Old Testament Lesson:
6On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
9In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
Psalm 118 on Page 108 in Christian Worship
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
The Lords right hand is lifted high;
the Lords right hand has done mighty things!
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:19-26:
19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Sermon Text: John 20:19-23:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Life-Giving Hands (Jesus)
On her way out the door of the coffee shop, she ran into a classmate she hadn’t seen for years. Within moments they were visiting as though no time had passed, until her friend asked, “So how’s life?” Her mind raced to think of a way to deflect the question, because honestly her life was a mess. She was separated from her husband. She worked a job she hated. And although her kids never said it directly, she felt like they blamed her for the marriage problems. That made her time with them less than fulfilling. She was scared. She was angry. She felt trapped. This wasn’t the life she imagined, and she dreamed about running away from it all, starting over, and really living life.
Sometimes it’s the idealism of youth. Sometimes it’s a midlife crisis. Sometimes it’s burnout from the 40-year grind of work and a readiness to embrace the golden years. But we all go through those cycles where we feel as though it’s time to start really living. People tell themselves they need go backpacking through Europe, buy an overpriced imported German convertible and cruise up and down the Pacific highway, or spend your golden years cruising the Mediterranean. These adventures, they try to convince themselves, will help them really live. They will “suck out all the marrow of life” as Henry David Thoreau said. But when those same people return home from their feel-good trips and realize their souls still feel empty, they still wonder what it means to really live.
The Bible has something to say about really living, and it doesn’t involve a backpack, a BMW, or the Bosporus. Christians need no midlife crisis or end-of-life burnout to trigger a life worth living. They just need Easter. They need the empty tomb. They need the happy shouts, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.” They need Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the upper room, showing them his Life-Giving Hands, and then explaining to them that Easter gives them a life worth really living.
The disciples in the upper room might as well have been walking out of a coffee shop, because they were acting like that woman whose life was a mess. John tells us “the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (v. 19). If the Jews were so underhanded and corrupt as to orchestrate the crucifixion of an innocent man, what would stop them from coming after his disciples next? Seventy-two hours earlier, they abandoned Jesus and fled from the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was arrested. Peter disowned him, just as Jesus had predicted. And, despite the fact that Jesus had been preparing them for months for his upcoming death, they still seemed genuinely shocked and surprised as they watched him die on the cross Friday afternoon. They were acting like Jesus was dead, and their lives weren’t worth living. They were afraid. They felt guilty. And they were trapped in that upper room.
Knowing full well their agitated state of mind, Jesus wanted to calm their nerves and bring them peace. He didn’t lead with, “How’s life?” but said, “Peace be with you” (v. 19). It was still Easter. They had seen the empty tomb. They heard the reports of the women and the Emmaus disciples, but they hadn’t seen Jesus with their own eyes. They weren’t completely sure what to make of the day’s events. So Jesus came and stood in their presence, he showed himself alive in person, and then gave his stupefied audience a moment to grasp the full import of his bodily presence. “Guys, it’s me! I’m not a ghost, and I’m not dead. I’m standing right in front of you, very much alive.” “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side” (v. 20). Jesus’ bodily presence, together with the sight of his life-giving hands convinced the disciples that they were looking at their resurrected Lord. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
Friends, we have the witness of the women, we have the Emmaus answer, and “we also have the prophets’ message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Pe 1:19). This world is a dark place; it’s filled with doubt and disappointment, guilt and grief, punishment and pain, death and despair. This world is so dark that it often makes us want to join the disciples in the upper room with the doors locked in fear! On Good Friday the whole world went dark when God laid on Christ the iniquity of us all; Jesus suffered the anguish of all the ugliness and darkness of this evil world.
But today marks three days from Friday. It’s Easter, and Christ is alive! It took them a moment, but the disciples finally grabbed hold of the meaning of Easter that evening—it’s joy! “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). Not sinful fear, but Easter joy makes life really worth living. Have you grabbed hold of Easter joy? The gloomy hopelessness of the world died on Good Friday, and so did the darkness of sin and all the nagging guilt. Easter not only means joy, but peace; “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Co 5:19). Jesus conquered sin, he defeated the devil, he rose from the dead. He’s alive! This Easter, grab hold of Jesus’ life—his life makes your life really worth living. Along with Jesus, peace follows joy into your soul.
The easy part of Jesus’ visit is done. He showed himself alive. Jesus had more in mind that Easter evening than to show the disciples his life-giving hands. Easter peace and joy were not just a static thing, a private state of mind and soul without words or deeds to follow. Jesus spoke next about how his life-fulfilling hands connect directly to our life-giving mission. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (v. 21). The Father had sent Jesus from heaven on a mission to forgive sins, to redeem the world. Jesus didn’t just hear the word of God, he did what his Father said! In the same way the Father sent Jesus, he now sends us. He takes disciples (followers) and transforms them into apostles (those who are sent out to proclaim). “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Co 5:19,20). Serving as Christ’s ambassadors! That’s a life really worth living.
The nobility of Jesus’ call to serve is outpaced only by its scope. What a big job! You sense the disciples might have been overwhelmed. After all, within moments of Jesus’ appearance, the disciples had gone from terror-filled hiding to Easter peace and joy, then they were commissioned and sent out into the world as Christ’s ambassadors. Jesus added that they wouldn’t go alone; they’d be serving with the power of the Holy Spirit. “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (v. 22). What the disciples received was much more than the Spirit-given gift of faith. The Holy Spirit empowers and enables each of us to carry out God’s call, “As the Father sent me, I’m sending you” (v. 21). Fifty days later, the Holy Spirit came so powerfully on these disciples that he turned uneducated Galilean fishermen into apostolic fishers of men. After hearing Peter’s sermon, 3,000 souls were added to the Christian church that day.
Jesus even trained the apostles in the message they would proclaim. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). It’s a significant day when parents give a child keys to the house, and an even bigger milestone when they hand over the keys to the car. With these words, Jesus confidently hands every believer the keys to heaven. Forgiving sins or withholding forgiveness from those who reject Christ or are plainly impenitent is tantamount to opening and closing the door to heaven. The keys are the special power and privilege Christ gives only to Christians. Forgiving sins and announcing peace is what Jesus did on Easter when he showed the disciples his life-giving hands. What better way to live Easter daily than to use our hands for God’s life-giving purpose—to forgive our brother and sisters. What can be more meaningful than forgiving the sins of the spouse from whom I’m estranged? Reconciling with a coworker or a member at church? Resolving differences with an old friend? Remember, keys are valuable only when you use them. Then use them—that’s why God gave them to you! Living at peace with God and your neighbor makes life really worth living.
Those disciples thought they had nothing to live for. They acted like Jesus was dead. Miraculously Jesus appeared in their presence on Easter and showed them his life-giving hands. Then he sent them on his life-giving mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit with his forgiving keys. Today there are more than two billion Christians scattered around the world who owe a debt of gratitude to the church’s humble beginnings that Easter evening.
So how are you? Are you stuck? Do you think you’ve got nothing to live for? Stop acting like Jesus is dead, because he’s not. Look again at his life-giving hands. Jesus is alive! Let’s act like it. Let’s pray like it. Let’s believe like it. Let’s embrace his call, “I am sending you” (v. 21), and bring the gospel to the other five and half billion people in our world one soul at a time. Let’s receive his Holy Spirit and use the keys to proclaim peace. Live life like there is no death, because Easter means there is no death. Easter makes life really worth living. Amen.