In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Right now we’re all too familiar with barriers. If you make it to Costco, they have Plexiglass shields between you and the checker. We’re can all play bank robber and put a mask on and ask the teller to give us money (as long as it’s ours, of course).
There are all kinds of barriers too—gloves so germs can’t get on us, 6 foot circles so we don’t share air, the glass of storm doors to keep us safe from the potential for spreading disease.
After Jesus’ resurrection, there were barriers too. Last week on Easter, there was the barrier of the stone—“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3), but God overcame that with the might of His angel. In today’s Gospel, the disciples are behind locked doors so that the they would be safe from fear of the Jews who murdered Jesus. But this barrier also served to keep out further news of Jesus, whose tomb was empty (John 20:1-10).
Yet, this barrier was overcome by the Risen Lord Himself—“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Most theologians agree that the Lord Jesus didn’t need the door opened to get in, any more than He needed the stone rolled away to leave the tomb. But more important than the mechanics is that Jesus came to them in spite of the barrier.
Having overcome this barrier, Jesus ran into another one, not of doors, but also manmade:
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
The Lord had appeared to the ten Apostles, and they reported this amazing news to Thomas, but Thomas chose to believe in the barriers of sight and time, which removed him personally from the night of Easter. He pragmatically put his own reason over the testimony of the other witnesses—a very human (and very common) barrier to faith.
Before we move on, we have to talk about another barrier, not physical, but spiritual. It’s the barrier between us and God that is the result of our sin. This barrier came from both our natural birth into sin (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 7:14-15) and from the sins of our own making. Yet it is the Lord’s will to overcome that barrier, too. So, He gives to the Apostles this power to overcome the divide: “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
We see eight days later that Jesus appears again, overcoming the physical barrier. Right away, He shows His love for Thomas and the others, greeting them with “Peace be with you.” Then, in divine forbearance, He condescends to Thomas’ weakness: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” It’s these human barriers which threaten to destroy our fellowship with God. Yet, they can’t be overcome by any power on earth. Just as Israel’s armies didn’t lay a hand on the walls of Jericho, but rather it was at God’s command that they fell flat (Josh. 6:1-20), no amount of cajoling, arguing, or browbeating can take down these walls within us. It is God’s purpose to overcoming them, and—as with all things—He does this by His almighty, creating Word.
Notice the parallels between this scene in the Upper Room and the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:5-9). God is coming into man’s midst. In the beginning, lifeless clay must become a living being, so God breathes into his nostrils. Here, redemption from sin and death has come, and now God breathes anew with His Spirit. Now man becomes not just a being who lives just span of time, but lives eternally. This is God’s work to restore what was rent asunder, to break through those barriers.
That Jesus is able to overcome physical barriers is a comfort to us right now, because we are all locked behind closed doors, whether we want to be or not. The Church is broken up into family units, yet the Lord is still able to come and be in our midst. This is by no means the norm for the Church to be physically scattered, but neither is it too hard for our Lord to keep His promise that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
With that word of peace, our Lord also overcomes the spiritual barriers—the sins which separate us from God, and which alienate us from one another. We’ve erected barriers by knowing what we ought not to do, and doing it anyway. We’ve divided from one another by the things which we’ve said and done that make it so we can’t look each other in the eye. The Lord Jesus has overcome it all by speaking the Spirit-filled Word of forgiveness. “Peace be with you” and He shows us His hands and His side.
We know that this word of peace was given to the Apostles that night to speak—”as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”—but that word is given to every Christian to speak to one another. The peace of Easter doesn’t just stop when we receive it, but as Jesus was sent to us, as the called servants of Christ pass that peace to you, you also pass that peace to those who have sinned against God and perhaps you personally.
These are the barriers which the Lord overcomes, and He does it by His Word. The Bible truly has everything which God needs us to know. Not only is it a vast trove of wisdom about the Lord and humanity, but what God has inspired to be written, He has done so to overcome all barriers in you—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing, you may have life in His Name.”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +