He is Still Here!
2nd Sunday of Easter
By Rev. S. D. Spencer –Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
I know some of you have heard this before, but it’s always beneficial to go back and review the basics. So here we go. What are the three most important things to remember when trying to properly understand the Scriptures? #1 is Context, #2 is context and #3 is context!
The first context is the narrow context. What do the passages just before and just after our text say? How do they clue us in to what is going on? How do they unfold the proper meaning of the words or events taking place?
The second context is the broad context. What does the whole of Scripture say concerning our text or events? How is the text consistent with the rest of the Scriptures? In other words are we reading our text in a Christocentric manner? Does it help us understand Christ and His mission? This leads us to the third context.
The third context is the historical-social context. This is the sitzen im leben! Where does the text sit in that life? How would have the originally hearers understood the words and situation? We look at life through 21st Century lenses. We see things from our perspective. I’d be willing to bet that our perspective isn’t even close to that of the 1st century Jewish believers’ perspective. We have enough trouble sharing a consistent 21st century perspective.
Let me give you an example that I’ve shared before. Several years ago I was invited to attend a motivational speaker’s seminar sponsored by Toastmasters International. Several "big names" were the presenters. Bart Starr the Green Bay Packers quarterback from 1956 to 1971, Zig Ziegler, Tom Hopkins and Paul Harvey. I went because I wanted to hear Bart Starr; he was one of my childhood heroes and of course I also wanted to hear Paul Harvey with the Rest of the Story. Paul Harvey told a story about a different point of view, a different perspective. An 86-year-old woman had called the New York Police Department complaining that her neighbor was guilty of indecent expose in a window across the alley from hers every morning at 7:30 am. It was decided by the desk sergeant that a policeman should be dispatched to the woman's apartment the next morning between 7:15 and 7:35 am to witness this occurrence and fill out proper paperwork with the woman. Upon arriving the woman led the officer to the window where she had been so offended. The officer stood looking out the window and at precisely at 7:30 am he saw the shoulder and head of a male body in the window across the alley. He explained to the woman that seeing the shoulder and head of a man could scarcely be considered a violation. The woman became indignant and said to the officer, "you have the wrong point of view; you need to change your perspective." The officer said he didn't understand. "And now the rest of the Story" said Paul Harvey. The 86 year old woman stepped up onto an over stuffed chair and stood on the arm of that chair, leaning way over to the right, hanging on the wall, and tilting her head way to the right, she said, look he's exposed. You just don't have the right point of view. The Right Perspective!
Scripture can be awkward if you don't have the right point of view, the right
perspective, the right context. Luther during The Reformation reinstated the
phrase Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. Scripture interprets Scripture without
our input. When we go outside of God's Word for the proper understanding and
context of Scripture we run the risk tainting it to our perspective.
II. CONTEXT (Mary Magdalene)
So let’s take a look at our text in light of the some context. Last week we reviewed the verses just before our text for today. We saw Mary Magdalene searching for the body of Jesus. She believed that someone had taken it, and who wouldn’t have thought the same. A heavy stone that covered Jesus tomb had been removed. The Romans guards that were assigned to protect the tomb were no place in sight. By the way, according to Roman tradition if the guards failed at their assignment their own lives would be forfeited. One of the possible explanations could be that the Roman leaders were in cahoots with the Sanhedrin. They took the body to keep the tomb from becoming the shrine for the followers of Jesus. Or even worse, maybe they had taken the body to desecrate it.
It might be hard for us to understand Mary Magdalene’s concern over Jesus body. In our western society we bury or cremate the dead and that’s it. Sometimes on TV shows we see someone going to the grave and having a one sided talk with a spouse. But we really know that death is the end on this side of the cross. So it’s easy for us to write off Mary’s distress because she is extremely emotional. But if we look a little deeper, beyond the narrow context to the broad context we start to understand Mary’s feelings a bit more.
In the Old Testament
Apocrypha is the Book of Tobit. This book tells the story of a righteous
Israelite named Tobit. He was particularly noted for his diligence in attempting
to retrieve the fallen Israelites who had been slain
in a foreign
land during the exile. Only by bringing their bodies back to sacred soil could
they rest in peace. This coincides with the Judaic understanding that the closer
your burial to the temple the more you are blessed of God. Jesus was buried in
Jerusalem in God’s Holy City. Traditional Israelite burial was also considered
a preparation for resurrection of the flesh. A grave that was disturbed would be
considered a curse from God. If the Sanhedrin wanted to discredit Jesus one of
the best ways was to desecrate His grave and move His body to secular foreign
soil. By knowing this additional information it makes sense that maybe the
enemies of Jesus sought to discredit Jesus by moving His body. At least we can
understand what Mary and the disciples might be thinking. Let’s look now at
II. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (The Disciples)
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Why were the disciples hiding behind locked doors? And notice doors, plural. They were in lock down! What or who did they have to fear? Our text tells us. They hid in fear of the Jews. What Jews? No doubt they feared the Jews who had crucified their Lord, the Jews who had probably stolen His body, the Jews who would be looking to exterminate them like bugs. You might be thinking, “Didn’t Mary Magdalene tell them she spoke with the Lord?” I’m sure she did, but would have they believed her? She was hysterical over the Lord’s body being gone. When Jesus arrived she hadn’t recognized Him. Imagine if someone came to you, who was previously hysterical and now was gleeful, saying something like, “I saw the Lord, I didn’t recognize Him at first, I thought He was only the gardener but it was Him, it was the Lord and He’s alive”. If they believed what she said why would they be hiding behind locked doors?
These men feared for their lives. Every sound, every movement in the quiet of that night, every hushed whisper outside would be a cause for fear. It was into such a prison of fear that our Lord appeared. “When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’" (John 20:19).
"Peace be with you!" This isn’t just some empty greeting. This is full Gospel. It’s an absolution. The greeting is in keeping with the Greeter. The first thing He does is to forgive their sins and declare that all is well. “After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).
These items are proof
His suffering and resurrection. They are the "visible" Gospel if we may call
them that. The God-man shows them all His wounds. In verse 19 we have the
narrative. But here, in verse 20, we have cause and effect. Because He spoke and showed,
the disciples believed and were overjoyed. Don’t miss out on this. They rejoiced
because the Lord is still there. They use of name "The Lord" is very
significant; their heavenly, their divine Lord is present and with them.
III. Thomas and You
Just verses later we read about Thomas. He wasn’t with the others when the Lord appeared. So Thomas says: “Unless I see in His hands those mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of those nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Thank you Thomas! So many people have named him Doubting Thomas. But you see - he got it right! Thomas didn’t just doubt, Thomas said he would not believe. Behind locked doors once again, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus is still present.
Only through the touch of Jesus would Thomas believe He is Lord and God. That is also true for us. Jesus comes through the locked doors of your life to give you peace, forgiveness and faith. Only when Jesus touches you can you believe. Only when His Word touches your ears, “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), can you believe. Only when Jesus nail scared crucified body touches you in the waters of baptism, can you believe. Only when Jesus riven side pours forth His life giving blood in the Lord’s Supper, can you believe. His presence is connected with the means He chooses to bring Himself to you. It is because of His presence you have forgiveness and peace with God. He unlocks the doors that keep you as life’s prisoner.
Our Lord is still here today. Here for you to touch, to know, and to believe. Why? “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Jesus Christ is here today, for you. And He says “Peace be with you”, for your sins are forgiven and I am with you still. In the Jesus name, Amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN