Last week we packed the churches. We sang glorious hymns and heard trumpet fanfares. We wore our Easter best and celebrated the message, He is risen. He is risen indeed. So, today I ask, How are you enjoying and using your Easter gifts? You might respond by saying, “Other than Easter candy, we exchange gifts at Christmas only.” I’m not talking about those kinds of gifts.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples that first Easter evening, he actually brought gifts. I found three in our text for today, and the risen Christ wants us to enjoy these gifts as well.
This episode opens when the disciples were in a locked room. They were afraid of the Jews, who had killed Jesus only a few days before. Earlier that day, Peter and John had gone to the tomb, which they found empty. They had not encountered Jesus and so were probably discussing among themselves if it was true that he’d risen. Peter might have been thinking to himself, “Boy, if it’s true, I don’t know if I can face him now. I denied even knowing him three times when the chips were down.”
Perhaps the others were just as uneasy at seeing Jesus alive. They had scattered like frightened sheep the night Jesus was arrested, and they witnessed his crucifixion from a safe distance away. Perhaps they were wondering, “If he really is alive, is he angry? Will he ever trust us again?” You can just imagine the looks on their faces Ð tired and worn, worried, shocked, and confused. It’s the same look one has after a trauma like a fatal car accident or a heart attack. It’s a look that says, “What do we do now?” while standing in a hospital room looking at a loved one.
Suddenly Jesus was standing among them in that locked room, and the disciples probably pinched themselves to make sure that they really were awake! But before they could say anything, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his nail-pierced hands and spear-pierced side to prove it was really him. The room probably filled with laughter and smiling faces as they celebrated Christ’s resurrection, just as he had promised a few days before. God indeed had the last word. In the midst of this Easter reunion, the risen Jesus gave them some gifts that we don’t want to miss.
Peace. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you!” And then he said it a second time, as if making a point. “Peace be with you!” He wasn’t talking about peace and quiet, but about the peace of his forgiveness. Although they had let him down, he was reaching out to them, just as he reaches out to you and me. “Your sins have been taken care of at the cross. Receive the forgiveness that I want you to have in your life and the peace of knowing that you belong to me and that I love you.” This is the peace of knowing that he holds the future.
The disciples must have breathed a sigh of relief as they looked at his nail-pierced hands and stared into his smiling face feeling that everything was under control, even death. The Apostle Paul later wrote, “Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” There is peace in knowing that I belong to him forever.
I heard a wonderful little story about an elderly woman who underwent serious surgery. Although her prospects of recovery were slim, she survived the procedure. When she opened her eyes and saw the blurred image of her doctor dressed in the typical white doctor’s jacket, she smiled and said, “Hello God, my name is Mary.”
That is the kind of peace and assurance of eternal life we receive by trusting in Jesus Christ. It is the peace of knowing that, whether we live or we die, we belong to him. Jesus gives that assurance to each one of his followers. We can know that, if we were to die today, we would see him in eternity, for he has prepared a place for those who trust him. We don’t know what it looks like, but we know we are going there. And it’s not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. He paid for our sins at the cross, and he defeated the power of death at the grave. We are invited to claim that gift again and again as we stare at our own mortality. Because he lives, we are heaven bound. That is peace!
If you do not have a relationship with Jesus, here is a message for you: Heaven is a prepared place for the prepared. So prepare yourself now. Turn to Jesus and place your trust in him. He wants you to have the peace of knowing about eternal life.
Trust. Jesus also gave the disciples his trust. When you examine the words of Jesus carefully, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” you see that it’s actually a promotion of sorts. They began the story as disciples, learners. Now they are Apostles being sent into the world to bring God’s good news of forgiveness to the world. They are in the business of connecting others to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is trusting them with the most precious thing in his life: connecting others to the Heavenly Father.
Just think about how important that is, my dear friends. Jesus is trusting you and me with his most important thing, his mission. That’s quite a gift. If you belong to Jesus, he is trusting you to carry on his mission, to make sure the people around you know the promise of everlasting life. That is quite a trust.
Power. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” He’s giving them power to be effective witnesses of what God in Christ has done for the world.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the same power of the Holy Spirit working through your witness. When you talk to someone about Jesus, trust that it will have an impact and you will make a difference. Jesus actually promised the disciples in the Upper Room, “You will do greater things than (I), because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).
These are the gifts of Easter. The peace of forgiveness and knowing there is a place for me in Heaven. The trust Jesus has given us to win the world for him. The power of the Holy Spirit to carry out his ministry and make a difference for him. However, these gifts cannot be employed until they are received. It is like receiving a gift card but never redeeming it. Likewise, the gifts Jesus Christ offered those disciples, and offers to us, cannot be enjoyed until they are received, entrusted, and employed for his cause.
The Easter story is a reminder that Jesus has given you gifts. You are invited to use them and put them to work in your life. The disciples did, and their lives were never the same. Peter wrote of being filled with a living hope, a feeling like he was born anew. The book of Acts testifies of the confidence and the peace and the joy that those disciples experienced as they served the Savior by bringing the Gospel to the world around them. They turned civilization upside down as they lived out their purpose to bring the good news of Jesus to the world. It was the promise of forgiveness and everlasting life with God.
While we may not turn civilization upside down, each one of us has a sphere of influence that we can turn upside down with God’s power as we live in his hope, and his peace, and his power, as we trust him and carry out what he has entrusted to us Ð his mission.
Brothers and sisters, the experience those disciples had can be your experience, too. Are you enjoying your Easter gifts? I encourage you to claim the gifts today. Use them to his glory and you will be very glad you did.