+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 20:19-31
Theme: Restored Disciples
Dear Saints of our Risen Lord,
The dead will be raised! Could there be a bigger obstacle to faith than this claim? Life sustained in perpetuity! Here all human explanations reach their limit. Our trust cannot be bolstered by the possibility that science will one day solve this riddle. The ancient patriarchs lived for more than nine centuries. Even if the human race should again reach such longevity we would still be categorically removed from eternity. Succumbing to death is not the natural cycle of things that we should be content to expect; it is wicked, evil through and through.
Christ has resolved the crisis of mortality. He raises the dead. Divine power has intervened and the hegemony of death has been overturned. This is His crowning achievement. Thomas couldn’t at first believe that Jesus Himself had risen. Perhaps his absence Easter Sunday represented greater despair than that of the other disciples? Maybe they had the same doubts? Regardless, as the flesh and blood Jesus stood before him doubt was overcome. We may be tempted to think that for the disciples faith was now redundant- after all, the living Jesus was in their midst. But the ascension was only forty days away. The query of their faith is truly no different than ours: Will the Son of God also resurrect me? His promise is emphatic-the trumpet will sound and it will be so!
Now, the risen Lord appears to His cowering disciples. They had promised not to forsake Him, but they fled in His hour of trial. Their reunion is not a casual rehashing of the dramatic events of the past few days. Jesus takes the initiative and sets clear direction for the future. First; the declaration of restoration, then; the proof of His identity, finally; the apostolic commissioning with the Holy Spirit. The declaration of restoration involves His decree of peace. The proof of His identity involves revealing the crucifixion scars. The apostolic commissioning involves the authority to forgive or retain sins.
Forgiveness. Reassurance. Authorization. The disciples were not yet superheroes of the faith. They wouldn’t begin to meet the apostolic expectations of Christ until Pentecost. They essentially had fifty days to adjust to the gob-smacking revelation of their Master. The Holy Spirit would fit them for the task. Never does the faith of any believer remain static. The temptations of Satan, the vicissitudes of life, the testing of the Almighty mean that our faith is always in a state of flux. It is not inanimate. But the object of our trust remains unshakeable. The Father does not falter. The Spirit does not weaken. The Son does not fatigue. Jesus gives the Spirit and the Holy Spirit, in turn, points people to Jesus. Only in this way is faith initiated, resuscitated, or strengthened.
Forgiveness is the lifeblood of our relationship with God. Dear friends, do not think it’s trivial that Jesus authorized His disciples to deal with sin. That was the key mandate of their commissioning. It was to be the content of all of their preaching and missionary endeavors. People must be called to repentance, not just initially, but again, and again, until they draw their last breath. Sin that results in loss of faith results in a severed relationship with God. If sin and its consequences are not resolved in this life then an individual remains separated from God for eternity. The Bible refers to this state of existence as hell.
When did Jesus experience hell? Not in the description from that phrase in the Apostles’ Creed which says, “He descended into hell.” That was to show Himself alive and proclaim victory. Hell is separation from God. It is such complete separation that all of God’s goodness, even the goodness enjoyed by the most depraved person in this life, is completely withdrawn. We have no way to approximate the experience. It must be taken as an article of faith.
Jesus experienced hell not in the physical agony and mental anguish of enduring scourging, mocking, and having nails driven into Him. He experienced it when He uttered those words of Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”1 It was then, when He was past the point of return, that the blackness of God’s absence engulfed Him. The key truth worth noting here is that Jesus’ experience of hell was part of His substitutionary work. It was the consequence of bearing our sins.
Modern skeptics who believe hell is just a tactic of the medieval church for scaring people into obedience have a very difficult problem when reading the gospel accounts. Jesus talked about hell frequently. He often warned of the dire consequences of being finally cut off from God. In His teaching about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus He also makes it clear hell is an irreversible situation. Through Abraham he says, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”2 But these facts haven’t prevented the soft-soaping of the biblical teaching on hell.
Thankfully, hell is something that no one who dies in the faith will ever experience. The resurrection of Christ means we have direct access to the Father. He says, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.”3 Think how magnificent it is that we will never be without the loving presence of God in this life or in the life to come!
This same living Jesus is present with us in a special way in the sacrament. Because the right hand of God is everywhere- this creedal phrase refers not to Christ’s location, but to His authority and ability to rule over everything in both His human and divine natures- He can be present in these forms of bread and wine. That is His clear promise. Thomas put his fingers into the body of Christ and his faith was healed. Christ puts His body into your fingers and your faith is nourished by the same power- the power of the crucified and risen Lord.
Dear friends, the resurrection is always meant to be seen in its apocalyptic dimension. That is, the event of Christ’s resurrection is the preview of, and the source of power for, the resurrection on the Last Day. Remember this important detail that is often overlooked in the Passion Week account, “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”4 That is one of the things that happened immediately after Jesus’ death. Now, that’s a fascinating account by any standard. Vivid and tangible, it’s like a down payment on the promise to raise all the dead.
Easter is a 50 day season of joy. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. Eternity is a timeless celebration of the life He secured for us on that day. Amen.
Christ is risen!
He is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Easter
3 April, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 27:46
2 Luke 16:26
3 John 6:39
4 Matthew 27:52-53