This is the first of a 2-part post-Easter sermon series entitled,
“What Difference Does the Resurrection Make?”
This message focuses on the deep, abiding peace of heart and mind the risen Christ offers us.
Scripture Text: John 20:19-31
How does anxiety manifest itself in your life? For me, it effects my sleeping patterns. Most often, it wakes up in the middle of the night, and usually for no apparent reason. I can lie awake for a long period of time not actually think about anything in particular; I just lie there awake. But I still know that somewhere deep in my unconscious mind I must be working through something.
Along with that, when my plate is at its fullest, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by too much to do and too little time to do it, I’ll wake up early. Even when I’m not aware of feeling overwhelmed, I almost always awake by 6:30 a.m., even if I want to sleep in. But typically, it’s between 4:30 and 5:30 that I wake up, and usually without the use of an alarm.
Now, there is one place that I’m able to sleep past 8am – and in the past I’ve been known to sleep until 9. And that’s at our cottage in the U.P. And that’s only happened when we’re up there for two straight weeks. And it’s only by the second week that I’m able to sleep in like that. It takes my mind and body about a week at our cottage to finally find that place of peace within. But as soon as we’re back home, it’s early to rise again.
Many people seek the solace of nature when they’re looking for a sense of peacefulness. Some find it by curling up on the couch with in a good novel. Some find peace by working in the garden or lawn. For many of us, music can be a helpful means of experiencing peacefulness. Whatever the manner, it’s helpful to be able to find that quiet place when you’re feeling especially anxious or unease.
But what about those times when the peace you’re looking for can’t be found with a book or a walk in the woods? Where can we turn when our spirits are ill at ease, when our hearts are troubled, and turning on Brahms or Beyoncé just won’t do it?
Easter is the highest, holiest day of the Christian year. It’s a day for absolute rejoicing, right? The tomb is empty! Christ is risen! Death has been destroyed! Alleluia! But that wasn’t the experience of the Disciples that first Easter No, they were filled with fear, locked in room known only to them and their closest allies. Why? Because the religious authorities had Jesus killed. Why not come for his followers as well? This is what John tells us. They were “behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities” (John 20:19a).
It’s safe to say these were troubled men. They literally scattered and went into hiding the night Jesus was arrested, and probably hardly slept since then. We know that Peter at least watched Jesus’ arrest and trial unfold, but stayed back at a distance. And on the occasions he was identified as one of his followers, he profusely denied it. These were not men who were at peace; they were fearful.
But it wasn’t just a fear of being discovered that disturbed them. I think they were also experiencing serious disillusionment. At least, that’s how it seemed to them. They’d sacrificed so much of themselves in order to follow Jesus. They’d throw their lot in with him, and gave him everything they had because they believed in him. Very likely, most of them seriously cut back on their means of income in order to follow him wherever he went. They travelled with him from town to town. They spent three whole years sitting at his feet, listening to his teachings. He convinced them that he was in fact the Christ, the Son of God. The Messiah.
And everyone knew what Messiah would do: Usher in the new kingdom, whereby Rome would be humbled and the Jews would be given their rightful place. And in the end, where did all this get them? Nowhere, it seemed. The very man who would make it all happen was crucified before their very eyes. He was dead and buried. Clearly, it seemed, he wasn’t the person they thought he was. All that work…all that learning…all the sacrifices…all for naught.
Can you see how it could be that those men where deeply, deeply troubled in spirit? No walk through the garden or good book would take care of this anxiety.
Fortunately, this part of the story doesn’t end behind closed doors. John goes on, “While the disciples where behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, ‘Peace be with you’” (v. 19). It was so important that he eventually said it again: “Peace be with you.” Then about a week later, when they were together again, Jesus showed up and said the same thing, now a third time: “Peace be with you” (v. 26). (Keep this in mind as we look at something else interesting that happened during that initial visitation.)
After the second proclamation of peace, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). There’s an important word in Hebrew that might lend some significance to this statement. The word is ruach. In Hebrew, ruach means at least three different things in English: 1) breath, 2) wind; and 3) spirit.
