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Jesus' Armload of Promises

 This is the sermon I preached Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The scripture text is John 20:19-31.

Each of the Sundays during the Easter season focuses on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. This week, he appears to Thomas and the others. Rather than focusing on Thomas, let’s focus on Jesus and his promises for his followers.

This reminds me of a song written by Burt Bacharach, recorded in the ‘60s by Dionne Warwick entitled “Promises, Promises.” The chorus contrasts two different kinds of promises:

Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, my kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love
Yes, love!! 

The disciples behind closed, locked doors are scared to death and mourning the loss of their friend, leader and master, Jesus. Those that follow God had gotten killed by the authorities—first John the Baptist and now Jesus. Were they next?

Jesus comes to his disciples twice in today’s gospel; His arms full of promises, that lead to joy, hope and love. Jesus’ promises are peace, purpose and power. The Lord gives all three to the disciples (minus Thomas) in the first of the two appearances in this passage.

PEACE is the first gift. Jesus promised this earlier in John’s gospel and now, as the risen Lord, that’s what he does. In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” This is both an ordinary greeting of the time, yet it is so very extraordinary. Another way to translate the Greek is “Peace is with you.” If you are near enough to anyone during the peace, would you greet them with “Peace is with you?” I’ll adjust my words in the liturgy, too.

The peace Jesus imparts to the disciples is not about inner peace and quiet, but rather it’s descriptive of a type of relationship between people in the New Testament. It has a communal rather than individual meaning. It is also synonymous with messianic salvation. Peace is the way people and all creation and God will relate to each other—a harmonious existence.

This peace is not a passive contentment, but rather leads to action as Jesus bestows his second gift, PURPOSE, a mission to share the good news with the whole world. Believers become apostles because Christ sends them into the world.

In the first appearance in this passage, Jesus gives the disciples the means of doing what they are called to do, the POWER of the Holy Spirit. The many promises of the Holy Spirit earlier, in the farewell discourses, are fulfilled here. Now that Jesus had been glorified, raised from the dead, Jesus could breathe into the disciples the breath of eternal life. This act makes us think of the description of God breathing the breath of life into the first human in Genesis. In Hebrew and Greek, the same word used for spirit and breath. The power was for proclaiming the gospel, part of which was declaring God’s forgiveness.

Only after seeing the resurrected Jesus do the disciples ultimately recognize who Jesus was. It’s no wonder Thomas didn’t respond to the news the others shared with him. He didn’t have the privilege of seeing the Lord until a week later. 

John winds up this passage with a powerful purpose statement:

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

Who are the “you” is in verse 31, “that YOU may come to believe…that through believing YOU may have life in his name?” Some see it as unbelievers that need to be evangelized. Others think it’s limited to the people John was writing for. I like a third option. Yes, of course, it was for the church of John’s age, but it’s also for all those, including us, throughout the centuries, that believe in the Lord Jesus. John is inviting us into the story, inviting us to make it our own.

When does Jesus come with this peace, purpose and power, and overflowing armful of promises for us? Jesus comes to people when they are locked in grief—like Mary, locked in fear—like the disciples; and locked in darkness—like the world (McKenzie). Do you feel like that today? Jesus is coming for you with promises to set you free and empower you as a witness.

In our mixed-up world, we can be witnesses by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the stranger and outsider, making them insiders. A few weeks ago, I mentioned a matching grant for all of us who give to help the Ukrainians through Lutheran World Relief. If you haven’t done so yet, we have until tomorrow to give. You can give to St. Timothy and earmark it for Lutheran World Relief. You can also give on your own online at lwr.org/match

God calls us to leave the rooms we’ve locked ourselves in and go out—emboldened by the knowledge that we bear the peace, purpose and power of One who bears the scars of his own pain and can pass through any walls that lock us in or out. Ultimately, the proof of Jesus’ resurrection is seen in the changed lives of the disciples.

We leave our locked rooms to go out into our community. Gordon Lathrop, retired seminary professor, says, “Knock on any door in your community and you’ll find some sort of agony.” The knowledge that we bear the peace, purpose and power of one who bears the scars of his own pain, and can pass through any walls that lock us in or out, emboldens us.Let’s allow Christ to free us so that we can free others. Amen.

Sources Consulted

David Lose, workingpreacher.org

Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, The Never-Ending Stor

Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

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