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First Words From the Empty Tomb – Peace | Sermon from 4/14/2013

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In the gospel of John there is one word that Jesus uses over and over again when he first appears to his disciples after the resurrection, it is the word peace. It is, in fact, the very first word the disciples hear from Jesus after he has left behind the empty tomb. While Jesus appeared and spoke with Mary and then to some of his followers along the road to Emmaus, the first word he spoke to his actual disciples after the resurrection was the word peace. Peace be with you. To make sure that they understood that he came to offer them peace, before Jesus says anything else to them he says it again, Peace be with you. Then the next week when Jesus appeared to them again he said the same thing, Peace be with you.

The repetition here tells us that this more than a common greeting. While the phrase, Peace be with you, was a common greeting in Hebrew, because Jesus uses it again and again we believe that He is doing more here than just saying Hello. What Jesus wants his followers to experience is the fullness of God’s peace. In fact, when Jesus told his disciples he was going to be leaving them he told them that the gift he would leave them was peace. Look at John 14:27. So peace is clearly something Jesus wants us to experience so he promises it before he leaves and he offers it as one of his first words after his resurrection, but what exactly is this peace?

Most of the time when we think of peace we think of it as being the absence of war and when it was used by the Greeks in Jesus’ day that is exactly what it meant. Peace was seen as a negative, the absence or removal of something, but for Jesus peace was not the absence of something but the addition of something, it wasn’t a negative but a positive, the positive addition of God’s blessing. So when Jesus offers his disciples peace both before his death and after his resurrection he is not saying that there will be the absence of conflict and problems but that they will experience the addition of God’s blessing and presence and that is how we need to look at peace today. Peace is not the absence of problems or conflict in our lives it is the addition of God’s presence and the fullness of God’s blessing.

To understand this, let’s look at the disciples when Jesus offered them this peace. Before Jesus arrives the disciples are huddled together hiding in a house and the truth is that they are terrified. Their world has been torn upside down. Their leader has been killed, his body is no longer lying in the tomb where they thought it was and there is a lot of confusion and speculation about where he might be. Is he alive or is his dead body just missing? Honestly, things are pretty chaotic for the disciples and they are facing a lot of problems and conflict. When Jesus shows up and offers them peace, their problems don’t go away. In fact the appearance of Jesus creates more problems and confusion. They still don’t know what is going on. They don’t know if they are seeing a ghost or a resurrected Jesus. They still don’t know what the future holds for them and Jesus doesn’t stick around long enough to explain the situation to them. So the peace Jesus offers them here doesn’t mean that their problems have gone away, so peace must mean something else.

If God’s peace doesn’t make all the problems go away, what does it do? What gift does it offer? The gift or the blessing God’s peace offers is the courage to deal with the problems the disciples face. As we read on through the book of Acts and look at the history of what happened to the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus we see that the problems they faced didn’t overwhelm them, it didn’t drive them away from God but closer toward God. The disciples actually found the courage and strength to deal with all their problems one at a time and actually moved forward in their own faith and then they moved forward the entire mission and ministry of Jesus.

So the peace that God offers doesn’t mean all our problems go away. Peace is not the absence of conflict and the absence of problems it is the courage and the confidence to deal with those problems. There have been many times in my life and ministry when problems have arisen and when I prayed for God’s peace, what I wanted was an end to the problems. What I wanted was for God to simply make the problems go away – that is what most of us want, but that is not how God works. God never just makes the problems go away but what God consistently does is provide peace through courage and confidence to deal with the problems.

Think about the story of David and Goliath. God didn’t make Goliath go away He gave David the courage and confidence to stand up to him. The disciples faced many problems after Jesus rose from the dead, in fact Peter was put in prison several times for saying that Jesus was alive and when they prayed for peace God didn’t take those problems but He did give them the courage to stand up to all the religious leaders and keep preaching. While we pray for God to just make our problems away and bring us peace, what we need to do is ask God to bring His peace by giving us the courage and confidence to deal with our problems.

