In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Charles Hubbard is a Vietnam veteran from Austin, Texas. A few years ago he received a letter from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs informing him that he was dead and that his family needed to return thousands of dollars in benefits. He was a victim of identity theft, which was bad enough. To add insult to injury, the VA had closed Mr. Hubbard’s checking account! After he made an extensive case for being alive, the Department of Veterans Affairs informed him that it would take eight months for him to be officially brought back to life. That’s when they would restore his pension benefits.
Imagine being in Mr. Hubbard’s predicament, trying to convince people that you’re alive. Not trying to look alert when you’ve been dozing off in class or during a meeting at work; but the challenge of trying to prove that you are not physically dead. The resurrected Jesus Christ had His own unique problems trying to convince the disciples that He is alive and well, and bodily present—present among them, and present for them. In Jesus’ case, it’s not at all a matter of having to prove to bureaucrats that He had been declared dead by mistake. For when the witnesses saw and declared that Jesus was dead, they were seeing and declaring what had really happened. Jesus wasn’t “as good as dead,” nor did He “faint dead away”; He was good and dead, truly and completely deceased; He was “dead dead.” It was the corpse of Jesus that Pontius Pilate had given into the custody of Joseph of Arimathea for burial (Mk 15:45).
So what do you do when the One who was dead is no longer dead? How would you respond? Death is such a stark reality for us, and resurrection is not (not yet, anyway), that even if someone who had been dead stood right in front of us, would we believe it? When Jesus appears among His disciples in the locked room, His very first words are words of comfort: “Peace to you!” And what’s their reaction? “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit [a ghost]” (Lk 24:37). Isn’t it odd that they have this reaction when “they were talking about these things,” namely, the encounter which two disciples had with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus? He had taught them the meaning of the Scriptures about Him, and “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:27, 35). Those two disciples were present when Jesus stood among them, and yet they are filled with fear. Jesus seeks again to calm their fears: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts [questionings] arise in your hearts?” Their hearts and minds were questioning everything. So He invites them to touch His bloodied, scarred flesh and bone. At least once before, when they saw Jesus walking on the water to them as they fought to cross the windy sea, they cried out, thinking He was a ghost. Back then, too, He had come to them in order to calm their fears. On that occasion they were eyewitnesses to His divine power and person, as He said, “Take courage, I AM; be not afraid,” got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased (Mk 6:48–51). Now they are once again eyewitnesses to His divine power and person.
In His risen and glorified state, Jesus’ body is no longer hampered by time, space, or matter—the things which limit and restrain us in our present reality. Neither the rock of the tomb nor the walls and locked doors of the room can keep Him in or out. He appears where and when He desires, and His visible presence is gone when He so desires. Luther says this against those who doubt that the Man Jesus possesses this divine power bodily: “By this coming through locked doors is shown that since His resurrection in His kingdom on earth He is no longer bound to bodily, visible, tangible, mundane substance, time, place, space, and the like, but wants to be known and believed as ruling by His power everywhere present, having the will to be with us and help us in all places and at all times, when and where we need it, unfettered and unhindered by the world and all its might.” Luke says, “As [the disciples] were discussing these things, Jesus Himself stood in their midst” (Lk 24:36). Jesus was there before they perceived Him coming! He was already there, and He immediately says, “Peace to you!”
Likewise, He is already here, present among us by His Word, quite apart from whether or not we see or feel His presence. And His Word to you is still the same: “Peace to you!”
This is more than a mere greeting of Shalom. That the disciples didn’t return the greeting proves that. What had become simply a form of salutation, like “hello,” is transformed by Jesus into something higher. For He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20) between God and man, “and He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:17). “Our Savior did more than speak the words of peace. He is Peace Himself, which is the fruit of His resurrection, peace in the fullest sense of the word” (Stoeckhardt), Peace Incarnate, Peace in the flesh, the Peace of God in the flesh for you. This Peace, this Shalom, is restoration, reconciliation, wholeness by and from God. What have you to fear now? All of God’s holy and righteous wrath against sin was poured out on Jesus as He hung on the tree of the cross, condemned in your place, dead and buried—and look now! He is risen! He lives, never to die again! The worst thing you had to fear was that wrath of God against you. Where is it now? It was spent on Jesus, and He’s alive, speaking the peace of God to you! So, believer in the Risen Jesus, what do you have to fear now?
