PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

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.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

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MERCY IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE

makings of ministry

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

I remember very vividly 4 or 5 years ago an older man coming up to me in the church basement, saying, “Pastor, that devotion you wrote for the newsletter is crazy.  That has to be impossible!”

If you thought last week’s message was shocking, what are you thinking now as we take a look at how Jesus continued this sermon in Luke 6?

If you remember, last week Jesus said that everything in your life is at peace and going well, that you are blessed when you are poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted.  His purpose for saying that was to show us that the proper priorities for life are not earthly possessions and worldly desires but a spiritual relationship with Jesus, a heart of faith, and the eternal home of heaven.  I don’t need to rehash the whole thing, you can go online and check out the video on our website/ Facebook.

This week, however, Jesus takes it up a notch, don’t you think?  Maybe you are thinking that the older gentleman I spoke to before church that day was right, what Jesus says here is impossible.  I mean, there are plenty of places in the Bible where God says something that causes people to scratch their heads.  If God has put faith into your hearts that doesn’t mean all the questions just disappear, does it?  If you trust and rely on Jesus then there is still room to grow in his Word.  And today, that’s what we need to do, because what Jesus says seems to be impossible.

Let’s just summarize it:  Love your enemies.  Love the way Jesus uses it is not even close to love the way our world uses it.  Our world says ‘love’ when it talks about pets, food, sports teams, and famous people.  That’s not love to Jesus.  Because love is not selfish.  Love is not a fuzzy feeling.  Love is not lust. Love is not following someone on Instagram or Facebook.  Love is not wanting more of something for yourself.  Love is making a sacrifice.  Love is caring enough to forgo something that would benefit you so that someone else can benefit.  Love is serving selflessly the needs of others.  Love is compassion.  And the only way we could ever know love is because God is love.

And when Jesus says ‘enemies,’ he’s not talking about the people who aren’t friends, like relatives you don’t know very well, neighbors you haven’t met, coworkers that you don’t really talk to except the casual “hello.”  Jesus is talking about the relatives who bad mouth you to the whole family and try to turn them against you.  Jesus is talking about the neighbors who are actively and maliciously trying to make your time in the neighborhood worse.  Jesus is talking about the bullies at school.  He’s talking about the coworkers who want you gone for good.  Jesus is talking about the people you know who are out to get you.  He says, “You need to love them, sacrifice what’s good for you for their sake, do good things for them, pray for them, and let it go if they hurt you or steal from you.”

As Jesus says later, it is really easy to love people who love you.  Even sinners, the real lowlifes, the castoffs of society, the ones who are looked down on, even they know how to love and care about the ones who are loving and caring towards them.  Jesus says, “What credit is that to you” three times.  You aren’t impressing him or unbelievers when you only care about the people who show they care for you first.  Jesus wants all who are listening to him to understand that the goal is to show love, do good, and be generous to people who do not deserve it.

Let’s just be clear here.  Jesus doesn’t say that evil is good.  He doesn’t say that we just have to suck it up when terrible things happen.  Jesus is not saying that if you are being abused, raped, or your life is in danger that you should do nothing. But he is saying that it is not your job to get even, ever.  It is not your responsibility to retaliate or avenge any wrongs that you have to endure.  If that seems weak and humble and lowly, good.  Those are defining characteristics that Jesus wants you to have.  Just last week, if you remember the Apostle Paul reminded us that when we are weak, then we are strong because we are relying on God’s grace and Christ’s power to work in us and through us.

Jesus goes on later in verse 37 to warn against being judgmental.  This is not at all talking about sin.  So, you better know the difference.  Sin is what God says is wrong.  Look at his commandments; disobeying them is sin. Period.  But living with the hypocritical attitude that puts all your personal preferences, opinions, and ideas on par with God’s moral code cannot be condoned.   That’s what Pharisees did, and Jesus bluntly says here, you cannot judge people that way.  Your default setting must be compassion, forgiveness, and love.  If you aren’t willing to live that way every day, then why should God treat you any different.  He should judge you, condemn you, and destroy you.

And finally, in verse 38 Jesus says to be generous.  Think of measuring out wheat here.  Jesus is saying use a good honest scale, press it down a couple times and shake it together so that you aren’t skimping at all, and even let it run over a little bit.  Having a generous heart will not only be good for others, because as Jesus says, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  In essence, if you are generous, then others and God will be generous to you.