This is the kind of peace that families need today. Let’s face it, families are experiencing many problems today. Communication isn’t always good, we have different expectations, different hopes and dreams, different ideas on how to deal with parents or children and be involved in the community and most of the time we would love those problems to just disappear and we often pray for God to set things right, but that is not how God works. What God wants to do is bring peace to situations and relationships by giving us His courage to work through the problems and the confidence of knowing that he will work with us and fight for us when we step out in faith. If you marriage is filled with conflict, if the relationship you have with your children is filled with conflict, or teens if your relationship with your parents is filled with conflict, then understand that God wants to bring peace, but that peace is going to come through the courage and confidence to face and address the problem. Peace comes when in love and grace and faith we begin to address our difference honestly and openly.

Maybe the problem is in our finances or job and what we want is for God to just make everything go away. If God would just remove my debt or place me in another job then I would be at peace, but what God wants to do is bring peace by giving us the courage to face the problems. When I was in college I worked to get a job I thought I really wanted. Once I got myself transferred within the organization, it didn’t take me long to realize that I hated that position. I was miserable and for weeks I prayed for peace. I kept a journal that summer and went back and read how I asked God to just change my situation. Week after week I prayed for God to take the problems away, but what I finally began to understand is that peace was available because God was making available to me the courage and confidence I needed to go to my employers and talk to them. It wasn’t easy, but once I did that I was transferred back to my old position and the rest of my time with them was filled with peace.

So peace is not the end of our problems it is the blessing of God’s courage and confidence to address and work through the problems and the person who shows us this most clearly is Jesus. From the moment Jesus was arrested in the garden until he said his final word on the cross, Jesus displayed an incredible amount of peace. He never seems angry or upset, he calmly just endures all that takes place. He is the picture of peace, but his problems did not go away. Jesus faced an unjust trial, a savage beating and the pain of crucifixion, his problems clearly did not go away, but God gave him the courage and confidence to face those problems and in time overcome them.

So peace is not the absence of conflict and problems but the courage and confidence to deal with them. But these first words also show us that peace is also not the absence of doubt and fear but the faith and love to overcome them. Let’s look again at the disciples. John 20:19a. It says they were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid. They were afraid for the very lives. Think about it, if Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified for what he taught then they could be as well for following his teaching. Any knock on the door could have been the religious leaders or Roman authorities coming to take them away. And now that Jesus’ body is missing there is even more fear. What if the leaders accuse them of stealing the body? What if they Romans decide to put their bodies in the tomb where Jesus body should have been?

There is incredible fear that the disciples face and Jesus showing up and saying, Peace be with you doesn’t take that fear away. There is still fear of the authorities coming after them. There is still fear about what will happen to them if Jesus suddenly appears in the Temple courts or city streets. The disciples are still afraid and the peace Jesus offers doesn’t take that fear away, but it does do one thing to help them overcome their fear, it lets’ them know that Jesus still loves them and that he will be there with them.

Remember, the disciples are also dealing with the reality that they have all failed Jesus. When he needed them to stand with him, they all ran away and some of their fear is how Jesus will respond to them. Will he forgive them? Will he still want them as his disciples? Does he still love them? When Jesus appears and offers them peace he is also saying to his disciples, I still love you. Even though you are afraid and even though you have failed – I still love you. The gift of love that came through this blessing of peace was powerful for John, look at 1 John 4:18. The love that Jesus offered in this moment drove out some of John’s fear and began to bring peace. The fear didn’t instantly go away, but knowing that God’s love was there began to drive out that fear. So the peace that God offers us doesn’t take our fear away, but it does give us the love we need to begin to overcome our fear.

I have been wondering this week how it is that love casts out fear and the conclusion I came to is that many of our fears come because we feel like we are all alone. The disciples must have felt all alone in their failure, and I talk to people who often feel like they are the only ones who sin and so live in fear that there is no way God could forgive them. What love does is remind us that we are not alone. When Jesus showed up and offered the gift of peace it told the disciples – you are not alone in this; I will be with you. When we can experience the love of God and the love of others it helps us know that we are not alone in whatever it is we are facing and that helps us overcome fear. This is why sharing our love with one another is so important because it helps all of us feel less alone.

