Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Peace be with you”?

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 April 2018, Second Sunday of  Easter, by Justine Wong. The scripture readings that day were  Psalm 133, Acts 4:32–35, John 20:19–31.

            “May the peace of the Lord be with you.” *We greet each other with this phrase on Sunday, usually not so early, maybe after the sermon and prayer. Have you ever wondered, why don’t we say something else like “May good health be with you”, or “May good fortune be with you”? Why do we “pass the peace”? What’s so special about peace?

            In the gospel reading today, we know that after Jesus resurrected from death, He appeared among the disciples. What is His opening line? Jesus greets them and says “Peace be with you.” He actually said this three times in this passage. Today we are going to learn why this is so important, so important that when we greet one another, we follow Jesus’ example. Let’s look first at verse 19.
John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

            The doors were locked, because the disciples were afraid of the Jews. They were scared. Let’s imagine we were the disciples. The teacher and leader we’ve been following for three years was arrested, persecuted and crucified on the cross. Even our stronger disciple Peter has denied Jesus three times. Of course we’re afraid! Our teacher is dead now! And this morning, they said the body of Jesus was gone! We’re afraid of the Jews, because they may come and blame us for stealing the body, then persecute and kill us!

            If we put ourselves in their shoes, it actually makes a lot of sense. The disciples were trying to hide and keep the door locked, so the Jews can’t find them.
            And In their fear, something dramatic happened. Even the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. This is impossible! It’s a miracle, not only because Jesus came through the locked door, He is alive! Jesus showed up when they were most fearful and confused. Jesus knew their hearts, so he said “Peace be with you.” What a great comfort to the disciples. They knew this is their teacher Jesus, because not too long ago, Jesus told them that He is giving them peace. In John 14:27 he said:
            “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

            Jesus has conquered death and resurrected! He is risen! We don’t need to be afraid of what the world will do to us, because Jesus is more powerful than the world. He is leaving His peace for us, and said to us “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Do you have something that’s troubling your hearts now? Are you afraid of something? Jesus knows our hearts, just as He knew what the disciples were facing. He is offering His peace to you and me in our fear.

The story continues:
            20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

            After the disciples saw Jesus and His broken body, they rejoiced. Jesus said to them the second time “Peace be with you.” Why? Because Jesus is going to entrust them with a mission, sending them out to be His witness. Jesus is not asking the disciples to go alone. He offered them His peace, and gave them the Holy Spirit. This was a powerful and affirming moment.
            However, someone is missing out this big event. Thomas. He wasn’t there to meet the resurrected Jesus. So when other disciples told him about this encounter, Thomas didn’t believe it. He even said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

            So a week later, when Thomas was still in doubt, Jesus appeared again. Guess what was His opening greeting? “Peace be with you.”! Yes, this is the third time Jesus offered His peace. He passed the peace to the disciples when they were in fear, in preparation for a mission, and even in doubt. Similarly, in different situations and difficulties we are facing, Jesus offers His peace to us. Peace is a great gift from God, and it comes with a calling. We are asked to be a witness for Christ, and to share this peace to one another.

            Can you feel His peace in your heart? Or is your heart still troubled? Indeed, sometimes our heart would still be troubled. Why? Is Jesus’s peace not as powerful as He claims it to be? Or is there something wrong with us? Let’s go back to Thomas, and see how his doubt was transformed.

27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

            What’s the keyword here? Can you see it? It is “believe”. Believe is the key to fully experiencing Jesus’ peace. Thomas was doubtful and unbelieving, but Jesus did not rebuke him. It’s OK to be in doubt sometimes. Jesus gave room for Thomas to see and to believe. He knows some of us may take a longer time to believe in Him, and He is patient with us. Sometimes God would reveal himself to us according to our needs, and we need to be patient and wait for His timing. Are you making room and expecting God to show up in your life? Are you prepared to see, and to believe? Verse 31 points us to the focus of what should we believe in:

31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

            We need to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who is in control of the world. He is the source of all things, and the center of all lives. Only when we acknowledge God is in control in the midst of our problems, we can have true peace. We’re not fighting on our own, but we let God take control. At the same time, we are willing to let Him mold us and transform us.

            But the story doesn’t end here. Do you think the disciples really believed in Jesus? They were so fearful and doubtful, can they really sustain and demonstrate the peace that Jesus is giving them? Can they carry out their calling from Jesus? In our reading from Acts today, it said:

Acts 4:32-33- 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

            This group of believers were boldly proclaiming Jesus, and fully living out their calling. They were no longer hiding. Their lives were transformed. They were living a new way, sharing possessions and starting the early church community. This is the beautiful picture described in Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
            What was different since that time they were fearful? Their fear and doubt have now turned into peace and power, because they believe in Jesus, who is the Messiah and the Son of God.
            Sisters and brothers, our God is truly powerful and can turn things upside down. Are we believing in this same powerful God, or do we tend to put God in a box, not truly believing that He can deliver and transform us? Do you believe that Jesus can offer you peace, in all situations?

            Having “Peace” doesn’t mean that everything is smooth with us. No. Having “peace” means your heart is not troubled, even when you are in difficulties. And if you believe in Jesus, and live out the peace in you, you may be able to bring an impact to the gloomy situation you are in. The process may still be painful, and you may need to give up part of yourself. Are we ready to be transformed by God, even in our hard times?

            Let me conclude with a story. A daughter complains to her father that life is too miserable, and she is full of fear and doubt, like the disciples. She is tired of fighting all the time. It seems like as one problem is solved, another follows. What is the meaning of life? 

            So her father, who is a cook, brings her to the kitchen. He takes some potatoes, eggs and coffee beans. He then boil three large pots of water, and puts the three items in each pot. After a while, he puts the potatoes in one bowl, the eggs in another and pours the coffee into a cup.

 “What do you see?” he asks. Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she says.
He asks her to touch the potatoes. They are soft. He asks her to break the shell on one of the eggs. The egg inside is hard. Finally, he asks her to smell the coffee. It’s a nice coffee smell. “What does it mean?” she asks.
            Her father explains that the potatoes, eggs and coffee beans all faced the same adversity, but each reacted differently. The potatoes went in strong, but came out soft. A thin shell protected the liquid interior of the egg, but once it’s cooked, the inside of the egg became hard. The coffee beans were different. When they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.
“Which are you?” he asks his daughter. This is also my question for you.
            It’s true that adversity or difficulty happens to us and around us. It’s how we react and adapt to it that can make a difference. We can rely on ourselves when we face a problem, just like the potato and the egg, it changes itself, maybe from hard to soft, or soft to hard. But the change is only within itself, and it cannot influence the surrounding.

            The coffee bean is different. Apart from changing itself, it also transforms the water into coffee. Just like the disciples, who received the peace from Jesus, not only changing themselves from fearful to faithful, but also leading a new way of living – building a community with unity, and professing Jesus with power.

            The song we sung last week serves as a nice closing reminder for us:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives”

            Jesus lives and brings us peace. Peace is a gift, and we receive it with a calling. We are called to profess our faith, and to pass the peace to others.  

            “May the peace of the Lord be with you.” And may we believe this peace that Jesus offered us from the bottom of our hearts, so we can live out the true essence of this greeting, and share it with one another. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 08, 2018

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