Genesis 1 is the story of creation. Listen to how it all begins, Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit (ruach) of God was hovering over the waters.” In this context, ruach is not just any spirit, but THE Spirit of creation. Christian call him the Holy Spirit; he’s the Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On the 6th day of creation, God made humanity, beginning with our original parents, Adam and Eve. This part of creation is found in Genesis 2. Listen to verse 7: “The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath (ruach) of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). In poetic imagery, humanity is given form, but we’re not yet alive. We come to life only when God breathes into us. He blows into our human mechanism for breathing – our nostrils. And what does he breathe into us? The breath (ruach) of life. His breath (ruach) of life. The same ruach who hovered over the deep waters before Creation and participated in the creation of the universe is the same ruach who gives life to all humanity. And it happened when God breathed it into us.
Now, let’s rejoin our friends locked in that room for fear of their lives, and feeling emotionally numb from their huge let down by Jesus’ death. Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” And he breathes on them, and adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Hebrew version of the New Testament (there are Jewish Christians), uses the word ‘ruach hokodesh” for “Holy Spirit.” Just as we receive life when the Father breathes his breath (ruach) into us, so the disciples received a new lease on life when Jesus breathed his Spirit (ruach) upon this followers.
A short while later God sent his Spirit (ruach) in full on the day of Pentecost, and filled all the disciples, giving them the strength, wisdom, and courage to begin the process of building the Church, of which we ourselves are heirs 2000+ years later.
So, let me ask it again: Where can we turn when our spirits are ill at ease, when our hearts are troubled, and a walk in nature, a good book, or the most inspiring music won’t touch us at that deep level? It may sound overly simplistic, and borderline corny, but the only answer I know is Jesus Christ. To put it succinctly, Jesus Christ IS our peace. He not only gives us peace, but he IS our peace. Paul says as much in Eph. 2:14 – “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
What is he talking about? Who are the two groups, and what barrier has been destroyed? Well, in Paul’s case, the two groups were Jews and Gentiles (everyone else; all non-Jews). In modern day, think the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Think Israeli’s and Palestinian’s. Think Democrats and Republicans, if you will. Paul’s point was that Jesus Christ has the power to bring polar opposites together in peace. But he’s not just an interested third party who brokers the coming together, he himself is the whatever it is that fuses the two together into one. And in so doing, where there once was hostility – the lack of peace – now there’s peace. Why? Because he IS our peace.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in something brand new: true and lasting peace. Not that our world has availed itself of the peace of Christ. But it doesn’t take long to find ways that he’s brought peace where it wasn’t before. Have you ever been the recipient of someone else’s forgiveness for something that was very hurtful? Or, have you ever experienced the power and freedom of being on the side of forgiving another?
Two weeks ago, on Palm Sunday, ISIS bombed a Coptic Christian Church, killing many. In just a moment I’d like to show you a short video of an Egyptian woman being interviewed for a TV show. The woman talking lost her husband in that bombing attack. One of the things she tells her interviewer is that she’s forgiven the killers. Clearly, she’s still grieving the loss of her husband, but you can tell from what she says that she still has a deep peace in our soul despite this terrible thing.
The other thing I want you to note is the response of the host. At one point he literally speechless for about ten seconds. He can’t believe what he’s hearing; he’s utterly amazed. Take a look.
(View video clip above)
He doesn’t realize it, but he absolutely nailed the truth. These people are made from a different substance. What I want you to know is this: that substance is not a what, it’s a WHO. Jesus Christ has breathed his Spirit into all who will follow him. And in so doing, he now lives within us. Us – the church. And us, you and me individually. The same One who forgave his executioners before he died is the same one who now lives in us. He’s the bringer of peace. And his IS our peace.
What difference does the resurrection make in our lives in 2017? Well, in a day and time when we have every reason to be worried and anxious, the resurrected Spirit of Christ is our firm foundation who gives us deep and lasting peace of heart and mind no matter what the world throws at us. That’s the difference it makes.