Easter 6, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There were 15 active duty soldiers carrying 40lb packs in honor of wounded and killed comrades. They would walk the 26.2 mile marathon in hopes of raising awareness for soldiers wounded protecting our freedom and raising funds for a charity that helps them. After 8 hours these soldiers neared the end of the race as bombs went off at the finish line ahead of them. Their walk turned into a run as they immediately set off into helping victims wounded in the blast. In the midst of the carnage that took place at the Boston Marathon in 2013 they showed the world what it means to serve.
We live in a time when Christianity is under attack. Christians are being killed Africa for simply believing in Christ. Churches are being bulldozed in China. Coptic Christians are being killed daily in Egypt. Christians around the world suffer from all kinds of persecution. To a lesser extent we suffer persecution for being Christian in this country. When tragedy strikes you for being a Christian…what will you do? Will you show the world what it means to serve? Will you show the world what it means to love…to love your enemy and those who persecute you? To pray for those who wish to hurt you?
The night before our Lord would suffer and die He was with His Disciples. He had taken the bread and wine, consecrated the elements, and offered strength and forgiveness to the Disciples with His very body and blood. Our text offers the final words He spoke to them that night. The Disciples speak confidently about their understanding and faith in Jesus being from God…but they still did not understand what would soon take place.
“His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” (John 16:29-32)
Our Lord tells the Disciples that when tragedy strikes…when persecution arrives…when He is arrested and killed…the Disciples would scatter in fear. Peter would be the only Disciple to follow Jesus who was led to the High Priest…Peter would go on to deny His Lord three times. Jesus would face Pilate alone. He would be beaten, tortured, and mocked alone. John would be the only Disciple to go to Mount Calvary where our Lord hung on the cross. The other Disciples feared for their lives and hid behind locked doors. When tragedy and persecution struck…these Disciples ran and hid…they served…but only themselves.
What will we do when tragedy and persecution strike us? For too long Christians have “run and hid.” The Church is being attacked and we willingly give in to the world, try to look like the world in order to stay relevant and popular. When the world opposes Scripture many in the Church decide God’s Word is outdated. We have allowed our world to grow increasingly secular. Where have we been? When divorce was allowed for any unbiblical reason…where were we? When abortions became legal…where were we? When evolutionary theory became the only theory of the world’s beginning in schools…where were we? When adultery, homosexuality, pornography, and other sexual sins became the norm…where were we? As our brothers and sisters in Christ are martyred for their faith in other countries…where do we stand? Far too often we are like the Disciples…and when faced with tragedy and persecution for our faith we run and hide. When we fail to speak up for the truth…we are cowering in fear.
Even as the Lord was telling His Disciples that they would abandon Him…our Lord tells them that He…that Jesus…would never abandon them. Instead He tells them “I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)
The Apostles did have tribulation. There fear was valid. The world would hate them. Only one of the Apostles died of old age…John…who died after persecution and exile to the island of Patmos. The rest were martyred for their faith…James by the sword, Andrew bound by ropes to a cross to prolong suffering, Bartholomew beaten by rods, James the son of Alpheus was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death after refusing to deny the resurrection, Peter and Philip were crucified upside down, Thomas was struck by spears, tortured with red hot plates, and burned alive, Simon was crucified, Thaddeus was beaten to death, Matthias was stoned to death, and Paul was beheaded.
At one time the Apostles had fled tribulation…but they died as martyrs. Each of them was killed for standing firm in the faith, for sharing the faith, for believing in Christ alone for their salvation. They did not stay hidden in their homes…but went out…under the threat of persecution…and served Christ and their fellowman. They served by sharing the Gospel; the good news of Salvation in Christ with all people. They shared Christ with all people…even people that would go on to kill them.
How could the Apostles go from fear of death…to boldly proclaiming? By faith in Christ. By faith they trusted our Lord’s words that “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus has overcome the world for you. Yes, there will be tribulation; there will be suffering and persecution, there will be tragedy…but Jesus has overcome the world; sin, death, and the devil. While there is suffering in this world…our hope is in Christ…our hope is in heaven.
In the face of tragedy and persecution…may each of you and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ be seen…as soldiers of the cross…caring and serving for others even in the face of persecution and death. Share the message of the Savior that others believe and are saved. You can do it. Have no fear. Your sins have been forgiven. You have received the strength to overcome in the body and blood of Christ. By faith trust in Jesus…our Savior…who has overcome the world for us…as He was given and shed for you on the cross. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.