So the peace Jesus offered didn’t take the disciples fear away it gave them the love they needed to overcome the fear, it also didn’t take their doubts away. Again, think about their situation. Before Jesus appeared to them they had huge doubts and questions, like what happened to Jesus body? Did someone take him or was he really alive? What was going on? The disciples were experiencing incredible doubts when Jesus appeared and when he said Peace be with you those doubts didn’t go away in fact, their doubts just grew in intensity. How did Jesus just appear in the house – he didn’t have a key and it says they were meeting behind locked doors? Forget how he got into the house, how did Jesus rise from the dead and where has he been? What is he doing and what is going to happen to him and to all of them in the future if he is alive? Can all of this really be happening? There are lots of questions and doubts here and the peace Jesus offers doesn’t take these doubts away but it does give them some faith to help them overcome their doubts.

Seeing Jesus gave the disciples faith that their questions in time would be answered. It gave them hope that things would become clear to them as they moved forward. Jesus presence brought them faith and hope and that blessing brought them peace. The same is true for us. God’s peace doesn’t answer all our questions and take away all our doubts, many doubts and questions will linger throughout our lives. I’ll be honest, I believe in the resurrection and eternal life, I really do, but when I have to do a lot of funerals in a row I begin to wonder how it all works? I begin to wonder and question what heaven and eternal life are like and when I don’t get answers then doubts creep in, but then it is the presence of God that brings me a clear sense of assurance that there is indeed a resurrection and eternal life and that brings me peace.

So God’s peace doesn’t make our problems go away it gives us courage to face those problems, it doesn’t make our doubts go away but it gives us faith and hope to move beyond those doubts and it doesn’t make our fear go away but brings us God’s love which casts out our fear. That is what Jesus offers the disciples when he says to them, peace be with you.

But there is one last thing we need to understand about God’s peace. Jesus only makes this offer to his disciples when they are together which tells us that the fullness of God’s peace only comes when we are in solid healthy and strong relationships with one another. Think about Thomas for a moment. Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus offered them peace, but Jesus did not go to him one on one and make him that offer. Jesus waited until they were all together again and it was only then that he appeared and offered them all peace – including Thomas. The fullness of peace only comes when we are in strong communities of faith which means we need to take our relationships seriously.

The truth is that when we are at odds with one another, there is no peace. When we hold resentments and anger toward one another, there is no peace. When we are jealous and envious of one another there is no peace which is why God talks so much about forgiving one another and bearing with one another and loving one another – so we can experience God’s peace. The fullness of God’s peace cannot be experienced on our own and apart from the people of God, we need to be connected to one another if we are going to be at peace, which means that if we are not experiencing peace then maybe we need to examine our relationships and see where grace and mercy and forgiveness are needed. By offering peace to his disciples only when they were together, Jesus tells us that the power of peace comes to us in community and when we are in healthy and strong relationships with one another.

Peace is one of the first words of Jesus after he left behind an empty tomb and by using the word over and over again, we need to take it seriously. God makes his peace available to us, but it is not the absence of problems or pain and it is not the absence of doubt or fear – it is the gift of courage, confidence, faith, hope and love and it all comes when we are gathered together and working together to reconcile relationships and restore community. So today may we experience God’s peace, a peace which passes our understanding and peace which lasts no matter what is going in our lives or in the world around us.

Next Steps
First Words from the Empty Tomb ~ Peace

1. Examine your life and identify the specific situations where peace is needed:
• Home:
• Work:
• With family:
• With friends:
• With God:

2. What would it look like for God to give you courage, faith or love in these situations?
• How might these gifts bring you peace at home or work or in your relationships?
• How might these gifts strengthen your relationship with God?

3. What one practical step can you take this week to bring more peace into your relationship with God or others?

Prayer:
God, thank you for the gift of courage, faith and love which all brings Your peace into my life. Help me to use these gifts to overcome my problems, doubts and fear so that all my relationships may be stronger and I may experience the peace Jesus offered. Most of all, forgive my sin and help me experience Your love and presence so that I may be at peace with You. AMEN

For further study see these scriptures on peace:
Philippians 4:4-7, Colossians 3:12-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25

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