Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
April 7, 2013 – Easter II
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelations 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
From the book of Acts:
“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
From the Revelation to St. John:
To him who loves us 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.
And from the Gospel of St. John:
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
I have talked to Pastor Howard a few times since his retirement and his move to Florida. He always ends the conversion by saying, “say hello to everyone for me.” He is amazed at how friendly people are down in Florida. It’s a whole different culture down there. He is also amazed at how open the people are about their faith in Jesus Christ; that within a few minutes of the conversation, they will invite him to their church. How do you think that would work up here in New England? How many of us would have the courage to talk to a complete stranger; witness our Christian faith and then invite them to our church?
The news that Jesus was alive began to spread among His followers, at first with hesitation, but then with enthusiasm. Even His disciples did not believe the first reports, and Thomas demanded proof.
But wherever people were confronted with the reality of His resurrection, their lives were transformed. In fact, that same transforming experience can be yours today!
How did our Lord transform His disciples’ fear into courage? For one thing, He came to them. We do not know where these ten frightened men met behind locked doors, but Jesus came to them and reassured them. In His resurrection body, He was able to enter the room without opening the doors! It was a solid body, for He asked them to touch Him – and He even ate some fish (Luke 24:41-43). But it was a different kind of body, one that was not limited by what we call “the laws of nature.”
It is remarkable that these men were actually afraid. The women had reported to them that Jesus was alive, and the two Emmaus disciples had added their personal witness as well (Luke 24:33-35). It is likely that Jesus had appeared personally to Peter sometime that afternoon (Mark 16:7), though Peter’s public restoration would not take place until later (John 21). No wonder Jesus reproached them at that time “with their unbelief and hardness of heart” (Mark 16:14).
His first word to them was the traditional greeting, “Shalom – peace!” He could have rebuked them for their unfaithfulness and cowardice the previous weekend, but He did not. The work of the cross is peace, and the message they would carry would be the Gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15). Man had declared war on God (Acts 4:23-30), but God would declare “Peace!” to those who would believe.
Not only did Jesus come to them, but He reassured them. He gave them proof of His resurrection. He showed them His wounded hands and side and gave them opportunity to discover that it was indeed their Master, and that He was not a ghost.
But the wounds meant more than identification; they also were evidence that the price for salvation had been paid and man indeed could have “peace with God.” The basis for all our peace is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He died for us, He arose from the dead in victory, and now He lives for us. In our fears, we cannot lock Him out! He comes to us in grace and reassures us through His Word.
When Jesus saw that the disciples’ fear had now turned to joy, He commissioned them: “As My Father hath sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Keep in mind that the original disciples were not the only ones present; others, including the Emmaus disciples, were also in the room. This commission was not the “formal ordination” of a church order; rather, it was the dedication of His followers to the task of world evangelism.
What a tremendous privilege and what a great responsibility! It is humbling to realize that Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him (John 15:9; 17:26), and that we are in the Father just as He is (John 17:21-22). It is equally as humbling to realize that He has sent us into the world just as the Father sent Him.
It must have given the men great joy to realize that, in spite of their many failures, their Lord was entrusting them with His Word and His work. They had forsaken Him and fled, but now He was sending them out to represent Him. Peter had denied Him three times; and yet in a few days, Peter would preach the Word and thousands would be saved.
Jesus came to them and reassured them; but He also enabled them through the Holy Spirit. God breathed life into Adam, the first man. The breath of God in the first creation meant physical life, but the breath of Jesus Christ in the new creation meant spiritual life. Without the filling of the Spirit, they could not go forth to witness effectively. The Spirit had dwelt with them in the person of Jesus Christ, but now the Spirit would be in them (John 14:17).
As the early believers went forth into the world, they announced the good news of salvation. If sinners would repent and believe on Jesus Christ, their sins would be forgiven! “Who can forgive sins but God only?” The Jewish religious leaders had that correct. What they didn’t understand was that Jesus was the Son of God and that He did have the power to forgive sins.
We as Christians do not have the power to forgive sins. Jesus did not give His disciples the power to forgive sins either. Only God can forgive sins! Jesus Christ died on the cross for the remission of sins; our sins are forgiven; the debt has been paid! Jesus then gives us the authority, as He did His disciples, to be witnesses to this truth! God performs the miracle of forgiveness; we only bear witness to it. If sinners will believe on Jesus Christ, we can authoritatively declare to them that their sins have been forgiven; Alleluia!
By now, the disciples’ fears had vanished. Jesus had appeared before them; removed any doubt; and Jesus had breathed the Holy Spirit on them. They were sure that the Lord was alive and that He would be with them. They had both “peace with God” and the “peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-7). They had a high and holy commission and the power provided to accomplish it. And they had been given the great privilege of bearing the good news of forgiveness to the whole world.
We must not look at Jesus’ disciples and envy them, as though the power of Christ’s resurrection could never be experienced in our lives today. This is why John wrote his Gospel – so that people in every age could know that Jesus is God and that faith in Him brings everlasting life.
It is not necessary to “see” Jesus Christ in order to believe. Yes, it was a blessing for the early Christians to see their Lord and know that He was alive; but that is not what saved them. They were saved, not by seeing, but by believing. The emphasis throughout the Gospel of John is on believing.
You and I today cannot see Christ, nor can we see Him perform the miracles that John and others wrote about. But the record is there, and this is all that we need. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
All of the evidence points to the conclusion that He is indeed God come in the flesh, the Saviour of the world.
Sinners are not saved by believing in miracles; they are saved by believing on Jesus Christ. Many of the Jews in Jerusalem believed on Jesus because of His miracles, but He did not believe in them! Great crowds followed Him because of His miracles; but in the end, most of them left Him for good. Even the religious leaders who plotted His death believed that He did miracles, but this “faith” did not save them.
Faith in His miracles should lead to faith in His Word, and to personal faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Jesus Himself pointed out that faith in His works was but the first step toward faith in the Word of God. The sinner must “hear” the Word if he is to be saved.
Eternal life is not “endless time,” for even lost people are going to live forever in hell. “Eternal life” means the very life of God experienced today. It is a quality of life, not a quantity of time. It is the spiritual experience of “heaven on earth” today. The Christian does not have to die to have this eternal life; he already possesses it in Christ today.
The new covenant was not sealed by the blood of animal sacrifices but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. May we have the resurrection power to be a witness to His love and saving grace. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; that we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Easter mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation; Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.