Grace, mercy, and peace to you this day, from God our
Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It must have been quite a scene. It was evening, and
the heat of the day had dissipated somewhat. The frightened sinners huddled
together. They were out of sight—they hoped—from the powerful governing authority.
If they were discovered, they knew the consequences would likely be swift,
sure, and severe. They might beg, and plead, and try to make excuses, but there
was little they could do or say that might have any positive effect on the
outcome of their situation. The certainty of death loomed over them.
Now, fast forward several centuries. Let’s re-set the
stage and replay the scene. Let’s change it from outdoors to indoors. Remove one
man and one woman, dressed in fig leaves, gardeners by vocation. Insert ten
men, probably clothed in wool and cotton. Several fishermen, and at least one
You can change the historical time frame, the
location, the costumes, and the characters, but the opening moments of these
two dramas start out with all the earmarks of being part of the same tragedy,
don’t they? Disobedience, and fear. Isolation, even in the midst of close
The Lord walks into the first of these vignettes
seeking and questioning the supporting cast:
“Where are you?”
“Who told you that you were naked?”
“Have you eaten of the tree which I commanded you not
“What is this you have done?”
Accusations, followed by excuses and finger-pointing,
followed by consequences: Curses. Hatred. Conflict. Pain. Toil. Death.
Inserted into the midst of this litany of sorrows,
however, is a bright glimmer of hope. God tells the woman that one of her
offspring will crush the head of him who led her and her husband to the
forbidden tree and to the sin that made them cower in fear. The Lord God who
walked through the garden seeking His children in the cool of that day on which
sin and death came will one day send His Son. This promised One will not only
crush evil on the tree of the cross, but will walk through locked doors on the
evening of that day in which sin and death’s reign was ended.
Although Adam and Eve’s encounter with the Lord God in
the garden, and the disciples’ visit from the risen Lord Jesus in that locked
room both begin under similar conditions, things take dramatically different
turns. Both episodes started in fear and hiding. But while that appearance of
the Lord to our first earthly parents leads to condemnation and banishment, His
appearance to our Christian forefathers in that locked room leads to forgiveness
His words are not questioning and accusatory, but
consoling: “Peace be with you.” He says it twice, not because
they didn’t hear it the first time, and not because it wasn’t somehow effective
the first time. No, Jesus gives them His peace twice because it has two
purposes: The first is to comfort them; to alleviate their fears. It works,
for the Word of God always works, when and where He wishes it to. Their fears
are driven out, and they rejoiced at the sight of their Lord.
But the second giving of His peace is not for them
alone, for Jesus tells them in the very next moment that they are to depart
with that peace: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
This second peace which they have received is a peace
which is to be carried forth, a message with which they are to be the Lord’s
messengers—to be His “angels,” if you will. Rather than barring the way to
earthly paradise with a flaming sword and cherubim like those God set at the
gate of Eden after He had driven the first sinners out, these new angels—the
apostles—would cleave open the way to heavenly paradise with the sharp,
two-edged sword of His Word. They would proclaim both Law and the Gospel to the
world, and by this many would repent and be saved.
Adam and Eve had been sent out from the garden in
shame and defeat, a sentence of death hanging over their heads. The apostles,
though, would be sent out with confident trust in the victory, the promises,
and the gifts of the risen Savior.
And the very first gift Jesus gives to them, apart
from His peace, is the Holy Spirit. He gives them God. He gives them the
person of God who bestows and strengthens faith. And he authorizes them, as
His called and sent representatives, to exercise that person’s power. Not for
their own benefit, not to bring themselves glory—but to grant the forgiveness
of sins, salvation, and eternal life to those who believe.
Fast forward several more centuries. Not quite
twenty, to be more precise. Many men, many women, many children. Clothes of
cotton and wool, but some polyester and rayon and silk mixed in, too.
Vocations in education and technology, law and medicine, sales and service.
Not cowering in physical fear, perhaps.
But you still recognize that you have offended God and
broken His rules. You have sampled forbidden fruits. You have run away and
hidden yourself, both from God and from your fellow human beings. But
eventually and regularly, the Holy Spirit that you received in your baptism—the
same Holy Spirit who Jesus bestowed on His Church in that locked room on that
first Easter evening—works on you just as He did on those apostles and on all other
Christians of every time and place.
You realize again and again the dark and desperate
eternal predicament you would be in, apart from being reconciled with Him. You
might not truly suffer too greatly in this life, or be banished from the
enjoyment of earthly things, for we all know and see that a great many
unbelievers live in ways that seem more pleasant to our eyes of this world.
But the Spirit reminds you that you need Christ and His peace if you are to
have any hope beyond this life and the grave that awaits you at the end.
And it’s that sure and certain hope of reconciliation
with God and the eternal life it brings which is the only real reason for you
to be here today and every Lord’s Day. That hope is given to you in the
declaration of the forgiveness of your sins, and guaranteed you by the
resurrection of the crucified Christ. Apart from that hope and assurance, all
the rest of this means nothing.
You ought not be here because of beautiful
architecture, outstanding music, or stained glass windows. You ought not be
here because of friendships, social or work connections, or family relationships.
You ought not be here because having your name on the church membership list
gives you a tuition discount, or the privilege of having your wedding here.
You ought not be here because you happen to like the way I write a sermon, or the
way Pastor Nuckols delivers one. Because none of those things matters when God
confronts you in your sin and asks, “What is this you have done?”
What truly matters is not what you do, or think, or
feel, or like and dislike about this congregation. What matters is what God
does right here—for you, for me, and for all those around you: He ends your
warfare with Him, and your alienation from Him, by declaring His peace,
Beginning when He first grants you His Holy Spirit in
the moment of your baptism or when the Spirit works through His Word to turn
your proud but fearful heart to Him in contrition and repentance, that peace is
yours because He has made you His. When His message of salvation in Christ reaches
you through the music or architecture or windows or art in the place where He
has promised to be with His gifts, you have that reconciliation.
In the declaration of the absolution after you have
confessed your sins, in the reading and singing and chanting and faithful preaching
of His Word, no matter how eloquently or how clumsily it might be done, the
Lord reaches into the hidden places and into the hiding places of your life,
and He scrubs your soul clean.
Do not think this is something you had any part in,
for the guilty soul hides from God and fears to come to Him. But the Holy
Spirit that Jesus has given to His Church—and to you—draws you from behind the
shrubbery and the locked doors. He moves you ever toward Jesus.
And isn’t that what reconciliation and peace are all
about; being moved closer and closer to the one with whom we’ve been in
conflict? Yet God, for the sake of the sinless life, suffering, and death of
Jesus, has declared that conflict over. Jesus has defeated the root causes of
your conflict with God. He has beaten the devil, the world, and your own sinfulness.
He has not only destroyed their power to ever master
you again, but his resurrection destroyed the possibility that the consequences
of your sin could ever fully separate His faithful ones from Him, now or
So don’t let your worries and your fears of God or
this world make you hide or separate yourself from Him. Don’t let your
personal preferences and your worldly priorities lock you away, keeping you
from coming here to where He comes close to you and makes Himself fully known.
Listen for His word of peace. Go not your own way, but be sent as He would
send you. Receive once again His Holy Spirit, and at His altar let Him give
you the same crucified flesh and blood He showed to His disciples, so that you
might have both peace and comfort.
And may that peace of God, which surpasses all of our
human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in our risen Christ Jesus, our