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Sermon for Sunday 19 April 2020

First Reading                                        Acts 5:29-42

29Peter and the apostles answered {the high priest and the council}, “We must obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. 2Praise him, all you angels of his; praise him, all his host. 3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. 4Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. 5Let them praise the name of the LORD; for he commanded, and they were created. 6He made them stand fast forever and ever; he gave them a law which shall not pass away. 7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps; 8Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will; 9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;

10Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds; 11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; 12Young men and maidens, old and young together. 13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven. 14He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him.  Hallelujah!

Second Reading                                   1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel                                             John 20:19-31

19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Let me start out with a brain-teaser:  What is the one phrase that nobody likes to hear, but one that everybody likes to say?  Answer?  “I told you so.”  When someone doesn’t listen to us, they ignore our advice and get themselves in trouble, we’re generally quick to say, “I told you so.”  But we absolutely hate it when others are right, and they throw those words back at us.

I read of two amazing “I told you so” moments recently.  In the 1970s, the mayor of Fudai, Japan, pushed through a plan to build a ridiculously expensive tsunami wall to protect his tiny town from future tsunamis.  Everyone thought he was crazy.  The wall was incredibly thick and tall.  It cost a huge amount of money and it took twelve years to complete.  As expected, throughout those twelve years, the citizens of Fudai complained bitterly about their crazy mayor and his wasteful project.

Well, in 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the northeast coast of Japan, creating a massive tsunami wave twelve stories high.  Twenty thousand people were killed or went missing in the aftermath, and 50,000 were displaced in the flooding created by the tsunami.  There was over $360 billion in damage across the affected areas.  But the tiny town of Fudai was completely untouched by this destruction.  All because of the crazy mayor’s tsunami wall.  Sadly, the former mayor had passed away many years earlier.  He never got to say, “I told you so.”  But a small group of citizens from Fudai visited his grave in the weeks following the earthquake to show their respect and gratitude for his foresight.

The second “I told you so” story comes from Australia.  Dr. Barry Marshall was an internist who saw many of his patients suffer with, and even die from, peptic ulcers.  In some cases, the patients had their stomachs removed completely.  In others, the peptic ulcers turned into stomach cancer.  The medical establishment in Australia believed, as did doctors in our country, that ulcers were caused primarily by stress, and so their best treatments involved antacids and stress relief techniques.  But Marshall and his colleague, Dr. Robin Warren, had done research that led them to believe that ulcers were caused by a common and easily treated stomach bacteria, H. pylori.

They wrote papers on their research, but the first few medical journals they approached refused to publish them.  When they finally did get published, no major medical institutions paid attention.  They couldn’t get foundations to fund their research.  And pharmaceutical companies actively opposed their research because these companies were making huge profits off their antacid sales.

During this time, Drs. Marshall and Warren were successfully healing patients’ ulcers with antibiotics and saving these patients from a lifetime of pain or early death. However, they couldn’t get widespread acceptance for their methods.  That is, until Dr. Marshall decided to take drastic action.  He made up an H. pylori cocktail and drank it himself.  Within days, he was in horrible pain and vomiting frequently.  He developed a peptic ulcer soon afterwards.  Then he treated himself with a course of antibiotics and completely healed his ulcer.  As a result, medical journals around the world began publishing their research.  Dr. Barry Marshall and Dr. Robin Warren were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine.  And today, peptic ulcers are easily treatable and stomach cancer is rare in the Western world.  All because one doctor decided to make himself sick to offer the world a cure.  Dr. Marshall, in this instance, had every right to say “I told you so” to many of his colleagues worldwide. 

Last Sunday we celebrated Easter, the most important day of the Christian year, and the most joyful.  There is no news that can compare to the message that Jesus rose from the dead.  Because of this one event, we now have hope for our own resurrection and hope for eternal life in God’s presence.  So, Covid-19 pandemic and the stay at home order aside, why aren’t we more excited?  Why does Easter seem more like a social affair rather than a foundational event for Christians?

