WITNESSES OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE: FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, amen.
Friends in Christ, as we continue celebrating the good news – our Lord is alive, the word of God for us today declares that Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, ‘peace be with you.’
These powerful words, ‘peace be with you’ came in the backdrop as disciples were wrestling with many things on their mind. As risen Christ came in their midst, and spoke words of peace, we were told unbelief, fears, and doubts came over them. For they were seeing Jesus, he is not dead but alive! Think about it for a second, it must be the shocking moment for them all.
As their minds wandered between fright and doubt, Jesus spoke to them and said: ‘why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?’ Isn’t it amazing, not only Jesus is alive and well, but he is able to read what is on our minds? Not only Jesus reads but speaks His words right into our human concerns.
Scripture makes it plain and clear when it says,
Then he (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24: 45-48).
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, open our hearts, minds, and lives to your words of peace. Bring us to receive forgiveness in faith and help us to extend it to those who ask of us. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I once heard the story of a six year old son and his mother, let me share it with you. Let’s call the six year old, Tom. So, Tom and his mother had been to a shopping mall. So what happened at the shopping mall? Well, Tom behaved mischievously running here and there, asking for this and that, and failed to help his mother in anyway. To put it simply, Tom gave much grief to his mother with his behaviour.
After shopping, as they were driving home, Tom sensed his mother was displeased with him, so he asked her: ‘mother, when we ask God to forgive us when we are bad, he does, doesn’t he?’ Being a Christian mother, she replied: ‘yes, he does!’ So Tom asked her again, ‘when God forgives us, he buries our sins in the deepest sea, doesn’t he?’ Though the mother didn’t fully agree with this statement (i.e. God buries sins in the sea), she did not have enough time or patience to explain it to her six year old, so agreeing to the concept that ‘God forgives’ she simply responded, ‘yes.’ Tom was silent for a few minutes, and then said to his mother: ‘I’ve asked God to forgive me for the way I behaved in shopping mall and I know he forgives me, but, I bet when we get home, mother you are going to go fish for those sins, aren’t you?’ Certainly, Tom could read the mind of his mother. He knew his mother well enough to know she is going to go ‘fish’ for his sins.
We can have a good chuckle, but in all seriousness, if we honestly examine our own minds, don’t we sometimes behave like the mother, seeking opportunities to ‘fish for sins of others’? Too often, we do ‘go fishing’ for other people’s sins. Other people’s sins are on our minds, so much so that, sometimes they practically destroy peace in our own lives. Am I making sense? Is it true that people lose patience, as they count sins people have committed against them? As people fish for sins, aren’t they naturally drawn to despair and a sense of loss? In such circumstances, tempted, people say: ‘I can never forgive that person’, or ‘there can be no forgiveness for what he/she did to me.’ As ‘flesh and blood’ we are tempted to think this way, even Christians do this.
If not for others, sometimes, our own sins can cause us so much grief. We go to church and hear absolution of sins, but do not pause enough to understand what God is saying to us. We make an effort to receive Holy Communion at every given opportunity and yet we overlook its benefits which takes away our sin. Too often, I hear Christians (i.e. practising Christians who regularly receive absolution, and body and blood of Christ through Holy Communion) say, they think their sins are so grave that even God would not be able to forgive them. Let me tell you, no human sin is big enough that God cannot deal with it. Human concerns, no matter how big and challenging they are, they cannot take away the power of God’s work in this world. Many might be the things on our minds, but as sure our Lord lives, he does not fish for sins of his people, but forgives them. How do I know this? Hear the very first words risen Jesus spoke to his disciples. He said: ‘peace be with you.’
