Your Life and Conversation In Christ
Saint John 20:19-31
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Unlike some Christian holy days that are celebrated for one day only, the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord continues on. As Lutheran Church-Canada president Timothy Teuscher reminds us in his Easter greetings, “Easter is a seven-week season—a ‘Week of Weeks,’” and the reason for this, as Teuscher says, is that the message of Easter is “so over-powering, so profound it cannot be confined to a celebration lasting just one day or even one week.” And even when the “Week of Weeks” reaches its end, Easter continues on with every Sunday being regarded as a ‘little Easter,’ for the message of Easter, that Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” is the cornerstone and foundation for our Christian lives of faith. We may have forty days each year when our Alleluias are kept silent—unspoken and unsung—but even then, the truth of the resurrection remains ever in our hearts and on our lips.
At least, this is what one would think, considering everything that the death and resurrection of Christ delivers to you. But let me ask you about that. Is the Resurrection an irrepressible truth in your life? How does it actually play out for you on a daily basis? In the collect for today, you prayed, “grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.” This petition would suggest that this is not a given in your life or in the life of any Christian. To make use of the terminology employed by Saint John in the Epistle, “the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son” is not always what is confessed in your life and conversation. Instead, what is confessed is the “testimony of men.” You all know this to be the truth. All of you are well acquainted with the weakness of your sinful flesh that causes this to happen. And so, even as Saint John says, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world,” there are times when your faith—“the victory that has overcome the world”—needs help—help that comes only from the Lord, our God.
There was a time when the disciples of our Lord had no such wise self-awareness and thought themselves to be indomitable with their faith in Christ. For example, on the way to the cross, when the Lord Jesus asks His disciples if they, too, will leave Him, as so many others had done and were doing, they reply that they will not, for only Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” So seemingly firm are they in the conviction of their faith—so immovable and resolute! They will never leave Jesus, they avow. Yet, one would go on to betray Him and end his own life in unbelief, one would deny Him three times in the course of one night, and the rest would be so overcome by the world—by their fear of suffering and death—that when the word of life comes to them, announcing to them that Jesus lives, they do not believe it. Even with eyewitnesses of the resurrection coming to them with the glorious news, they remain in their fear and unbelief.
Now, Thomas is called the doubting disciple, but, initially, they all doubted. Even when they first see their crucified and risen Lord, they don’t believe their eyes. Saint Luke reports that when Jesus miraculously appears in the midst of them, they think they’re looking at a ghost! Jesus has to ask them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” When those disciples later tell Thomas, who was absent at the time, “We have seen the Lord,” his reaction is really no different than was theirs. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” The ones to whom he says this, thought the same thing. That’s why Jesus told them, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Based on the disciples’ confession that they made with their life and conversation—in what they did and said after the death of Jesus and before the resurrected Christ came to them, we might well think that the world had overcome them, that they had retreated into unbelief and given up on Jesus, as Judas had done when Satan entered into him. But they had not. Spiritually, they were beaten and bruised; they were discouraged and downhearted; and on the outside, they had the look and sound of ones defeated. But Jesus never counted them out; Jesus never looked upon their extreme sorrow and fear and figured them beyond redemption. Instead, He came to them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” By this word of gracious absolution the Lord Jesus lifts them up from the ashes of their sorrow and fear; He creates in them a clean heart and renews a right spirit within them. He restores to them the joy of His salvation, as He upholds them with His free spirit.
Of course, you recognize these word and phrases just spoken as coming from the Offertory, which we will sing in just a moment, as we look forward to all this being granted unto us through our Lord’s true Body and Blood in the Sacrament. Originally sung by David in the 51st Psalm, these words are his plea to God for mercy and forgiveness, after he had committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan had declared to David, “‘You are the man!’ You are the sinner!” Knowing, by faith, that Nathan spoke the truth, David confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And then, in his Psalm, David not only begs God to grant unto him the forgiveness of his sin, he asks for help to amend his sinful life—help, as today’s collect says, to confess in his “life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.” David asks for God’s help with the words, “uphold me with Thy free spirit.” You also do this with these same words. You pray that God would so work in your heart and life that you would take joy in His commandments, so that everything in your “life and conversation” would confess, “Jesus is Lord and God.”
As it was with the Psalmist David and with the disciples of Jesus, so also it is that our resurrected Lord gives you the help that you need in your Christian life of faith through the gift and blessing of forgiveness. It’s sin that causes you to be weak and an easy target for further temptation, so by removing sin from you—from your life—through the forgiveness that Christ Jesus freely gives and bestows, you are strengthened in the faith. The world and its evil prince will surely continue to tempt you into sin and unbelief, but with the help that Jesus gives and the strength that He provides, temptation and sin will not overcome you. The victory over sin, death, and the devil won by Christ through His sacrificial death on the cross, proclaimed by His resurrection, and made your own through rebirth in Holy Baptism, will continue to be your victory unto life everlasting as Jesus faithfully continues to come into our midst to declare to you, “Peace be with you.”
Of course, you do not see the Saviour come among us here, as the disciples saw Him at the resurrection. On the Last Day you will—you will see with your own eyes the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus, when He comes to judge the living and the dead. Until that great and awesome day, you see His presence among us through faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus tells us. You are truly blessed with the gifts of grace that Jesus brings by believing what you cannot see—by believing that Jesus comes to us with salvation through the means that He established and set in place for those whom He died to save.
The font is here before you to remind you of your baptism, when Christ was present with you, speaking His Word in and with the water to work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation through the faith breathed into you by the Holy Spirit. No physical eye could behold the Lord Jesus working such great things, but through faith you believe it, and through faith the gift is yours. Through faith, you hear Jesus say to you, “Peace be with you.”
In the same way, no physical eye may behold anything but mere bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, yet faith comprehends and trusts that this is Jesus for you—His true Body and Blood given for Christians like you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. “Peace be with you,” Jesus declares to you.
And Jesus declares His peace, His forgiveness, to you through the voice of your pastor. In the Upper Room on Easter Evening, when Jesus came to His frightened and troubled disciples and spoke peace into their hearts, He told them that, as the Father had sent Him, so He was sending them. They would be His “sent ones,” which is what the word apostle means. In the Old Testament times, a “sent one” was a “shaliach,” a Hebrew word meaning a man who was sent out by his master to deal with others, having the authority to speak in the master’s name. In Saint Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the disciples, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” And so when Jesus tells His sent ones, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld,” they have this authority because it is Jesus who is speaking this through them. The one hearing the words will not see Jesus, but He is present there speaking through His “sent ones”—through His apostles and pastors. Therefore, when you hear me declare to you, as I do now, that, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, your sins are forgiven, believe that they really are, for it is Jesus who gives voice to the words you hear.
Your life and conversation is directed and shaped by the peace given to you by our Lord Jesus. His forgiveness, earned for you on the cross and delivered to you throughout your baptismal life, sets you apart from the world, whose life and conversation is locked in the way of death and damnation. You have the victory with Jesus. His life without end is your life without end. Death and the grave have no hold upon you. Thus, the Lord has spoken. Thus, the Lord will do it. Thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us the victory through His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.