This all sounds fine and good, until you realize that Jesus is not saying this is what you should expect from others.  He is not saying that you should wait for other people to treat you this way.  Then, and only then, you can go ahead and treat them well.  No, that’s not the golden rule.  Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  “Treat others the way I want them to treat me?  I think that is putting the wrong person first.  I just don’t think others are going to treat me the way I want them to, so I’ll just change that a little bit so that I make sure I am not being neglected.”  But that’s not the way Jesus wants it.  God never puts himself first, so do you really think it’s excusable to put yourself first?

What that man said to me years ago in a church basement kind of sounds right on the money.  Jesus is describing and teaching a way of life that seems impossible for us.  And if it seems downright wrong to you, then how could you ever be a child of God?  Because God’s children want to be like their perfect Father.  They want to listen to their Lord and Savior.  They serve willingly because the Spirit lives in their hearts.

Brothers and sisters, it is impossible for us to find our way into God’s family by following what Jesus says here.  But what is impossible for us is not only possible for God, but it is exactly what he does for you.  Right there in the middle of verse 35 Jesus says it so well, “the Most High…is kind to the ungrateful and wicked… your heavenly Father is merciful.” Mercy is another one of those beautiful Bible words that explores a concept so foreign to us that only God can show us what it is.

Think of a gunman who shoots up a school full of kids, think of the sexual predator, think of the worst bully, think of your fiercest enemies.  You kind of want to see them suffer.  They have ruined so many lives, they need to know what it is like.

That’s not the way God sees it.  He sees someone who is ungrateful and wicked but who needs kindness and love.  He sees someone who deserves punishment for all the wrongs they have done, but he doesn’t do it.  He sees a sinner who needs a Savior.  God sees everything that happens, and he has the love to forgo any punishment.  He does not thirst for blood.  The psalmist tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” [1] That’s mercy.  It sounds utterly impossible for us, but not for God.   Instead of giving us the very well-deserved punishment for sin, which is called hell, his grace sent Jesus.

And what exactly did Jesus do. Well, it’s not like we were on his side.  Sin makes us hostile enemies of God.  By nature we are born on the wrong side of that relationship.  Jesus did come here to find all the people who were on God’s side so that he could save the ones who earned it.  No, Jesus came to a world full of enemies.  And he came here to love us, not wanting his own personal gain but caring and sacrificing himself for us.  He came here not to judge us and condemn us, but to forgive us.  He didn’t come to see how much he could get out of us, but he came here to give us everything he had.  He didn’t love the loveable, because the loveable do not exist.  Instead, he loved us so much, that he died to make us loveable to God and heirs of his kingdom.  God’s mercy didn’t punish us.  His grace sent Jesus to take the punishment for us.  God’s mercy doesn’t send us to hell.  His grace gives us the gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation through Jesus, and the faith to hold on to him. God’s mercy and grace is the only way we have eternal life with God in heaven.

God’s mercy and grace is also the only way we can have his kind of life here on earth.  What Jesus says today sounds impossible.  “Love your enemies…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s not impossible for him.  That is exactly what he did for us.  And when he put the Spirit in your heart, when he took up residence in your life, don’t you think he gave you the abilities to carry out this God-pleasing life?  Don’t you think that faith in Jesus makes you different now?  Don’t you think that God’s love has worn off on you a little bit so that you can look at others in a new way?

Of course it has.  Love, good, prayer, humility, forgiveness, generosity… where else do you think this world should find those attributes than the children of the God who shows us exactly what those things are?  And that is exactly what makes our ministry here so powerful.  We have the God of unmatched mercy.  We have the God of generous grace.  We have the Savior of selfless service.  So, that is what our lives and our ministry will look like.

That man said I was crazy and it must be impossible.  It’s not at all a surprising statement.  Do you know what I told him?  I said, “It sure is impossible for us, but not for Jesus. And guess where he is right now?”  Do you know that answer to that?  Through faith, Jesus is right here (heart) and here (in the Word) and here (among us).  So, that means with God’s unmatched mercy in us, we can love our enemies. God grant it.  Amen.

 

[1] Psalm 103:10

REMOVING DOUBTS IS EASY WITH EASTER

4.23.17 Easter 2A

Easter Season A

John 20

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.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

CIR HIRI

11 men minus one locked in a room isn’t much of a parade.

As much as I don’t like it, the Cubs won the World Series last fall.  Now, if only ten people showed up in Chicago for the parade, would that be very victorious?  NOT!  Do you know how many fans showed up?  Estimates say 5 million, but I read up on these estimates and there’s just no way.  A closer number is probably 1.5 million.

My point is not to say that media drastically overestimate crowds or that the crowd for the Cubs World Series Championship parade wasn’t that big.   My goodness, that crowd was just about as big as North and South Dakota…combined. My point is that you need tons of people for a parade.  11 men minus one locked in room isn’t much a celebration.

That is exactly the situation on the evening of that first day of the week.  Even though the women had shocked the disciples by saying the tomb was empty and they had personally seen Jesus alive, the disciples couldn’t understand it and doubted.  Peter and John also saw the empty tomb.  Later, as both Luke and Paul record, Peter also saw Jesus alive.  And I’m sure that even though the Jewish religious leaders had paid off the guards to lie about what they experienced early that morning, the news of Jesus’ empty tomb was getting around.

Yet, it was so hard for the disciples to make sense of everything.  They were torn.  On the one side was their faith in Jesus and on the other was the very logical fact that the dead don’t come back.  Doubt and fear was pulling them away from faith in what Jesus says and what God can do.

We are familiar with this tug of war where fear and doubt have a way of ruining a celebration.  It happens in our world.  Do you remember the end of the Boston Marathon a few years ago?  A couple homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing 3 and injuring hundreds more.  It’s sad that these types of things happen.  Finishing a marathon is one of those really happy times.  I’ve done it twice.  It’s a relief.  It’s joyous.  It’s really – we’re talking really – tiring, but also so exciting to have completed something that is so challenging.

The sad result of terrorist bombings and shootings is the fear and doubt they cause.  There are probably still runners and spectators (along with parents with kids in school, fans a big games, and world travelers) who are on alert and can’t relax, if not worse, because of the damage that fear and doubt causes.

The doubts and fears were bad for Thomas to the point where he wasn’t even with the other 10 that Sunday evening.  He did something that never helps believers going through these tough situations.  He got out of there.  He put distance between himself and his Christian friends.  They may not have been super strong influences because their doubts and fear were getting the best of them, too, but they could at least remind each other of Jesus’ words.

But this happens to us, doesn’t it?  We have fears.  We have doubts.  Sometimes we distance ourselves from the people who can help us with Jesus’ words and promises the most.  Now, it’s not going to happen when things are going great.  Remember how different the disciples felt when Jesus physically appeared to those 10 men that night.  Doubts were gone. Jesus was 100% alive. Shocking? Yes!  Amazing? Yes!  Life-changing? Yes!  Their fears vanished.

When you get into the program that you have been dreaming of, when you get the job you have been working and waiting for, when something awesome happens like winning the lottery, I’m guessing those are not the times when you doubt that God exists.  When you get married to the person you want to love for the rest of your life or when you hold your newborn child, those are not the times when you doubt God’s love for you.

Doubts and fears don’t tug and pull us so seriously when things are going great.  It is easy to have faith in Jesus when everything is sailing along smoothly.  We think God is obviously happy with us and providing for us.  The doubt and fear get to us in times of challenge and change.  When the bills are piling up, when the doctor says, “I’ve got some bad news,” when the spouse you are committed to spend the rest of your life with says “I don’t want to spend another day with you,” when kids start growing up and face the peer pressure to fit in and do what everybody else is doing – these are the times when doubts and fears grab hold and drag us down.

Faith in Jesus and his words is assaulted in times of challenge and change.  Thomas was not with the ones who could help him out.  He was an island buffeted by the waves.  His faith was bombarded from every side.  When anything is allowed to take aim at your faith like that, it doesn’t lead us in a good direction.  Doubts and fears pull us away from God.  Guilt and even our own human reason drag us toward unbelief.

Now, it is important to note that Thomas’s faith is not gone.  It’s just that everything was tipping him toward the unbelief side.  It’s a dangerous path to be on, and he’s going at it all alone, which leads to the next problem: placing an unreasonable burden of proof on God.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Show of hands: has anyone been to Peru, seen Machu Picchu?  Why would you believe that there is such a country in South America if you have never been there?  You believe it because others have seen it and been there, it’s on a map, all the maps, and maybe you saw the 29 athletes march at opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.  I can personally attest to the fact that Peru exists.  I went there on a mission trip after my senior year at Luther Prep.