Jesus is all too familiar with what occupies human minds. He knows our worries, fears, and doubts. So we hear, on the night of the resurrection, risen Lord Jesus came to his disciples, yes the ones who said: ‘we do not know this man’, to the one who could not keep awake and pray in the hour of Jesus’ need, the ones who fled in fear of Jews deserting Jesus, to these disciples, probably who should not be forgiven by our very own human standards, risen Jesus stood in their presence and said, ‘peace be with you.’ My friends, through this word, Christ offers pardon dispelling all human fears and doubts. When the disciples saw Jesus, their primary concern was can this be a real case of resurrection or were they seeing a ghost? Can Jesus somehow defeat death and rise from the grave? Most importantly, they would have doubted, could their risen Lord forgive their cowardly behaviour after his capture?
As we hear in the gospel reading (Luke 24) Jesus patiently deals with all things weighing heavy upon on human minds. To the disciples, Jesus showed himself and invited them to touch and see his wounds, so that, their fears and doubts are taken away. In addition, just as he ate the Last Supper on the night of his betrayal, this time, after resurrection, Jesus ate fish before their very eyes to prove that he is indeed alive, risen with his body. Having taken care of concerns of their minds, Jesus restored them through His words of peace. Gospel is beautiful in this way. First it takes care of concerns of our minds, and opens us to the reconciling work of Christ Luke gives away this model.
Then he (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24: 45-48).
The disciples are witness to what things? To the gospel and its reconciliation message! They are witnesses to what God’s love achieved for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Listen to Simon Peter’s sermon to the people of Jerusalem from Acts 3 (13-15, 17-19):
‘The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.’
Peter was saying, although sinful people chose to sin against Jesus by subjecting him to suffer and death upon on the cross, ‘the mind of God’ achieved human salvation through that very event. Forgiveness of sins and reconciliation are fruits of the cross of Christ. God’s love has ordained it this way, as Isaiah (53: 4-6) foretold long ago:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
Yes, the Lord has laid on Jesus sins of all the world. So my friend, let me be clear with you this morning, God of the Bible is not fishing for your sins, but looking at every opportunity to reconcile you to himself. In the waters of baptism God buried your sin. No matter how foolish our thoughts, words, and actions are, no matter how much we are captive to our own egos, and no matter what concerns and doubts bother our minds, the law of God calls us to turn away from sin and return to baptismal promises our saviour offers us. Peter pointed to this work of God as he concluded his sermon in Acts 3 (verse 19): ‘repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’ Fresh start for us all as we repent and regenerate in baptismal life. In waters of baptism Jesus puts to death our old nature, only to raise a righteous and forgiven person. Therefore, no sin, guilt, shame, disease and death can make a claim over you.
Friends are you hearing this? Because God loves you, he forgives you, and in forgiving you, he reconciles you into fellowship with him. His words, ‘peace be with you’ is enough to take away your worries and dispel your fears. God made you his beloved child for this very reason. As the epistle reading for today says, ‘see what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1). You are a child of God. That means inheritor of all God’s promises. No wonder your brother Jesus calls you to life. By grace through faith he forgives you. Christ breaks bread with you, giving himself to you, in order, to show the love of God to you. He chose you as his own. He promised to never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus calls you today to trust in his work for you. Because Christ is with us always, he opens our minds to hear the message of forgiveness.
Maybe Tom’s mother might struggle to forgive Tom’s mischief at the mall, but Jesus freely forgives all who call on him. Hence, Easter message boldly and clearly declares: ‘peace be with you’. In fact, God’s Word calls us to live such Easter focused lives, where having been raised with Christ, we set our minds on things above, living not according to the flesh but according to the gospel (Colossians 3:1). God’s word encourages us to ‘put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12-13).
Let me finish with this popular story: when Leonardo da Vinci was painting ‘the Last Supper’, he became angry with a man and lashed out at him. He even threatened him. Then he went back to his fresco and tried to paint the face of Jesus. He couldn’t for there was too much evil stirring inside him. The lack of peace forced him to put down his brushes, go find the man, and ask his forgiveness. Only then did he have the inner calm needed to do the face of his master.
So we pray: Teach us Lord to forgive others, just as you have forgiven us.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.