Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Acts 2:14,22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Peter explains to the crowd. Yes, this is the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus during the trial before the death. Here Peter is preaching after Jesus had ascended, after the Holy Spirit had swept through the waiting crowd at Pentecost – fifty days after Easter. And whose words is Peter using? The words from the Psalmist. The Psalmist being David centuries earlier.
Here they are from the Psalm 16 (NRSV). “I have set the Lord always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your Holy One see the pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Here they are as Peter repeated them centuries later after Christ had come, had died, had risen, had sent the Holy Spirit to create and maintain the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-32). “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
The really neat thing is that God had promised David that his offspring, his descendant somewhere down the line, would sit on God’s throne. David wrote about this great descendant not yet revealed on earth: “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” Yes, David died and was buried. His earthly resting place is known. And yes, the descendant, the Holy One, this Jesus, did die also. But, his earthly resting place is not known because there is none. This descendant rose from the grave into which he had been placed and which was guarded. Unbelievable! Jesus stayed on earth long enough – forty days – to have witnesses to his resurrected body. There were witnesses to this gift of hope restored. Jesus lived after being dead.
Because Jesus lives, we too have this hope. This hope of resurrection after our earthly life. Oh yes, we are not returning to clay, to dust; to deterioration, to nothingness. Once planned and created, once born and grown we have an invisible hope of everlasting life. What if we don’t want everlasting life. One earthly life is plenty, thank you! I would say that we would be sad, we would not be the person God planned for us to be.
God has plans! Did you know? You did not know! My it is time that we looked at Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1. Does that mean that we are tied to God’s plan? Does this mean that we have no earthly freedom? Some deep religious thinkers, otherwise known as theologians, are extreme to one end of the spectrum that God is totally in charge of our actions and not only our earthly actions and thoughts but whether we are going to heaven or hell from the day that God planned for you and me.
Well, some theologians are at the other end, in that God is simply watching our path through life, keeping us on no chain, no leash, truly free to get into all kinds of trouble as well as disciplining ourselves if we can manage that.
Of course, you are waiting for those of us who are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum of our relationship with, and to, God. Some of us, myself included are thinking and living as though we are on a loose leash but nevertheless on a leash. This is not a leash of anger and control. God gives us freedom to walk from the path that he has planned for us. We can walk anywhere even into pits of great depths. We are free to walk into all kinds of behavior that take us away from God – drinking too much, always grasping for the next bit of harmful drugs, giving up on life, trying to run the lives of other people. Hear David’s words: “For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your Holy One see the pit.
Holy One refers to Jesus even though David lived centuries before this Holy One arrived on earth. God gave those words to David, as I believe. All through the Old Testament the prophets were given words to announce the arrival of Jesus on earth. Jesus was not named Jesus in the Old Testament. But the thread of Jesus starts with Adam as the comparison to Jesus.
David was saying that even David will not be abandoned to the grave. There is more to life than the grave. The grave is not the end but the door to pleasures forevermore. Yes, pleasures forevermore!
We can go through life as though the grave were the end. We could. But, why would we want to do that. David continued, “You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
As Jesus hung on that cross, after having endured a confidence-losing trial, he knew he was giving each of us a great gift. Jesus promised the person on the next cross that, on that very day, the so-called thief would be with Jesus in paradise. We can claim those words for ourselves. Maybe not “today” as we know today. God’s time is not like our 12-hour twice schedule. Today is when God decides “today” is. There are pleasures waiting for us on this side of paradise. There are pockets of delight for us to savor and remember over and over.
Some of us may not have good reason to think of pleasures in this earthly life. Some of you have unbelievable pain – pain of the body, pain of the heart. Pain, anywhere in our self, affects our whole self. Your life may be truly tortured thanks to a variety of unfairness and injustice. You may not know pleasure of any sort. We need to be in prayer for you – for all people – who have been dealt an extremely rough lot in life, or even a mildly bad circumstance in life, through no fault of your own. Then some of us suffer because of earlier mistakes that we made or the mistake we made at the exact time that life went crash.
Peter – this very Peter who denied Jesus and then stood in front of the huge crowd just after Pentecost – gives us words of encouragement in 1 Peter 1:3-9. He says, “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …” In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. We may wonder about that phrase “Jesus Christ is revealed.” Was not he revealed on that first Easter day when he appeared to Mary and whomever else the writers of the gospel tell us?
Our gospel lesson today from John 20, tells of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection to the disciples in a locked room without coming through the door. This was the risen Jesus who was not confined by locked doors. This was not the ghost of Jesus. This was the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, the alive Jesus! He is revealing himself to his disciples so that they become witnesses to his resurrection.
At this same event, the disciple Thomas was not present. Later, the disciples told Thomas about this strange happening. Thomas represented most of us when he 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.” Many of us are doubters along with Thomas. Many of us need proof before we believe. Otherwise we are not being realistic, not being scientific, not being cautious. We could be drawn into believing something phony; something that will trick us into losing something of ourselves.
So God obliged this characteristic of Thomas. Jesus appeared again a week later. Now Thomas completes this group of believers. How about you? How about me? Do we complete the group of believers on this side of heaven? How much proof do we need? What is it that we can’t believe? What is holding us on a leash to the way of the world? Where is the freedom that is the foundation of belief? We are free to explore. We are free to doubt all we want. But sooner or later we are drawn by this soft, loving leash that God holds for us. If you don’t like the idea of being tied to God with a leash, think of it as the shepherd’s staff.
God does rescue us. God made us. God loves us. This holy happening on the cross was part of that love. It is God reclaiming us from our wanderings in paths that are not righteous. Remember the Psalmist’s words: “You lead me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Whose name? The name of Jesus! This very earthly Jesus and the ascended Jesus, sitting at this moment on the right hand of God, is waiting to greet us. Peter in 1 Peter 1 said, “… you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever! This is our hope! This is the source of our gladness. We are free to rise from the gloom and see things from the side of light and gladness. Join me in making this leap of faith. Amen.