Thomas had all sorts of people telling him that Jesus was alive, but he places a burden of proof on God that he doesn’t place on any others.  That’s how Satan attacks our faith.  When there are doubts, then they have to be answered.  Satan convinces us that they have to be answered our way, which he will gladly help us dream up some crazy demands.

When you say, “For me to know how much God loves me, it is not enough for him to take away my sin, but he has to take away all my problems in life,” you are placing a burden of proof on God that you wouldn’t place on others.  For your kids to show their love to you, they don’t have to make the whole day perfect for you, just cleaning their room without being asked shows that.  When you say, “God has to show his power by giving me everything I have decided I need in life,” you are saying God has to do something you wouldn’t expect others to do for you.

This is the heart of someone who is struggling with doubts and fears.  This is the life of someone who is in the situation those 10 disciples were dealing with before Jesus appeared to them or Thomas even after the disciples were telling him they saw Jesus alive.  The doubt and fears that come during times of challenge or change pull us away from faith in Jesus and start making unreasonable demands.

Do you know what Thomas needed more than God meeting his demands?  The same thing we need when doubts and fears are steering us away from Jesus.   We don’t need God to do something that will appease us.   We need God to do what God does.  We need what only Jesus can give.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” … Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! … A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

We don’t need God to prove his love our way.  We need God to show his love his way, which is much better than anything we could come up with.  Jesus proved God’s love at Christmas, at his Baptism, as he made his way to Jerusalem the last time knowing what was coming, on Good Friday when he endured all the physical pain and also the pain of suffering for the sins of the world as God turned his back on him.  We don’t need God to prove his power our way.  We need his to show his power his way.  Jesus did that on Easter.  A dead Savior does us no good, so he showed us his eternal power over death.

This God who proves his love and power his way, not ours.  He says we have peace now.  Jesus is so compassionate and tender with the runaways.  That’s what the disciples were.  They had deserted him, denied him, doubted him.  Yet, Jesus was so calm and caring for them, bringing God’s peace.  That’s what grace is, my friends.

Peace that Jesus is giving here is not the way English speakers think of peace.  This isn’t freedom from tension or hostility between two groups, like a truce between two fighting brothers. Jesus never had any hostility toward his disciples. That’s not the way Hebrews heard the word, peace (Shalom).  This was wholeness and completeness of body, mind, and spirit.  It means everything in your life is just right.

In order to have that kind of peace, you don’t need the biggest house on the block, the best wardrobe or the most friends.  In order to have this kind of peace in your life, you need a God who says your sins are gone, you need a Savior who says Satan cannot touch you, you need the living One who says death cannot destroy you.

Brothers and sisters, that’s Easter. CIR HIRI  The disciples had a living Savior.  He removed the doubts and fears with his gracious presence and peace.  He proclaimed complete forgiveness.  Only a living Savior can do that.  It meant they were whole.  Everything was just right.

The same was true for Thomas.  Jesus had the same peace for him, which not only got him back from the doubts and fears, but also assured Thomas that his sins were paid for in full and eternal life in heaven was his personal possession.

Where does that leave us?  We weren’t in the room, but Jesus included us when he said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith in Jesus doesn’t need to lay a huge burden of proof on God.  Faith in Jesus trusts him because he is the one who conquered death for us.  He is the one who lives now to watch over us and bless us with his word.

If we still have to deal with the doubts and fears – and we do – if we still got hung up on our guilt – and we do – I think there is something we can learn here from Thomas.  He was MIA from the group that Easter evening, but not the next week.  He was with his Christian friends, who wanted to help him with his doubts and fears.  That’s when Jesus brought him close with the joy of Easter.  Thomas had Jesus’ peace and forgiveness.  Jesus strengthened his faith.

That’s where we need to be.  We need to be with God’s people in God’s house listening to our living Savior speak.  Easter means that what we do here in this place is not something kinda, sorta important.  Easter means this Word of God is alive.  It crushes doubts and fears.  It brings us close to Jesus.  Literally, dig in as much as you need, daily and with others if need be, because in the Word Jesus gives you his peace and blessings.

That’s why John ends this section with these beautiful words, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Easter is all about life, not death.  It’s about victory that is ours through faith in Jesus.  Doubts and fears are crushed when Jesus speaks with peace and love to us.

