outlets for your rage or anxiety or disdain.
Maybe you feel like the world is imploding and there must be a villain that you can point to, and it can’t be you, and it can’t be your group – your team – because that would be way too painful to accept emotionally, so you spend your time unconsciously looking for Big Bad Wolves that you can throw fists at because so long as you’re in attack mode, you don’t have to deal with the fact that your world and your life and your experience don’t make any sense anymore and you have no idea how to make it all okay again. /
Maybe that’s you.
Maybe you’re that kind of afraid.
And if it is, so you feel like I’ve been talking directly to you for the last couple minutes, the good news – or bad news, depending on how you look at it – is that it’s probably you and everybody else. Your struggle is not unique. This is what most of us are feeling, most of the time, because this is what it’s like to be alive right now.
It feels like there’s no future. It feels like there’s no truth. It feels like there’s no point, no use, no hope. That what it feels like. So if you’re afraid or angry, of course you are.
You would be.
You’re in the “Upper Room,” so to speak.
You’re hiding behind the bolted door because you’re terrified, not just of some group you think might be out to get you, like the Sanhedrin or the Pharisees, but of the horrifying reality you find yourself existing in at this very moment. You could call that “Upper Room Syndrome.”
Nowadays, quite a few of us have “Upper Room Syndrome.” /
But there is very good news for those of us with “Upper Room Syndrome.”
Because as the disciples were cowering in the upper room, paralyzed in fear, John says that, suddenly, “Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” /
You know, this story is so familiar that we typically forget to be shocked at the shocking parts.
This is one of the shocking parts.
Jesus just walked through the door. Alive. An extremely not dead Jesus just showed up in the living room and said, “Peace to you.” Not to overstate, but that means the universe just changed again.
Because one verse ago, we were huddled together behind a padlocked door because the Lord Jesus was dead and gone, and the future was a thing of the past, and our hope was dead in the water, and the world was cruel and existing was pointless and none of this was heading anywhere and nothing we did was adding up to anything – and on top of everything the Synagogue leaders wanted to hunt us down and taxidermy our children.
Things couldn’t be grimmer.
And yet, one sentence later, everything we just talked about stopped being true.
The fact that Jesus just walked into the Upper Room with blood in his veins and air in his lungs and a pulse quite literally changed everything about what the universe is about. The fact that Jesus is risen changes what the story of existence means. I know we’re speaking in really abstract terms, here, but this is serious.
We were plunged into the depths of absolute despair, but then Hope himself broke through the padlocks of despair and greeted us, saying “Peace to you.”
Jesus wasn’t dead. He was risen. He was back. And that meant that everything he’d ever promised would come true. /
I’m gonna say that again: Jesus is risen, and that means that everything he’s ever promised will come true. /
That’s where we are now.
Christ is risen. The grave has been overcome. The execution that he suffered through has been overturned. His death has been undone. And that means that all the promises of God will come true in Jesus Christ. So he says, “Peace to you.” /
Now, “Peace to you” is a pretty standard greeting. Kind of like how we say, “How ya’ doing?” When you say that, you don’t actually mean “How are you doing?” most of the time. You mean “Hello.”
When you say “How ya’ doing?” and somebody responds with their whole life story you make a mental note and say, “Okay, next time just say ‘Hi’.”
“Peace to you” was like that. You’d see your friend and say, “Peace to you.”
You’d enter the Synagogue and say, “Peace to you.”
You’d run into your neighbor at Food Lion as you both try to enter the same aisle at the same time and neither of you wanna give up the right of way, and you’d say ‘Peace to you,’ even though you’re thinking of a very different sentence that ends with ‘_____ you.”
“Peace to you” was a typical greeting. Except here it wasn’t.
Christ said, “Peace to you,” and he meant it.
Because Christ didn’t come with empty pleasantries. He came with peace. He came bringing peace. He came into an Upper Room filled with men and women who had no peace to cling to, either within themselves or outside of themselves, and he came bringing peace. Because he was peace.
Because he is peace.
Because Christ is peace.
But when we say that, it’s not just a slogan. Whe we says that “Christ is peace,” we mean something specific.
We’re not talking about the fake peace you get when you pretend everything’s okay even when things are very clearly not okay, we’re talking about the supernatural peace that comes with clinging to Christ in the middle of the overwhelming waves of Not Okay-ness that batter you on a daily basis. You know what I’m talking about?
We’re talking about the kind of peace Jesus talks about in John 16:33. He says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
That’s a pretty staggeringly important sentence. “In this world, you will have tribulation.” You will have trials. This life will dish out beating after beating to you – even if you’re one of the lucky folks who has a pretty easy go of it overall – and yet, “Christ has overcome this world.”
Think about all the things that means for you: It means that Christ has overcome the things that cause your suffering. It means that Christ has overcome every one of your burdens. It means that Christ has overcome every one of the obstacles that keeps you from being at peace. It means the chains that hold you have been broken and your captors are bleeding out in the corner of your cell.
