A sermon on John 20:19-29
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 19, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
The date was September 30, 1938. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepped off an airplane in England where he was greeted by a large crowd anxiously awaiting his arrival. He was just returning from a two day conference with Italian leader Benito Mussolini, French president Edouard Daladier, and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. During the time that they met, the four European leaders had discussed and negotiated would come to be known as the “Munich Agreement”—or as it came to be known in some quarters, the “Munich Betrayal.” This treaty allowed Germany to annex a portion of land in central Europe known as the Sudetenland. At the time, the Sudetenland was an area adjacent to Germany, but was located in western part of Czechoslovakia. Germany had threatened war over the predominantly German-speaking territory. The Allies had met with Hitler with the intention of averting war if at all possible.1
As he stepped off the plane, Chamberlain waved to the crowd and then made this speech to the British people:
The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains, but I would just like to read it to you now.”
When he had finished reading the document to the crowd, Chamberlain concluded his speech with these words: My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe that it is peace for our time.”2
As you all know, Chamberlain’s assessment of his diplomatic efforts was way off the mark. His understanding of the situation in Europe was overly optimistic to say the least. After annexing the Sudetenland, Germany would invade much of the rest of Czechoslovakia a few months later. And in less than a year’s time, all of Europe—and eventually the entire world—would become embroiled in World War 2. Chamberlain will likely be forever remembered—and mocked—for his naïve declaration of “Peace for our time” after the Munich Agreement—even while the rest of Europe was preparing for war…
1 Interesting that two nations that were not part of the discussion were two that had a lot invested in the outcome: the Soviet Union and especially Czechoslovakia.
2 (Accessed April 14, 2020) Emphasis mine.
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Peace…isn’t this what we all desire? Isn’t that what we crave deep down in our souls? Not simply the absence of conflict, but true peace—a sense of well-being and wholeness—of being in right relationship with people and situations. We all desire peace—peace among nations, peace for our country, peace for our families, peace in our hearts…
In the scripture text today from John 20, Jesus meets with his disciples on that first Easter evening. Initially it certainly was not a gathering that one would characterize as being characterized by peace. The scriptures tell us that they were hiding out together behind locked doors because they were afraid of what the authorities might do to them if they were discovered. They had witnessed what they had done to Jesus on Good Friday. As followers of one considered to be a rebellious agitator, they figured that they could very well be in line for that kind of treatment…
Even though the doors were locked, we are told that Jesus entered the room and stood among the frightened disciples. And his first words to them were “Peace be with you…” Jesus then showed them the wounds in his hands and side to prove that it was really him. And the disciples rejoiced to know that Jesus was indeed alive. In the middle of this glad reunion, Jesus said to them a second time, “Peace be with you,” and added “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”
Notice what happens here as Jesus shows up unexpectedly in their midst. Locked doors were not a barrier. Our Lord does not make any kind of grand entrance. Jesus simply shows up in their midst—unheralded and unannounced. And notice how he speaks with them. He starts off by blessing them…with peace…
In the previous seventy two hours, the disciples had been miserable failures at being followers of Jesus. At the last meal that they had all shared together on Thursday night, every one of them had promised their allegiance to him. They even went as far as declaring that they would be willing to die for him.3 But when the chips were down, that is not what happened. When the mob came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, their supposed courage failed them. Where they had earlier imagined that they would be strong, they actually proved to be weaklings. They all showed their true colors as they turned tail and fled even while Jesus was being arrested and hauled off to jail.
But in their first encounter with the Lord after his resurrection, notice how Jesus never says a word about their past actions. He does not remind them of their betrayals. He does not scold them for their denials nor for their cowardice. He does not even say “Forget about it” or “Don’t worry—I forgive you.” Nothing like that. He never mentions their failings. Instead Jesus offers them something entirely unexpected. He gives them his peace—twice, no less, in verses 19 and 21. And then he gives them his Spirit…
3 Matthew 26:35.
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And that is how the Lord comes to each and every one of us. After we have failed him in the Gethsemanes of our hearts, in the very same places in our lives where we have struggled to be faithful, Jesus does not come to us to condemn us. He does not cast us aside or belittle our efforts to serve him because we have not measured up. He does not come to remind us of our failures. No—instead he comes to each of us with healing. He comes to each of us with the encouragement to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and to continue to do our best to follow his Spirit’s leading. He comes to each of us offering his peace.
