The gift of the peace of God

John 20.19-31

The first Jesus followers were locked in and scared.
But Jesus comes to them
And he says to them, Peace be with you (three times!)

I guess he says that because it must have been scary for them meeting someone who they thought was dead!
But it is more than that. Jesus offers us peace.

Earlier, in John’s gospel, Jesus has said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
And now he rises from the dead and the first thing that he says to them is ‘Peace be with you’.

Virtually every book in the New Testament begins in the same way. Whether it was Paul or Peter or John, they begin by saying something along the lines, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

This is not a platitude. This is a promise. God gives those who put their trust in Jesus Christ the gift of peace.

1. It is the gift of peace that comes with his presence.

The peace that Jesus gives is not the peace that comes from relaxation exercises, from getting our breathing right, from yoga or whatever. Of course, those things can quieten us down inside, can bring us peace, but only by allowing us to push out all the other anxious thoughts and centring us in on ourselves. We may be at peace, but it can be a false peace. The fire is still raging through the house in which we are sitting.

The peace that Jesus offers is the peace that comes from his presence, the presence of the Son of God, the one who was there in the beginning, the one who will be there in the end. He comes to us, not in the same way that he came to Mary or the first Jesus followers or to Thomas. He comes to us through the presence of his Spirit. He knows us. He loves us – delights in us – he, as we see in these verses, sends us. We are part of his team. He is with us.

And this is the peace that comes from knowing that someone is there who is bigger than all the troubles, than all the fires that we face. And we may not know how or we may not understand his timing, but we trust him that he can make it all right.
It is a bit like when a small child falls over and grazes his knee. It hurts and he cries. And then mum comes and picks him up, and even though the knee still hurts just the same, he stops crying. Why? Because mum is there, and she can make it all right.

And there is stuff, however adult or big you are, that is still far bigger than us. Disaster, sickness and death to name just three!
And of course there is the peace that comes from ignoring them.
But there is a bigger peace that comes from entrusting ourselves into the arms of the Son of God, who is actually bigger than them – and who can sort it out.

And we need to hear that as we face this coronavirus. The words that keep coming back to me at this current time are words that come from an English mystic who lived in the 14th century, Julian of Norwich. She wrote, 'All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.'
That is not wishful thinking.
It is based on the promises of God, that nothing can separate us from his love, and that God works all things for good for those who love him. And it is based on the promise of Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, who said, ‘I will be with you always, even to the end of the age’.

So the first reason we have peace is because of his presence with us

2. The second reason we have peace is because Jesus reassures us that he has conquered death.

It is hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It is not the sort of thing that happens.

We may believe because of experience
There is an old song that goes:
“He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart”

The problem with that is that it is easy to doubt our experience
There may be times when you experience the risen Jesus ‘living in your heart’, but there will also be times when you do not experience him.

But our faith depends on more than our experience.

We have good reasons for believing that Jesus rose from the dead

John has already told us about the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes.
Now, in verse 20, we are told that when Jesus first appeared to his followers, “he showed them his hands and his side”.
He shows them the marks of the nails in his hands, the mark of the spear in his side.
He is not showing off. It is not his new party trick – what can you see through my hands!

He is showing them that it is him, that he really was dead, and that he is now alive.
And he does the same for Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” (John 20:27)

And there is a pattern in John 20:
Mary saw the risen Jesus and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’
The disciples saw the risen Jesus and said to Thomas, ‘We have seen the Lord’
Thomas says, ‘Unless I see, I will not believe’. And he then sees the risen Jesus.

We can believe, not just because of our own experience – although I hope that if not today then tomorrow, you will know the risen Jesus living in your heart - but because they saw the risen Jesus, they touched his sides and put their fingers in his marks.

And that conviction that Jesus rose from the dead will bring us peace.
Death, the final big bad guy, has been conquered, and Jesus is alive. All will be well.

3. It is the gift of peace which comes from knowing that we are OK with God

Jesus says, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’. (John 20:21)
And then, having given them the Holy Spirit, he tells them that they are to forgive people.

That is fascinating, and it is something that we, the people of God, need to hear.
When the risen Jesus sends the disciples in the power of Holy Spirit, the first thing he tells them to do is not to heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the hungry or right wrongs or save the planet.
He tells them that they are to forgive sins.

Because we have the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus with us, we have the authority, as the people of God, to forgive sins
We have the authority to say to anybody who turns to Jesus, who receives Jesus, that their sins are forgiven – that they are OK with God.

The Patriarch recently addressed his pastors and told them that when people come to confession, their task at that moment is not to give people spiritual direction, not to be their counsellors – but simply to listen and to declare the forgiveness of God.  

In this service, after we confess that we have sinned, I declare to you that your sins are forgiven.
I’m telling you that whatever you have done, however many times you have done it, however much you have betrayed God and rebelled against his word, however many times you have gone your own way and put your trust in yourself, however much you have messed yourself and others and creation up – that if you turn to Christ and confess that he is right and you are wrong – then you are forgiven.
You are OK with God.

So, you don’t need to tiptoe around God, you don’t need to hide from him, you don’t need to pretend that he doesn’t exist.
You don’t need to earn forgiveness by beating yourself up, or by trying to do good things to make up for the bad things.
You don’t need to see the bad stuff that happens to you as his punishment of you.
If you are prepared to believe him and his word, then you are forgiven, you are accepted, you are beloved.  

Why is that so important? Why is it even more important than feeding the hungry?

It is because it is what Jesus came to do: he came to die to take away the sins of the world.
It is because God created each person for communion, for intimacy with him, and to be part of his family
It is because people who are at peace with him are discovering how they can be at peace with themselves and how they can be at peace with each other.
Then they will – in the right way and for the right reason – feed the hungry, save the planet, and right wrongs.

Jesus comes to bring peace
I pray that you will receive him today – either for the first time or the 178th time. It doesn’t matter.
His gift for you is peace
·         the peace that comes because he is with us, and he is bigger than anything that we face
·         the peace that comes from knowing that he rose from the dead and death has been defeated
·         the peace that comes from knowing that you are forgiven, you are accepted, you are beloved and you are part of the family of God
·         the peace that comes from knowing that, whatever happens to us and to those we love, all will be well


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