Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:10 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Grace to you and peace from him who was and is and is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on the earth. To him who loves and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:4-6).
Eight days on from the Resurrection, has anything changed? Since you left the empty tomb last week, do you have peace in your heart? Peace in your family? Peace in your life? Is there peace in the world, peace on earth? Eight days on from the Resurrection, has anything changed?
I wonder if anything had changed for those disciples. Mary Magdalene told them that she had seen the Lord, and what He said to her: “Go to My brothers and say to them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen that it was empty, that Jesus was not there. But did they have peace, knowing that the tomb was empty? No, they had fear. They were huddled in a locked room, filled with fear at what the future might hold. And into that locked room, into that fear, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and He said, “Peace to you” (20:19). And He showed them His hands and side, and then they rejoiced, because they knew that it was the Lord. They knew that this was not a ghost, not a spirit, but the very same Lord, resurrected in the body in which He had been crucified. And Jesus said, “’Peace to you. Just as the Father sent Me, so I am sending you.’ And when He said this, He breathed on them”—like God breathing life into Adam’s new lungs, like the Spirit going into the dead, dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley and making a resurrected people—“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; when you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven to them, and when you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained [to them]” (John 20:21-23). This is the peace of the Lord: the Holy Spirit, who brings the forgiveness of sins, which flows from the wounds of the Lord.
And then, eight days on from the Resurrection, how much has changed? A week later, same place, same time, Thomas is there. And does Thomas have peace, since the disciples have told them that they have seen the Lord (John 20:25)? No, he has unbelief. “He said to them, ‘Unless I see the print of the nails in His hands and put my fingers into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will surely not believe” (20:25). I will never believe. He is not “doubting” Thomas, but unbelieving Thomas. Into that locked room, filled with unbelief, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you” (20:26). Thomas, see where the nails were in My hands, and put your fingers there. Put your hand into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe (20:27). That’s the peace of the Lord, which drives out unbelief and creates faith; which brings confession from the lips of disciples, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). Thomas didn’t need to touch; he knew, when he saw the wounds. This is the peace of Jesus, which forgives sins and drives out unbelief. It gives the Holy Spirit and makes fearful disciples into fearless and faithful witnesses, who do not care whether they live or die, as long as Christ is proclaimed. That is the peace of Jesus.
Earlier, Jesus had said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives” (John 14:27). How does the world give peace? The world is not interested in the peace of Jesus. It is interested in keeping the peace, in not rocking the boat, in not making waves. The world does not want division, or offense, or conflict, except when it fights against Christ and His Word. When the world speaks of peace, it speaks of nuclear disarmament, or bringing the troops home, or world peace, like a John Lennon song or “We are the World.” But that is a superficial peace that cannot last in a world of sinners. And yet, we in the Church suck in the world’s peace, imbibing it, drinking deeply of the wells of that peace. And so we do not speak the hard words, the necessary words that might bring offense.
We refuse to speak the Truth, because the Truth divides. Because in its fear and unbelief, the world hates the truth. We want to keep the peace, but it’s not the peace of Jesus. And what is the evidence of this? When we, in our vocation as parents, refuse to speak the hard words to our children; when we do not tell them the will of God for their relationships, and for their decisions. Because they might not like us. They might get angry with us. They might even say they hate us. And so we keep the peace, but it’s not the peace of Jesus. When we, in our vocation as friend, refuse to speak the hard word of Truth in order to bring the peace of Jesus, because it might bring an end to that relationship. We keep the peace, but it’s not the peace of Jesus. When we are afraid of what people might think of us—that is, when we are more afraid of people than of God—we keep the peace. But it’s not the peace of Jesus.
Then we are like the false prophets who heal the wounds of God’s people lightly, saying, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14). Because the other side of the peace of Jesus is the sword that divides. Jesus said it: “I did not come to bring peace [only], but [also] a sword” (Matthew 12:34). The peace of Jesus will divide fathers from daughters and mothers from sons and friends against each other. Peace for those who are in Christ, but no peace for those who do not know Him. How different is the peace of Jesus from the peace of the world! So different that it is incomprehensible to unbelief. The peace of Jesus even means that I will be at war with myself, with my own fear, my own doubt, my own sin.
But the peace of Jesus is in the forgiveness of sins, not in “keeping the peace.” We all have sin in our lives. Some of it is big and obvious, but much of it—maybe most of it—is small and unseen, like splinters in our skin. The small kind, which we barely even notice. You can ignore those sorts of sins; you may even be able to forget about them for a while, thinking you’ll deal with them on your own. But then you rub up against the Law of God and it stings. It touches a nerve. And as long as it remains under your skin, it will fester, and infect, and destroy. Confession is pouring out to your Lord and God what He already knows: that that sin is killing you and you can’t do anything about it. The Absolution is how Jesus removes that sin from you. Because He is crucified and resurrected, He stands in our midst, and He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” He speaks it through the mouth of the pastor, but it is Jesus nonetheless.
He comes and stands in our midst, and He unlocks the doors of our fear and unbelief with the Key He has given to the Church to forgive the repentant sinner. And He says, “Peace to you. Depart in peace, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus stands in our midst, and He speaks His Word, and gives His Body and Blood with the bread and the wine. How do you know? Because He speaks His Word: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” In all ways and at all times, peace. And you speak your “amen.” He stands with wounded hands and a wounded side and says, “Blessed are the ones who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29). Blessed are you; though you have not seen His wounds, or put your fingers in the print of the nails or your hand in His side, you believe, because He speaks His Word in your midst and has breathed into you His Holy Spirit. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). And so you cry out, “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace.” You come and receive the peace of His wounds, and you hear Him say, “Depart in peace.” You sing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” “Amen, it is true.”
That is a peace in which you can live. It will not remove conflict from your life or family. It will not remove division between you and unbelievers. It will not remove the offense of the cross. As we just heard, the Prince of Peace was violently beaten and mocked and crucified. It is precisely His wounds in which we find the chastisement, the punishment, which brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5). It is by His stripes that we are healed. And those who follow the Prince of Peace will not escape that conflict, or that offense, or that division. Not in this world. Eleven of His Twelve disciples were killed because they had received His peace. People are still being killed because they have the peace of the Lord. But this is a peace in which you can live, because no matter what happens, the crucified and resurrected Jesus stands in your midst. And this is a peace in which you can die. The psalmist says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, because you alone, O Yahweh, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Whether it’s the little death we call sleep, or the little sleep we call death, you can lie down and sleep in peace because your Lord makes your body and your soul dwell in safety. You know that whether He wakes you tomorrow morning, or wakes you on the morning of the Resurrection, you will see Him in your own flesh and with your own eyes. You will see His wounds and you will rejoice. You will fall down on your knees and cry out with Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” because you know He is the Lord.
When the disciples received that peace, they stopped meeting under lock and key, in fear and unbelief, but they did not stop meeting. Because they had been filled with the Holy Spirit and the peace of the Lord, they devoted themselves—they gave themselves—to the teaching of the Apostles, and to the fellowship of the Body of Christ, and to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers of the Church. They did that because they knew that the living Jesus was in their midst to speak peace to them. They lived and died in that peace. And so we are here, eight days on from the resurrection, two thousand years on from the resurrection, and still we meet. Week after week, in the same place and at the same time, we gather to hear the living Lord, crucified and resurrected, as He brings us His peace, in the forgiveness of our sins and the power of the Holy Spirit. Again and again, He speaks peace to those who are near and those who are far off (Isaiah 57:19). He gives Himself and He says, “Peace to you. Peace to you.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/11/23