The Birth of Hope
April 19, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 20:19-38 Acts 2:14a, 22-32 1 Peter 1:3-9
Some of us have known, or might still have, family members who lived through the Great Depression, followed by World War Two. Eighty years later, we can still see how that experience changed their lives, and their lifestyle forever. People who watched banks collapse never completely trusted banks again. People who lived through hard and uncertain times learned to save for a rainy day because they knew, from experience, that sometimes life rains on our parade. People who found their way through a life filled with ration cards and nationwide shortages of practically everything, learned how to keep a garden, can and preserve their own food, and keep reasonable amounts of many staples, canned goods, and other things in stock, “just in case.” The experiences that they had living through the Great Depression and World War Two changed them forever and shaped their lives because of the hard lessons that they taught. And those of us who were their children, grandchildren, or even friends, only had to listen and pay attention to see the deep and enduring impact those experiences had on them.
It isn’t surprising then, that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection would also have a similarly transformational and enduring impact on the lives of the people who lived through them. And scripture tells us that is exactly what happened. We begin in John 20:19-31, where we rejoin the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, but still so frightened of the religious leaders and government authorities that they only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
At the beginning, the disciples are afraid. So afraid, that when they even dare to meet, they will only meet in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked so that no one will see or hear them and know that they are there.
At this point, they already know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they are still afraid. And Jesus shows up again, this time there are no missing disciples. Peter and John are there, and so is Thomas. And this passage concludes by saying that Jesus performed many other signs so that they, would believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that by believing we could have life in his name.
Why is this important?
Because it is after this, and after the events of Pentecost, that the events witnessed by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus, begin to completely transform their behavior. Nowhere is that change clearer than when we see Peter speaking in Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where this happens:
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
22 “Fellow Israelites, 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 deliberate plan 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 rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not 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 “Fellow Israelites, 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 to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
Peter was the one who was so afraid of the Pharisees and the leaders of the Temple that, three times, he denied that he even knew Jesus. Peter was the one who was so disheartened and emotionally wounded from his denial, and from witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion, that he went home to Galilee and back to his fishing boat. Peter, even when he was personally summoned back to Jerusalem at the request of the resurrected Jesus is, with the other disciples, still so afraid of being arrested that they will only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.
But that isn’t the person that we see in Acts. The difference in Peter, and in the other disciples, is nothing short of a total transformation. It is as if this is a totally different person. Suddenly, Peter not only stands up and preaches, but he openly confronts the very same people of whom he was so very recently afraid. Peter not only stands up in public and preaches in front of them, he openly confronts them, and reminds them that they were the ones who killed Jesus, and in his summation says that it is because of what he has seen, and because of what he has heard, and because of the experiences that they have had, that they now understand what must be done. Like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, the experiences, and the trauma, of the disciples and the first followers of Jesus have transformed their lives. They are changed forever and will never be the same as they once were.
But so, what?
What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century, particularly as we endure the changes, and the strangeness, of our collective fight against the Corona virus?
For that, let us listen to what Peter thought in 1 Peter 1:3-9 where he says,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 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, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter says that in his mercy, through the experience, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us all a new birth into a new life filled with hope. And not only hope, but a living hope into an inheritance in heaven that can never be taken away from us. Although, Peter admits, that in this life we may have to suffer grief from all kinds of trials, including disease and pandemics, through it all we can still rejoice greatly. It is through our trials that our faith is revealed, proven, and refined as if by fire and it is through those same trials that may result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is finally revealed at the end of days. It is because of the experiences, stories, and trials of Peter and the other disciples that we too have seen Jesus, why we too have come to love him and believe in him as they did, and why we are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
And, from that, I want to draw a conclusion specifically for us as we endure the unusual circumstances of this present pandemic. Certainly, from everything we know about the Great Depression, and World War Two, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the story of Easter, we all know that our experiences, especially the experiences of trauma, change us. Regardless of what we endure, or the illnesses that we suffer, or the friends or family members that are lost, those trials, those experiences, will change us. These experiences will change us all, whether we go to church, or whether we have faith, or not. And, if we are paying attention, we will notice that these experiences are already changing us. Whether this ends in six months, or eighteen months, or in thirty-six months, we will not come away from this the same as we were at the beginning.
We will be changed.
But we do have faith. We have already heard the stories, and we have experienced the difference that faith in Jesus Christ has made in our lives. We are already a people who are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we have been given new birth into a new life filled with hope.
May these trials prove the genuineness of our faith. May we be so determined, so hopeful, and so anchored by our faith, that the change that God brings to us through this pandemic is not a change wrought by fear, but a change that only amplifies our courage, our hope, and our joy. Let us pray that we may we emerge from this experience, and from whatever trauma we are called to endure, like Peter and the other disciples. Let us pray that we emerge as a people who are more courageous, more fearless, more faithful, and more loving than ever before.
May we emerge from this pandemic so much like Jesus that the world cannot help but to stand up and take notice.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Kb9-bPHeny0
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