It means you can have peace.
That’s why the prophet Isaiah rejoices in Isaiah 26:3. He says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” /
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
That’s Isaiah 26:3.
Now, you might remember that Isaiah was not a happy-go-lucky type. He wasn’t a Joel Osteen type with a fake smile permanently botoxed onto his face. He was Isaiah.
He was a guy who spent most of his adult life on the run from a government trying to kill him. Who watched foreign armies invade his country and ship away his friends and family. Who got run out of town nearly every time he preached the word of God. That’s what his life was like.
And yet, amidst all of this, Isaiah has peace.
Specifically, he has a genuine peace. He has the peace that Christ actually offers. In other words, his peace is not naivete in the face of the difficulty of existing. It’s not denial about the dire situations that he found himself in. The peace of Christ didn’t turn Isaiah into a Pollyanna type. His peace looked like grit.
The peace that Christ offers to us looks less like flowery, upbeat Everything Is Okay-ism than it looks like nerves of steel. It looks like what the scriptures call, “steadfastness.” It looks like backbone. The peace of Christ is empowering.
It strengthens us. It thickens our resolve. It holds us steady. It turns us into people who can walk upright while the beatings keep coming. It changes our relationship to suffering. It enables us to stand firm and carry on amidst trials and suffering and loss and pain and grief. That’s the peace of Christ. /
Now, it’s important to be clear about what we don’t mean, here.
We do not mean that because you know Jesus, everything is just going to roll off you. We do not mean that because you know Jesus, you are just always going to be perfectly stable. That every tragedy will be manageable, because of your BFF Jesus.
That’s not what we’re saying, because it’s not true, and you know that’s not true, because you exist.
You live here. You’ve been on planet earth, so you know that there is no shortcut too emotional stability. There is no shortcut to mental health. There is no shortcut to getting into a good place, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. We’re not about to drop a bunch of “Jesus can solve all your problems” mumbo jumbo, because lying is a sin.
The truth is that things are going to happen to you that are going to devastate you, Jesus or no Jesus. When difficult things happen, you don’t just say, “That’s OK, ’cause I have Jesus.” You don’t just say, “It doesn’t matter, ’cause the Lord is my friend.”
All those things are true, but none of those things change the fact that painful things are painful. Hard things are hard. Scary things are scary. And we are caught in the crossfire of all of it. None of this changes that.
And yet what absolutely does change is the position that we’re in when it hits us.
Because there’s a universe of difference between suffering with Jesus, and just suffering. There’s a difference between getting battered by the world, because “That’s just how the world works,” and getting battered by the world, but knowing that Jesus has overcome the world.
That the batterings are going to end. That ultimately you will come out the other side of this victorious, that one day you will not be trampled underfoot anymore, one day you won’t have two black eyes, one day everything that’s wrong will be made right. One day, Christ will un-break everything. And that includes your situation.
He will undo the death that your family member just died.
He will bandage the wounds from the betrayals that you have faced.
He will nurse the bruises from the job that you lost.
He will sew up the breaches in your heart from the abuse that you were put through.
The list goes on.
That’s not a naive peace. That’s not a peace that comes from ignoring the ugly truth. That’s a peace that comes from looking directly at it, seeing it with clear eyes and a sober mind, and then looking further.
Looking beyond it. Looking at the rest of the story. Looking at the rest of the truth. Seeing that the story doesn’t end there. It ends with “a new heaven and a new earth,” and the Lamb of God seated on the throne, in a world that isn’t brutal anymore.
We have that kind of peace.
But we can’t quite stop there and leave it at that. Because if we do, we will miss quite a bit of the point.
None of this is meant to be, just a kind of generalized therapeutic typed thing that just, sort of, eases your anxiety and not much else. I hope that all of this makes you feel better, but making you feel better really isn’t the point.
The goal, when you open up the scriptures, really isn’t to give you “Answers To Life’s Tough Questions,” or “Help In Times Of Trouble,” although sometimes it will do both of those things.
It’s to prepare you for the mission Christ has sent you on.
It’s to equip you for the mission that Christ has called you into.
It’s to empower you in the mission that Christ has enlisted you to join.
And that same thing is true about the peace that Christ gives us.
We see that in the very next sentence of our passage. It says, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
So he conferred his peace onto them. He gave them a peace that overrode even the chaos that consumed them. But it wasn’t just a “Meditating in the morning can help you achieve a stress-free life” type thing. This was the beginning of a new movement.
This was step one in fulfilling what the Old Testament prophets pointed to when they talked about the “age of peace” that the Messiah would bring. Christ gives us peace, a peace that doesn’t come from ourselves – a peace that isn’t dependent on an easy life, or good luck – and then he sends us out to invite others to share in this peace, too.
This a thread that runs throughout the entirety of scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, one of the things that we notice is that Prophets usually appointed their own successors.
Think Elijah and Elisha.