And so Easter leads us to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” 

Amen.

 

WHO IS LIKE GOD?

lutheran-id

Micah 7

18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

 

 

He was scared of God.  Night and day, he lived in fear of a God who knew every thought, heard every word, and saw every action.  God’s demands were oppressive and cruel to him.  He was hopelessly lost in a cycle of trying to earn God’s love, but his love always seemed out of reach.  That’s the way Martin Luther lived the first half of his life.  He saw God as an angry and holy Judge.

It’s not surprising that Luther had this understanding.  It was readily accepted in his day because that is how the church was portraying God.  Yes, he was the God who loved the world and sent Jesus to save it.  Yes, he was the God who died for the sins of the world.  Yes, he rose from the dead to give eternal life to all believers.  But, in order to be a believer in Jesus, you had to work for it.  You had to show God how much you loved him with your good works, and then he would respond with his love and mercy.  With that kind of view, people thought God was always looking for good works and not really doing much for his people.

A lot of people still have that kind of viewpoint today.  They think of God this way for a couple reasons.  Number 1, if people don’t read the Bible, they won’t know who God is and what he is like. Instead, they will listen to others talk about him or they’ll watch shows and movies about him to see what he is like.  Because that is how so many people are hearing about God, they don’t have the right view.  And the second reason people think about God like a judge who is always watching is that it makes human sense.  It makes sense to us that people are watching us and that when we do good they reward us and when we mess up they do not reward us.  We see this kind of thing happening all around us.  If you get good grades, then your teacher likes you and your parents give you more privileges or games (or whatever kids are asking for nowadays).  If you do your job well, then your boss likes you, your coworkers can depend on you, you might get a raise, and if you are really good, you might get that promotion.  If you are kind, honest, humble and giving, then you won’t go to jail.  Instead, your neighbors will like you, do nice things for you, and you will be a respected member of the community.  This is how people naturally think.  It’s what we see every day.  And so why wouldn’t people think about God this way?

Micah poses this question for us today: Who is a God like you?  If someone answers that question by thinking in human terms, then they are making God way too much like all of us.  And when people think God is like us, when people think he decides things based on what we do, then do you know where that leads?  Sinful people are left in despair trying to earn a relationship with a holy God.  It turns into high school dating where there is no certainty, just a frenzy of worried people who try to grab attention and get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary.

A relationship with God does not exist when you look at God like that, because you cannot earn God’s love.  We don’t have enough perfection to earn it.  In fact, we have a big fat ZERO in the perfection column.  And because of that, we don’t deserve anything from God.  There is no reward for trying hard, for sheer determination, or for not getting caught.  Are you starting to realize why Martin Luther was so afraid?  He knew and believed that Jesus had died for his sins and risen from the grave for his eternal life, but he wasn’t able to make God happy enough with him to get those blessings.  All he could do was continue to try to work for them.  A sinful person was trying to live without sin in order to get forgiveness of sins.  How’s that going to work?

But, your identity as a Lutheran is not based on human reasoning, viewpoints or terms.    That’s what freed Luther from his fear of a holy, judge-God.  As we studied last week, you and I stand on the solid foundation of God’s Holy Scriptures. We have a God who reveals himself in the Bible.  And so when Micah poses the question today – who is a God like you? – the answer is so clear.  There is no other God, because no god that originates in human minds could be one:

who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Who does that?  Who is like that?  Who gives and gives and gives?  When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever. God pardons sin.  Why would he do that?  What’s in it for him?  Why would God just take all your sins and all your guilt off your shoulders? Why would he carry them away from you, removing them from your past and future? There’s no good human logic here, unless it’s because he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to see your eternity ruined.  Unless he has so much compassion that he cannot bear to see you struggle or see you lost and alone.  That and only that is the reason.

Micah says we have a God who forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  Let’s unpack that a little bit.  The Hebrew word used for “forgive” is a word that means to pass over.  Think of the Passover in Egypt.  Those doors that were painted with the blood of a lamb were passed over by God.  He was killing every first born from every house that night but he passed over the ones that were marked with blood.  God marked you with the blood of Jesus so that he passes over you instead of giving you death.