Jesus had spoken of his peace to his disciples before. In the upper room during the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon be leaving them. But then he adds, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…” (John 14:27) And then a couple of chapters later, Jesus warns his disciples that they will face persecution and troubles in their lives. But then he reassures them with these words, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” (John 16:33) And in Philippians 4:7, the Apostle Paul describes this peace as “the peace of God which passes [or transcends] all understanding.” This is the peace that Jesus was offering to his disciples…
How is it that we access the peace in our lives that Christ offers us? How is it that we can experience this “peace which passes all understanding” for ourselves? We experience the peace of Christ when we learn to “center down” in God’s Spirit.
The abundant life that Jesus promised to his followers is one that is lived from a holy Center in which we give ourselves in obedience to God. It happens when we live…and think…and pray from a singleness of heart and devotion dedicated to listening and obeying the indwelling Spirit within. There, in this center of holy obedience, we experience the breath and stillness of Eternity. It is the God who is Eternal Goodness calling us to return, to feed upon green pastures and to walk beside still waters and to live in the peace of the Shepherd’s presence. It is a life lived beyond the fevered strain. We are called beyond the strain and busyness of our lives, and into peace and power and joy and love through the abandonment of self as we put our hands trustingly into His hand. We walk the holy way of Jesus without anxiety, assuredly resting in His love and grace. The wholly obedient life is mastered and unified and simplified and gathered up into the love of God. This is what it means to “center down” in God’s Spirit. This is what it means to live in Christ’s peace.4
After Jesus granted the disciples his peace for the second time in John 20:21, he then gave them this commission, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” And then John says that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”…
The question might be asked, “So why is it that the Father sent Jesus?” What is the message that Jesus had in mind that he wanted his disciples to announce to the people?
4 This paragraph is adapted from the spiritual classic Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1941), 74-75. Emphasis as in the original.
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In Mark 1, we are told that, after Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan River, he went into Galilee to proclaim the good news of God. And he writes in verse 15 that the substance of Jesus’ message was simply this: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” It seems to me that much of our Lord’s ministry can be boiled down to this one teaching—it certainly was a theme that he returned to time and again. Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God is near—that God’s kingdom is breaking into the world in new and unexpected ways. God’s long hoped-for re-creation of earth—prophesied by the prophets of long ago—is beginning to take place place—even now, even in the present…And the most important sign that God is accomplishing these things is by sending his son Jesus into the world…
It is one of the paradoxes of the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is both a future hope and a present reality. That is, God is in the business of re-creating his world, a world marred by sin, right here and right now. And God will continue to work in the world until some date in the future when the process will be finally complete.
For the Christian believer, the Kingdom of God is a future hope. One need only to look around to see that the world is in a mess. Oftentimes it seems that kingdom of God is actually far away from where we are in our world today. But the coming Kingdom will be established at some time in the future. The Kingdom is something that will arrive. For example, at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you that I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” It will be a time when God’s desire for the world will finally be accomplished and the world will once again be all that God intended for it to be.
But the Kingdom of God is also a present reality. In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus was responding to a question from the Pharisees. They wanted to know when they could expect the Kingdom of God to finally arrive. Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ’Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” For the follower of Jesus, the Kingdom of God has already begun within the hearts and lives of those who give themselves to him. As followers of Jesus, we are given the joyful task of being a part of the new creation that God is working in the world.
This truth is powerfully suggested in a passage from N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. In that book, he writes, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project—not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with heaven. That is, after all, what the Lord’s Prayer is all about.” You remember the words. We pray them together each Sunday when we meet: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” When we pray those words, we reaffirm that the Kingdom of God is, not only coming, but is indeed within us. Thus, it is our God-given mission to work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to aid God in the power of his Spirit in the transformation of our world into the Kingdom of God.
That is the task that our Lord gave to his disciples. That is the mission that Jesus gave his disciples in that Easter evening gathering. And that is the mission that Jesus gives to each and every one
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of us who follow in his way. Colonizing earth with heaven—and we do it in the manner of our Savior Jesus, the one who is known as the Prince of Peace.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.