God would appoint his prophet, and then the Prophet would appoint his successor. We see the same thing here: In his baptism, the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to rest on Jesus, and he called him to be his Prophet. Now, Jesus gives that same call to his own disciples.
He passes the mantle.
He says, “As the Father sent me, now I send you.”
He invites them to pick up where he left off.
And, of course, the same thing is true of us, today.
We pick up the mission of Jesus where he left of when he ascended back into heaven.
We continue the things that he modeled for us during his ministry.
He healed the sick. We try to do the same thing when we put our money together to cover people’s hospital bills.
He fed the hungry. We try to do the same thing, whether it’s donating to the Baptist Children’s Home, or distributing food and produce to families that need it.
He sought out lost people and brought them back into God’s fold. We try to do the same thing when we evangelize – both by inviting them to church and by personally witnessing to them, with our words.
We tell people that God created us, and that he created us to know him, like Romans 1:20 tells us. But that we’ve all fallen short of the goodness God created us for, like Romans 3:23 tells us. And that, in fact, our sin is serious enough to merit our death, Romans 6:23. But that the good news is that even while we were still sinners Christ died to save us from sin and death. And therefore, Romans 10:9, if we throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus, he will save us rather than condemn us.
We meet people with that message.
We share that gospel with people.
And when they respond to that gospel by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, we proclaim God’s forgiveness over them, like Jesus tells us in verse 23. He says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When people respond to the gospel by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, we proclaim God’s forgiveness over them.
Why? Because Jesus began an earthly ministry during his years on earth, and now he continues it through us.
But as always, we run into a problem, here. We hit a wall. What I should say, actually, is that we are the wall. We run into ourselves. We trip over our own stupid.
We see exactly that throughout the gospels:
The disciples absolutely were not up to the work that Jesus set out for them. One story after another shows the disciples utterly incapable of being Christ’s witnesses because of their incompetence and immaturity.
You might remember the story in Luke chapter 9 where Jesus passes through a village of Samaritans, but the people of the village reject him. So James and John get mad and ask, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” And Jesus says, “Shut up. We’re moving on.”
That’s just one case in point, but there’s a whole slew of stories we could point to:
Peter drawing his sword and cuts a guy’s ear off to try and stop the arrest of Jesus. John losing his mind because another group starts casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume and all the disciples getting angry and lambasting her for not giving it to the poor instead.
The list goes on.
And like the disciples, we are constantly sabotaged in our attempts to do the work of Jesus by our incompetence and our immaturity. We are called to continue Christ’s ministry today, but we usually don’t, and the reason is that we don’t want to.
Like, I don’t wanna do the work of Jesus. I wanna “do what makes me happy.”
Actually, that’s the wrong way to put it, too. Because I don’t even actually do what makes me happy. Because the stuff I do instead of doing the work of Jesus doesn’t even kind of make me happy. You know what I’m talking about?
I’m not doing what makes me happy, I’m compulsively doing the same stupid nonsense I’ve always done, even though it makes me unbelievably unhappy to do it.
The truth is that surrendering to the call of Jesus brings joy, but almost nobody ever does it. Instead, we do whatever it was that we were already gonna do and then find a way to tell ourselves that God told us to do it.
You know what I’m talking about?
Like, Christ called you to carry on his mission, and you decided that what he was actually asking you to do was share an angry Facebook post complaining about “The Youth.”
Or Christ called you to carry on his mission, and you decided that what he was actually asking you to do was be rude to your waiter because you don’t like his neck tattoo.
The list goes on.
It’s like we have a Press Secretary living inside of us who’ll spin whatever we want, whatever we do, whatever we think into something that sounds good, and sounds Christian, and sounds devout, and sounds faithful. But don’t be fooled. Don’t believe your own nonsense. Don’t accept the bait-and-switch that your heart holds out to you, because your heart and my heart will do practically anything to get out of carrying on the ministry of Jesus.
That just comes with the territory of our sinful human nature. /
So we have a problem. We’ve been sent on a mission that our sinful hearts have no intention of obeying. He has called us to a mission that we are not up to the task of completing. That’s the bad new shoving a spoke in the wheel of the good news. /
And yet, for that very reason, God has stacked the deck for us. John says that “After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
You hear that?
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Maybe this sounds painfully simple, but Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit. He breathes his Holy Spirit on us. And that Holy Spirit carries us along in the work the Lord gives us in a way that overcomes our incompetence and our rebelliousness and our fear and immaturity. /
So, as a point of application, go. Spread the peace of Jesus Christ. And do it confidently. Don’t worry about the fact that you are not up to the task. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not sure what to do. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not good enough. That your life isn’t perfect. That you’re not smart enough to answer every objection people might throw at you.
You don’t have to be good enough or smart enough, or likeable enough, or any of that to spread the peace of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is actually try to do it – and don’t be a jerkwad.
Invite people into the peace that Christ has offered us, and then let the chips fall where they fall. And if you do that, you’ll see the Spirit overcome your shortcomings and stir up a revival in your community through you.
This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.