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Worship Series: The Hands of the Passion
Worship Theme: Life-Giving Hands
- CW 143 He’s Risen, He’s Risen
- CW 157 Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
- Senior Choir: He Is Risen
- Senior Choir: Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!
- CW 152 I Know that My Redeemer Lives
- See, What A Morning
- Solo: Forever (We Sing Hallelujah)
- CW 166 The Day of Resurrection
Message: Life-Giving Hands
Pastor Jon Brohn
There is a story from the 1800’s about a small boy raised in a frontier city by his grandmother. One night the house caught on fire. The grandmother tried to rescue the boy who was asleep in the bedroom upstairs. She was overcome by smoke and died in the fire. A crowd gathered around the house with buckets frantically trying to fight the flames. As they passed buckets, they heard a small boy crying out for help. A wall of flames blocked the ground floor. The boy’s situation appeared hopeless. Suddenly, a man pushed through the crowd and began climbing an iron drainage pipe that ran to the roof. The pipe seared his skin, but he made it to a second floor window. He crawled through the window and located the boy. While the crowd cheered him on, the man climbed back down the hot iron pipe with the boy on his back, arms clamped tightly around the man’s neck.
A few months later, a public meeting was held to determine who would receive custody of the boy. Each person who wanted the child would be allowed to make a brief statement. The first man said, "I have a farm and would give the boy a good home. He would grow up on the farm and learn a trade." The local school teacher spoke next. “I am a school teacher and I will make sure he receives a good education.” Finally, the banker said, “My wife and I would be able to give the boy a fine home and everything he could ever need. We would like him to come and live with us.” The judge looked around and asked, “Is there anyone else who would like to say anything?” From the back row, a man rose and said, “These other people may be able to offer some things I can't. All I can offer is my love.” Then, he slowly removed his hands from his coat pockets. A gasp went up from the crowd because his hands were scarred terribly from climbing up and down the hot pipe. The boy recognized the man as the one who had saved his life and ran into his waiting arms.
On that first Easter, Peter and John gathered with the other disciples in the upper room to talk about the empty tomb and the possibility of the resurrection. They weren’t convinced yet that what they had heard was true. Peter and John had even sprinted out to the tomb, but hadn’t found Jesus—only the grave clothes lying empty on the unoccupied bier. John recalls the atmosphere on Easter eve in the first verse of our text. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NIV). Bewildered, panicky, tense, they huddled together in the upper room. What had happened? They had all seen the tomb, sealed with Pilate’s own seal. Who would dare to come and steal Jesus’ body? Of course, these 10 men were the chief suspects. They didn’t dare show their faces. The leaders of the Jews would surely have them arrested on such a gruesome charge.
As they were talking, John tells us, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”” (John 20:19 NIV). Most people greeted each other with the phrase, “Shalom L’chah,” “Peace be with you!” Tonight, under these circumstances, these words meant much more than, “Hi! How are you?” Jesus had told them the night before he died, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV). Jesus kept his promise. He brought the peace that their hearts needed. They didn’t need to grieve as people who had no hope. Jesus was alive! The grave couldn't hold him back. He had defeated death and the grave!
The disciples were frightened, but Jesus reassured them by showing them his hands and feet. These were the same hands Jesus used to touch blind eyes so they could see; the same hands that had blessed little children. These were the same hands that pulled a crippled man to his feet so he could walk. These were Jesus’ hands, but now they were different--no longer smooth and travel-worn, just scarred. Jesus’ hands bore the marks of love, scarred hands that brought life to a world infected with death. Soldiers had pounded nails through his hands and feet to kill him. Jesus’ scarred hands and feet were more than the marks of death. They identified him as the one who died for a cosmic purpose. Isaiah spoke about the power of those scars in chapter 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV). The disciples saw Jesus' scarred hands, no longer a sign of his humiliating execution. The scars remained to prove to the disciples that Jesus’ hands give life.
Really Lord? Because I don’t see it. That life you gave, the life I cherished, the person I loved, is gone. All I see is the emptiness in the house--the empty room, the empty chair, the empty bed. All I hear are echoes--of laughter and loving words from the voice I once heard every day. What I wouldn’t give to hear that voice again! All I feel is the hurt and grief. It won’t let go. People keep telling me it gets easier. I don’t see it. That’s the problem with death. It hurts. It separates. Sometimes that separation feels like a void that sucks the life out of us.