Our gospel passage for this morning takes place on the evening of Christ’s resurrection.  Jesus’ followers, the disciples, were locked away in a room, hiding from the Jewish leaders, scared to death by what they had seen over the past three days.  Jesus’ tomb was now empty.  His body was missing.  Surely the authorities would suspect that Jesus’ disciples had stolen it.  Add to their anxiety the guilt they felt from abandoning Jesus in His time of greatest need.  And if He really had rose from the dead, then surely, He wouldn’t be very happy with His faithless friends.

So, it’s easy to imagine the disciples all huddled together in this locked room, nervously discussing all the possible disasters that awaited them, and then suddenly Jesus just shows up in the room, stands among them and says the most unexpected thing; Peace be with you!  Now all things considered, if you were Jesus, what would you have said?  If it had been me, I would have said, “I told you so! . . . I told you I was going to be arrested and crucified and die.  I told you all of you would deny and abandon me.  I also told you I was going to rise from the dead.”  It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus?  The risen Christ greeted His terrified disciples with four little words, but they weren’t “I told you so.”  Instead, Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”

The last thing Jesus said directly to His disciples was in John 16:33.  He had just explained that He was returning to the Father, and the disciples would be scattered and persecuted for following Him.  Then He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  So, Jesus’ last conversation with them before His arrest was focused on giving them peace, and His first conversation with them after His resurrection was about giving them peace.

Before Jesus’ death, His disciples were just a group of men with lots of potential, but little power.  They were fearful and uncertain about what was to come.  Jesus wanted them to know that they didn’t need to be afraid.  They were not alone.  From this day forward, peace would be a defining mark of those who follow Jesus Christ.

The peace that Jesus promises His followers isn’t based on our circumstances or our comfort or our confidence in our own abilities.  Jesus’ peace comes from our knowledge of God’s unfailing love and God’s plan for the world.  Jesus’ peace comes from knowing the end of the story: that God plans to redeem all of creation and undo the destruction and distance caused by our sin and separation from Him.  That’s the peace that Jesus was offering to His disciples then, and that’s what He offers to us now.  So, what does that peace look like in our lives?  First, Jesus’ peace leads to greater joy.

Right after Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” He did something that on the surface might seem strange: He showed them the scars in His hands and side.  To this, the disciples also responded in a seemingly odd way: they were overjoyed.  Why did they respond in that manner?  Think about it; Jesus had the power to instantly heal and transform His body.  So why did He leave the scars in place?  Why did He show His scars to the disciples?  And why were the disciples overjoyed at the sight of his scars?  Two reasons:  first it proved that this really was their crucified Lord standing in their midst; the one they saw die on Friday was indeed the risen Savior in their midst. 

The scars they saw were flesh and blood proof of all Jesus had told them.  They had been witnesses to the fulfilment of prophecy and scripture.  Second, the scars were also proof of God’s love for them . . . and for us.  Jesus could have escaped His arrest, the cruel treatment and His crucifixion.  He could have found another way to save the world.   Instead He chose to be obedient to God’s plan and will, to bear the full penalty of suffering and death, to save us from our sins.  Those scars are proof of Jesus’ commitment to His mission: “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I read a story the other day about an American soldier whose body bore many scars.  Jack Lucas was just 14 when he lied about his age to enlist in the Marines.  World War II was underway, and Lucas was determined to fight for his country.  In the Battle of Iwo Jima, Japanese soldiers lobbed two grenades near Lucas’ unit.  To protect his fellow soldiers, Lucas threw himself on the grenades, absorbing the impact of the explosion. Amazingly, he survived, but at the cost of undergoing 26 surgeries.

Even after all those surgeries, doctors left at least 200 pieces of shrapnel in his body because it was too risky to remove them.  For the rest of his life, Jack Lucas’ scars reminded him of the cost of his sacrifice.  But those scars also reminded his unit how fortunate they were to have Jack Lucas in their company.  Their lives were spared because of his sacrifice.  At age 17, Jack Lucas was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

There’s a song called “Scars” by the contemporary Christian group I Am They.  The chorus of the song says, “So I’m thankful for your scars, Cause without them I wouldn’t know your heart, And I know they’ll always tell of who you are, So forever I am thankful for the scars.”  The sight of Jesus’ scars instantly turned His followers’ fear into joy.  Jesus’ scars motivated the disciples to unlock that room and go out and spread the good news of His death and resurrection to the whole world.  And we’re still doing that today. Why?  Because Jesus’ scars show us the extent of God’s love and the awesomeness of God’s power.  He proved it with His scars.  And when we know that kind of God as our Loving Father, our fears are replaced by joy.  Jesus’ peace leads to joy.  Jesus’ peace also leads to greater courage.

