Witness Marches Victorious Over Restraint

Pastor Jake Schram

Worship Theme: Witness Marches Victorious Over Restraint

First Lesson: Acts 5:12,17-32 (NIV)
Gospel : John 20:19-31 (NIV)

Music:

  • CW 465: Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
  • CW 455: Alleluia! Jesus Lives
  • CW 446: Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense
  • CW 456: O Sons and Daughters of the King
  • CW 445: He's Risen, He's Risen 143 v4-5

Message Notes & Growth Group Questions

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Message: Witness Marches Victorious Over Restraint

Pastor Jake Schram

Christ had risen on Easter Sunday! This news was huge! BOOMSHAKALAKA! The whole earth should be rejoicing. Our text for today takes place on Easter evening! So far Peter and John have seen the empty tomb and Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), some other women (Matthew 28:8-10), two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), and Peter (24:34). If you don’t know all those people I just mentioned, that’s ok. Just know this. Jesus has appeared to a handful of people already. Yet the news seems to be spreading rather slowly. Jesus being raised from the dead is incredible news! One would think news of Jesus’ resurrection would have started to spread throughout Jerusalem and beyond. Leading the charge should be none other than the disciples. But instead, here are the disciples locking themselves into a room, cowering together in fear. Chances are they are discussing the news of Jesus, trying to make sense of it. “Was Jesus alive? Sure, he told us he would be, but can we really believe it to be true?”

Then Jesus suddenly appears. Remember, the doors were locked out of fear. This is not Jesus creeping in silently when the disciples are not paying attention. He miraculously appears. The disciples freak out. According to Luke 24:37 the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. And they react as most people would. I imagine some are shaking, some are getting ready to run, maybe one of them even used God’s name in vain and then quickly apologized when he realized who he was looking at. It’s no surprise that Jesus' first words to them are, “Peace be with you!” This was a common greeting at the time, but if the disciples need anything at this point, it’s peace. If you notice Jesus says it twice in our text, as if Jesus is trying to get the disciples to calm down or if the words didn’t quite register with the disciples the first time. Jesus shows them his hands where he was nailed to the cross. He shows them his side where he was pierced with the spear by a Soldier. He shows them he is not a ghost. He shows them it was really him, their teacher, their friend, their Savior. And the disciples go nuts. They are overjoyed that Jesus, their Lord, has returned to them.

Jesus has something really important to tell them and it cannot wait. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The disciples are in a locked room right now. That is not going to work with what God has in mind for them. They will need to be sent out. He will give them the Holy Spirit, not because they didn’t have it. They had received the Spirit through the Word, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, but here they received more. They would continue to receive more on the day of Pentecost and throughout their lives through God’s promised means. Basically, Jesus here equips them and gives them what they need and then shows them what they need to do. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

That’s a powerful statement. Jesus’ words here are what is known as the ministry of the keys. If you were listening earlier to the confirmation examination, you heard that there is a loosing key and a binding key. The loosing key is used to forgive sins. The Greek word used here even gives it more force than “forgive.” It means “to send away” or completely “cancel” sins. The binding key does not forgive sins. It binds them. The Greek word used here means “to hold fast” to something.

Imagine it like a door and behind the door is all of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The keys are the power to unlock this door for people who are repentant of their sins. The door opens and God’s mercy bursts through the door and washes all a person’s sins away. If someone is unrepentant for their sins, they are not sorry at all that they are committing them, we keep the door locked and God’s forgiveness is kept behind the closed door.

And this is all based on Christ. He’s the outlet, the power source of all of this and it only works in line with his will. But he gives every Christian the keys to lock or unlock the door to forgiveness. You have this ability. I do this publicly in the service every week as I forgive the sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But you can do it among others as well.

Maybe the keys don’t seem like a big deal. Our sinful nature would love to make it this way. “I’ve got other things to do, and church can be so boring.” “People seem happy. Why do they need forgiveness?” “Who am I to do this?”

God sends you to bear witness. To tell people the good news of Christ and it makes a huge difference. Let me tell you about Fred (I changed his name). Fred and I met over a mutual enjoyment of sports cards, and we go get lunch about every 6 months or so. Fred is a talkative guy. He feels deeply and it’s obvious he cares about pretty much all people on earth. He spends a large portion of his week helping others, especially those who are unable to help themselves. On the outside he often seems really happy, but he was really in absolute shambles. He was doing a ton of good so how could this be? Fred wasn’t sure if he was going to heaven. He thought he had to earn heaven and he was always worried if his deeds would be enough. He knew he wasn’t perfect. Fred was a church going guy so it wasn’t too hard to tell him about Jesus. After telling him, and showing him from the Bible that Jesus had paid the complete price of his sins and earned Fred’s way into heaven for him, I then got to use the ministry of the keys. I used the loosing key to forgive his sins in Jesus’ name. At that moment his anxiety cleared. And you could visibly see him take a deep breath and understand that because of Jesus’ name, it was completely true. It may not have seemed like a big deal to me. It took less than an hour of my time, I got to eat a super awesome burger while I talked to him, but that testimony sure made a huge difference in his life.

