Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 Peter gives witness that God raised Jesus

14‍ Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

‍22‍ “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  ‍23‍ This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  ‍24‍ But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  

‍25‍ David said about him:  ”‘I saw the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  ‍26‍ Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, ‍27‍ because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

‍28‍ You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

‍29‍ “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.

‍30‍ But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  ‍31‍ Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  ‍32‍ God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

 The Holy Bible  : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ac 2:22). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

        : Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter                           

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Luke writes a testimony from the Book of Acts,  ‘After his suffering, Jesus showed himself to the Apostles and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 1:3 NIV84)

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Let’s  join in a word of  prayer: Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of your Son, our Saviour.  Our hearts are attuned to the events surrounding that resurrection.   Once again, fill us with awe and wonder over the appearance of your Son to the disciples, and the strength and confidence this gave them when they received your Holy Spirit. Guide our time together this bright and shining morning of the Easter season, that we may never deny our Lord, Jesus Christ, and that we remain signs of the resurrection to the world around us.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

In life, we often pursue that which eludes us. For me, it’s the perfect sermon. For others it might be true love, wealth and security, perfect family and children, or renewed health. Some folks spend their lives striving to find purpose or direction. Others search for sobriety while still others seek help for their depression. Some folks are looking for even a hint that there is a God and his love that they have heard so much about, even  during worship on Sunday mornings. Most of us are striving for something, if we are really honest and are really living.

I’m not sure what is eluding each of us, but I can assure you that we are not alone. There are others who have struggled with the same issues, problems, and challenges. The good news is that many of them have overcome! There are those who have found true love, purpose, financial security and peace. There are those who have beaten depression, addiction, and self hate. I’ve have heard their stories, seen their pictures, and shared their victories. I trust their witness because I see the passion in their eyes and hear the urgency in their voices when they share their experience. It gives hope to those of us who have never experienced these things ourselves.

To be sure, I will keep trying to preach the perfect sermon, because so many victorious people can’t be wrong. And, after all, it is really Christ Jesus who inspires the words I share.  I am never going to give up on searching for what matters. I’m going to celebrate when someone else find their victory. I’m going to encourage others to keep trying and remind them that they are not alone. I will point to the success of others and join in their joy!

That is why I get so excited every time I hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed” (John 20:29).

In the reading for Easter, we shared the words of Matthew, ‘The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.’

I am sure that the disciples did eventually go to Galilee, just as Matthew tells us in his Gospel.  But Acts tells us that Jesus appeared to the Apostles on several occasions before that, and John records events that occurred before their journey.  The disciples were huddled in fear and grief and anxiety.  Huddled in the upper room where they shared their last meal together just a few days earlier.  Huddled, yearning for what eluded them.  The Messiah died a cruel death, and was placed in a borrowed grave.  Now Mary comes and tells them that their friend and Saviour is alive.  Could they really believe that what eluded them was now their reality.   How often is it that when we discover that thing that eludes us for so long is now within our grasp, we can hardly believe it.

It was in this atmosphere, that  ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  ‍ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.’  It was just unfortunate that Thomas was missing from the fellowship when Jesus appeared to them.  When Jesus spoke to them, with his gentle greeting, “Peace be with you.”   When Jesus revealed what had eluded them and was now standing in their midst.
‘One writer explains that the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, for “peace,” is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life. The word as a greeting suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony. As a blessing, it is a prayer for the best that God can give. 

   At a time when the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a “G’day Mate”, Jesus came to give it new meaning.

At Bethlehem, God announced that peace would come through the gift of God’s unique Son.  ‘a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those upon whom his favor rests.” ’  (Luke 2:13–14 NRSV)

 The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to usher in peace for the world.’

(Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing)

Even so, it would be some time before shalom became a reality for the disciples.  Shalom in eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ.  But in Christ’s presence in that upper room, I am convinced that they experienced peace in their hearts that would sustain them in their challenges of life.  That they received what eluded them after the crucifixion.

That is what worship does for me every time I gather with my friends to express my Christianity – it gives me sense that all is well in a world filled with uncertainty and brokenness.   

Francis Bacon writes the proverb, ‘If a man will begin in certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.’  (Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning (1605)1.v.8. (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 41)

So it was with Thomas.  Who began with the words, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”   

And who ended with the words, “My Lord and my God!”   That was when Thomas received the peace of God that eluded him through Christ’s resurrected presence in his life.

Dorothy Sayers says about Thomas: It is unexpected, but extraordinarily convincing, that the one absolutely unequivocal statement in the  gospel of the Divinity of Jesus should come from Thomas. It is the only place where the word God is used without qualification of any kind, and in the most unambiguous form of words. And he says it with conviction. Thomas simply says of Christ, “My Lord and my God!”  (Sayers, The Man Born to Be King (London: Victor Collancz, 1943), 319-20)

Thomas wasn’t there to experience the risen Christ Jesus when Jesus stood among the disciples and showed them his hands and his side.  He wasn’t there to hear the words of Jesus, “Peace be with you!” the first time.   And so, Thomas showed the same scepticism that Peter and the others showed to Mary Magdalene when she announced to them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus showed his compassion, when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room.  He showed equal compassion to Thomas when He appeared a second time to confirm the message of the others.  He shows us his compassion, when he appears to us in the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit witnesses to our hearts that Jesus is alive.   And Jesus tells us “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  We are blessed because Jesus is alive. 

The Apostle John closes out the reading from his Gospel this morning with his words, ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

After the gift of faith and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, Peter writes to us, ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’

God, in His grace and glory, is calling out to each one of us this morning to be signs to the world.  Signs that God can be trusted. Signs that whatever eludes us is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, our friend, our Saviour.  Because of the fulfillment we discover in Christ Jesus, we can live out the goal of our faith, our salvation.  And we are not alone.  We have the help of God’s Holy Spirit.   That is why our prayer is that ‘the Holy Spirit will set our hearts ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God.’

I share once again the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth,  ‘What I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’     It’s now up to us to live as signs that Jesus is alive in our hearts and our lives. May the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.

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