SCRIPTURES – Acts 5:12-20; Rev. 1:4-18; John 20:19-31; Ps. 105
On 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.”
Last week on a morning news program I heard an amazing interview with two Christian women from Iran. Maryan Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh had served 259 days in the worst prison in Iran for the crime of having a Christian church in their apartment. The interviewer referred several times to how they had suffered for testifying to Christianity, and when she asked them how they could endure it, Marziyeh said:
- “We have not just converted to [the] Christian religion… We don’t consider ourselves just religious. We are both in love with Jesus… We have many personal relationships with Jesus. We have touched His love. Jesus in the Bible says, ‘If you want to be my follower you must pick up your own cross and follow me.’ It was very important for us to pass through this victory.”
Maryan and Marziyeh are not religious but in love. They did not endure suffering but “passed through victory.” How could they speak this way? Because, for them Christianity isn’t just words or teachings. Now, it is words. In fact, they met while attending a conference to study theology, to study Christ’s words. But, they wanted to learn them because they are far more than just words. They are the living voice of our Savior, Jesus! By them we touch His love.
Last week, Easter Sunday, I told you that we were celebrating a day of power. By His resurrection Jesus has not only beaten our enemies. They have been crushed; shattered; utterly and completely destroyed!! But now, just one week later, our Scripture readings tell of His followers being put in prison, and of John being exiled on an island. To this day many Christians suffer. So, where is the power? Where is the victory? Is it just words?
For now, yes. Words are what Jesus has given us. But, His words are far more than just words; at least, they are if you realize, as do Maryan and Marziyeh, that Jesus has given us far more than just a religion. He has given us Himself! He has given us God’s love.
Many people don’t see this love of God in Jesus and His words, and so oppose His teachings and us, who hold to them. Their opposition can be very hard to endure and can bring great suffering. We can hardly relate, of course, to the sufferings that Maryan and Marziyeh, our sisters in Christ, endured in prison. As far as I know, none of you have ever been in prison, or even under arrest, and certainly not for your faith. Thank God! But, I’ll bet you’ve faced opposition and suffered in other ways.
- Perhaps someone was upset with you because of your confident faith, because you really believe these words of the Bible to be true and really believe that Jesus is the Son of God and our life. Most people have no problem with religion. Just don’t take it too seriously and change your life because of it!
- I’ll bet you’ve suffered from guilt about your own faith. “Why can’t my faith be stronger? Why can’t Jesus be more real to me, as He is to Maryan and Marziyeh? Why don’t I speak up as they do?”
I don’t know. I know that we all fail in many ways in witnessing to Jesus and in following Him, and that is not good. Jesus is not our buddy, after all, but the almighty Lord with “eyes like a flame of fire.” Even if He’s not standing alongside us He knows the foolish things we say and do, as Jesus made clear to Thomas when He appeared and said to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Each of us is guilty of failing and denying “the First and the Last, the living One, the One who holds the keys of death and Hades.” What can we do? How can we find and touch His love? How can our faith become more real?
Listen to His what Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” These words were not so much for Thomas as for us. For, we are the ones who have not seen. And yet, Jesus says, we are blessed, and more so than Thomas. And, take note of this, also: Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who have believed without ever doubting,” or, “have believed without ever failing,” but, “Blessed are those who have believed.” He adds no qualifiers or quantifiers. You who believe are blessed. By simple faith in Jesus we have the blessing of God’s love!
Realize also what God’s words proclaim to us this day. No bars or locked doors can keep Jesus out, whether they be bars of steel made by man to keep you in or bars of sin and guilt erected in your mind and heart that keep others, and your own peace, out. Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” He is also the One who as a man died in our place and for our sins, but then rose in victory over their judgment. He comes and shows us His wounds, and not His anger. He comes to proclaim and bring His peace to us, and He does it with words. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said with His own voice to His disciples, forgiving their guilt for running away from Him and failing Him. “Peace be with you,” is what He also has said to you this day. For I, your pastor, began this Divine Service by saying to you, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I forgive you your sins.” Your sins are forgiven, for Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Through me, a lowly servant of Jesus, the Living One Himself has spoken to you and forgiven you! He has touched you with His love and given you His Holy Spirit. Believe His words!
This is how God will bless you with faith and make your faith more real. You can wish your faith would be stronger and Jesus more real to you, as He is to Maryan and Marziyeh. Wishing will not make it so. Nor will feeling bad about it change anything. Only the living Jesus can give a living faith. “These [words] 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,” the apostle John says of his Gospel. In it he also tells us that Jesus proclaimed: “If anyone loves me, he will hold fast to my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) Thanks be to God for His words, for in them is Christ’s life, His love, and His salvation!