A Sermon on John 20:19-31 by Joe Ellis, on April 12, 2020
In this morning’s reflection, I’m going to dial in on the first part of the passage we heard, when Jesus first appears to the disciples and breathes His Spirit into them. Let’s begin with contrasting their situations with ours. Interesting that they are also socially isolating in this passage, isn’t it? They are also staying at home. They have also closed and locked their doors. They are also afraid — there is something out there that is seeking to do them harm. Their fear is different than ours. They’re afraid that those who crucified Jesus will do the same to them. Our fear is different, yet fear is no stranger to us these days. One index of fear can be seen in the statistic that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication have jumped 34% since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. These are anxious times, fearful times, and many are struggling to cope behind locked doors. This passage shows Jesus entering through our locked doors. Standing with us in our social isolation. Greeting us with the words: “Peace be with you.” Look around your home right now — where do you think he’d appear? Pick a spot. Picture Him standing there as He says to you — “peace be with you.” And after He says, “peace be with you”, maybe he’d go make you a nice cup of coffee. It’s not far fetched. In John 21 he makes the disciples breakfast. His presence brings joy. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says.
Cup of coffee in hand, having thoroughly rejoiced, Jesus again says, “peace be with you.” What’s he talking about? He can’t be saying that the people you’re afraid of won’t hurt you. He’d be lying — very few of Jesus’ early followers died of natural causes. They were all killed, just like Jesus. Well, almost, tradition tells us Peter was crucified upside down. So, when Jesus appears to us this morning and say, “peace be with you,” why is he saying we get to have peace? The peace that Jesus gives is about overcoming something far greater than COVID 19. The peace is about overcoming sin. In a lot of ways we’ve become a bit desensitized to sin, but let’s compare stats between sin and COVID 19. Throughout the world, around 2 million people have contracted COVID 19. Romans 5 tells us every single person has contracted the disease of sin. Approximately 140,000 people have died from the virus. 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that the cause of every death is due to complications resulting from sin. Social isolation — Currently, one third of the world is in some form of lockdown. Romans 1 tells us how sin specializes in lockdown, or social distancing — sin creates a rift between you and God, you and your neighbour, you and your family, you and your best friend, you and other races, tribes, clans and nations. The emotional/spiritual distance of much greater than 2 meters. What about GDP? The pandemic may cost the world a staggering 5% of Global GDP — somewhere between two and four trillion dollars. What’s the cost of sin? It’s hard to measure because we’ve never been without sin. What do you think GDP would be if there were no sin in this world? How much do our gluttony and addictions cost the economy? The social costs of Alcohol abuse alone costs Canada 14.5 billion dollars a year. What about greed? How much do you think it costs global GDP when people aren’t given a fair wage. How much is lost when people rob and steal from each other. How much is cost when people are kept in bondage to crippling, unplayable debt. What’s about wrath? Who can measure the true cost war. Lives lost. Families battered. Communities ravaged. How much do you think lust costs our economy? How much does the rape of innocence cost the economy? And we could go on, but we won’t.
Against this backdrop, Jesus stands in our midst and says “Peace be with you.” He has dealt with the virus that has been ravaging humanity from the beginning — sin. After Adam and Eve first sinned, the virus spread from parent to child, from generation to generation. Right before the story of Noah’s Arc, we hear that the Lord was grieved by the the sin rampant in humanity. He says, “My spirit (or breath), shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be 120 years.” God’s breath within us is the only thing which keeps us alive. Sin is like lung disease, it makes it difficult for God’s Spirit to breath in us. Because of sin, God will not allow his Breath to remain in humans forever. So after a time, God takes his breath away. So we die due to complications from sin. This was not what God had in mind in the beginning of Creation, when “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ and the man became a living being.”
So Jesus appears behind our locked doors and He says, “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus takes His disciples, one by one, and breathes into them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Don’t miss what He’s doing. He’s returning the breath of God. In His defeat of sin on the cross, Jesus provided a cure for those who believe — the breath of life. Just as God gave life to Adam through His breath, Jesus now breathes lie into His disciples saying, “Peace be with you.
Receive the Holy Spirit.” And as he does so, our body and soul begin to heal from sin. What other peace could be hoped for?
How could we keep this to ourselves? Jesus doesn’t expect we will, saying “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus gives His disciples the mission of proclaiming His message throughout the globe. One commentator put it this way: as disciples we “are to pronounce the message of forgiveness for all who believe. We are also to retain sins. To warn the world that sin is a deadly disease, and that to remain in it will bring death. We are to warn and rebuke—not because we don’t like people… but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world.” We need to warn of the devastation of sin, because that’s what it is — devastating. But we don’t stop there, we call people to join us in seeking the only one who can give life — Jesus. He alone has taken our disease upon himself. This disease killed him, but it couldn’t hold Him down. God raised Him to life, and He comes to us with these life giving words “Receive the Holy Spirit”— and He gives us His Spirit, the breath of life.” And we find our healing.
The death rate of for the pandemic is far too high — 100%. No cost of sin is devastating. We can’t act like it doesn’t matter when we have this message of hope… when we have this message of salvation… when we have the ability to hear confession and speak these healing words; “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”… when we can pray with others to receive the person of the Holy Spirit. We can’t act like none of this matters.
Let’s say you suddenly found yourself with the cure for Covid-19.” What would you do?
Jesus is the cure for sin. Jesus is the cure for our body and soul. How can we respond?