The Gift of Peace

John 20:19-31

April 19th, 2009

            Every year after Easter we hear from our good friend Thomas, a man who wasn’t just a “doubter”, but literally was an unbeliever when it came to the resurrection.  This year, our focus will be on a phrase Jesus says three times in the gospel reading, and that is “peace be with you”.   This phrase has in its background the Hebrew word “Shalom”, which in general means well being in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to ones relationship with God.  Jesus is described as the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9, and that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him”.  In other words this is more than a simple greeting, a hello how are you doing, and it is more than a wish.  “May you and your family have peace”.   When Jesus came to his followers and said peace be with you, he was in fact giving them something no one else could give.  John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

            Recently the Society of International Law, in London, states that during the last 4,000 years there have been only 268 years of peace in spite of good peace treaties. In the last 3 centuries there have been 286 wars on the continent of Europe alone.   Will that change?  Well we know that the bible says that there will be wars and rumors of wars.  The reality is that shalom, peace on a public as well as an individual basis is not the norm.  Jesus speaks of this reality when he says   “In this World you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world”(John 16:33).   Conflict abounds publicly and personally.  What is the solution?   One so called religious guru put it this way    “In order to achieve inward peace you must rely on hope, belief, and faith.”   Variations on the theme inner peace can be found throughout our culture.  However, I would contend that what Jesus followers encountered that evening was not so much “inner peace” as outward peace.   In other words, when it comes to the shalom that really matters, we are not going get get it by looking in here (point to self), but rather by hearing from him (point to cross) with these (point to ears).

            This peace is surprising and undeserved.   In our reading today the disciples are locked away in the upper room, for fear of the Jews.   However, their fears probably multiplied when they first saw Jesus.  In other words their behavior on Good Friday and the week prior in his very presence showed their weaknesses, and their utter failures toward the one who was standing right in front of them.  They  denied him with their thoughts and actions.  He had asked them to stay with him, and they fell asleep.  Peter, three times said he did not know him, but at least he was with Jesus during this part of  Holy week.    The other disciples of Jesus had long since gone.   Jesus, the almighty and risen one, who knows everything about them could have rebuked them, admonished them.   Yet, just as he would do to unbelieving Thomas later, he says “Peace be with you”.  I’m surprised he didn’t start out by saying “fear not, peace be with you”.    To a world filled with conflict, to a people filled with inner conflict, and to a people who are deep down not sure whether they deserve to be in his presence, Jesus says peace be withyou.  Shalom, between the true God, and his creatures no longer is hindered by sin.   Peace is no longer hindered by death.  We needn’t  rely on what we think or even experience, but trust and rely on the words of the crucified and risen one, who comes into our world here today.    .  Romans 5:1 says “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Notice again, it is a past tense thing. 

            It is a peace that is so grand, he that he intends to distribute it through his disciples and what is present day known as the church.           He say guess what my child, I’m going to use you as the means by which this message with be spread.   You will be given unprecedented ability, never before granted to mere human beings.  He then says to his followers, his twelve, and to his church  “Receive the Holy Spirit, If you forgive , they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone it will be withheld. “ The content of that peace, is that sin, real live ugly sin, has been and is forgiven in Jesus name.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.     This message would be a message of truth, that can be delivered to   repentant sinners, and tell the truth by withholding this from unrepentant sinners.      Here we have the mission, the thing that is at the core of what we do, to let everyone know that “right now” all is right between us and God.    

             This peace also comes to Thomas, one who heard that Jesus has been raised, but he just couldn’t believe it.   A little girl at a Christian School was told once again to wash her hands because there were germs living in the dirt.  Germs and Jesus, the little girl exclaimed!  That’s all I ever hear around this place, and I’ve never seen either one”.       Thomas hadn’t seen for himself, the reality that peace and forgiveness were available through the risen Jesus.  So Jesus appears to the disciples 8 days later, and once again their doors are locked.   Notice that they are still locking doors, even though they heard Jesus say Peace be with you not once but twice.  Yet, the locked doors are no problem for Jesus.  Once again, he comes in and says “peace be with you”.   Jesus then shows that it is really him, by pointing to his nail marks and marks on his side.  While we don’t know whether Thomas in fact touched his hands and side we do know that he confessed “My Lord and my God”.   What was the turning point for him.  Some might say it was the sight, but I would contend that although that is important, it ultimately was the words of shalom, of peace, that caused his belief.  It was the real Jesus declaring and that Thomas “stubborn” nature wouldn’t stand a chance when it comes to his Words.  “Faith comes by hearing , and hearing by the word of Christ”. 

            Today, we see an outward peace,  that comes as a gift to his troubled followers.  Sure it becomes inward, but first and always it is an outward peace.  A peace that doesn’t just show that yes Jesus has risen from the dead, but more importantly that this risen Savior comes for those who fall short of his glory.   This peace is in the past tense, it has been accomplished.  It is a sure deal.  It is a peace that is not so much the absence of conflict, but it is the rather the real presence of the crucified and risen Savior.    May the God of all peace, strengthen us in this faith, so that  we like Thomas might always say “My Lord and my God”.  Amen.