Printable PDF: 4-4-2021 Easter 1 Festival Sermon
David R. Clark ~ John 20:19-23 ~ April 4, 2021 ~ Easter Sunday
LIFE-GIVING HANDS (Jesus)
19On 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!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Brothers and sisters in our risen Savior,
Can I start by saying how pleased I am to see all of you? Seeing you here feels like a family reunion to me. I feel like I want to share a firm handshake or a platonic hug with each of you the way we used to. I want to look you in the eye and ask how well you have weathered the COVID storm.
Some of you have done very well. Despite a few gained or lost pounds and some different hair styles, facial and otherwise, you look good! But appearances can be deceiving, so what I really want to know is, “Are you doing ok?”
I don’t think it is going too far to say these past months have been traumatic. Some, maybe many of us, feel like we’ve been robbed of this time, like we have just been spinning our wheels, like we haven’t really been able to live our lives.
In your moments of solitude or just thinking out loud have you dreamed of getting back to living, really living, not this pale imitation of life through which we have struggled?
On Easter Sunday the Bible has something very pertinent but very jarring to say about really living. As much as we love them, really living is not about hugs and handshakes, a lack of masks in public places, or even a crowded theme park to share with our kids. It’s about an empty tomb. We need the happy shouts, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.” We need Jesus’ appearance to the disciples showing them his LIFE-GIVING HANDS, and explaining to them that a life worth really living is Easter.
- Jesus offers / bestows peace.
The disciples’ trauma was different but distressing. John tells us “the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (verse 19). Three days before Jesus had explained in significant detail what was going to happen. And it had all come to pass. The arrest. The denial. The crucifixion. And that followed months during which Jesus had been preparing them for all of this. Yet they still seemed genuinely shocked and surprised as they watched him die on the cross Friday afternoon. And that’s where they were stuck. They were acting like Jesus was dead, and their lives weren’t worth living. They felt guilty and afraid.
Jesus wanted to calm their nerves. That’s why he led with, “Peace be with you.” (verse 19) They had seen the empty tomb and heard the reports of the women, but they hadn’t seen Jesus with their own eyes. So Jesus came and stood in their presence, showed himself alive, and then gave them a moment to grasp the truth. “Guys, it’s me! I’m not a ghost, and I’m not dead. I’m standing right in front of you.” “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” (verse 20) Those life-giving hands convinced the disciples that they were looking at their resurrected Lord. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
You and I may disagree about the wisdom of our politicians and how the media reports what has happened. Here is something no Christian is going to disagree with: this world is a dark place; filled with doubt and despair, guilt and grief. It is so dark that it makes us want to cower behind our own locked doors in fear! It’s not just the disciples that can get stuck feeling that there is nothing more than Good Friday.
But it’s the third day. It’s Easter, and Christ is alive! “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (verse 20). Easter joy makes life really worth living. The hopelessness of the world died on Good Friday, and so did the darkness of sin. Easter means joy, and it means peace. Jesus conquered sin, he defeated the devil, he rose from the dead. He’s alive! Jesus’ life makes your life really worth living.
- Jesus offers / bestows purpose.
The easy part of Jesus’ visit was done. But Jesus had more in mind that Easter evening than ‘show and tell’ with his life-giving hands. With his resurrection also came a mission and a purpose. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” (verse 21) The Father had sent Jesus from heaven on a mission to forgive the sins of the world. In the same way the Father sent Jesus, he now sends us.
What a big job! Within moments, the disciples had gone from terror to Easter peace and joy. Then they were commissioned as Christ’s ambassadors. Jesus added that they wouldn’t go alone; they’d be serving with divine power. “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (verse 22). What the disciples received was much more than the Spirit-given gift of faith. The Holy Spirit enabled them to carry out God’s call, “As the Father sent me, I’m sending you” (verse 21).
But to do what? “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (verse 23). Do you remember the first time you handed over the keys of your car for your child to drive alone? With these words, Jesus hands every believer the keys to heaven. He didn’t give those keys so that we keep them in our pockets. What better way to live Easter daily than to use our hands for God’s life-giving purpose. 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? Keys are valuable only when you use them. God gave them to you to use them. There are many who cannot see beyond Good Friday. You have the power to share Easter joy and forgiveness. That makes life really worth living.
Did I tell you how blessed I feel to see all of you? Maybe we can see the past year with all of its challenges as practice for the time from today until the end of time. And maybe today is practice, too. Just as today is a time when we get to see some of our brothers and sisters in Christ for the first time in months, so a great resurrection of the dead is coming when you and I will see all those who have gone before us and will be raised again. And maybe, just maybe, you and I can live each day knowing that we ARE really living, especially as we use his keys to set others free. We look forward to that day when you and I, with all the saints, can stand together before Jesus and see those pierced, life-giving hands for ourselves and exclaim, “Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed. Amen.