2nd Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon
April 15, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
103 “Now Let The Vault Of Heaven Resound”
109 “Good Christian Men Rejoice And Sing”
95 “At The Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”
106 “Come Ye Faithful Raise The Strain”
A PEACEFUL CONCLUSION
TEXT (vs. 21-25) “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘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.’”
I doubt if anybody has missed all of the media coverage about radio talk show host Don Imus and his shenanigans this past week. It seems as if he made a racial epithet on the air regarding the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team. Now I’m not going to repeat exactly what he said, because that’s not the issue here. Besides, if you’ve read the Journal-Star, or the World-Herald, or USA Today, or looked it up on the internet, you’ve probably already read his comment.
As a result of this however, Mr. Imus has gotten himself fired from CBS radio. Now I must admit, I’ve never listened to Don Imus in the morning, but many people have. I have no first-hand knowledge of what the man is like. People have said that this epithet was no worse, in fact somewhat tame in comparison to other comments he has made in the past. My perception here is that Don Imus must be a controversial type of maverick that appeals to a certain group of people, like so many other radio talk show hosts.
Be that as it may, he is currently unemployed. He has been fired from CBS and MSNBC. The man has no job. His wife had to change her schedule and fill in for him on a fund raiser he was doing, so he does have some redeeming qualities about him. But whatever those qualities are, they weren’t enough to cover up for the epithet he made on the air.
He did however go and make a personal apology to the Rutgers team. This past Thursday, he went to the New Jersey Governor’s mansion, where he had a face-to-face meeting with the team. In a public statement, Deirdre Imus, Don’s wife said, “He feels awful, after meeting with these girls and having that opportunity to talk with them. He asked them, 'I want to know the pain I caused, and I want to know how to fix this and change this.’"
In response, the team’s coach, C. Vivian Stringer said: "We, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knight basketball team accept—accept—Mr. Imus' apology, and we are in the process of forgiving."
When asked about how she and the team felt about Don Imus being fired, she went on to say, "At no time did the Rutgers University women's basketball team ask for his job. And it would sadden me for anyone to lose their job—and I do mean anyone to lose their job…We weren't calling for his job and he came in spite of the fact that he lost his job. So let's give him credit for that."
So what do you think? Do you believe him? Do you think that his apology was sincere? Do you think he is truly sorry for saying what he did? Let’s hold on to those thoughts for a little while, as we get into our text for today.
All of the disciples notwithstanding Thomas were gathered together behind locked doors. They had seen what the Jews had done to Jesus, and they feared for their own lives. After what had happened, they weren’t going to take any chances.
Suddenly, Jesus appears with them in a miraculous manner. The door was locked, so basically he materialized in front of them. They weren’t expecting him either. Despite what Jesus had told them previously, and despite all of the prophecy concerning him, they still thought he was dead and in the tomb. Even when the women came and told them what had happened, they thought it was nonsense. So this was an unexpected event.
Jesus begins with a greeting. He says, “Peace be with you.” Now this isn’t just some old hackneyed phrase spoken as a general greeting. Rather, this had some very deep meaning to it. This greeting carried the full weight of the Gospel with it. It was filled with grace and comfort.
This is a tremendous greeting. The peace Jesus speaks about is nothing less than complete and perfect peace with God. This peace means that our sins are forgiven. This peace means that our relationship with God has been restored and renewed. This peace means that all of our sins that we have ever done have been removed and separated from us, and are forever completely set aside. This is a peace which we ourselves have not earned, nor do we deserve it; rather it is something that God gives through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. This peace is a gift of God’s abundant and never ending grace.
If we look at the disciples specifically, we don’t have to look too hard to see what effect sin had in their lives. There was Peter, who denied ever having known Jesus; and when he is told about the resurrection, he regards it as a foolish rumor. When the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, all of the disciples fled with an “every man for himself” attitude.
But we can go back even further. It wasn’t long before this time that the disciples were arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest. The disciples tried to keep young children from coming to Jesus. The disciples complained when others who were not of their group dared to preach the Gospel. Oh yes, the disciples were certainly sinners, and we can see clear evidence of that.
But when Jesus comes into that room, his greeting of “Peace be with you” came with the message of forgiveness for them, as well as the whole world. All of these sins are forgotten and gone when Jesus entered that room with his greeting.
Jesus then showed them his wounds and scars. He bore the nail prints in his hands and feet. He showed them the hole left by the spear in his side. These were the outward signs of what he had done in order for that peace to happen. Here, written on his body, was the story of the suffering and death which earned salvation, both for the disciples and for us as well.
This was the message that would be the heart and core of the Christian Church. The message of peace is the message of the Gospel, and that is what the disciples were to proclaim to the world.
