A lot can be said of a reliable vehicle. Any of us who have ever experienced any breakdowns in our vehicles through the years can attest to this. When I think of reliable vehicles, I think of my first car.
My parents bought me my first car when I was sixteen back in 1997 for five hundred bucks. It was a 1974 Plymouth Satellite with 36,000 original miles on it that someone had had packed away in storage somewhere. It was kind of rust colored with a cream colored vinyl top. It was a four door big boat of a car which we called “The Beast”. The Beast’s body had a leak in the roof, the muffler needed repairs, the heater core needed replacing, the gas gauge didn’t work, it got 13 miles to the gallon in the summer and 8 miles to gallon in the winter, and on and on the list went.
So, why do I say that I think of The Beast when I think of a reliable vehicle? Because what this car did have was a V8 318 engine in it. Now I am no car buff, whatsoever. But I was told again and again, that even though the rest of the car may have issues, that engine was always going to be reliable. And wow, were they right. That engine purred. Not only did it purr, but it idled at 45 miles per hour. I could drive to my friend’s house a few miles away or to school or to work at the golf course, and hardly ever have to touch the gas pedal. The Beast was a reliable vehicle to get me from point A to Point B.
For us as Christians the reliable vehicle God uses to deliver to us His gift of the peace that passes all understanding is His Word, along with His Sacraments.
God’s Word is performative. That means that it does what it says. Behind each Word of Scripture is the crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. He is the Word that was in the beginning with God and is God. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us and is full of grace and truth. And what He says does not come back void. Through the vehicle of God’s Word, God’s gifts are delivered.
We see that in our text for today. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld (John 20:19-23).
Through the vehicle of His Word, Jesus delivered His peace to His frightened disciples and they responded with gladness. There they were gathered behind locked doors filled with trepidation at the thought that the next sound at their door might be another mob of Jews seeking to kill them. And why shouldn’t they think that? The last image they had in their minds was the unruly crowds calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, then hauling Him off, and killing Him on a cross. We would be fearful too, if the leader we had been following for the past three years was killed.
It was into this locked room of fear that the resurrected Jesus entered in. And the first word out of His mouth was “Peace”. It was not, “Hey guys, why did you run out on me when the guards hauled me away from the Garden of Gethsemane?” It wasn’t, “Hey, why didn’t you speak up for me when everyone was yelling “Crucify”. No, the first word out of the resurrected mouth of Jesus to His followers was “Peace”.
And with that, “Peace” was delivered. And not like the peace we think of from the 60’s (hand gesture). No, it was this kind of peace (show hands). Jesus physically showed them His hands, and He showed them His side. In fact, it is quite remarkable that those that use sign language even emphasize these wounds of the hands as they use the name Jesus. The sign for Jesus is (show sign).
Jesus let His disciples see what true peace looks like as He showed them His hands and side. He allowed them to behold that all that He said He was going to do, He did. And now, here He was in their presence delivering them “Peace”.
We gather here in the house of the Lord seeking that same peace that passes all understanding. Like the disciples, we too have our fears. We fear for our family’s health and safety. We fear for our ‘own’ health and safety. We fear the future. We fear that our sins of the past will come back and haunt us. We fear that our sins are too big to be forgiven. We fear dying. We fear death.
Fear is debilitating. Fear is paralyzing. And that’s exactly what had happened to these followers of Jesus as they gathered behind locked doors…until Jesus came and changed everything with the peace of His presence.
But if you weren’t there, it would have been a struggle to believe it. After all, we humans so often demand to see something before we believe it. And that’s the way it was for Thomas. He didn’t believe. Even though the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he still would not believe. He demanded to see Jesus with his own eyes, and to place his hands into the nail marks and the place his hands into Jesus’ side. He demanded proof.
And that’s what Thomas got. Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26-29).
Thomas had been listening to the other disciples tell him for an entire week that they had seen the Lord, but he would not believe it. He needed physical evidence. He simply could not wrap his mind around the thought that Jesus was alive. That is, until Jesus came in and spoke the same words He spoke the other disciples: “Peace be with you.” And then taking it a step further, Jesus met Thomas’ demands. He let him touch the nail marks and place His hand into Jesus’ side. And with that, Thomas believed.
But Jesus’ words of rebuke are as much for us as they were for Thomas and the other disciples: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Jesus tells us to put an end to our lack of belief. He knows that we also struggle to believe the words that testify to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He knows that we also have our doubts and reservations when it comes to the Word of God and it doing any good amidst the fears we have in our lives.
So often, we fall prey to our own emotions and our limited human reason. If we can’t feel God’s peace, then we wonder if it is really there for us. If the circumstances of life that we think should change to end our fears don’t end, then we think that the peace God delivers must not be for us. Or we think it is only some sort of superficial peace, but not a real peace, not a peace that passes all understanding.
And then there’s the understanding part. Because God’s will and His ways don’t make sense to us, and because He doesn’t work in our way and in our time, and we lack trust and patience, we are often left to conclude that the peace of God might be only an illusion of some kind or something that was only for the disciples to have, but not us.
Our weak faith or even lack of faith finds us located in that same room with the disciples. Debilitated and paralyzed by our fears. But it’s more than simply fears that we have for the cares and concerns of this life. It’s the fear of actually trusting in God more than we trust in ourselves. This is where we come face to face with our own idolatry. To trust God means to believe in His Word whether we get to see the physical proof of His resurrection or not. To trust God means to believe His Word and His presence in that Word, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Because that’s what it means to have faith.
And faith is not something that we try and muster up enough strength to produce. Faith is a gift. And the vehicle God uses to deliver His gift of faith to us is His Word. The Word made flesh who dwelt among us. It’s Jesus. The One who rises from death and says, “Peace be with you.”
You see this ‘peace’ is more than just a word, or a nice thought, or a good feeling. This ‘peace’ is a person. It’s the resurrected Jesus who is located in that word of peace. And He is here today to deliver to us Himself. He delivered Himself to us with the water in our baptism when He made us His own. He delivered Himself to us in the holy absolution that the pastor spoke forgiving us of all of our sins. And He will deliver Himself to us in a matter of moments in, with, and under the bread and wine in His body and blood. And it is all so that we may have peace.
You see, peace is not something that is earned. Peace is given to us by Jesus who won it for us. Peace comes in Jesus ending the separation between us and the Father by His death on the cross. Peace comes in our idolatrous sins being forgiven. Peace comes in death being defeated and the victory of the Jesus’ resurrection winning the day. That’s what Jesus came and brought to His disciples, and that’s what Jesus comes and brings to you and I today. Peace to our hearts that are filled with fear. Peace to our minds filled with doubt and disbelief. “Peace be with you.”
That’s what the divine service is all about. God delivers the peace of His presence in His Word made flesh so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.
Bearing that in mind, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, as He reveals Himself in His Word. Let’s read it, learn it by heart, mark it, and inwardly digest it. For the Word is the reliable vehicle to bring Christ to us, to create and strengthen our faith and to bring us the peace of the resurrection. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.