Oh, we still fear plenty, don’t we? We hear the account from Acts 3 of the lame man having been healed through Peter and John by the power of the name of Jesus, “the Author of life” (Acts 3:15) … and then we look at our condition. We have accidents which can cripple, and we still have to have surgeries to repair or replace broken body parts. We still have diseases which rob us of strength and vitality. We have pains of heart and mind, too. [And at the intersection of body and mind, diseases and pains such as addiction and depression.] In the Order of Private Confession and Absolution, the penitent says, “There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help.” So of course, there are times when you are the one hurt, the one others have failed to help. Those hurts can be inflicted quite easily, carelessly, and thoughtlessly; but, they don’t go away so easily, do they? And they’re especially painful when they’re inflicted by our fellow believers, who know “what kind of love the Father has given to us” (1 Jn 3:1), who know His love and are called His children, and yet they hurt you. What can you do? Remember, He was hurt, wounded, for you; He was hurt by you—imagine His hurt, what pain we caused Him! What can you do? The one thing He has given for this: repent and be forgiven, and in turn show forth perfect love and forgive.
What was the purpose of that healing at the temple? Peter said to the man, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (v. 6). It was a sign of the resurrection power, the shalom-restoring, wholeness-restoring power, of the holy and almighty Name and Word of Jesus the Crucified and Risen One. By those same words, “Rise up and walk,” Jesus Himself had forgiven and healed, proclaimed heavenly peace, to the paralytic. And the apostles do the same, healing and forgiving, proclaiming heavenly peace and divine wholeness to all the broken people through Christ Jesus.
What does the Crucified and Risen Jesus mean for you, who have been broken? We can go through today’s Gospel reading verse by verse to find that. You are a believer in Christ Jesus, but …
- v. 36, still He speaks God’s peace and wholeness to your troubled heart and mind;
- v. 37, still He must dispel your superstitious thoughts; whether you believe in ghosts or aliens or whatnot, He is the Lord of Creation, the Ruler of heaven and earth and all things, who has overcome the world, who kicks in the monster’s teeth (Pss 3:7; 58:6);
- v. 38, still He must dispel doubts and questionings that arise in your heart and mind, when you would let your own experience and blind reason overrule His sure Word;
- vv. 39–40, still He must dispel your fears, and He does because He is the God-Man, your flesh-and-blood Lord who has by His cross and resurrection defeated your worst enemies for eternity; [and He says, “Touch Me and see … I AM the Same.”]
- v. 41, still He must control your emotions, which sometimes get in the way of your faith, even trying to act like a substitute faith; but your faith rests on the facts of His Person and Word and work, not your up-and-down feelings;
- vv. 42–43, still our Savior has taste buds and a digestive tract, and He still is true Man, one of us; yet still He gives you His limitless true body and true blood to eat and to drink in His Holy Supper;
- v. 44, still He must convince you that the whole of Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, every page of the Bible, centers in His Person, Word, and work, which He gave, spoke, and did for you, for your sake;
- v. 45, still He must open your mind, above all to understand the Scriptures; for the worst kind of closed mind is the one that rejects and refuses His Word;
- v. 46, still He must remind you of His suffering, death, and resurrection on your behalf, because the devil, the world, and your flesh are always working to make you forget what He has done;
- v. 47, still He must call you to repentance and give you the forgiveness of your sins;
- v. 48, still He must remind you that you are His witness, wherever you are;
- and v. 49, still He sends the Holy Spirit to you, the Promise of the Father, so that you may be and remain a believer and a child of God now and forever.
One last thing: a little lesson in Greek. Don’t worry, this won’t be hard. When Jesus says, “Peace to you” or “Peace be with you,” in Greek it’s two words: Eirēnē humin. Eirēnē is peace, from which we get the word “irenic” and the name “Irene.” The word humin is the second person plural pronoun, in the dative case. [In Greek, the dative case indicates time, place, direction, agency, means, and the like.] The simplest way to understand the dative case is “with a two-by-four.” So Jesus is saying, “Peace with you.” His Peace stays with you and goes with you. He’s also saying, “Peace to you.” His Peace is God’s gift to you, something He must give or you don’t have it. And He delights to give it! He also says, “Peace for you.” It’s for your comfort, for your heart and mind and soul. And He says, “Peace by you.” It is Peace from Him, but He says, “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). By you will His peace, His love, and His forgiveness be told and shown to others.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.