Immediately after showing them His scars, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  What an incredible calling!  There’s no way we could live the mission of Jesus with our own skills and charisma.

Jesus gives us something so much more: the power of the Holy Spirit living in us.  The Holy Spirit comforts us, strengthens us, teaches us the truths of God, and grows our character to be more like Jesus.  The Holy Spirit in us assures us that we are never alone in our difficult times.  That same Holy Spirit reminds us that God will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8: 28)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a person with tremendous courage.  He endured persecution, beatings, imprisonments, death threats and his house was firebombed.  In the end, he was assassinated for standing up for the cause of civil rights.  What kept him going?  It was his strong sense of God’s call upon his life.  King was just 26 years old when he was appointed leader of the civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama.  One night, he got an anonymous call from a man who said that King’s house would be bombed in three days if they didn’t get out of town.

Fear filled Dr. King as he thought about the danger facing him and his family if he continued to follow God’s calling.  He wanted to run away.  He wanted to give up.  He began praying to God and confessing his fear and his weakness.  And he said he sensed an inner voice saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness.  Stand up for justice.  Stand up for truth.  And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”

That prayer, that voice of assurance, allowed Dr. King to face his calling with courage.  Three nights later, a bomb exploded on his front porch.  But Dr. King and his family were safe.  And he determined from that day to trust that God was with him and working in him, no matter what opposition he faced.  When we have Christ’s peace, we find the courage to serve wherever God calls us to serve.

Finally, Jesus’ peace—the peace He gave to His disciples and the peace He promises to us today—leads to a greater purpose, evangelism.  We too are called and sent to proclaim to the world the good news that Christ has come into our world.  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” Jesus said.  And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . .”  Let me tell you about a man named Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel was born in California to a loving, devout Muslim family.  They were part of the peaceful Ahmadi sect of Islam, and they raised Nabeel to love Islam and follow its ways.  However, in college, Nabeel became friends with a young Christian man named David Wood.  David and Nabeel enjoyed discussing and debating their faith together.  Over time, Nabeel discovered a truth and peace in Jesus that he didn’t find in his own faith traditions.  He struggled intensely with his decision.  Nabeel says that for a Muslim to choose Jesus is like choosing to die.  It broke his heart and his family’s heart for him to make this choice, to put his trust in Jesus as his Savior, but Nabeel finally decided that he had no other choice.  He had found the one true God.  He also found a new calling.  

In addition to earning a medical degree, Nabeel also got advanced degrees in religion and New Testament studies and became a speaker with an international Christian ministry.  He had the opportunity to share his faith in Jesus all over the world.  Nabeel also had a book published by Zondervan titled, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, which became a bestseller.  In 2015, Nabeel was diagnosed with cancer.  

In September 2017, at the age of 34, Nabeel Qureshi passed away.  In the days immediately following his diagnosis, Nabeel wrote on his Facebook page: “In the past few days my spirits have soared and sank as I pursue the Lord’s will and consider what the future might look like, but never once have I doubted this: that Jesus is Lord, His blood has paid my ransom, and by His wounds I am healed.”  Nabeel Qureshi was a man who received the peace of Jesus Christ.  And that peace gave him greater joy, greater courage and a greater purpose for the few short years he lived on this earth.

Folks, the annual celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection isn’t a one-and-done holiday.  Easter is an everyday promise of new life for the follower of Jesus Christ.  We don’t just celebrate the Resurrection, then go back to our old lives.  We have been baptized into His death and Resurrection.  We’ve been given the Holy Spirit.  And we’ve been called to share this good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world.  There are people in our community who need to know the joy, the peace, the courage and the purpose of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit will equip us to share it with them.  And anytime we’re afraid or forget this, simply remember Jesus’ scars.  Is there anything we can’t do with His power living in us?


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