Not only were the disciples forgiven sinners, but they also were empowered by the Holy Spirit to forgive the sins of others. What this amounts to, is stating what the Bible states. In the liturgy when I say that “I announce the grace of God to all of you,” and “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins,” I am declaring to you what God has already declared. Your sins are forgiven, and you can believe it just as surely as if you heard it from Jesus himself.
This isn’t just some “pie-in-the-sky” wish, or an attempt to dream the impossible dream. This is a reality for you and for me. The forgiveness which comes through the Gospel is there for us to claim. It is ours through nothing more than faith alone. And because it is ours, we can never allow Satan to rob us of it, or talk us out of it. Regardless of our sins, the peace that Jesus gives is ours through faith in him.
This describes the mind of God. He is loving and forgiving, and he does everything according to his grace. That’s the only hope we have.
However, we also have a great example of the mind of man. This is what we see with Thomas. Now Thomas was really no better than his peers. The disciples had all doubted Jesus’ resurrection. But Thomas is more vocal and demanding than the others. Unless he could actually put his fingers in the nail prints and put his hand into Jesus’ side, he refused to believe. History would forever give him the moniker of “doubting Thomas” because of this.
When I was talking about Don Imus a little earlier, I asked you to hang on to a few questions I asked. Here they are again, just to refresh your memory: So what do you think? Do you believe him? Do you think that his apology was sincere? Do you think he is truly sorry for saying what he did?
In this regard, there are indeed some “doubting Thomases” out there, and they have been rather vocal. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, and Snoop Dogg have all taken exception to Mr. Imus, and have spoken their opinions on this. All of them are rather skeptical, and are seemingly demanding more than a simple apology and a request for forgiveness.
Now I can’t really say too much about Oprah and Snoop Dogg. If I can hazard a guess here, I’d say that Oprah probably has a better handle on the concept of forgiveness than Snoop Dogg does, purely because of what she does for a living, but I don’t know that for sure.
The two people that should have a handle on forgiveness are the two members of the clergy—Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. These men are Christian ministers who have studied and ought to know the Bible. Even just a cursory study of the Bible shows very plainly how a Christian is to forgive others—even their enemies. But instead of having the mind of God as their guide, they side with the mind of man and doubting Thomas.
It’s sad really when you think about it. When a person does things according to their will instead of God’s will, and insists on having the mind of sinful man, then they miss out on something beautiful. They miss out on the peace that Christ came to bring. When a heart harbors all sorts of doubts and negative feelings, the peace of Christ has no room.
Jesus makes it a point to appear to the disciples a second time, this time with Thomas in attendance. He doesn’t scold Thomas for having doubts, rather he simply removes them. He gives Thomas the proof he wants, so he would believe and be an effective minister of the Gospel.
So what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t come that second time and appeared to Thomas? Chances are, he wouldn’t have believed, and he would have been forever lost in perdition. But Jesus didn’t want that. He needed Thomas. And so he gives him the proof he needs.
I’ve given this whole Don Imus thing some thought, and from everything I can see, I believe that he is sorry for what he did, and he will watch himself in the future to prevent any more incidents like what happened to the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team. I think his apology was sincere. It wasn’t going to get him his job back, and it doesn’t appear that he realized it would hurt them as much as it did.
I did find Coach Stringer’s statement interesting however. Remember she said, "We, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knight basketball team accept—accept—Mr. Imus' apology, and we are in the process of forgiving."
I guess that from a secular New Jersey university, a statement like that sounds good; however I’m not sure exactly what they mean by the “process of forgiving.” Does Mr. Imus need to say or do something more to get that forgiveness? Is forgiveness some sort of intricate, multi-level procedure? Do they need some more proof from him to show them that he is “really sorry?”
Thankfully accepting an apology and forgiveness are inseparably connected for the Christian. This forgiveness is dramatically shown in that room where Jesus appeared to his sinful doubting disciples.
Jesus speaks to us today just as he did to those disciples in that room so long ago. “Peace be with you,” he says. And then he shows the marks on his body which paint the picture of what he had to do to get us that peace.
At the conclusion of our text for today, verses 30 and 31 tell us: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Jesus wanted to make sure there was no room at all for doubt when it came to who he truly was. Every miraculous thing he did continued to cement this faith firmly in the hearts of his disciples.
The peace we have through the Gospel is the peace we put into practice with each other. When we consider the battle scars Jesus showed to his disciples, we can only be reminded of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53 verse 5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
As recipients of the peace which comes through faith in Jesus our Saviour, may we always be ambassadors and messengers of that peace wherever we go and with whomever we have contact. That’s the mind of God working in and through us, and there’s never any room for doubt. Whatever sin, or strife, or trouble may come our way, through God’s grace and our Saviour’s blood, there will always be a peaceful conclusion.