This is the power each and every single one of you has. Jesus tells us to go out and do the loving thing for people, to show people they need a Savior from sin and then to unlock forgiveness when they understand that. But as we will see, it’s hard to tell someone forgiveness has been unlocked when you are hiding in a locked room!

In our text, Thomas comes into the picture. Thomas was one of the twelve disciples, but he wasn’t with the rest of them when Jesus showed up. When the others tell him the good news, he’s like, “Guys, April Fools Day is already past. Cut it out.” Even after they tell him again and again, Thomas doubts. I would go a step further and say it’s more than just doubt. It sounds like straight unbelief. He says, “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.”

A week later the disciples find themselves in the exact same situation. They are back behind locked doors. Has Thomas taken the wind out of their sails and they are back to hiding? Maybe. Are they too afraid to carry out Jesus’ assignment? Possibly. Either way, they are all gathered, Thomas included. The doors are once again locked. Jesus appears again. After his “peace be with you” greeting, he turns directly to Thomas. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas immediately reacts with belief and recognition of Jesus as his Savior. “My Lord and my God!” I don’t even know if Thomas felt the wounds or not to determine if it was really Jesus and it doesn’t matter if he did because faith takes over and he gives a beautiful confession about who his God is. And then Jesus says something else vital for us to hear. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I am convinced that the greatest miracle in this passage isn’t the appearance of Jesus through locked doors. Rather, I think it’s faith. Jesus creates faith in Thomas’ heart. Thomas instantly goes from, “I’ll never believe!” to “My Lord and my God!” Today, Jesus still does this miracle again and again and again, even among those who don’t physically see him. He works faith in so many hearts. How does he do it? The Bible says, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).” The message is shared by people being bold and sharing Jesus with one another.

It's hard to be bold. Sometimes in a church it can be even harder to be bold. We nitpick at things like what a person wears or how they speak. We get distracted by things and certain traditions that aren’t very important. At times, we’ve had some shining moments of people reaching out and being bold through faith. At other times we haven’t been the best at it. Not me. Not your parents, Not any of us.

I had two friends in high school that weren’t afraid of talking to anyone and I mean anyone. They were bold. One of them taught me that it was ok to be me. God has made you, you. You are unique and can do wonderful things. That is for certain nothing to be ashamed of. The other friend, who was a German foreign exchange student once taught me the secret to being bold. She had just got done talking to someone she had never met before about cool underwear patterns or something. That’s the type of thing she would do. She would just turn around and ask someone sitting alone whether they would prefer dinosaurs or polka dot patterns on their underwear. Now, that’s bold! And she was completely unphased. I had to know why. “Dani, why do you do things like that?” “Like what?” “Why are you so bold?” She said, “It might make someone’s day to talk to them.” I said, “But what if it doesn’t. What if they think poorly of you?” I hope I never forget the next part of the conversation because she said, “whether you agree with it or not, do you care about me any less because I’m bold? “Of course not, you are my friend.” “Then why should I let what other people might think bother me, when I know I am loved by God and people I care about.”

This is the secret to being bold. God is our safe place. If people’s opinions of us waver or change, you won’t end up with an empty heart. The reasons to fear will fall away because no matter what, you will still have GOD. And maybe, through the message of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will work in people, and they will want to join you in GOD’s glorious presence too! In other words, as you are sharing Jesus, whatever happens, you get to keep God and someone might gain God.

And that’s the whole purpose of everything we do. The Apostle John even tells us, “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.” We are safe in God’s refuge, but others are not and need to be saved. It’s as simple as that.

We saw the spreading of the good news on Easter get off to a really slow start. Fear took over and the disciples were hesitant. But then look what happened. We got a snippet of it in our Lesson from Acts today. The same disciples who used to lock themselves in a room and just sit there were now meeting together with other believers (5:12). They were now teaching others without fear, even saying things like “We must obey God rather than human beings (28-29)!” They were witnesses of good news and equipped with the Holy Spirit (32) and so they, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah (42).”

You also have seen and heard God’s Word. You are equipped with the Holy Spirit. And your testimony of the Word is powerful. Don’t keep it locked away. Be bold. It forgives sins. It creates faith so that others “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah” and “have life in his name.” Amen!