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Dear Friends in Christ,
In just a few days the disciples’ world had been turned upside down. Just when things seemed to be going well and people were praising Jesus and welcoming him into Jerusalem, everything fell apart. Judas betrayed him. He was tried, convicted and condemned. He was nailed to a cross. He died and was buried. And all this happened quickly, in less than 24 hours. Then reports starting coming in that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Some of the women said they saw an angel who said Jesus had risen, some said Jesus himself had appeared to them. Peter and John went to investigate and found that the tomb was empty except for the grave clothes, but they didn’t see an angel or Jesus. It must have been one of those times when it felt like their heads were going to explode. There was information overload. Nothing seemed to make sense. And on top of it all, the Jewish leaders were accusing them of stealing Jesus’ body to make it look like he had risen from the dead. They were expecting that the temple guards might be breaking down the door at any moment to arrest them and put them on trial. What mental and physical turmoil they were experiencing as they gathered together after the evening sacrifice that first Easter evening!
As the disciples were trying to put it all together and as they were worrying about what might happen next, Jesus suddenly appeared in the upper room with them. One second Jesus was not there and the next second, there he was, standing right in front of them. They must have thought they were hallucinating. They thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them. He calmed their fears. He said peace be with you.
His words were certainly a great comfort in themselves but his actions also gave them peace. He showed them his hands and side. He let them see that he was not a figment of their imagination. He wasn’t a ghost. He had not just risen spiritually. Even though he had miraculously appeared in the room with them, he was still flesh and bones. The body they saw taken down from the cross was the same body that was standing in front of them. They could touch him. They could put their finger into the nail marks in his hands. They could put their hand into the gash the soldier’s spear had made in his side. They could have full confidence that what the women had told them and what the two disciples who had run all the way back from Emmaus to tell them was true. Moments before they had been filled with fear and confusion; now they were filled with peace and joy.
When we are confused, troubled, or afraid, we need to let the words of Jesus, peace be with you, ring in our ears. Are you afraid as you look at the future that unbelievers like the Jewish leaders will be coming after you, blaming you and other Christians for all the problems in the world? Jesus says, “peace be with you. Don’t live as if I were still in the tomb. I have risen, and I am anywhere and everywhere I am needed. My promise to be with you always is a promise you can count on.”
Are you troubled by your sins as the disciples must have been, after all they had denied and forsaken their Lord? Let the words of Jesus, peace be with you, ring in your ears. Remember, when he appeared among them it wasn’t to punish them for what they had done. He didn’t knock them to the floor and cause them to writhe in pain until they seemed really sorry for their sins and then say, “ok, I guess now I can forgive you.” He said peace be with you and he showed them why they didn’t have to be troubled by their sins. He showed them the signs of his crucifixion, the means by which he had suffered the punishment they deserved, that you and I deserve, and by which he had paid for their sins and our sins and the sins of the whole world.
Are you troubled by the death of a loved one? The fact that Jesus appeared in the upper room on Easter evening with a body that was real, that could be touched and recognized, assures us that there is a resurrection of the body. Those who have died believing in Jesus he will bring with him on the last day. All who are in their grave will hear the voice of the Son of God and come out. The dead in Christ will rise first. We and they will have glorious bodies like the body of Jesus after his resurrection. The thought of seeing our loved ones again, as well as Moses and Elijah and Peter and James and John, and every other believer, not to mention Jesus himself, comforts us and gives us peace.
Jesus says to you and to me, peace be with you. Whenever you are troubled or fearful let those words of Jesus ring in your ears. Remember that he suffered and died in your place and that he rose again from the dead and you will find that you are filled with a peace that is beyond understanding, that no one and nothing else can give.
After the disciples were able to inspect Jesus’ hands and side and were filled with the peace of knowing that he had risen from the dead, Jesus said it again. Peace be with you. His word of peace together with his presence calmed their fears about the past and the present, but they would need his blessing of peace for the future as well. He told them, as the father has sent me, I am sending you.
There were certainly some things that would be different for the disciples than they were for Jesus. They would not have to suffer to pay for the sins of the world as Jesus did. They did not have the power of themselves to heal the sick or cast out demons or raise the dead. But, Jesus would authorize them to do these things in his name, by the power of his name. Like Jesus, they would be sent out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. They would serve as prophets, as those who receive a message from God and simply repeat what they have received. In fact on a previous occasion as Jesus was speaking to them about giving them the kind of peace the world can’t give he told them that we would send them the Holy Spirit who would enable them to remember everything he had said to them.
Now, here in the upper room, he breathes on them and says, receive the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit and breath are the same. By breathing on them Jesus was giving them an outward sign of what was happening inside of them, similar to what he does for us in baptism in which the outward sign of water assures us that our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. As they were filled with the Holy Spirit, he would enable them to remember what he had told them so that they could record the things that he said and did accurately so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and have life in his name. The Holy Spirit would embolden them to proclaim the good news to others. He would enable them to tell people that Jesus died and rose again; that he paid for the sins of the whole world. He would enable them to tell those who would rejoice in that good news that they personally had the benefit of the forgiveness Jesus won for them. He would enable them to tell those who stubbornly rejected the good news that in spite of the fact that Jesus had paid for their sins, their sins were bound to them as long as they would continue to reject Jesus in unbelief.
What Jesus told the disciples he continues to tell us and all believers today. He says, receive the Holy Spirit. Through the word and sacraments, you have received him and as long as you continue to hear the word and receive the sacrament you will continue to receive the Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith and embolden you to share the good news.
He says still to us today, as the father has sent me, I am sending you. You who have my peace, who know the peace and joy of forgiveness; I am sending you to share it with others. As you do, peace be with you. Know that I am with you. Know that the Holy Spirit is working in you to help you remember the things that you have heard and studied. Proclaim to as many people as possible that Jesus died and rose again; that he is the Savior; that he has paid for the sins of the world. If someone says, “thank you, that’s just what I needed to hear,” reassure them that their sins, no matter how great, are forgiven. But if someone scoffs at the idea of forgiveness in Jesus, or at the idea of his resurrection from the dead, warn them that they are not forgiven. Even though Jesus paid for their sins too forgiveness needs to be received through faith. In either case, have the peace of knowing that it is Jesus who is speaking through you.
Peace be with you. Let those words ring in your ears every day. Because Jesus has lived, and died and risen from the dead you have peace. There is nothing that need rob you of that peace. And filled with the peace that passes understanding, you have been commissioned to share that peace with others. Proclaim the good news about forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus. Warn those who reject the good news that they are rejecting the forgiveness Jesus won for them. But rejoice with those who receive the good news with thankful hearts. Assure them that their sins are indeed forgiven.