Jesus has life-giving hands. This past year hasn’t felt very lively or peaceful. COVID has made a real mess of things. As a nation, we’ve lost over 500,000 citizens to the virus, over 2.8 million people worldwide. Those numbers are devastating. At the same time, people are arguing over things like masks or no-masks, social distancing vs. no distancing, vaccinations vs. no vaccinations. Add that to all of the social struggles that we and our world face, and we can feel lost!
When all these things threaten to overwhelm us, listen to Jesus. “Peace be with you!” Aren’t those just words? No, because they come from Jesus and his life-giving hands. He can speak of peace because he has conquered our greatest enemies--sin, Satan, and the shadow of death. Do you remember Paul’s excited shout from our second reading this morning? “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57 NIV). Jesus’ victory is real! His hands are life-giving! We can find peace in the middle of our grief, our sorrow, our loneliness, our hurt. Jesus’ victory gives real peace.
Dave Dravecky is a former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. After his Opening Day victory in 1988 against the Dodgers, doctors found cancer in his throwing arm. Following treatment and being declared cancer-free, he made his comeback and pitched against the Montreal Expos in early 1989. Those who watched that game will never forget it. As Dave threw a pitch, his left arm snapped with a sharp crack that could be heard in the stands. His comeback quickly ended. It was a devastating experience. It was bad enough to have cancer, let alone face the amputation of an arm, but then on top of that, to lose a promising career as a major league baseball player.
During his struggles, letters of encouragement poured in from all over the country. Most were letters of encouragement. Some were looking for answers to life's questions. They had seen him keep his faith, and they wanted to know how he had done it. But one day he received this letter: Dear Mr. Dravecky, If there is a God who cares so much about you, why did he allow you to have the surgery in the first place? I have lived 41 years in this old world and have yet to see any piece of genuine evidence that there is anything real about any of those religious beliefs you talk about. God certainly does not love me and has never done a single thing to express that love for me. I have had to fight for everything I ever got in life. Nobody cares about what happens to me and I don't care about anybody else either. Can't you see the truth that religion is nothing more than a crutch used by a lot of weaklings who can't face reality and that the church is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who care nothing for each other and whose faith extends not to their actions or daily lives but is only just a bunch of empty phrases spouted off to impress others? Dravecky’s answer was faith-filled and to the point: “I am convinced that there is a God. That no matter what happens to me, there is a purpose for it and behind that purpose stands a loving, caring God.”
Is this letter writer any different than Thomas? Thomas wasn’t convinced by the words his friends shouted: “We have seen the Lord! He is risen!” Thomas had seen Jesus die. He had watched Joseph and Nicodemus put Jesus’ body in the grave. The story they shared was impossible so Thomas told the others, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25 NIV). Thomas wanted concrete proof.
Thomas wanted to see Jesus’ life-giving hands. Jesus showed him. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27 NIV). Jesus graciously gave Thomas the evidence he requested. Thomas could see Jesus with his own eyes. He could see Jesus’ hands, and his faith grew. He confessed, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas had seen Jesus. He personally witnessed the miracles, the death and resurrection of the Savior. We haven’t! Does that give Thomas and the others greater honor and more importance in the kingdom of heaven? Not necessarily. In fact, Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 NIV). That’s us! We haven’t seen Jesus, but we believe in him. “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV). Jesus commends us for that kind of faith. We are happy because through faith we can see our Savior's love-scarred hands. We see his mighty works and can be sure that he is the Son of God. We see him walking on water, feeding 5000 people at one time, raising a little girl from the dead, and yes, rising from the dead himself. He did all of these for us and the rest of the world. Why? “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 NIV).
We have seen a lot of hands over the past 6 weeks. Most of them were hands that brought hurt and shame. Jesus’ hands are different. Jesus’ humble hands put our needs ahead of his own. Jesus’ nail-pierced hands took the punishment that was ours. Jesus’ life-giving hands guarantee that we have life--a living faith that trusts his promises, and the guarantee of eternal life with him in heaven. Christ is risen! Amen.