But what about that remnant?  What’s that all about?  That’s another good history lesson.  During Micah’s ministry as a prophet the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, his inheritance, were exiled by the Assyrian army because God had to discipline his rebellious, unrepentant people.  He was trying to wake them up from spiritual slumber.  Micah prophesied that it would happen and it did.  Well, out of the 12 tribes, 10 were now gone, but there was still hope for the southern 2.  They could learn the lesson.  They could wake up.  And Micah gave them the warning to turn away from sinful rebellion, to get rid of the false gods who were really nothing at all.  He warned them that there would be another exile if they did not listen to God.  Well, you know what happened, don’t you?  The southern part of Judah tried for a while, but they kind of reverted back to bad behavior.  God sent more warnings from more prophets, but it didn’t help them.  And so the Babylonians exiled Judah.  But that’s where this section comes in.  God’s undeserved love and compassion are so great that he says he forgives the remnant.  Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us…” God is telling his people, “I know how much you messed up.  I know how much this discipline hurts you.  I know how bad this must be for you, but I still love you.  I will always love you.  I will watch over you in exile.  I will protect you.  I will bring you back to the Promised Land to start over. I will keep my promises.  I will pass over your wickedness and rebellion because that is how much I love you.”

Brothers and sisters, you are a part of that remnant.  No matter what has happened in your life.  No matter how much guilt you carry, God carries away your sins and passes over you with the punishment.  Instead, Jesus takes the full wrath of God in our place.  Jesus is handed all of our sins.  Jesus carries them all to Calvary.  Jesus is not passed over but given the death penalty in our place.  Jesus suffers what we should suffer.

This next part is where Kix come into the mix.  Do you know that cereal, “kid tested, mother approved?”  I loved those as a kid.  Well, we have lots of those at our house.  Lute loves them.  Issy loves them.  And sometimes with an 21-month old and a 3 ½ year-old, they don’t always successfully get all the Kix into their mouth.  So when I wake up and it’s still dark or when I come home for lunch or dinner, sometimes these delightful puffs end up under my foot.  Do you know what happens to a Kix when it is under my foot?  It is crushed to powder!  It becomes nothing.  It is unusable.  It must be swept up and thrown out.  Here’s how Micah describes what God does to our sins, “You will tread our sins underfoot.”  God makes our sins like those Kix in my kitchen.  He crushes them.  He makes them unusable.  Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face?  God loves you so he crushes sin out of your life.  He treats our sins like the dirt.  He tramples on them.  He sweeps them up.

And then he, “hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  God not only makes our sins unusable, but he also makes them nonvisible.  See, he doesn’t just take them away from us.  He puts them out of sight where we can’t find them again.  When God says he forgives you, he means it.  He means that his people do not need to get up with pet sins anymore.  “But I like that one, and it’s harmless, and I repent of it a bunch.”  God says, “Those sins are no good for you.  So I am getting rid of them.  You don’t need them to be happy.  You don’t need them to be secure.  You need me.  You need my love.  You need my peace.”

Micah finishes by saying, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.”  God keeps his promises.  It’s not an optional thing that depends on how good you are.  It’s not a logical thing that we have to understand.  God keeps his promises.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would make their descendants a great nation, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would take care of them and protect them, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would bless the whole world with one of their descendants, God kept his promise and sent Jesus.   Jesus kept his promise to forgive us and save us.

I don’t care what happens this upcoming Tuesday,  I don’t care about a 108 year-old wait for a championship that just ended this past week, I don’t care about anything like that, it cannot compare to joy and comfort that God’s love gives.  We have an eternity with God because he loves us and forgives us.

Brothers and sisters, does any of this sound like something we could think up?  Does it sound like something we could do?  No.  That’s why Luther treasured this so much, because it changed his view of God.  No longer was God angry all the time.  No longer was God a Judge looking to punish.  When Luther read passages like these, the Spirit brought peace and joy because he had a God who loved him.  He had a Savior who forgave him completely 100% without any added works.

That’s what gives us our identity still to this day.  That we have a God and Savior who loves us with no conditions or fine print.  He loves us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned any of these spiritual and eternal rewards.  God gives us this gift not because it’s a birthday, graduation, or anniversary and not because you did something great but simply because he really wants you to know what he is like and how much he cares.  Do you know what this is?  It’s called grace.

Micah and Martin Luther loved it, and so do we, because it gives us the answer to this question: Who is like God?  The easy answer is NO ONE, NOTHING, not now, not ever.  Because our God gives us… grace.

Amen.